One of my first test for Safety Awareness is to ask: Tell me about your operations?
Operations that value safety generally mentions it when describing how their business operates. It could be a passing statement about training or the hazards of the operation. But there is usually something.
Try this with your team. If you are not getting any sense about safety in the conversation, then you may be missing the mark on building safety awareness.
What Is Safety Awareness?
Safety awareness is the habit of thinking about the chance that someone can get hurt or property damage before a task is started. Having policies and procedures is not enough. You need to make sure that everyone is aware of them and that they think about safety in everything they do.
Essentially, safety awareness is making safety a priority in your workplace.
You know you have achieved it when your people stop and think about the dangers of a task or when safety is part of the review process of a project.
Why Is Safety Awareness Important?
Building safety awareness is the first step in implementing a safety program. It shows that the management team cares about the wellbeing of the employees. If the management team is expressing that safety is important, then the employees will think that as well.
When safe work practices are prioritized, the results are reduced injuries and increased production.
In addition, awareness is part of the overall implementation of any policy or procedure. For example, let’s say you write a new safety program to protect against the dangers of a cleaning chemical your people use; training on this program is part of awareness, but if you just stop there, you may be missing the chance to instill strong habits to follow the new program.
To build awareness of the new program you may add in signage about it; the management team may talk about it; occasionally you quiz employees on it and give out prizes. All of these reminders build on each other and send the message to not only be aware of the new program but to be mindful of safe work practices overall.
How To Build Safety Awareness:
Building safety awareness is twofold – selling workers on safety and reminders about safety.
Now, you can spend all your time plastering your break room with safety posters, but if you don’t get the employees to buy into safety, you will not be building safety awareness. You have to sell them on WHY it is important to THEM. This could be the ‘going home in one piece’ talk or the ‘makes your job easier’ speech. Whatever you can come up with – every safety message you put out must tell them why it is important to THEM and not the company.
If you have the right message, go ahead and plaster the break room, the hallways, the trucks, or production floors. You can’t have enough safety reminders around your facility. Personally, I love the tactic of ‘everywhere I stand, I should be able to see safety signage or reminders’.
No matter where you are standing in your operations, you should be able to look around and see:
- Safety Signage
- Exit Route
- Fire Extinguisher Location
- First Aid Information
To give you more bang for your buck, change the reminders frequently. You can even incentivize reading them with a scavenger hunt, quiz, or puzzle game. Here are some more tips on how to build safety awareness:
Ideas To Build Safety Awareness
What does it look like when you walk into your workplace? As an employee and a customer? What are the first things you see? Is it related to production, quality, or safety?
First impressions matter – they are sending the message of what is important at that facility. Because safety, quality, and productivity are all equal, each should have equal representation when walking in.
This could be a safety mission statement, current goals or targets, or even a safety message. Whatever it is, there should be something and it should be the same size or quantity of the other business priorities.
This is a given. When you say safety awareness, most people think of posters. Definitely, don’t discount them. They are a must-have.
To make your safety posters most effective, only put up posters that are relevant to your operations or to your employees and change them frequently; weekly or monthly at a minimum. If you have multiple poster locations, you can move the posters around.
Changing the posters or the locations increases attention to the material. Our brains like new things and the changeup will catch our attention.
Clear markings and signage
All those yellow lines marking off walkways, storage areas, or aisles need to be visible and not worn away. All the warning plaques need to be legible. All signage needs to be good condition.
Many times we put this signage up with great intentions, but then they are never replaced when needed. Just normal wear and tear, exposure to the elements, will wear them out. They should be on a regular inspection/replacement schedule.
Poorly maintained safety signage sends the message that you don’t care. It is the little things like this that matter the most when building safety awareness.
Safety should be discussed daily by the work team. This could be in the form of a pre-shift meeting or a daily safety toolbox talk. There are many ways to talk about safety throughout the day, though. The key is that the safety talk has to come from members of management other than the safety manager.
Employees follow their direct supervisors and managers more than the safety guy. This is why the safety message must come from them.
My favorite way to do this is by starting or ending every production related conversation with safety. Let’s say your supervisor needs to tell an employee to use the forklift to move a pallet. During that conversation, they can throw in a specific reminder to operate the forklift safely; such as – keep your load low to the ground when traveling. Super easy and works amazingly well to build safety awareness.
Don’t be afraid to ask your staff about their impression of your safety program, policies, or procedures. This feedback is valuable in many ways; it tells you what is working and what isn’t working; it sends the message that you care about them and their opinion. And it is a nice reminder of your safety programs.
Setting up an employee survey can be done with a paper questionnaire, using computerized surveys (like Survey Monkey), or face to face with the answers recorded by another person. The choices are limitless.
My favorite way to do this is simple, easy, and often. I love to throw out a 5-question anonymous paper survey every 3 months. If it is easy for the employees to do, they are more likely to do it.
Include employees in every aspect of your safety program; from development to implementation, to review. This is a huge topic and I will do a future post on ways to get employee involved in the future; it will also be part of Safety Boot Camp. But, for now, just understand that including them in the process goes a long way in building safety awareness.
Proactive Safety Goals
Most safety goals are reactive, based on the number of incidents. Proactive goals focus more on safety behaviors and stopping the causes of incidents. When you get your staff focused on a specific safety goal, such as improving housekeeping in an area, you are building safety awareness.
Of course, it is the last item on my list for building safety awareness, as it should always be the last thing to consider. You might also be thinking the PPE is a policy thing and not an awareness thing. However, when I walking into a facility where the use of PPE is prevalent and more than would be expected for the operation, the level of safety awareness at that facility is usually above average.
The act of having to put on safety gear prior to doing the task or walking into an area heightens the level of safety. I used to work in the food processing field and having to do the ritual of hairnets, handwashing, and sterile gloves made me keenly aware of food safety as I was conducting my work. The same goes with safety glasses, vests, hearing protection, etc.
This is a long list of ways to build safety awareness and it can be overwhelming. Take it one bite at a time. Today, look at one area of your facility, stand in multiple places and look around, then think – what can we change to increase safety awareness? Maybe the posters need to be changed or the yellow line needs repainting, maybe you’re thinking about supervisor training or new goals.
Don’t get overwhelmed. Work one item at a time and one area at a time. If you have a regular focus on safety awareness and you will see massive results.
Now it’s Your Turn
I want to hear from you. Tell me, what did you try and what worked well? Do you have any other ideas to help build safety awareness? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to share this post with all your safety friends.
Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)! I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience. Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world. I would love to help you too.