Putting Workers at the Center
Updated: Jul 18
In recent years, organizations have started to recognize that workers are not just a safety problem to be managed, but rather the customers of their safety efforts. Failing to meet their needs can lead to tragic consequences. This shift in perspective is crucial for improving safety outcomes, as many organizations still focus on regulatory compliance and legal concerns rather than addressing the actual needs of their workers.
To meet the safety needs of workers, organizations must adopt practices from marketing and market research. In the same way that products and services are developed to fulfill consumer needs, research should be conducted among workers to understand their requirements for performing their jobs safely. This includes identifying training needs, assistance, tools and equipment, procedures, and most importantly, time. Regular assessments of worker perceptions can guide the efforts of the safety department while also providing valuable information for training, procurement, engineering, and supervision. Increasing the percentage of worker needs met should become a key performance indicator (KPI) for the safety department, reported to management along with lagging indicators.
While listening to workers' input is important, organizations should also seek outside expertise and benchmarking to identify safety improvements that workers may not be aware of. In marketing, "Blue Ocean" refers to new products or services that create new markets. Similarly, organizations can explore innovative safety solutions that may benefit their workers. Staying informed through safety publications, trade shows, and new product announcements can help identify potential improvements.
However, measuring the market and responding is not enough. The meeting of needs should be strategic rather than purely tactical. Safety market research should be shared with organizational leaders to develop a safety strategy that aligns with the overall business strategy. This strategy should outline a clear battle plan for winning the war against accidents and arming workers with the best equipment and guidance. Progress should be periodically measured, and the strategy adjusted as needed. Safety and productivity should be seen as complementary rather than opposing forces in the pursuit of "safe production" of products and services.
This strategic approach to safety does come with limitations. Off-the-shelf programs and training modules may not effectively meet the specific needs of workers or align with the overall strategy. Customization may be necessary, challenging existing training approaches. Computer-based training (CBT) modules and classroom training may need to be revised to address worker needs better. It is essential to ensure that training is not just a compliance exercise but genuinely helps workers perform their jobs safely. While worker engagement programs such as behavior-based safety (BBS) observations and steering teams can be valuable, evaluating their effectiveness in meeting worker needs and preventing accidents is important. When organizational leaders and safety managers prioritize meeting the needs of workers through effective safety efforts, rather than focusing solely on compliance and legal concerns, safety can be elevated to a new level of excellence. This shift in mindset is key to moving beyond mourning and regret and towards a safer and more prosperous future for workers everywhere.