Workplace Safety Communication: Are Your Employees Engaged or Indifferent?

Workplace Safety Communication: Are Your Employees Engaged or Indifferent?

Barry Lee Cohen

By, Barry Lee Cohen on Thursday February 23, 2017

Safety communication is no longer confined to detailing how to complete an incident report. The workplace safety poster that employees used to inspect while grabbing a cup of Joe has been replaced with real time, digital display boards. Those dreaded, company-mandated safety meetings that ranged from slide show lectures to being “encouraged,” to sign-up for CPR training sessions have been superseded by more collaborative and dynamic corporate communications programs.

Each day, more companies continue to transform their traditional safety initiatives to behavior based safety (BBS) programs that foster employee engagement, heighten safety awareness, establish accident prevention strategies, and help to define the corporate culture.(1) This transition to BBS programs has mandated more and different ways of communicating workplace safety.

Communicating Safety Starts at the Top
It all starts at the top. Senior leadership must set the communication standard by providing an open environment to facilitate discussions that allow employees to offer suggestions, report concerns and directly contribute to the workplace safety program without trepidation. Both formal and informal meetings with employees should build a foundation of trust and respect. Today, more and more companies are implementing safety communication as a core value.(2)

Safety Communication as an MBO
As part of their core values and culture, many global companies include safety communication as part of their Management by Objectives(3) (MBOs) to enhance the organization’s performance. When all employees have the opportunity – and responsibility – to contribute to workplace safety, it often leads to a committed workforce that is aligned with the organization’s key values and mission.

Workplace Safety Bolsters the Bottom Line
Not only is workplace safety a core value at many companies today, but it has also resulted in bolstering the bottom line.

Before Paul O’Neill was appointed U.S. Secretary of the Treasury by President George W. Bush in 2000, he served as the CEO of Alcoa for thirteen years. During his tenure, O’Neill pioneered the importance of workplace safety communications and practices as directly contributing to increasing profitability at Alcoa.

O’Neill said, “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures.” Even though he was firm in his conviction that profits didn’t matter as much as safety, by the time O’Neill retired to become Treasury Secretary, the company’s annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived.” Lost work days decreased by a dramatic 89 percent.(4)

Leveraging New Communication Channels
There have never been so many communication channels available to workers. Intranets, email, collaboration apps, digital signage, social media, instant messaging, smart phones and tablets have forever changed the communication landscape. These options can dramatically impact how companies deliver safety communication. Employees expect to be able to access important information in multiple ways.

Digital message boards placed throughout common areas of a company’s facility (e.g. lobby, cafeteria, manufacturing areas) are gaining in popularity. They enable corporate communications, HR, and operations departments to broadcast and customize important safety initiatives, milestones, and celebrations. Often the message can be extended from the big screen to workers’ desktops and handheld devices.

Digital Employee Recognition and Rewards
Everyone likes to be recognized, especially your employees. Recognizing contributions to safety awareness, accident prevention, and process improvements helps increase overall employee engagement and promote productivity – and safety – in the workplace. Many companies acknowledge these accomplishments by presenting monetary awards, hosting luncheons and annual awards ceremonies.

Digital signage is a very effective tool for promoting in-house safety initiatives and recognizing success. Programs such as, “Safety Employee of the Month,” or “Safety Tip Tuesday,” can be videotaped and displayed on a company’s digital signage and intranet. These can be further repurposed on the company’s website and social media channels to raise brand awareness and showcase the corporate culture to prospective employees and customers.

Workplace Safety Beyond Bricks and Mortar
Communicating workplace safety goes beyond imparting best practices, accident prevention tips and strategies within the company’s facilities. In today’s mobile world, field sales and technical support teams, as well as home office employees are often an essential part of a safety communications steering committee. When engaged, these employees provide valuable insights that result in a positive impact on both their fellow colleagues and customers. These offsite workers offer a highly beneficial perspective on creating value for customers – and the company’s profitability.

Digital Workplace Communication Saves Lives
Remember the days when all safety communication was delivered in a thick, almost threatening binder? You did your best to diligently update what seemed to be never-ending revisions to various instructions and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Nonetheless, at some point fatigue set-in and the battle was lost. Worst of all, when the information was urgently needed to address an incident or other safety issue, it was virtually inaccessible.

Fortunately, yesterday’s binders have largely been replaced by digital communication that provides immediate and easy access to up-to-date safety documentation. Search and sort features produce answers in just a few clicks. Alerts are sent via app and email to notify employees of new and updated materials. This convenience is fantastic, but most importantly, it enables quick response to critical issues or emergencies.

Digital workplace communication has streamlined employee access to safety documentation and SOPs. It has simplified the process of completing incident reports and submitting potential safety exposures, as well as sending alerts regarding weather conditions, road closures, etc. It all works together to contribute to the health, safety and environmental (HS&E) values and mission of the organization.

Safety First
From imparting simple safety tips to saving lives, workplace safety communication has catapulted from the bulletin board to digital communication of all types. Just as continuous improvement in safety programs is required and expected, so too should continuous improvement in the types and effectiveness of communication. It needs to be constantly measured and evaluated to ensure that relevant and engaging communication is successfully delivered to employees. And regardless the channel, always remember to communicate – Safety First!


1. Mature and Wise or Old and Stale? 7 Questions to Ask About Your BBS Process, BST - DEKRA Insight.
2. Occupational Health & Safety, S. Chang, April 2016.
3. The Practice of Management, P. Drucker, 1954.
4. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, C. Duhigg, February 2012.

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