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Enforcing Clear Safety Policies

When implementing work place policies and procedures it requires all parties affected to pull in the same direction to make the policy truly effective. Employers all hold a duty of care to provide their employers with a safe working environment. This may be by providing them with the appropriate tools, apparel and training, and by ensuring a clear safety policy is enforced. However, it’s also up to the employee to follow the procedures put in place for their safety. If for one reason or another a policy is not followed, then it becomes redundant and is beneficial to neither party. To ensure employees understand the company’s safety policies, and therefore buy into the safety culture, there are key components that must be addressed.

Here are three areas that need to be examined to ensure your safety policy is in good shape:

Employer Policy

The purpose of most safety policies is to reduce the risk to employees so that they can carry out their day-to-day duties in a safe working environment. In fact, most companies have policies that benefit employee safety in numerous ways. However, some of these policies are put in place to protect the organisation from liability and to obey to local, state, and federal law. From a safety culture perspective, companies want their employees safe because they care about them and the investment they’ve made in their workforce. But how is that communicated? If an employee feels these policies are only to benefit their employer, then they may feel disconnected and unvalued by their company. This could not only have a negative effect on productivity but also cause them to neglect safety procedures, and therefore place their safety at high risk. It's also just as important to be able to consider industry verticals when creating or enforcing a safety policy. If an employee’s performance is measured on job efficiency then they may rush to complete certain tasks, which may put them at risk.

Employees can face a host of different risks and threats to their safety, many of which are linked to social risks. In today’s world, employees face social risks both inside and outside their workplace. According to the US Department of Labor, in 2016 workplace violence injuries increased by 23%, making it the second most common cause of workplace fatalities*.

High risk situations caused by active shooters or disgruntled irrational co-workers are at the forefront of many workers minds due to recent tragic events. Employer policies related to dealing with, and mitigating these social risks are a key element that must to be incorporated into every employer’s safety policy and culture. Not only could following a safety policy reduce these risks, but potentially prevent risks from occurring entirely.

However, that is safety from a physical standpoint, what about the mental aspect of your employees feeling safe while performing their job responsibilities? A healthy relationship between employer and employee is built on trust. By taking the appropriate steps, such as enforcing a clear safety policy, it will show that the employer cares for the wellbeing of their employees. A safe employee is a happy employee, and a happy workforce offers a host of benefits across the whole organization, including increased productivity, boosted moral, and reduced staff turnover.

Employee Adherence

It’s important that employees buy into any company safety requirements. It can often be the case that although an employee may understand and agree to follow procedure, it sometimes gets swept under the carpet, or forgotten, in place of carrying out their duties more efficiently. They may have all the necessary tools or instruments required to perform the tasks their job entails, but may be tempted to complete their tasks by cutting corners, which could put them at risk. Therefore, it’s hugely important that employees understand the importance company policies and procedures. They’re not in place to make their jobs more difficult, but to make their jobs safer.

What about when faced with a social risk? What does policy dictate? Employees want to know that their employer has their safety and care at the forefront of their minds. When the employee truly feels that their employer has gone that extra mile to protect them, it will offer the feeling of empowerment and motivate them to carry out their duties both efficiently and effectively. It will also help when it comes to convincing your workforce to buy into your health and safety policies and procedures.

Another advantage of protecting your workforce is the lowering employee turnover or attrition, when the employee feels the company truly cares about their well-being, they’re less likely to want to move on. Most companies would love to have the majority of their workforce show up every day with an attitude of “wanting to work there”. Putting things in place that can accommodate that mindset can go a long way in retention and more importantly an efficient and effective workforce.

Workplace Safety Enforcement

It’s unfortunate that most employees will eventually face an element of risk during their working life, and this is why we must have laws related to worker safety. This is why it is paramount that employees understand the need to follow these procedures and not feel pressured or burdened by an extra responsibility. To build a truly solid safety policy, both parties must make it a priority, law or not.

It’s simple to adhere to standard policy related to items like the usage of tools, equipment, etc. or posture at your desk, height of monitors, vehicular safety etc. The hardest enforcement is related to social risk. This is due to two basic factors. Social risks are often unpredictable and may not occur frequently. Secondly, situations related to social risks can often vary, therefore creating an appropriate process to defuse a situation can be difficult . For example, what happens if someone confronts an employee in the parking lot? Or a disgruntled customer who is becoming very agitated begins to cause concern? How do we enforce policy and ensure the right thing from a consistency perspective? And even if a policy is in place and tools are used to mitigate exposure or risk, how does the employer monitor whether or not it is adhered to?

These are but a few items to consider when assessing your current safety culture and policies and procedures. But while policy can dictate measures to try and increase safety, a true culture of safety is the most important measure because it can define an organization’s view on how important employee safety is to them.

In the end, this creates a feeling of inclusion from the employee that their employer cares and consequently creates a safer work environment, with employees who are more likely to want to work for them.

*Statement from OSHA Regarding Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2016, United States Department of Labor, 12/19/2017 11:35 AM EST, Trade Release from OSHA

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