The Leadership & Workers’ Engagement Aspect of the Safety & Health Management System Series: Part 2 of 4

| OSHA, USF Safety Florida

Dear Reader,

Of all the elements in a Safety and Health Management System, Leadership Engagement is by far the most important. A recent cross-sectional study of 155 construction companies in South Africa revealed that leadership visibility and behavior affect safety culture and safety performance in the construction industry (Skeepers & Mbohwa, 2015). Another study of construction companies in Indonesia recognized that one of the main drivers of improving safety performance is safety culture. Safety leadership has been identified as a significant factor shaping safety culture itself. Project owner safety leadership is a necessary condition for implementing effective safety management and directly impacts the entire workforce’s effective involvement in implementing a construction safety management system (CSMS) (Indrayana & Mahani, 2021). Another study involving 250 construction workers’ performance in Lagos, Nigeria, revealed that both transformational and transactional leadership behavior exhibited by project managers were found to influence the site workers’ commitment to achieving the goal of the construction projects (Oyetunji et al., 2019).

Safety must be a core value of the leadership team, and unlike priorities which change with varying influences and demands, values don’t. This is usually demonstrated through a written policy that sets safety and health as a core value for protecting all workers (i.e., the host employer’s workers, contractors, and temporary workers, as appropriate).  Small employers may not have safety and health policy statements and will have to invoke creative ways of letting all workers know that safety is paramount in their eyes. The expectation is that top management is actively engaged in safety. This is observed through establishing safety and health program goals and objectives, implementing an effective education and training program, establishing vital safety and health procedures, and participating in workplace audits/inspections.  We are looking for engagement rather than simply committing adequate resources and delegating safety activities to the safety person (similar to passive engagement).

Worker engagement is equally important. “There is a profound difference between engagement, where you’re a part of the system, and you’re asked for your input, and people value you, rather than participating because someone is paying you for doing it” (Wachter, 2022). While standards such as ISO 45001 and ANSI/ASSP Z10 provide a framework for developing a safety and health management system, it takes an actively engaged workforce force for that system to be effective. Having systems in place does not necessarily mean things will get done.  For successful implementation, you have to earn their buy-in and trust. When workers invest their minds and hearts in a safety management system, they are more likely to implement the requirements.

Engagement means workers are given autonomy within the safety management system to decide how to apply plans, procedures, processes, and policies to fit their work conditions, Wachter explains. “It’s autonomy; it’s freedom; it’s workers thinking that they’re more than just a cog in the system or a tool for production.”

So how is this done?  Workforce engagement can take many forms, from workers telling managers the type of training they’d like to receive to being on accident investigation teams or writing their standard operating procedures. ISO 45001 includes a worker consultation and participation section that provides many examples of engaging workers in a safety management system. There may be times when workers do not follow established processes and procedures but resist the assumption that they are careless or arrogant. Instead, they continue asking why and how the system could be improved. It could be that the workers are adapting to their situation because the safety management system is deficient or too rigid.

A feedback loop needs to be in place for continual improvement and is essential to get worker engagement. Connecting with workers daily to understand what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and when to intervene is critical. They are in the best place to identify hazards and see what is and is not working daily, and therefore should have input into policy and determine the best ways to control things. Workers should be involved in systems development since they’re the ones who understand the day-to-day reality of each task.

The USF SafetyFlorida Consultation Program has provided free, confidential compliance assistance to thousands of Florida’s small employers for over 20 years. It can assist in developing management systems to reduce illnesses and injuries in the workplace. Our consultants hold over 150 years of combined occupational health and safety leadership experience from various industries such as private manufacturing, construction, mining, and government. To request a confidential, no-cost consultation, please visit www.usfsafetyflorida.com or call toll-free (866) 273 1105.

Stay Safe,

Dr. Brian L. Warrick, Ph.D., CSP, CIH
Program Director
USF SafetyFlorida 

References:

Indrayana, D. V., & Mahani, I. (2021). Safety leadership in the Indonesian Construction Industry: Construction Project Owner Safety Leadership – A Review. International Journal of Education and Social Science Research04(05), 147–159. https://doi.org/10.37500/ijessr.2021.4511 

Oyetunji, A., Adebiyi, J., & Olatunde, N. (2019). Leadership behavior and worker performance in the Nigerian Construction Industry. Journal of Values-Based Leadership. https://doi.org/10.22543/0733.122.1264 

Skeepers, N. C., & Mbohwa, C. (2015). A study on leadership behavior, safety leadership, and safety performance in the construction industry in South Africa. Procedia Manufacturing4, 10–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.promfg.2015.11.008 

Wachter , J. (2022, April 22). News and articles. ASSP. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://www.assp.org/news-and-articles/how-worker-engagement-can-help-improve-your-safety-management-system