5 Tips to Get Employees to Work Safely

It is no secret that being successful in a safety role is not an easy feat. As a safety professional, much of your success depends on having the skills to understand the core issues that are impeding success and motivating others to buy into working safely.

five tips to get employees to work safely

It can be extremely frustrating to see employees and front-line supervisors not following basic safety rules, let alone striving to have a world-class safety program.

It takes time to make meaningful changes in a company’s safety program. It also takes the efforts of everyone in a workplace, not just the safety department, to create and sustain improvements.

Identifying Ways to Improve Your Safety Program

This post looks at five ideas to get employees to work safely through improving the overall safety program. The first tip starts with getting buy-in from the top to ensure safety efforts have the support needed to make improvements. This step is vital.

The tips are ordered from the most essential items to start the improvement process of a safety program to tips for organizations that may be past basic compliance to becoming an organization that is striving to be best-in-class when it comes to safety.

Each tip also provides actions to take in order to provide you with ideas on how to implement the tip.

Every company will have unique challenges, but these tips can make a meaningful impact on any safety program if implemented successfully.

Tip 1: Get Buy-in from Ownership/ Upper Management First

If there is no support from the owners of the company or upper management, then the amount of meaningful change that is sustained in the safety program will be extremely limited. As a safety professional, you have to clearly communicate the value that implementing safety actions can have for the organization.

get safety buy in from ownership management

It is not enough to use fear tactics by citing OSHA regulations and the possible fines if the rules are not followed. Meaningful change comes from implementing best practices that far exceed any OSHA standard.

The impact that implementing safety best practices can have can be difficult to quantify accurately, so the key personnel in your organization must buy into continual improvement and why it is important.

At the most basic level, you should focus on getting upper management to support efforts to follow OSHA regulations and hold employees accountable for not following the expected safety protocols. Once this basic level of support is established, you can start to focus on higher-level best practices such as creating a safety communication program, establishing a safety committee, implementing a safety incentive program, etc.

Actions to Take

  • Use dollars to make a case for safety. 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.
  • Review OSHA’s Business Case for Safety Program web page to understand how to successfully communicate the value safety can have.
  • Once you earn the support to begin to make improvements, sit down with management to create clear safety goals. The goals should be communicated to everyone in the organization.
  • Involve owners or the upper management in the safety efforts by having them present safety topics, take part in safety audits, walk the work site/areas, and coach employees when needed to show that the safety department has their support.

Tip 2: Consistently Hold Employees Accountable

Once buy-in is obtained from the key personnel in your organization, holding employees to the expectations set is critical. 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.

coach and hold employees accountable

Set consequences that clearly define what happens when individuals do not follow safety rules. The consequences for working unsafely should motivate employees to fall in line when it comes to following the rules.

Actions to Take

  • Create clear written safety policies and review them with all supervisors and employees to communicate what the expectations are.
  • Create a written progressive disciplinary policy and consistently follow it when employees do not follow the rules. Consequences should be more severe for repeat offenders or when serious safety violations occur.
  • Establish safety responsibilities and expectations for front-line supervisors to ensure all supervisors are accountable for safety in their respected areas or departments.
  • Have upper management or ownership coach employees in real-time when they observe an employee not following the rules.
  • Retrain employees who continue to work unsafely or who do not follow the rules set.

Tip 3: Incentivize Pro-Active Behaviors

Implementing a safety incentive program can drive meaningful change in your safety program when done correctly. When not implemented correctly, these programs can actually hurt a company’s safety efforts. All too often, a company will implement a safety incentive program that strictly rewards employees to not have accidents or injuries.

incentivize safe behaviors

These types of goals are vague and can incentivize negative behaviors, such as not reporting injuries when they occur.

Any incentive program should reward employees often for exhibiting proactive, safe behaviors.

Examples can include rewarding reporting hazards, rewarding employees who stop work when it is unsafe to continue, wearing personal protective equipment, completing safety training, filling out safety paperwork, etc.

Actions to Take

  • Review the Implementing a Safety Incentive Guide on this website to better understand how to implement a safety incentive program.
  • Tailor the program to the specific issues you want to improve upon. For example, if you want your employees to improve their hazard recognition skills, reward employees who report hazards.
  • Create a written policy outlining the goals, benefits, rewards, and actions that will be rewarded.
  • Communicate the program to everyone in the organization.
  • Make goals or desired actions obtainable. Setting a single goal of zero injuries in a calendar year in a facility of 500 employees can create tension due to it being a stretch of a goal to hit. As stated above, this type of program can cause employees not to report injuries as well.
  • Reward employees on a more frequent basis, such as quarterly instead of annually. If they do not qualify towards the beginning of the year, they are still incentivized during the next quarter.

Tip 4: Improve Your Messaging

Safety can get stale. Look past the conventional ways to communicate safety or the messages being shared to get employees to want to continue to improve. Once you achieve buy-in from management and start to get employees to follow basic safety rules, you should strive to motivate everyone in the organization to continually improve.

improve your safety messages

If you are past getting employees to follow basic safety rules, the safety messages and how they are conveyed should also reflect that.

Getting others in the organization to see the “big vision” when it comes to safety is vital to not allow safety efforts to become stagnant. Every employee is a unique human being that requires unique messaging to continue to develop their understanding as well as to be motivated.

Actions to Take

  • Develop your own soft skills such as communication, listening, motivating, problem-solving, etc., to be able to think outside the box to identify what efforts can be implemented to take the safety program to the next level.
  • Do not always have a safety manager be the one communicating safety. Involve owners, supervisors, and employees during safety meetings or safety training sessions.
  • Check out the behavioral safety talks on this website to get ideas on how to explain the WHY behind the WHAT of safety.
  • Use different mediums to communicate safety outside of toolbox talks or training sessions. Sending emails, using posters, implementing safety campaigns, etc., can be used to more frequently communicate safety messages in your organization.

Tip 5: Continually Audit Your Organization to Improve

Your company’s safety program will not continue to improve unless efforts are made to identify weaknesses and identify measures to address these weaknesses. There is a huge difference between the safety programs of a company looking to just be compliant and a company that is constantly seeking to improve.

audit your safety program

By honestly evaluating your safety program and processes, you can target your efforts in order to ensure progress continues to be made.

Actions to Take

  • Establish an audit program that objectively measures your safety program. An audit program can include evaluations for individuals, departments, and an organization as a whole.
  • Establish criteria that measure key areas, actions, and behaviors that drive the desired outcomes set in the written policies, company’s goals, and training objectives.
  • Once weaknesses are identified, develop action items and assign responsibility to address the action item in a specific time frame. A plan of action that outlines responsibilities and a due date provides clear guidance to all stakeholders in the organization.


Improving a safety program is no joke. There are so many moving parts that need to be brought together in order to successfully move an organization forward in making meaningful progress.

You as a single safety person, or even an entire safety department, cannot make progress alone. Your goal should be to set clear objectives, communicate value, work with all levels of the organization to get buy-in, and identify ways to continually improve.

Use the tips above to compare to where your company’s safety program currently is. If you do not have the skills or knowledge to implement the action items above, involve people who do in order to get the ball rolling.

It takes time to create meaningful and sustained progress in your safety program, but it can be done with consistent, targeted effort.

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