The Power of Safety Culture

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Originally Published by: EHS Today — July 7, 2024
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By now most hiring managers are used to hearing job candidates ask about their companies’ environmental record or even their DE&I policies. Fielding questions about a company’s safety record isn’t quite as common, and yet job candidates and current employees are very focused on safety. 

While this interest in workplace safety might have intensified with the pandemic, it has since expanded to a variety of forms of safety, both physical and psychological.

"Employees everywhere have experienced multiple crises over the past few years that have altered their view of the world and their perceptions of safety outside of the comfort of their homes," said Christopher Kenessey, CEO at AlertMedia, when announcing his company’s report, The State of Employee Safety, in 2023. "These events impact how employees show up to work daily, and we’re seeing a growing desire among workers for employers to implement a more integrated and hands-on approach to ensuring their safety, regardless of whether they’re working in the office, from home, in the field or while traveling for business."

According to the report, 75% of employees say their employer’s safety efforts have not been very effective. And the reason for that is that 71% of employees feel their employers are not following through on safety promises. They are also concerned about emergency situations, since 83% have experienced an emergency at work at some point in their careers. A similar number of employees (84%) believe that their employers can do more to make them feel prepared to face emergencies at work.

In addition to physical safety, employees and potential hires are concerned about psychological safety. The survey found that 66% of employees say their employer is not making an active effort to support their mental health. In fact, 62% note that their organization does not provide resources for mental health, and 67% say their workplace culture does not allow for open dialogue about mental health.

Creating a psychologically safe culture is something that Schneider Electric, a global provider of energy management and automation, has been working on for the past five years, well ahead of the curve of many companies. "Our approach to on-the-job safety includes working with both managers and employees to understand the human aspect of why injuries occur," explains Tom Pitts, Schneider Electric’s director of safety and environment for Services and Solutions Group in North America. "We talk about concerns such as fatigue and complacency and figure out ways to address these issues."

Showing that you care about employees is something that Rick Tobin, CEO of SafeyNow, a company that offers training videos, is seeing as well. "The younger workforce—Gen Z and millennials—are looking to work for companies that demonstrate they care about employees through their investments in health and wellness programs." Tobin says these investments have a concrete return through increased job satisfaction and productivity. "Employees have a sense of being at ease. They are not afraid of getting into an accident at work, so they don’t have to spend their mental energy on that and can focus on how to improve workflow and make their jobs better."

Pitts echoes that opinion. "We have found that younger workers are concerned with safety. The fact we have a very low EMR [Experience Modification Rating] has helped us to attract talent." But that’s only part of the equation. Retaining employees once they’re onboard is equally challenging. "Offering a variety of safety courses, which can be taken in any form, at any time, and personalized for the job creates a consistent safety culture. And we have a policy that any employee has the ability to stop work if they feel it’s unsafe."

Schneider’s safety culture resonates with both current and future employees. When Pitts was asked if Schneider, like nearly every other company, was having trouble finding employees, he had a very simple answer: "No. People want to work for us."