A key step to implementing any new workplace program successfully is to gain complete acceptance by employees. That means not only must everyone on the job accept the changes, they truly must embrace them for the changes to really take hold. The best way to achieve that kind of commitment is to make the changes a part of your corporate culture. Mostly everyone would agree that no program is more important to make a part of your culture than a safety program.
The most effective way to convey a message to the group is also the most simple: Through language. Every organization has its own language, including terms that are common to everyday practices. Safety terms will become part of your company’s culture when they become part of every facet of the job. Workplace safety practices need to be communicated, and enforced. Safe as well as unsafe behaviors need to be outlined and posted, where all employees have an opportunity to observe them. It is critical that new employees be given a course concerning safety procedures, and understand fully the consequences of ignoring them.
In addition to employees understanding safety guidelines, it should become common practice and custom to carry out the safety rules. An organization’s customs are the accepted methods for getting things done on a regular basis. Although you might have clearly explained the consequences for violating safety practices, this is not always enough to ensure compliance. Compliance can be especially difficult for workers who have been on the job for a long time.
Long-term employees often develop a rhythm — a system of shortcuts, which helps them complete tasks quickly and efficiently. Sometimes the practices they use involve risks, but they avoid any adverse effects because they understand the risks, what kind of threat they pose, and how to countermand those threats. Often times, these workers continue to operate below the radar and management believes they are following correct procedures. However, they could be undermining any attempt to incorporate safety as part of the organization’s culture, because junior employees often mimic their behavior.
The best way to ensure compliance to safety guidelines is through behavior modification. This is a management technique that uses both positive and negative reinforcement to instill proper safety procedures. Employees are either rewarded in a tangible, visible way for promoting safety; or they receive negative consequences for ignoring safety practices. The best safety incentive an employer can offer is a monetary incentive. With monetary incentives, employees are given a bonus for completing the job without any safety violations. On the other hand, they are fined for unsafe behavior. The dollar amount of the reward or fine doesn’t have to be large to be effective; the fact that a behavior results in either a good or bad consequence is what motivates. The motivation is reinforced by the fact that employees are watching each other and more importantly, comparing.
Last but not least, there needs to be a clear indication that safety is a No. 1 priority. There should be an active safety committee and participation at meetings should be encouraged. When employees observe hazards, they need organized procedures to report and correct the dangerous situation. Most importantly, the outcome should be that the danger is eliminated and everyone on the job site must know how it has been corrected, especially if the correction required instituting a new procedure. It is extremely important that employees see positive results from their safety procedures, so that they will continue to be diligent in their future safety efforts.