Engaging Employees in Health and Safety

April 28th is the World Day for Safety and Health at Work. All workplaces have a duty of care to their employees, and not fulfilling that can be costly. Not only do injury and illness mean time off but if you have not taken appropriate steps to mitigate the risks you could be liable, so we’ve looked at some ways to improve your health and safety culture.

What is it?

The World Day for Safety and Health at Work was established to promote safe, healthy, and decent work around the globe by raising awareness of occupational accidents and diseases and bringing focus to how we can prevent them. This year’s topic is ‘Act together to build a positive safety and health culture’. The goal is to encourage collaboration and demonstrate why it is so important, not just at a political level but in workplaces too. The day has been observed by the International Labour Association since 2003 – click here to find out more about the ILO.

Why is it important?

Occupation health and safety does not always get the priority it merits, but having a strong system is essential for the wellbeing of both the workforce and business. This can only be achieved by encouraging meaningful involvement at all levels, which in the workplace means leadership, H&S representatives, and staff discussing risks and how they’ll prevent them. Having a strong H&S culture doesn’t just lower illness and accident rates but can also lower employee turnover, increase motivation, and improve your reputation as an employer.

What can you do?

Getting your staff on board and participating can be slow going at first, but don’t let that put you off! It may take time to build trust and communication but it’s an investment and has been shown to reduce workplace injuries and accidents. So how do you get everyone on the same page?

First, commitment must come from the top, as workers are much more likely to engage with processes if they see the same dedication from management. Having open discussions and explaining how vital employee input is will help them be honest with you in return. Then, set up channels of communication between managers and staff (and union reps if you have them) that are accessible to everyone. The methods you use will depend on the size and type of your business but can be split into two main categories: direct and indirect.

  • Direct communication usually involves talking face to face. This could be straight to employees (in group meetings like toolbox talks or in one-to-one sessions) or with elected representatives who then speak to the workforce (this can help speed up consultation in larger companies).
  • Indirect communication can take many forms, such as a notice board where goals, news and updates can be shared with everyone. Another way is using a suggestion box or near miss board, where people can post concerns or ideas that will then be discussed by management and followed up – you can even encourage reporting by using posters. Finally, staff surveys are a great way to gather a range of opinions at once.

Different methods work for different people, so a combination is usually the most comprehensive approach. Make sure to set reasonable time frames to address concerns and report back. Explain why you have made the decision, so employees understand your thought process.

Health and safety culture is much stronger when everyone is informed, so ensure employees know: what issues they’ll face; what to do if they encounter them; and who their representative is. Appropriate training should be provided - and refreshed - so personnel have the skills to safely fulfil their roles, but other methods ought to be implemented as reminders. For instance, the HSE official poster must be displayed in workplaces, but there are other health and safety posters that provide guidance ranging from general reminders to specific occupational health issues.

Another way to raise awareness is through health and safety signage. Warning signs must be provided if a risk cannot be avoided or removed (e.g. low ceiling) so people know to take care, but you can also remind employees of their H&S responsibilities through mandatory signs (e.g. PPE must be worn) or co-ordinate them to minimise potential risks (e.g. road traffic signs). Most safety signs use symbols as well as wording to help communicate ideas faster and across language barriers.

Occupational safety and health is always changing, so it’s important to keep improving your culture. Do follow up inspections, maintain an accident book, and try to learn lessons from your findings.

If you need more information on conducting risk assessments visit the HSE website.

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