One in seven Americans don’t feel safe at work. That’s according to 2019 data from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the country and several dramatic incidents of racial violence (including the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others), those numbers are bound to be higher.
Some employees are fearful of contracting the virus at work and bringing it home to their families. Others fear discrimination, harassment, and even outright violence.
We can — and must — do better. It won’t be easy, but EHS can lead the way when it comes to helping employees feel safe at work.
Establish anonymous reporting systems
It starts with providing a system for reporting concerns. Employees need to know that management is not only listening to but actively seeking out a diverse range of opinions and perspectives. Unsurprisingly, employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work, according to Salesforce research.
Experts talk a lot about establishing a “see something, say something” culture — but that’s only possible if we give employees the tools to say something. Some employees may be unwilling to speak up about sensitive issues — especially if they feel their job is in jeopardy. Implementing an anonymous reporting system can help employees feel comfortable voicing concerns without fear of retaliation. This can be accomplished easily with the use of mobile near miss reporting apps.
Address safety concerns
Next, EHS must ensure that concerns are addressed swiftly and effectively. Organizations that fail to respond to worker concerns will be forced to deal with the fallout — as we saw with several major U.S. meat processors during COVID-19.
That requires a solid process for determining who’s responsible and making sure issues are investigated and followed through to closure. It also means communicating the results of investigations, including corrective actions, to employees in a timely manner. Employees will quickly give up on reporting concerns if they have to wait weeks or months for resolution.
Again, technology can help EHS collect feedback, identify trends, and prioritize issues. It can also help them communicate the data to employees through easily understood dashboards or summary reports.
Proactively identify safety risks
Beyond soliciting employee feedback, EHS must be proactive about identifying potential problems. In addition to regularly scheduled inspections, frequent walk-arounds can help expose potential hazards and risks. They can also help establish a strong management presence, which can go a long way toward making employees feel safe and protected.
These walk-arounds can be assisted by the use of mobile inspection technology. Snap a photo, record a video, or capture audio to enhance your findings. The results can then be compiled into a management-ready report to share with company leaders at your next safety meeting.
Provide appropriate training
Finally, EHS must ensure that employees are equipped to meet the challenges they will undoubtedly face. Knowledge, as they say, is power — and that’s borne out by the data. SHRM’s research suggests that workers understandably feel safer when employers provide prevention and training response programs. Furthermore, a greater percentage of employees know how to react in unsafe situations if their organization already has an employee response training program.
When it comes to safety education, EHS can use technology to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Harnessing data in dynamic dashboards to identify training gaps and needs. Leveraging computer-based training to create a more personalized learning environment. Using training management software to track training alongside incident trends to measure effectiveness.
The bottom line
The hazards people face may have changed, but the steps we must take to address them have not. It all comes down to putting the right systems in place to proactively identify issues, address concerns, and provide appropriate training. With these things in place, EHS and employers can create an environment of trust and reassure employees that it’s safe to return to work.