Safety: Focus on Safety, Part 8: Operation Motivation

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Safety: Focus on Safety, Part 8: Operation Motivation:

How to Get (and Keep) Employees on Board with Safety Programs Education: Keeping Skills Sharp

By Terri Perrin / Published November 2015



You’ve worked hard creating safety protocols. You’ve trained staff at all levels of the program. Now, how do you motivate them to comply?


“Business leaders constantly ask me how they can get workers more engaged in safety efforts,” says Terry L. Mathis, coauthor of Steps to Safety Culture Excellence, and founder and CEO of Texas-based ProAct Safety. “A partial answer to this question is to make safety more motivating.

“Whether you attempt to control what you call motivators or influences, successfully doing so should elicit a degree of enthusiasm from workers,” believes Mathis. “If it does not, the program and overall effort of safety is swimming against the current of culture. In such cases, safety efforts tend to be minimal and grudging. Workers practice a degree of safety to avoid negative consequences or labeling, not to help the organization achieve true excellence. The safety culture is one of compliance, not collaboration. Even if hands and feet move, the hearts and minds of workers are not engaged. Safety has a ‘have to’ rather than a ‘want to’ culture and all the potential altruism is stifled.”

De-Motivation Activators

Mathis explains that several factors contribute to creating a culture where ‘de-motivation’ negatively affects efforts to implement safety programs:

Workers feel separated from leaders: They don’t receive timely, detailed information or have regular contact with management. Business owners often get busy and lose track of how often they communicate with workers, or simply not make such contact a priority.

Workers feel they are micromanaged: People who feel manipulated or micromanaged have difficulty remaining motivated. Too much control is perceived as a lack of trust in workers to do the right thing and to do it safely.

Input from workers is ignored: Employees’ comments and concerns go into a suggestion box that is a ‘black hole’ from which nothing ever returns. Some business owners don’t elicit or accept input from workers.

“Remember, motivation is not the main goal of a safety program, but it is a tool without which the highest levels of excellent safety performance are not possible,” concludes Mathis. “Demotivated workers give grudging compliance but not willing cooperation. Overly controlled workers comply but don’t excel. Worker input through suggestions is a remarkable pool of improvement possibility that will be untapped if motivation is lacking. Improving the motivation for safety may be as simple as regular communication, increased autonomy, and letting the folks who do the work tell you how it could be done more safely.”

Rewards For Compliance

Marlo Dean is a Senior Manager of Support Services for Washington-based Kärcher. Dean is qualified to conduct safety ISO9001 surveillance audits at equipment manufacturing facilities. He vividly recalls a particular surveillance audit where signage on the shop floor clearly indicated that the use of ear and eye protection was required. However, upon entering the facility, he discovered that not one employee was wearing the appropriate safety gear.

“You can put up all of the signs you want and train employees, but the onus is still on the individual worker to ensure that he or she follows proper procedures,” says Dean. “If an employee doesn’t comply with established safety procedures, they get hurt. Both the employee and the company suffer the consequences.”

To help encourage safety compliance at Kärcher, they have initiated an incentive program. Anyone who identifies an individual not wearing personal safety devices in designated areas is rewarded points. Even visitors, managers, and executive managers participate in the contest.

“Our employees are motivated to find anyone not wearing protective devices because we have a way to randomly test them,” reports Dean. “An individual is asked to walk in an area without a safety device or to perform an act, which is against the safety policy. This individual carries with them a special Kärcher token worth $10 toward the purchase of a gift card or Kärcher items like coats, hats, backpacks, and more. The person who notices and tells them that they need to wear the required safety device or informs them of a safety violation, is given the token. They can even earn a paid day off if they earn ten of these tokens. Their name is also reported to the employee responsible for safety in their area. If this individual can go into an area without anyone telling him or her to put on the appropriate safety device, the employees have their points taken away. These programs work and help employees get in the habit of wearing personal protective equipment.”

The ‘Buck’ Starts Here!

At Scotts Pressure Wash in Calgary, AB, Canada, they hold monthly safety meetings in the company boardroom or as a ‘tail gate’ party in the shop. The meetings always include administrative support personnel from the office, as well as technicians. Company president, Paul Horsley, believes that office staff view safety from a different point of view. They should be included in some of the training. It has also proven beneficial for them to encourage communication between the office and shop staff. Coffee and donuts or other goodies are always provided, of course, and meetings are always kept to under an hour, to ensure they don’t get boring.

Safety-photo1The team uses a blackboard to teach better and safer ways to pressure wash, and they always throw in a teaching session about chemicals.While the topic of safety is always serious, they try to make the meetings casual and engaging. ‘Scotts Bucks’ are part of the fun. Horsley says that the introduction of Scotts Bucks as a rewards program a couple of years ago has been well received. Staff can trade them in for cold, hard cash several times a year. Scotts Bucks may be randomly rewarded to staff for a variety of reasons: keeping their trucks clean and tidy, a customer calling in to say what a great employee we have or what a great job he did, examples of stellar safety compliance, or excellent suggestions for safety improvements. They also ask questions at the safety meetings to ensure that people are listening, and randomly hand out Scotts Bucks to those who answer correctly. “Staff love to be rewarded in front of their peers, and it makes it more fun,” adds Horsley.

Scotts has also introduced a profit bonus incentive to employees that includes, but is not limited to, safety compliance. Each employee receives a percentage of his salary as a year-end bonus when they achieve success with several Key Point Indicators (KPIs). The KPIs are tracked for each individual
and include such things as:
• Accidents/Infractions/Incidents
• Employee attitude
• Professionalism
• On time delivery of service
• Employee engagement
• Reporting problems with their equipment, etc.

A Different Point of View

While a rewards system may work great for some companies, not everyone believes in their efficacy. “In my opinion, reward programs have the potential to hurt your safety program more than they help,” states Roy Chappell, Chappell Supply, Okla-homa City, OK. “Nobody wants to be ‘that person’ who gets hurt and keeps the group from receiving their reward. I believe that this could cause people to hide incidents or injuries and lower morale.

“The best way we have found to make training more engaging and enjoyable is to have the employees assist in the development of the training topics,” adds Chappell. “We started a Safety Committee that is run by a group of employees and allows direct input during the development of safety training. Since implementing the safety committee, we have seen a reduction in incidents due to front line input, as well as a more positive response to safety training.”

To learn more about safety and motivation in the workplace, consider the book, STEPS to Safety Culture Excellence (proactsafety.com/book-steps-to-safety-culture-excellence). 

 12 Great Motivational Tips

It goes without saying that any safety program should be successful if you provide the necessary elements of ongoing training and support. But there is more to the safety compliance solution than conducting regular training reviews and putting up posters! Here are some quick tips on promoting a safety culture in your business:

Don’t reinvent the wheel: Before drafting new safety protocols, examine those that are already in place. If they already work, don’t ‘fix’ them! Change, just for the sake of change, will not be well accepted.
Remember the ‘K.I.S.S.’ Principle: Keep Implementing  Safety Simply! A safety program should not be overly complicated and stressful.
Don’t shoot the messenger: Workers who comment (or complain) about safety issues should be rewarded, not reprimanded. Ensure that everyone knows they have a voice.
Recognize safety champions: Invite employees at all levels to become involved in problem solving, workplace inspections, and training. Communicate the results and cultivate a culture that values and rewards these efforts.
Ask for feedback and insight: Ask employees how they want to manage safety. Be sincere in acknowledging their suggestions. Invite employees to join a healthand safety committee.
Start group meetings with a ‘Safety Share.’ Ask participants to report something they have done, or observed, that complies with safety protocols. Make the focus achievement, not admonishment.
Show positive results: Put a ‘Number of Days Without Accidents’ poster in the staff lunchroom or bulletin board. Be sure to update it daily!
Constantly sell (and improve) your program: Every conversation is a potential opportunity to sell the benefits of safety.
Be a problem solver: When a safety concern is brought to your attention, act on it. Immediately. If you are not perceived as a business owner who takes safety seriously, employees will stop giving you feedback and may become less concerned about following ‘the rules.’
Stuff it!: You can never underestimate the value in personally thanking people, but a note in a pay stub envelope, thanking employees for being safety compliant, is also a nice touch. Go ahead, have some fun! Try putting in something different in random pay stub envelopes: an inspirational quote, a funny joke, or a safety tip. Employees won’t know what to expect! It makes payday a little more fun.
Communicate: Include a safety information column or tips in your e-news and on social media.
Think ‘positive consequences’: Employees usually understand the consequences of non-compliance: injuries, loss of production time, loss of life, limb, or job… but what happens when they do things right? You don’t have to go broke by hosting a pizza party every Friday, but it does mean that you should acknowledge and thank people in front of their peers, supervisors, and management.