by Brandy Bossle, CSP
If you're managing your company's safety program, you need to get support or "buy-In" from across your organization. From senior leaders to front line staff, safety programs require the entire team to be successful.
Senior leaders' participation is mandatory for getting safety initiatives into long-term practice due to the influence and impact they can have on a company's goals and priorities. Leaders must recognize that the health and safety of their employees is an essential element of a successful company. When senior leadership encourages and lives by the safety program, employees will follow suit.
Managers must also have an active role in the safety program to be effective. They are the mentors who teach their employees how to perform specific tasks. If a manager demonstrates how to do a job unsafely, the employee will also learn that bad habit. Managers must be champions of the safety program because their employees look to them for guidance. If a manager's oversight allows unsafe actions (and unsafe conditions), this will cause employees to continue performing their work in an unsafe manner. Managers must support safe behavior and correct hazardous behavior.
Having employees buy-in for the safety program means they are willing to participate in activities that will lead to a successful safety program. As employees continue their journey working at a company with a positive safety culture, they will gain empowerment and ownership. Enthusiastic employees not only perform their duties safely, but often serve as safety champions among their co-workers. Empowered employees report unsafe conditions and near misses, ensuring continuous improvement of the safety program.
Now we know how vital our colleagues are to support the safety program. But how do we get their buy-in?
Establish a Budget
A way to gain leadership support is to create a budget for safety-related items at the beginning of the company's fiscal year. Items may include personal protective equipment, online training, safety software or apps, safety devices or tools, consulting services, or upgrades on equipment.
If there is no budget, management is more likely to not approve of safety initiatives or ideas. Therefore, plan a budget for the year and share it with management.
For example, suppose you identified that workers at your company are at risk of hazards when working alone. In that case, you will want to add the implementation of a Lone Worker Solution like SolusGuard to your budget.
Develop a ROI & Prepare for Resistance
When attempting to get leadership buy-in, it’s crucial that you discuss how the company will benefit from the safety initiative in terms of money and payback. Therefore, you should develop a Return on Investment (ROI) for the planned safety initiatives. Help them understand the investment costs and how much will be gained by executing the proposed safety idea. This includes discussing the company's problems and how a safety initiative would help. What are we risking if we choose not to implement this safety initiative? How much would an injury or illness cost if the hazard went unresolved? Will the initiative improve OSHA compliance or streamline a manual and time-consuming safety process?
OSHA has a tool called The Safety Pays Program that raises awareness of how injuries and illnesses can impact a company's profitability. This tool can help estimate costs from injuries and create an ROI that will make your case.
When you are planning to present your idea to senior leadership, you want to be a step ahead of their questions. Consider their motivations and predict why they would say no to the proposal. Be prepared for resistance and have your answers ready.
Encourage Employee Participation
Many workers who manage a company's safety program think they must do everything themselves. For a safety program to be effective, it requires full participation. When you get others involved in the program, they feel a sense of ownership because they help build and sustain it.
How do we get employees involved?
First, you can ask employees for their feedback on safety policies and procedures. Then, get them involved in a safety committee and have them perform monthly safety and health inspections at their job location. Ask them to share any hazards they face on the job and brainstorm ideas to control those hazards. Employees can also help with safety and health training, audits, incidents review, and risk assessments. Before you ask employees to participate in audits or inspections, train them in the types of hazards they should be identifying.
Building trust with managers and employees is one of the best ways to get buy-in. If you are having a meeting to discuss safety items, don't start immediately discussing safety. Instead, get to know them and their life outside of work first. You may find out that you share common interests which can help build a relationship and maybe even a friendship. Strong relationships build trust. When you have trust between you and other coworkers, they are more likely to participate in safety initiatives.
Being prepared with an approved budget, providing an ROI, and understanding answers to potential questions that senior leadership may ask is a great way to obtain buy-in from your leaders. In addition, building trust with managers and coworkers and establishing ways to participate are essential for buy-in to the safety program.