Optimise Workplace Safety with an Employee-Led Safety Culture

Cristina Borgia
Jul 20, 2021

Creating a first-class safety culture in an organisation is essential for avoiding injuries and possibly reducing millions of dollars in preventable workplace accidents every year. 

It’s also important for maintaining a productive, healthy work environment—one that employees want to stick around in. 

This article aims to give you a fundamental understanding and framework to create a first-class safety culture in your company that can help you save time, money and even lives.

What is a First-Class Safety Culture?

First of all, what exactly is a “first-class”, “world-class”, or “top” safety culture? 

If you’re immersed in the health and safety industry, you’ve probably seen these terms flying around quite a bit. What does it mean? Does it mean winning international safety awards? Are they just ambiguous buzzwords? Or is there much more to it?

According to Safety and Health Magazine, a first-class, world-class, or top safety culture can be very subjective and depending on who you ask, you will get varying definitions. Having said that, there is one definition of “first-class safety culture” that we at Vatix like the most, and which this article will be based on.

The definition comes from Megan Raines, the global director of safety and training at Dresser-Rand. She considers a first-class safety culture to be about having the goal to “move toward zero incidents, and this includes continuous improvement.”

It’s not about winning awards or achieving perfection, as no organisation can win every award or be perfect. However, it’s about facilitating a culture where all levels of an organisation strive to reduce incidents as much as possible and commit to continuously improving workplace safety.

This is something every organisation, no matter how big or small, can strive for and achieve.

The Importance and Components of a First-Class Safety Culture

Why should organisations adopt a first-class safety culture in the first place? 

An evidence-based presentation by Mike Wilcock, Head of Operations South East for the Health and Safety Executive, revealed that “safety culture has a 74% correlation between predicted accident rates and observed accident rates.”

Since every employee has the legal right to being safe from accidents in the workplace, this correlation would also mean that they have the right to a first-class safety culture. 

What about from the standpoint of how an organisation can benefit? Well, workers who feel that their organisation genuinely cares for their safety and well-being tend to be happier, more productive, and loyal. Thus, first-class safety culture is a win-win for all parties. 

Now that we know why every organisation should have a first-class safety culture, the next question is how they can achieve it.

Many people think safety is all about having the proper safety equipment and the legally required health and safety policies in place, but it’s more than that. 

As we covered in the definition, a core component of a first-class safety culture is about continuously improving workplace safety. For this to happen, you need to create an environment where people feel comfortable raising safety concerns without fear of being blamed or held responsible, and where those concerns are also taken seriously.

Another component of first-class safety culture is having safety reporting systems and procedures that are not a hassle for employees to complete. 

After all, hazard and incident reporting are critical for organisations to identify corrective actions to improve workplace safety continuously.

Yet, all too often, workers do not report hazards and incidents or fully comply with safety procedures because it’s too troublesome or time-consuming.

A first-class safety culture thus pivots around the employee. 

It’s all about making employees feel safe to participate in processes that continuously improve workplace safety, and making it easy for them to participate in these processes.

Bottom line: employees feel like they are part of a larger community regarding workplace safety.

This employee-centric philosophy is the foundation of an employee-led safety culture, as opposed to management-led safety cultures.

Which is Better: Employee-Led or Management Led Safety Culture?

An employee-led safety culture is where employees are supported to take ownership of safety and recognise they play a key role in improving workplace safety. They also take responsibility for the safety of their team members, report hazards and incidents to management, and are consulted upon for risk assessments.  

A management-led safety culture is where management is largely responsible for safety and employees take a more passive role. The downside of this top-down approach is that many employees become disengaged from the health and safety performance of the organisation. 

Managers, who are stressed from having the bulk of workplace safety responsibilities on their backs, can then come across as aggressive when trying to enforce health and safety compliance or chase up on corrective actions. 

The “stressed manager” situation can also become the seed for an environment where workers don’t feel safe to report hazards or incidents because they’re scared they will “get into trouble” with their managers.

A management-led safety culture may at first seem like it helps employees become more productive at their jobs because they don’t have additional safety responsibilities. However, in the long run, employee disengagement from safety deteriorates safety culture. This can lead to lower levels of productivity and may even cause business downtime when employees are on leave due to injury.

On the other hand, a proactive, employee-led safety culture has been shown to lead to lower accident rates and improved attitudes of personnel towards health and safety in their workplace.

In short, employee-led safety initiatives are more superior in creating and supporting a first-class safety culture in the workplace than a management-led approach to safety.

How to Create an Employee-led Safety Culture in Your Company

Wilcock’s evidence-based presentation, which we mentioned earlier, also revealed that 60-70% of organisations have a management-led safety culture. This is largely due to the fact that many organisations are still running on inherited legacy systems and are not able or willing to invest in something new.

There is a movement for change in the air, however. In our most recent survey and market report, The State of UK Workplace Safety in 2021, we found a promising rising trend of employee-led safety cultures. 

What did these organisations specifically do to pivot into an employee-led safety culture? 

Here, we outline three strategies they implemented to stand out from the rest and create a first-class safety culture in the workplace.

1. They invest in digital health and safety systems.

Before digital systems existed, it made sense for an organisation to adopt a management-led workplace safety culture.

Just imagine if every employee is involved with managing the paperwork trail—havoc would ensue! It would be akin to having too many chefs in the kitchen. Having a top-down chain of command helps ensure the paperwork is kept in good order so things can run as smoothly as possible.

A top-down system was still somewhat necessary even when digital tools, like spreadsheets, became available. This is because the information is stored on individual computers or closed network systems, which only one or a few people can access. Thus, the chain of command was still needed.

However, once mobile devices and cloud-based platforms came along, the game changed. Cloud-based systems allowed multiple participation. The system would automatically organise the information and streamline how you search for or discuss a particular incident, report, or corrective action. You no longer need a gatekeeper—who also becomes a bottleneck—to keep things in order.

The applications of this technology have transformed systems and processes across many industries. 

Regarding health and safety, cloud-based incident reporting systems and lone worker safety systems are making it much easier for organisations to implement—and reap the benefits of—employee-led safety culture.

We found that the organisations that invested in cloud-based incident reporting systems and lone worker safety systems had employees who were more engaged with every aspect of workplace safety, which creates a solid foundation for a first-class safety culture.

2. They invest in appropriate health and safety training.

Here is another interesting finding from our market study, The State of UK Workplace Safety in 2021.

We found that most employees feel disengaged from health and safety training or don’t find it relevant. A significant portion feels their managers are not fully aware of the workplace risks and hazards they face. 

In short, they don’t feel the health and safety training they receive is appropriate or fully meets their needs.

However, the tide shifts in an employee-led safety culture. We found that workers who are more involved with health and safety processes are more likely to become engaged in health and safety training. How and why?

Let’s look into a few more findings from our market study.

Organisations that invest in employee-led lone working safety solutions and incident reporting software find it easier to investigate incidents and spot trends for proactive action. They also report being more satisfied with the effectiveness of their incident reporting system. 

With incident trends at their fingertips, these organisations are also more likely to have better insights on the kind of health and safety training their employees need.

Hence, this is why we see a correlation between those who invest in digital health and safety systems and those who invest in appropriate health and safety training.

3. They have senior management that plays an active role in health and safety.

Another distinction we found with organisations that show trends of employee-led safety initiatives is the increased involvement of senior management with health and safety policies and procedures. 

Considering that senior management tends to be decision-makers or gate-keepers for budgets, senior management can potentially be bottlenecks when investing in health and safety systems and training.

The results from our market study reflected this sentiment. In organisations where senior management-level and director-level personnel had low or moderate involvement with workplace safety, employees have low confidence in how much their managers are aware of the risks and hazards they face in the workplace.

Furthermore, when the team has someone who is appointed a specialist role in health and safety, employees feel safer in the workplace.

Both these findings underline the importance of senior-management involvement in an employee-led workplace culture—it’s not that they are completely out of the picture.

Together, these three strategies support the two main components needed for a top-safety culture:

  1. A streamlined system to monitor safety and incidents in real-time and easily spot trends to take proactive correction action.

  2. An environment where employees can easily— and feel safe to—engage in processes that continuously improve workplace safety, such as reporting hazards and incidents.

Transform Your Safety Culture from Reactive to Proactive

Employee-led safety cultures are proving to be a major component of a first-class safety environment. Many organisations are starting to realise this, and they’re ditching their legacy management-led approaches in favour of the more proactive approach of employee-led safety initiatives.

A proactive safety culture is not just good for your employees. It’s also good for your business. 

It keeps your workers safer, which fulfils their rights and means they’re less likely to get injured or sick and miss work. It can also help you attract and retain good workers by making your workplace safer and more enjoyable. 

With the current technology and safety solutions currently available, it’s no longer difficult for businesses to let go of legacy systems and adopt a proactive, employee-led safety approach to create a first-class workplace safety culture.

If you’re interested to learn how you can leverage technology to achieve this in your workplace, get in touch with us to learn more about Protector—the only HSE-compliant and employee-led safety software with integrated lone worker safety solutions and digital incident reporting.

Contact us for a one-on-one demo of Protector and personal consultation on creating a first-class safety culture in your organisation. 

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