Today we’ve brought back KPA’s Product Director Jade Brainard, to discuss engaging the front lines in safety. Thanks so much for joining us today, Jade. We really appreciate having you.
Thanks, it’s good to be here.
In the most recent EHS State of the Industry Benchmark Report, one of the stats was that 63% had reported that employee engagement and culture was one of the biggest challenges they had to meet their EHS-focused initiatives.
Employee engagement is clearly a key component to successful EHS programs. Can you talk a little bit about why it’s so important to engage those frontline workers in safety?
Yeah, for sure. Keeping frontline workers engaged in safety is so important because, without it, you really can’t have any sort of safety culture at all.
Safety culture is the collection of beliefs and perceptions and values that the people have the employees have and that they all share in relation to the risks that are potentially present within an organization. So when safety is just in the hands of one person, or it’s siloed to a group of people or offices, it’s really no more than just a piece of business jargon.
Here’s our safety department. It’s not a culture at that point. Frontline employees play a critical role in the organization’s overall safety and health management systems and that effort. So these are the individuals that are doing the day-to-day job, the hands-on work within the company, and they are better positioned than probably anyone to understand and they probably encounter the occupational hazards that are present within the workplace because they experience them and recognize them every day. So if they’re not engaged, so much goes underneath the radar. Things don’t get reported. The true hazards and the true exposures of business may never be communicated at all.
Makes a lot of sense; that would certainly be a problem to have those things go unreported. To follow up on that point; in this current environment, when time and resources may be stretched thin and people are asked to do more with less, it might be tempting for leaders to deprioritize their safety programs or adopt more of that minimal-compliance approach rather than encouraging active engagement. Because it’s not seen as directly contributing to production, or that might be the perception.
How would you speak to that? Or what are the consequences that you see when front-line workers are disengaged?
So I would ask organizations that deprioritize or put off enforcing changes or purchasing solutions to support their safety initiatives; I would ask them to consider, what’s the cost of doing nothing? Because that is a decision. You know, you’ve decided your approach to managing and implementing a safety culture. And while it might seem to be an appropriate business decision at the time to cut corners on safety, which could mean, we’re going to get the job done faster or we’re going to put off budget decisions for resources needed.
Those decisions do cost something. There are some common misconceptions about investing in safety that something new is going to slow us down, and take time to implement. That doing something different is going to cost, or we just don’t believe anything bad will happen because nothing that bad has happened in the past, but when no positive leadership exists, that hole will get filled with something.
And usually, that something is a reactive behavioral approach to safety because things do happen and reactivity cripples our ability to mitigate and hopefully eliminate what we could have potentially avoided if we took a more proactive approach. So, I’d ask them to consider, what is that cost of doing nothing? What is the risk of that decision?
Taking more of that long-term approach rather than what seems like a short-term cost.
So, in previous episodes, you’ve talked with us about the importance of data and analytics. What are some of the ways that safety leaders can measure engagement? They’re bought in. They know that it’s a good idea to invest in safety.
Now, what should they be looking for when they’re monitoring the success of those programs?
So that’s when things start to get exciting because measuring engagement is what we’d refer to as a leading indicator. You have your leading and your lagging indicators and lagging indicators represent that reactive approach to safety.
Whereas our leading indicators is a proactive approach. Nothing has happened, but we’re seeing a decline in areas that might be foreshadowing potential risk or areas of exposure. Because our leading indicators provide that forward-looking view of the road ahead. So, some key data points that oftentimes are capturing the behavioral trends, but again, they don’t always lead to an event, but they provide really valuable insights.
So for example, analyzing data such as safety observations, near misses, and training compliance reports; can provide insights into exposure and risk, and you can start to recognize some signs that there might be issues with your level of engagement and participation in the safety program. When you see reports of this nature decline.
And maybe you evaluate from location to location or department to help you pinpoint where issues are occurring and where the safety culture is not being adopted, but recognizing those trends of lower reports being submitted could be a good indicator of participation that’s lacking across the business.
Can you give us any examples of companies that are doing this well or what it looks like when a company has really implemented this well across the board?
Yeah. We work with a lot of different organizations. Every organization is a little bit different in its approach to implementation and what its safety culture represents.
But with every organization that has successful participation and engagement in the program, it always starts from the top. So having that leadership commitment from the top that, you know, what they are saying about the importance of the safety program and that participation that trickles down through the rest of the organization.
And without that, you really cannot implement a program that is able to capture that participation and implement an effective safety culture. But organizations that have done that, especially some of our customers, one is coming to mind as a national contractor and they measure participation by sending quick questions through our product, which has a mobile device that reaches their entire workforce and they send bite-size information on a daily basis.
Sometimes that’s not that often, maybe a couple of times a week, but this bite-size information is capturing further comprehension of training courses and important material that might be relevant to recent incidents. So maybe you’ve had incidents where the root cause was lack of proper lockout-tagout or something like that. And instead of doing a refresher half hour training on proper lockout-tagout procedures, let’s deliver this information in bite-size components.
And what this organization is doing instead of measuring scores and did everyone get everything right? They’re starting with measuring participation levels. So of these questions that they’re sending out to gather comprehension of a topic, they’re not really focused on the scores initially. They’re just looking at who’s filling this information out. And delivering to them in a way that’s easy for them to participate. That is a good indicator of measuring that participation and where you might have larger areas of exposure within your organization.
As I said, every company has a measurement of participation that would work for their organization. All of our customers do. I’m thinking of another customer where they have been measuring participation based on training completions and they’ve recognized a 70% increase in participation in employees being able to get training done on time and doing those annual refreshers. Sometimes it’s just about appealing to your audience. Safety doesn’t have to be a chore as long as you have the right tools in place to reach the right people.
My next question was going to be about technology and how technology plays a factor in keeping folks engaged.
You were talking about mobile devices; I have to imagine that helps in meeting people where they are with the training as opposed to having to go away to a classroom. Would you agree?
Yeah, absolutely. And technology does play a really key role in providing those options. It enables effective communication and effective communication enables participation. But not all communication methods are effective. So, when implementing a new system or process to engage frontline workers, there are really three things that organizations should consider in whatever method that they decide here’s how we’re going to gather this information, here’s how we’re going to get participation.
Consider is this method practical, is it relevant and is it interactive? So, your method has to be practical. You know, I just mentioned that safety doesn’t have to be a chore, but if it is a chore, if it’s something that takes a lot of time out of my normal process; I have to go to a certain area, find a clipboard, a piece of paper and fill some information out, and then at the end of the day, remember to turn something in.
That’s not a practical method of data capture and communication. And honestly, to get that participation in your safety program, you need to meet your employees where they are and enable technology like a mobile application; you know, everyone has a mobile device in their pocket today.
So if they can quickly pull it up and submit a safety observation or submit a near miss or do the inspection that’s required before using a piece of equipment; the easier it is, the more likely it is going to be done.
And then secondly, is it relevant? So is the information that you’re asking your employees to do or capture, is it relevant to their day-to-day work? So is the training that you’re delivering, is it relevant to the equipment that they use? Is it relevant to the hazards or exposures that they’re faced with on a day-to-day? But also ask yourself some questions about who you’re trying to reach. What’s the average reading level of the employee? What’s their primary language? Where do you need them to learn this information? So technology gives us different options to meet each learner and each individual at their specific needs.
And then lastly, is it interactive? This is more related to training components, but there are several different learning styles, and not everyone is an auditory learner. So if we’re only facilitating training in a standup, in a classroom style, not everybody learns that way. So maybe we have some visual learners or some read-write learners or some kinesthetic learners. Having technology gives you more options and will greatly increase the likelihood of more comprehension across your organization on whatever topics you need to train or inform them regarding.
So those three things are important to consider when you’re implementing a new system or process for engagement — is your method practical? Is it relevant? Is it interactive? And technology really enables you to implement different options.
All right, I like that. Practical, relevant, and interactive. It’s amazing how far training and technology have come in the last few decades, certainly since my early career days that’s for sure.
For sure. Same here.
Are there any final notes that you would like to leave our listeners with before we go?
I guess just one thing. For organizations that are trying to improve their safety culture and further engage employees in a safety program, I would just tell them to keep it simple.
Identify some small wins that you can use to recognize participation. So this might include like, “oh, we’ve seen X percent increase in the number of safety observations reported in the last quarter”, or “we’ve seen X percent increase in training completion over the last month”. These small wins make a big impact. Even the most sophisticated organizations have areas of improvement.
No one ever really arrives and has a perfect safety program. But identifying the small wins gives us a finger on the pulse of, you know, “we’re headed in the right direction”. No one’s going to boil the entire ocean in one week. There’s no magic button by purchasing a certain program, all of your problems are solved.
But just recognize the small wins that are keeping your organization headed in the right direction. The more participation and engagement that you have, the more data you have, and the more data you have, the more accurately you can evaluate and even predict the effectiveness of your safety program.
That’s what I would leave it with, is just keep it simple. Identify small wins that work for your organization and keep heading in the right direction.
Fantastic. It sounds like a wonderful place to start and a good place for us to end. I really appreciate you joining us and taking the time to talk with us today.