As a safety professional, there are many issues you can be focusing on at any given time. The goal is to spend as much time on impactful initiatives that drive actual results in your company’s safety program.
All too often, safety pros waste a lot of time addressing what should be small issues throughout their day. For example, having to take the time throughout the day to repeatedly enforce small safety rules can be a considerable time and energy suck.
At the top of the list is addressing employees who are not wearing personal equipment (PPE) during work tasks.
Employees Not Wearing PPE Often Signals Larger Issues
There are many reasons why employees choose not to wear PPE. It is easy to simply place the blame on the employee or employees who are not following basic safety rules, but the root cause of this behavior is often deeper systemic issues within the organization.
This post provides ideas on how to identify and address larger issues that lead employees to choose to not follow safety rules.
Tip 1- Get Ownership Buy-In and Involvement
This first tip is arguably the most critical aspect of addressing any safety issue at your company. It is vital to have the support of ownership or the decision-makers in your organization to make a positive difference in the safety program. These individuals make the decisions of how resources are allocated, and more importantly, set the expectations when it comes to how the operation is run.
If the employees and front-line supervisors know that safety is not taken seriously by these individuals, they will only care for it so much themselves. Until buy-in is achieved from ownership or management, it will be an uphill battle for you to make any progress in the safety program, including something as simple as getting employees to wear PPE.
Encourage these key stakeholders to be visible in the safety efforts in your facility. Have them lead safety meetings, take part in safety audits, walk the jobsite, coach employees who are breaking safety rules, etc.
This observable behavior puts emphasis on the importance of safety to everyone in the organization from the top down.
How to Implement This Tip
- If you are just getting started on making small improvements to your safety program, meet with the key stakeholders to get buy-in for safety improvement. Speak your audience’s language to make a case for safety- money. Business owners, operations personnel, and management focus on the numbers when it comes to business. Use past injuries and incidents to communicate the costs of the company’s losses and how improving the safety program can actually save the company money, not just take additional time and cost money. Refer to OSHA’s Business Case for Safety resources to prepare for this conversation.
Tip 2- Create a Written Disciplinary Policy
Prior to creating a written disciplinary policy, written safety policies and procedures need to be implemented. Employees need to be trained on these expectations to understand what is required of them.
Once the expectations are laid out there, a progressive disciplinary policy should be implemented. This policy will outline what occurs when employees do not follow safety rules or procedures. This policy needs to be followed consistently.
If employees see that they can break safety rules without consequences, then they are much less likely to follow the most basic expectations, let alone continually strive to improve.
Tip 3- Hold Employees Accountable
This tip is closely related to the above tip, but it is more about daily actions and decisions when encountering employees who are not wearing their PPE. Anytime someone is not following a known safety rule, their supervisor or someone else in management needs to take time to coach the employee.
If safety issues are not addressed by those in a management role, why should the individual employees care?
By not saying anything to someone not wearing PPE, you are indirectly granting permission that it is okay to do so. By choosing to address safety issues every single time they occur, employees understand what the expectation is and that they will be held accountable when not following the rules.
This consistent enforcement of the rules will lead to employees choosing to follow the rules without a second thought.
How to Implement This Tip
- Work with upper management to set responsibilities with the front-line supervisors in each department or work area. Safety should not just fall onto the safety department. Supervisors are experts in their specific work areas and they know their employees best. These individuals can have a significant positive impact on the safety program when they are consistently being held accountable for safety in their department and holding their staff to a high standard as well.
Tip 4- Incentivize Employees to Wear PPE
Safety incentive programs can be extremely effective when implemented correctly. These programs can also hurt a company’s safety program when implemented haphazardly.
All too often, companies implement safety incentive programs that reward an end result, such as zero accidents in a year, as opposed to proactive behaviors that help achieve the desired result. An example would include rewarding employees for consistently wearing their PPE.
Use an incentive program as a means to motivate and reward employees for displaying behaviors and actions that lead to a safer workplace. The criteria to earn the reward should be well-defined and understood by everyone in the organization.
How to Implement This Tip
- Refer to our Safety Incentive Guide for a more in-depth dive into what should be considered when implementing one of these programs.
Tip 5- Communicate Why it is Important to Wear PPE
This tip is an obvious one at surface-level. Employees must be trained on the hazards of their work and mitigation actions to follow to reduce the risk for injury to occur. Wearing personal protective equipment is a common and necessary safeguard in protecting ourselves on the job.
It is not always possible to eliminate all of the hazards we encounter in the work that we do, so less-effective safeguards such as wearing PPE must be utilized. Taking the time to continue to educate employees that PPE reduces the risk for injury and can reduce the severity of injury when exposed to a hazard is vital.
Moreover, use different approaches when communicating safety messages to continue to get buy-in for safety with employees. Each employee is a unique individual and different messages will resonate differently. A single approach to try to motivate diverse groups of individuals is ineffective.
How to Implement This Tip
- Change up how you communicate safety to employees. Browse our behavioral talks to get ideas on how to approach safety differently when trying to motivate individuals to follow safe work practices. Explain the WHY behind the WHAT of safety. Use different mediums to communicate safety outside of toolbox talks or training sessions such as safety campaigns, posters, payroll stuffers, etc.
It can be frustrating to constantly remind employees to put their personal protective equipment on. Moreover, it is not an effective use of your time as a safety professional.
If this is a consistent issue in your workplace, follow the tips above to address larger issues within your organization to begin to make progress in getting employees to comply with basic safety rules. These tips will have a positive impact on many different aspects of your safety program outside of just getting buy-in for following basic safety rules.
Safety is not only the responsibility of you as the safety person or even the entire safety department. It takes the efforts of everyone in the organization to make meaningful improvement that is sustained over time.
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