Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Eight workplace safety motivation tips for employees

February 11, 2017
By Julie Copeland Arbill

Feb. 11, 2017 – Workplace safety initiatives are essential when it comes to maintaining a work environment that is both safe and productive.

However, the safety programs you put into place don’t mean much if employees aren’t inspired to change old behaviours. So, how do you get your workers motivated? The first step is taking a close look at what not to do:

• Disciplinary action: Not only does this require constant supervision, but it’s ineffective. In fact, this could incite hostility and defiance.
• Slogans and posters: If safety isn’t your #1 priority, a sign saying otherwise doesn’t belong in your workplace. Safety signage is only effective if what it’s saying is true and lived up to. If not, it becomes a joke.
• Incentives: Focusing on the number of accidents as a way to reward employees sends the wrong message. They may be afraid to come to you with an issue, which results in an unsafe work environment.

The fact is, there’s no one answer. Real and lasting change requires doing many things the right way. The following tips are designed to engage employees in developing workplace health and safety.

1) Intention, strategy, structure
Before any environmental health and safety program takes effect, it’s important to first establish the right goals and message. Motivation begins by engaging your employees’ hearts and minds. Learn what is important to them and take their feedback/sentiments and turn it into a company slogan with real value.


By establishing a clear company vision, your strategic plan has a foundation. That’s where the big picture goals begin to build and take shape. Once long-term strategies have been developed, short-term tactics can be formulated. This kind of planning paves the way to certainty about what is expected from every employee. When everyone is on the same page, there’s an understanding about how processes should be carried out.

2) Integration
A confused employee is an ineffective and uninspired employee. If your company is held to any number of accredited national or international safety standards, the expectation is your business must operate under a variety of procedures and practices. When different people manage these compliance areas, it creates dangerous compatibility gaps.

By aligning the common elements of all safety standards, it’s possible to set up a compliance process to work from one system. By having as little bureaucracy as possible in your management system, employees gain a better understanding of what is expected and conduct themselves accordingly.

3) Learning and development
What is your company’s current approach to developing a safe work environment? Opportunities to learn should not be used as a privilege or punishment. Workplace safety requires more than just giving your employees some information and leaving it at that. You have to create a safety learning culture.

• Training programs: Teach your employees how to apply and practice what they’ve learned about workplace safety and apply it to their daily decision-making.
• On-the-job coaching: Treat every incident or mistake as a learning opportunity rather than finger pointing and punishing employees. This sort of support fosters continual improvement among your team members.

When you create a learning culture around safety, your employees feel cared for rather than scolded. This approach encourages commitment, accountability and responsibility and creates a much more motivating environment than being forced to comply with safety rules out of obligation or fear of reprimand.

4) Engagement and ownership
You might remember what it was like to be in their shoes — always being told what to do. This course of action, while necessary in many cases, may be met with resistance or outright defiance. To inspire employee involvement in workplace safety initiatives, gather input from your workers. Ask them how they want to create their own safety system and account for the results and search for opportunities to bring them into the fold. You must also pay attention to the issues they bring forth.

At the end of the day, your employees care about their own personal safety, health and well-being. Providing them with a means of engagement and ownership of your company’s safety initiatives shows them a level of respect they respond to.

5) Recognition
Incentive programs designed to reward a worker with the least number of safety infractions can send the wrong message. A better way is to reward someone when you see them carrying out a safety measure, right then and there. Your sincerity goes a long way. A face-to-face “thanks” has more power than you might think. Of course, more tangible incentives of some kind can also help spark some motivation. Following up your heartfelt thanks with a little letter, bonus or gift is the most effective way to use incentives as motivation.

6) Meet-ups and results
With specific departments, you should periodically round everyone up to revisit the safety initiatives you’re putting into practice. This is a time to update your team with any new information regarding workplace safety and a great chance for employees to give their vital feedback so you understand what is and isn’t working. In addition to getting employees involved, you can demonstrate how and why the safety process is working.

7) Protect employee voices
Fear of fault finding and the subsequent retribution is what keeps a lot of employees from speaking up about safety issues. When employees aren’t reporting safety infractions, it prevents you from knowing exactly how safe or unsafe your workplace really is. You have to encourage an environment where those who bear the risks are respected for bringing safety issues to your attention. To give this some structure, set aside one day a week for any employee to bring issues to the table without fear of negative consequence. Review each item, find a resolution and document its completion.

8) Enjoyment
Let’s face it: The reason for all the intense focus on workplace safety is because your employees’ health and well-being are at stake. Although workplace safety is very serious business, it’s that very seriousness that also creates an obstacle for getting people to engage with it. Lighten things up a little by adding some creativity or variety to get people involved. An example of making things more fun is a “safety wheel.” If an employee makes a suggestion for safety that you use, they get to spin the wheel and win a prize. Games like these breathe life to an otherwise somber topic.

As Arbill CEO (, Julie Copeland provides strategic direction, builds its global manufacturing platform, evaluates emerging market opportunities and oversees daily operations. She is also a board member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and the National Association of Manufacturers.

This column previously appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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