A workplace safety and health program needs workers to participate in a meaningful way in order to be effective. Here's how to make that happen.
Creating a thriving culture of workplace safety and health doesn't happen overnight or because management makes a declaration. It requires the committed involvement of workers, and a collective investment in an approach that recognizes their valuable insights and protects their well-being. When workers actively participate in shaping safety and health programs, they are not just recipients of regulations but become critical contributors to a safer environment.
Worker participation means that the employees are truly involved in establishing, operating, evaluating, and improving the safety and health program. All workers should participate, including those employed by contractors, subcontractors, and temporary staffing agencies.
Workers often know the most about the potential hazards associated with their jobs, and successful safety and health programs take every opportunity they can to tap into this knowledge base. It’s critical that organizational leadership understand that it’s the workers who have so much to gain from a successful safety program, and the most to lose if the program fails.
In an effective safety and health program all workers are encouraged to participate in the program and should feel comfortable providing input and reporting safety or health concerns. In order to participate effectively, workers must have access to information about the program as well as the time and resources required to participate in all phases of program design and implementation. Workers should never experience retaliation when they raise safety concerns, report incidents, participate in the safety program, or exercise their safety and health rights.
Note: Where workers are represented by a union, it is important that worker representatives also participate in the program, consistent with the rights provided to worker representatives under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the National Labor Relations Act.
ENCOURAGE WORKERS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SAFETY AND HEALTH PROGRAM
By encouraging workers to participate in the safety and health program, management signals that it values their input. In order to be involved, workers must be provided with the necessary time and resources they need to make a worthwhile contribution. Leadership should maintain an open door policy that invites workers to talk to managers about safety and health issues. Acknowledge and provide positive reinforcement to those employees who make suggestions and participate in the program.
Workers are typically the ones who are the best to identify safety and health concerns and program shortcomings, such as emerging workplace hazards, unsafe conditions, close calls or near misses, as well as actual incidents. By encouraging reporting and following up promptly on all reports, employers can address issues before someone gets hurt or becomes sick.
Establish a process for workers to report injuries, illnesses, near misses, hazards, and other safety and health concerns, and respond to reports promptly. Include an option for anonymous reporting to reduce any hesitation workers may have with the reporting process.
Under OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping rule (29 CFR 1904), employers are required to establish a “reasonable” procedure for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses promptly and accurately. A reasonable procedure is defined as one that would not deter or discourage an employee from accurately reporting a workplace injury or illness.
Report back to workers routinely and frequently about action taken in response to their concerns and suggestions. Management should emphasize reported information will only be used to improve workplace safety and health, and that no worker will experience retaliation for reporting safety concerns.
Empower all workers with stop work authority that allows them to initiate or request a temporary suspension or shutdown of any work activity or operation they believe to be unsafe. When issues do arise, involve workers in finding solutions and implementing controls.
GIVE WORKERS ACCESS TO SAFETY AND HEALTH INFORMATION
Sharing relevant safety and health information with workers fosters trust and helps organizations make more informed safety and health decisions. Give workers the information they need to understand safety and health hazards and control measures in the workplace.
Some OSHA standards require employers to make specific types of information available to workers, such as safety data sheets (SDS), injury and illness data, or results of environmental exposure monitoring.
Other useful safety information for workers to review can include completed workplace job hazard analysis forms, chemical and equipment manufacturer safety recommendations, workplace inspection reports, and incident investigation reports.
While it is important for workers to have access to relevant safety and health information, injury and illness data may need to be redacted and aggregated on reports to eliminate personal identifiers.
INVOLVE WORKERS IN ALL ASPECTS OF THE SAFETY AND HEALTH PROGRAM
Including worker input at every step of safety and health program design and implementation improves the organization’s ability to identify the presence and causes of workplace hazards, creates a sense of program ownership among workers, enhances their understanding of how the program works, and helps sustain the program over time.
Provide opportunities for workers to participate in all aspects of the safety and health program. Workers can be a valuable resource during the development of the program and can help identify and set valuable goals within the program.
What does it actually mean to have workers participate in the safety and health program? OSHA provides a good argument for why it’s a good idea but in a company where safety is always a priority but production or service quotas are extremely important, how can workers find the time to become an asset to the safety program too?
Answering that question, here are some of the most worthwhile ways workers can actively participate and add value to their organization’s safety and health program. While workers that aren’t in management positions may not be entirely responsible for some of these items, they can certainly help or assist in a meaningful way.
- Develop the safety and health program and set goals within the program
- Report hazards, develop solutions, and implement controls
- Analyze hazards in each step of routine and nonroutine jobs, tasks, and processes
- Define and document safe work practices
- Conduct site inspections
- Develop and revise safety procedures
- Participate in incident and near miss investigations
- Train current coworkers and new hires
- Develop, implement, and evaluate training programs
- Evaluate program performance and identify ways to improve it
- Take part in exposure monitoring and medical surveillance associated with health hazards
In addition to being trained to identify workplace hazards and reporting hazards when they are found, workers can also help to develop solutions and implement controls to eliminate or manage those hazards. Because workers are the most familiar with the tasks they complete every day, they are a valuable resource when it comes to analyzing the hazards in each step of routine and nonroutine jobs, tasks, and processes.
Get workers involved with documenting safe work practices and developing safety procedures. Periodically, let workers evaluate the performance of the safety and health program, have them identify new ways to improve it, and then assist with revising the program in meaningful ways.
Workers can conduct site inspections and participate in incident and near miss investigations. They can also take part in exposure monitoring and medical surveillance associated with health hazards.
Finally, get workers involved in the safety training program. In addition to training current workers and new hires, they can become even more involved as they develop, implement, and evaluate training programs.
REMOVE BARRIERS TO PARTICIPATION
To participate meaningfully in the safety and health program, workers must feel that their input is welcome, their voices will be heard, and they can access reporting mechanisms. Participation will be suppressed if language, education, or skill levels in the workplace are not considered, or if workers fear retaliation or discrimination for speaking up.
Ensure that workers from all levels of the organization can participate in the safety and health program. Provide frequent and regular feedback to show employees that their safety and health concerns are being heard and addressed.
Incident investigations should never focus on blaming individuals but instead should seek to find the underlying conditions that led to the incident.
Incentive programs (like point systems, awards, and prizes) should be designed in a manner that does not discourage injury and illness reporting. Effective safety and health programs recognize positive safety and health activities, such as reporting hazardous conditions or suggesting safer work procedures.
Emphasizing a blame-free culture focused on identifying root causes, instead of individual blame, along with positive reinforcement for proactive safety practices, will further promote worker participation.
For more information on how to evaluate and improve your workplace safety and health program, download a copy of OSHA’s booklet Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs.