Safety’s economic and human virtues are unquestioned, but making safety a workplace reality is no simple task. Even companies passionate about safety struggle to bring real change to operations. Managers develop procedures and distribute safety equipment, but preventable accidents continue to occur.

The circumstances leading to the success or failure of a safety initiative are as unique as varied companies, but there are shared dynamics across industries.

Safety: luxury or fundamental?

A common source of policy failure is the resilient employee attitude that, ‘getting the job done’ rationalises bending of safety policies. Dual mandates of safety and extreme efficiency can crosscut each other unless management works carefully with production to set goals that are achievable while maintaining a safe work environment. Employees should be shown that accidents have a dramatic impact on a company’s bottom line: accidents cost, safety pays.

Compelling, pertinent training

Effective training must communicate the personal consequences of failing to uphold safety practices in a clear and compelling way. Vivid illustrations of injuries sustained when not using safety equipment, and their long-term consequences, motivate employees to use safety equipment out of real self-interest. Training that is interesting, relevant, and explanatory brings about real change in employee behaviour and attitude.

Accountability and follow through

Successful human systems require persistent monitoring and clear accountability. Knowing who received training or equipment, and when, is critical information but is only the beginning of an effective monitoring programme. Employees must know that management regularly reviews their performance and consistently reports on progress. If employees sense that management is ambivalent about their performance relative to a policy, compliance will degrade over time.

Everyone is responsible for safety

Responsibility for safe practices must be equally shared by all levels of management. Companies may have a Safety Officer, Team or other manager that is responsible for investigating accidents and distributing safety information. If other managers do not require the same level of safety compliance as the Safety Officer, other employees may see him/her as a ‘safety nark’. This management breakdown is a deal-killer to an effective safety eco-system as it compromises the utility of the Safety Officer and weakens safe practices company-wide. Implementation plans should hold each tier of the employee hierarchy responsible for compliance and continued safe operation.

Creating a programme that works

Every employee needs to know how to work safely. Experienced managers need to be assembled to identify the content and characteristics of an ideal training plan. Safety training has to be engaging, easy to deploy, and encourage interaction between trainer and employee.

Safety is everybody’s job

One of the most valuable aspects of safety initiatives is that it truly makes safety a part of everyone’s job—not just the Safety Officer’s. Employees hear about working safely from their direct supervisors up through the field hierarchy, and have a clear responsibility for their own safety. Gone are the days where an employee can say that his supervisor, “never told me.”

Designing for success

Evaluating a company’s strengths and weaknesses is essential when introducing a new programme. By identifying weaknesses in the management system, a programme can be designed to result in successful safety improvements, ideally with a management buy-in!

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