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December 04, 2006
How to Be a Safety Role Model

Make the commitment. In the safest workplaces, management personnel aren't just safety rule-makers and enforcers, they're also safety role models. Employees' behavior on the job is significantly influenced by the way management thinks and acts about workplace safety. If workers believe that managers and supervisors are strongly committed to safety, they will be, too. Showing a strong commitment and modeling good, safe behavior, involves many issues, including:

  • Establishing safety as a priority for all jobs
  • Making safety-minded decisions
  • Providing all the necessary safety equipment and motivating employees to use it
  • Investigating accidents thoroughly and correcting the problems you uncover
  • Inspecting the workplace routinely and promptly eliminating hazards
  • Providing necessary employee training
  • Establishing safety committees to get employees involved in solving problems and improving workplace safety
  • Welcoming employee suggestions for making the job safer
  • Listening earnestly when employees complain about hazards and taking immediate action to correct them

Talk it up. Safety role models also talk about safety—a lot. Management needs to take every opportunity to provide feedback and communicate information about safety to employees.

Why It Matters...
  • Employees are always observing their supervisors and managers and taking cues from them about safe behavior.
  • If employees see management personnel ignoring safety rules, they probably will, too.
  • On the other hand, if employees believe management is committed to safety and observe management personnel acting safely, they are likely to imitate the behavior and act safely as well.
  • Studies show that supervisors' effectiveness in accident prevention is dependent on the behavior they model for employees.

For example, you can place safety posters around the workplace, include items on job safety in your employee newsletter, and provide payroll stuffers and other handouts about safety. You can institute "Safe Worker of the Month" awards and offer incentives for accident-free performance. There should also be plenty of face-to-face communication about safety. For example, if a manager is walking through a work area and sees employees wearing required PPE and following safety procedures, he or she should stop for a minute and praise the crew for being safety-minded. And supervisors should always be talking to their employees about safety and providing feedback on performance--not just at weekly safety meetings or during training sessions, but every day.

Follow the rules. Modeling safe behavior also means that managers and supervisors have to follow all the safety rules themselves. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work on the job any more than it does at home. Remember that employees can imitate unsafe behavior just as easily as they can emulate safe behavior. So if, for example, workers see a manager walking through an area where eye protection is required and the manager isn't wearing safety glasses, employees are likely to pick up on the negative safety message and figure they don't have to wear required PPE either. Or if a supervisor clears a jammed machine without turning it off, even though the rule says the machine should be shut down first, employees are likely imitate the unsafe, rather than the safe, behavior in the future.

Featured Special Report:
12 Ways to Boost Workplace Safety
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