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Ag Safety
How to Create an Effective Departmental Safety Program

Preventing accidents improves the quality of life for workers and leads to more efficient and cost-effective operations. A strong safety program demonstrates an organization’s concern for employee welfare. It can improve morale, create a positive image, and help an organization attract and maintain better workers.
Safety is not a matter of luck; it is a management issue that requires time and effort. To succeed at safety is a sign of good management.

Why Involve Employees in the Safety Process?
How to Increase Employee Participation in Workplace Safety Programs
How to Respond When Employees Become Involved
How to Establish Worthwhile Safety Objectives
How to Accomplish Your Objectives
How to Measure Your Accomplishments
How to Keep the Momentum Once You Get Started
How to Get Others to Follow Your Lead

Why Involve Employees in the Safety Process?

Wouldn’t it be easier for one or two people to decide what needs to be done and just do it?

It might be easier, but it probably wouldn’t be very effective. Safety is a “people” issue: most injuries result from the actions or inactions of people. Making a workplace safer requires people to change their behavior; thus, a safety program will work only if it has the cooperation and support of the people who work there.

How do you get workers to support a safety program?

People give their greatest support to a process when they are asked to be involved. Employees develop a sense of ownership and commitment when they know what is going on, when they are asked for their input, when they are given a voice in matters that affect them, and when they are empowered to solve problems on their own.

Employees develop a sense of pride when they see changes and realize that they are an important part of a successful safety effort. This pride spills over into other aspects of their work and affects the entire organization. Modern management theories stress the importance of getting employees involved in improving an organization. Safety is one of the best ways to get employees involved because everyone can see the value of preventing injuries.

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How to Increase Employee Participation in Workplace Safety Programs

Different people make contributions in different ways. Make sure you have a variety of opportunities to get the maximum participation from everyone. Here are some examples:

Safety committees. Committees exert a strong influence on the safety program, so include people who are respected, viewed as leaders by their peers, and who are known for getting things done. Include administrators, faculty, classified staff, and students. Periodically rotate people on and off committees so that different points of view can be expressed.

Safety suggestions. Encourage employees to contact members of the safety committee any time they have suggestions about how to make the workplace safer. Make sure employees know who the committee members are and how to contact them.

Incident reports. Encourage employees to file reports if someone gets hurt or if there is a problem that needs to be corrected. Make sure employees know how to submit reports, and make the process easy and blame-free.

Incident investigation teams. Investigating incidents can provide valuable information, but it requires tact and good judgment. Teams must be trained so that they can gather information that will prevent future incidents without allowing the process to deteriorate into fault-finding and blaming.

Ad-hoc problem solving committees. When concerns arise, temporarily assemble a group of people with various viewpoints to find ways to solve the problem.

Safety equipment selection. Be sure to get the input of employees who will be using equipment and allow them to try it out if possible before making a big purchase.

Safety reviews. Include people with a variety of backgrounds to evaluate new programs, activities, equipment, and facilities in the PLANNING STAGE when problems can be solved with the least expense.

Contests. Encourage friendly competition among work groups to see which office can get the most people trained, correct the most hazards, submit the best safety suggestions, report the most near-misses, etc.

Safety meetings. Frequent informal safety meetings give employees a chance to express their views and bring attention to important concerns.

Surveys/questionnaires. This is a more formal approach to soliciting input. To generate candid information, responses should be anonymous.

Face-to-face communication. Safety leaders must visit with employees frequently to find out what’s on their minds.

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How to Respond When Employees Become Involved

Listen to and value what others have to say, even if you may not agree.

Make a timely, appropriate response to every suggestion. Nothing discourages participation more than a perception that no one is taking action.

When warranted, make changes based on people’s recommendations. When it is not possible to make those changes, explain the situation, let them know that you appreciate their input, and explain any plans for addressing the issue in the future.

Never discourage people from making suggestions or from reporting injuries and unsafe conditions. Don’t make people feel like they are being disloyal or troublesome. Let them know you appreciate their suggestions even if you have many other important things you need to do.

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How to Establish Worthwhile Safety Objectives

The most effective safety efforts are proactive rather than reactive. Don’t wait for a tragedy to occur to take action.

Consider as many sources of information as possible when selecting objectives. Relevant sources of information include employee suggestions, accident history, regulations, known hazards, industry standards, and self-inspections.

Eliminate the most serious hazards first. Prioritize your efforts by ranking concerns according to both the likelihood and severity of an accident.

Establish clear goals and break the process into successive steps so that you can recognize your progress in increments (as a series of “small wins”).

Create a realistic and responsible schedule. Take on enough projects to make a meaningful difference, but don’t take on so much that you fail to meet your own deadlines.

Don’t limit your goals to existing hazards. One objective should be to review proposed new activities, programs, procedures, equipment, and facilities so that safety is “designed in” from the beginning.

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How to Accomplish Your Objectives

A combination of approaches is usually required in order to make a workplace safer:

Elimination or control of hazards. This may involve altering or replacing equipment and facilities, using less hazardous materials, using mechanization, installing ventilation, enclosing hazards behind barriers, etc.

Training. This involves informing people of hazards and teaching them how to avoid injury while doing their jobs.

Workplace procedures. This involves changing the way work is performed in order to reduce the risk to employees. It could include limiting the number of people who are allowed to perform certain tasks, using chemicals at times when fewer people are in the area, limiting the amount of time a worker can be exposed to heat, chemicals, vibration, and other hazards.

Personal protective equipment: This involves using safety glasses, respirators, chemical-resistant gloves, ear plugs, safety shoes, etc. to limit the damage done to employees’ bodies.

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How To Measure Your Accomplishments

It takes time to reduce injury rates, and you may find that the number of injuries reported actually goes up as people make an honest effort to provide information about safety problems. Over time, a good safety program will reduce the number of SEVERE injuries, even if there is an increase in the number of minor incidents reported. Keep in mind that focusing only on injury rates may lead to fault-finding and suppression of truthful reporting.

A better approach is to focus on successes rather than failures. Measure what is being done, not what is being avoided. Focus on proactive, process-oriented accomplishments such as the number and/or quality of:

• Safety inspections and reviews
• Safety meetings and training
• Hazards corrected
• Safer procedures, equipment, facilities being used
• Safety suggestions received
• Near misses reported
• Housekeeping improvements
• Safe behaviors exhibited by employees
• Risk assessments completed
• Incidents investigated
• Problems solved

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How to Keep the Momentum Once You Get Started

Document and publicize each accomplishment. Make sure everyone in your organization knows what has been achieved. Keep an ongoing record of hazards identified, actions taken, and progress made. Safety is achieved in successive steps (small wins) and this record will be a valuable reminder of how far you have come.

At least once a year, reevaluate your progress and set new goals. Identify what worked and keep doing it. Decide what didn’t work, find out why, and make the necessary adjustments. Remember to involve people in the process and get as many points of view as possible.

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How to Get Others to Follow Your Lead

Effective leaders motivate employees to work safely, even when it is easier to take dangerous shortcuts. Effective leaders influence others by providing information, showing people that change is in their best interest, challenging people to do better, and providing a dependable example.

Don’t ask people to start doing things differently and expect them to do it just because you said so. Take time to make sure people understand why they need to change and exactly what is expected of them. Have they been trained? Have they been told what specific actions to take? Have they been recognized for doing things right? Have they been gently reminded if their behaviors are less than ideal?

The influence you have on others will depend as much on what you do as what you say. You will capture and hold peoples’ attention only if your daily decisions and actions are consistent with your message.

Take time to understand other peoples’ perspectives and make sure you know what’s really going on before you give advice. People will be more open with you if they know you won’t jump to the wrong conclusions.

Don’t drop the ball. If you promise to do something, do it. Take responsibility when you make a mistake.

Ensure that employees are not prevented from working safely by poor equipment, inadequate operating space, excessive production pressure, lack of hands-on training, or peer pressure to take shortcuts.

Be confident that your goals will be achieved, but don’t feel like you have to know all of the answers. Increase peoples’ motivation and ownership in the program by offering choices, letting them provide input, and giving them some control over how to achieve the desired outcome.

Don’t blame people for accidents. Someone who has been injured needs compassion and concern—not a lecture. Later, when the pain and embarrassment have worn off, give the employee a chance to show what was learned by asking a question such as “I wonder what we can do to keep something like that from happening again?” You will probably find out that the employee learned some things, and you can use the situation to have a productive discussion. Moreover, the employee will appreciate that you were tactful and he/she will be more likely to approach you about important issues in the future.

Look beyond the specific task at hand and remember that every leadership opportunity is a chance to help others increase their own self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, personal optimism, and sense of belonging.

Treat employees with dignity and respect. No matter how frustrated you get, remember that people are the solution, not the problem.

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