The hard truth is that many organizations will never achieve their safety and health goals. They simply do not have the safety culture necessary to make real change. Culture influences everything; it is an invisible force shaping people’s actions, attitudes, and beliefs. Good or bad, your company has a culture of safety that directly contributes to your company’s EHS successes and failures.
Companies serious about continuous improvement must look inwards to see if they have the culture to sustain it; if not, that is the first place to start. Building a safety culture is not easy, and it takes time. So let’s dig into one of the most critical aspects of building a safety culture, employee trust.
Why Is Trust Important
You must know where you are to get where you want to be. Data allows you to do that and analyzing your organization’s accidents, injuries, near misses, and hazards are crucial for continuous improvement. It demonstrates your organization’s strengths and weaknesses and can provide you insight into how to achieve goals.
Accurate data is essential. Unfortunately, many organizations do not truly understand where they stand with safety and health because employees are not reporting. Why? Well, some simply forget and others choose not to because they fear the repercussions of reporting accidents and injuries.
If employees do feel comfortable enough to report, traditional paper reporting means valuable information is trapped and can’t help leaders make better-informed choices until it is processed. Also, possible data entry mistakes mean the information might not be trustworthy. Real-time, digital records are the best way to overcome these common issues with traditional reporting methods.
Eliminating the Fear of Retaliation for Reporting
Some organizations will blame the individual instead of searching for all the factors that lead to an accident. Instead of trying to learn and grow from the accident, companies conduct a witch hunt to see who is at fault. Personal accountability is essential, but making accidents the sole responsibility of the individual without considering contributing factors is a toxic practice that kills employee trust.
In that environment, workers become fearful of safety and the repercussions if they are involved in an accident. Instead of the open and honest communication about safety that spurs continuous improvement, it closes people off and stifles participation.
In contrast, when you demonstrate to workers that you view accidents as learning opportunities and a chance to grow and become better, their attitudes can shift. Treating people with kindness and consideration is enormous. Focusing on continuous organizational improvement also shows workers that it is not about blaming or firing people if they get hurt. It is about creating a safer workplace for everyone.
According to Heinrich’s Triangle, if you can lower the number of near misses, you can reduce your number of injuries. The theory says that for every 300 near misses, there are 29 minor injuries and one significant injury. Without a strong safety culture with employee reporting, you’ll never be able to make a dent in that 300. So ask yourself, how many near misses have you recorded lately?
Practicing What You Preach
Nothing ruins employee trust faster than management that says one thing and then does another. For example, most organizations have endless policies and procedures that they push on employees, but it is all just words in a document. They do not abide by their own rules.
They have employees sit through hours of safety training to learn how to do it correctly and then send them to the field where they do it in the most cost-effective and convenient manner. How can an employee trust an organization and its commitment to keeping them safe when they operate like this?
Also, management must always lead by example; if a rule is good enough for one person, it is good enough for everyone. When organizations strictly enforce specific regulations for some, but not everyone, it can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. If you must wear PPE to enter the job site, ensure everyone from the CEO to the lowest paid worker complies.
Finally, communicate why your organization is implementing new policies, the reasoning, and how it can benefit employees. Transparency and sharing progress towards meeting action item closures, auditing, reporting, and other goals reinforce that safety is a team effort and increased employee ownership towards safety.
Build Rapport for Honest Communication Around Safety
People do not trust those that they do not know. That is why building familiarity and rapport with employees is crucial to building trust. So go where the work is, talk with your crews, and get to know them. Show them that you are there to listen and to help.
“By approaching people as they are doing work and saying, “What’s that?” I learned so much. It’s not just the material I learned about; I also learned so much about the workers. That they want to share, they want to explain. They want to have you understand what they do, and there is so much power in that because then I can learn what they need and bring them ideas and bring them options. I later found out that really endeared them to me because it came through, and it was genuine.” – AbbyFerri, Certified Safety Professional and co-host of SafetyJustice League podcast.
When you build rapport and show that you genuinely care for their well-being, you build trust, and workers are more likely to speak with you candidly about their job and risks.
Following Through With What You Say You Will
Workers that report safety issues, but do not see anything change, will lose trust in the process. Therefore, if someone brings a safety issue to your attention, show the individual that you are trying your best to fix it. Also, it is a good idea to share improvements to safety to remind employees that their efforts are worth it, that things are getting better, and that they can trust the process because it works.
Also, set clear expectations for worker safety, and how non-compliance is handled. Ensure those rules are not nit-picky but vital things that can seriously affect worker and organizational health and safety. Then, assure all leadership and staff members consistently uphold those rules. If you do it sometimes, and not with every employee, you will lose worker trust.
The Next Step for Continuous Improvement
Organizations that want to compete must always strive for continuous improvement; building employee trust can help. Workers who trust their employers are more likely to provide the critical information needed to make real change. Once you have accurate accident, injury, near miss, and hazard data, you can explore leading and lagging indicators with the help of EHS software.
Anvl helps leaders get real-time insight into their data & reports to develop bold ideas and make strategic choices that create genuine change. Their digital workflow supports quality, safety, and operations all in one place and helps companies detect issues fast, improve communication, and identify improvements. Easy-to-use mobile apps and in-the-moment prompts get workers involved to support compliance and deliver solutions in real-time.
To learn more about Anvl, and how to build trust amongst your front line, check out our interview with Abby Ferri, CSP, on the Innovation of Work podcast. Abby Ferri is a practical and creative safety professional with an innovative approach that has impacted thousands of workers, students, and safety peers worldwide.