Workplace safety is everyone's responsibility, from the CEO down to the warehouse floor, but creating a culture of employee safety is easier said than done. While there's no magic formula to change existing attitudes towards safe work practices, the best (and perhaps easiest) place to start is with new trainees.
During the first weeks of a new job, staff members develop lasting impressions of a company, including its attitude towards workplace safety. They're eager to learn and invested in making a good impression. There's no better time to emphasize that employee safety is priority one. Consider each of the following workplace safety features when you train a new employee; work these angles into every new employee's orientation and you'll be on your way to getting your culture of workplace safety off to a great start.
No one has a blank slate when it comes to workplace safety. We all have previous experiences, and a good way to start training is by gauging a new employee's attitude towards safety. Where does it fall on their list of workplace priorities? What kind of safety training do they have? What attitudes have they encountered at previous jobs? Asking these questions engages your new employee, helps them feel heard, and gives you valuable information about who you're working with.
By emphasizing employee safety in your training, you're sending the implicit message that workplace safety is a priority. Don't be afraid to make that explicit. Tell employees directly that safety at work is crucial to success on the job. But remember: trainees need to see the words backed with concrete action and procedures, and the more they do, the more impact your training will have. Consider including a safety-minded, well respected employee in your training sessions to drive the message home: employee safety is everyone's business.
Your company has developed workplace safety rules for a number of situations, from every day use of equipment to emergency events. No doubt these are part of new employee training, but here's where vigilance is necessary. Do your seasoned employees actually demonstrate safe work practices? Employee training is an excellent opportunity to spot check. Take the training to the floor so your new charge can see how it's done and so you can make sure the existing staff is following the rules.
Emergency situations are a special kind of beast. As we explained in Safety in the Workplace: How to Reduce Hazards, the best way to overcome the inevitable panic of a crisis is to drill, drill, drill.
First aid training is a subset of procedures that requires special attention. Every employee needs to know how to do first aid or who to call. Remember that people react unpredictably in emergencies. The best protection is strong first aid training, with regular refreshers for your designated "first-aiders" and clear information about how to contact them for everyone else.
How observant are your new employees, or for that matter, your experienced ones? Do they really read all the important safety signs and toxic material labels? You can bet that after a day or two, most of this environmental print fades into the background and gets about as much attention as the dated wallpaper in the breakroom.
Bring it back into focus as often as possible. Read it out, point it out, ask employees to read it out loud, or approach it with humor so it feels less like a lecture and more like a cheesy dad joke. Either way, you're keeping workplace hazards top of mind. And that's your ultimate goal.
Naturally, it takes awhile for new employees to grasp all the aspects of your operation. Give them a head start by pointing out dangers that they might not anticipate.
A great way to identify these is to ask your current staff: What are the most common workplace injuries in your department? Which of these did you least expect when you started?
The key here: everyone knows the giant shredding machine is dangerous, but people are more likely to be injured by the humble utility knife. Back up this point with injury report facts to drive it home.
Remember, too, that most people learn better by doing than by hearing. If your employees use complex safety equipment like fall prevention harnesses with multiple adjustment points, watch trainees put on the harnesses and check to see that it's done properly -- do this more than once to drive the point home.
Start off right with employee safety. From initial safety presentations to developing a health and safety committee for ongoing training, make sure that safe work practices are part of the cultural fabric of your organization.