Innovation in worker safety may not be a top priority for some companies, given all the other business concerns managers must focus on, but a culture of listening to workers and identifying ongoing improvements in safety can result in significant improvements in worker engagement and productivity.
A recent report from the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative found that 76.9% of U.S. energy employers reported difficulty hiring qualified workers. Companies wanting to differentiate themselves from competitors to keep critically important employees and attract top talent should consider workplace safety innovations. Engaging workers in identifying and implementing changes sends a clear message to current and potential workers that a company values safety and is working to constantly improve it.
Compliance Versus Innovation
Companies focused on compliance may have some success reducing workplace injuries, but they will likely plateau, because the culture is more about the company than the worker. For example, many companies have robust software for managing safety programs, policies, injury and incident reporting, root cause analysis, and more. However, despite elaborate corporate systems, the solutions in place for frontline workers are often ad hoc paper forms or outdated and basic electronic forms. While these older processes help companies check the compliance box, they don’t leverage the rich data and positive changes that could be harnessed with more innovative digital solutions for the workforce.
A survey by business insurance firm EMPLOYERS found that workplace safety was a top-ranked consideration when workers sought jobs—above the quality of coworkers and opportunities for advancement. A top-down compliance focus and paper forms that are never reviewed are not hallmarks of a safety-conscious company. What does resonate is safety solutions that encourage workers to speak up, engage in the process, and participate in the solution.
While companies may initially balk at the potential increased costs associated with adding digital technology solutions or workplace safety software to the current safety programs, there is a positive return on investment (ROI) in the safety culture. The National Safety Council found that more than 60% of CFOs surveyed reported that each dollar invested in injury prevention returned two or more in savings. Also, more than 40% said productivity was the greatest benefit of an effective workplace safety program. Benefits to ROI and a potential increase in recruitment, alongside a safer workplace for all workers, should encourage companies to choose innovation over compliance.
Innovation Can Transform Safety Culture
A company culture that encourages employee ideas, feedback, and engagement in implementing solutions provides a good foundation for innovative change. Company leaders must build a culture open to innovation in order for buy-in to occur. A McKinsey survey found that when leaders initiated innovative digital transformations but failed to engage line managers and frontline employees, only 3% reported success. Safety innovation specifically requires buy-in from leadership to frontline workers, who won’t engage in new safety tools and processes if they don’t believe it will result in true change.
This means company leaders have to be ready to support not only the digital innovation but also the changes needed to create a safety culture that engages and gives all workers a voice. For example, frontline workers expect their concerns to be heard and to be safe when they’re reporting issues whether these are reported with today’s process or a more modern digital process. If there is any retribution for bringing safety issues to light, there will be serious trust issues from that point forward, having a negative impact on the safety culture and innovation plans. A focus on leadership and engaging the workforce in innovation planning can avoid these negative situations.
Engaged Workers Drive Continuous Improvement
Safety solutions that support a positive safety culture provide workers with real-time information and data they need to be safe—this could be wearables, smart personal protective equipment, or simply procedures and micro-training that are available when needed. Workflow solutions that enable required safety processes should be easy to use; enable workers to stop, think, and easily document issues with notes and photographs; and engage supervisors for support when needed on the job and in the moment. This type of innovation can help companies identify the risks that could lead to an injury long before a death, injury, or near-miss occurs.
This presents opportunities for companies to proactively engage their workforces and reward them for modeling safe behavior while gathering valuable safety data. Another huge benefit of workforce safety solutions is that real-time data provides the means for deep data analysis and insights that provide the foundation for continuous improvements that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, or worse, resulted in an injury.
Engaging the workforce throughout the organizational structure is a critical strategy to accomplish effective change. The powerful combination of innovation and workforce engagement can deliver not only safety improvements, but also a loyal workforce focused on helping to drive on-going positive changes, which ultimately improves the bottom line. ■