Increasing Employee Engagement and Participation in Workplace Safety

View all blog posts under Articles

Workers need to feel invested in their company’s safety culture.Companies all over the United States are seeing the number of on-the-job injuries and other safety incidents trend down after cultivating a culture of health and safety awareness among their employees.

The railroad franchise, Union Pacific, is accomplishing this goal by allowing each department to design a safety plan, form a training program, monitor workplace behaviors, and recognize exemplary employees, according to safety expert Sandy Smith’s EHS Today article “Opening the Door for Employee Participation in Safety.”

Smith also highlights the work that Westinghouse Savannah River Company has done in the employee safety engagement arena through its active behavior-based safety (BBS) program. According to the guidelines of the program, employees are encouraged to either volunteer to be observed while working or act as observers for other workers. Employees continually monitor themselves and their work areas. Any employee can call a timeout at any time if he or she feels uncomfortable about the safety of a task.

Newly graduated professionals entering managerial positions with a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety will be expected to understand and support the concept of engaging employees in order to cultivate a safety culture and create a safe work environment for all of a company’s workers.

Compliance as a Starting Point of an Effective Safety Culture

Compliance standards have been misunderstood for a long time in American businesses. Compliance doesn’t lead to safety any more than a spare tire leads to a safe cross country drive in a car.

“One of the most common places people get stuck is in treating compliance like the finish line,” explains blogger Ray Prest in a quote to’s blog article “Connecting the Safety Dots Between Compliance and Culture.”

Prest continues, “They keep trying to improve safety performance through better engineering, better procedures, more communication, more discipline— but usually with minimal or temporary improvements. It’s what they know best. It can take a lot of mental work to recognize that compliance is actually the starting line. There can be no meaningful safety programs without compliance—but there’s a whole world of safety improvements beyond compliance.”

Prest also explains that once a company has met its compliance regulations successfully, it should continue to discuss on-the-job safety, recognize everyone’s safety agenda, and constantly strive to foster an environment conducive to employee engagement in workplace safety.

Gallup’s 2016 meta-analysis study shows that companies that follow this advice (and that fall within the top quarter of Gallup’s employee engagement database) have, on average, 70 percent fewer safety incidents than companies looking only to check off boxes on a compliance list.

In “Engaged Workplaces are Safer for Employees” on, researchers Brandon Rigoni and Bailey Nelson write that companies with exemplary safety cultures are companies where employees are committed to doing quality work. The mission statement of each of these companies instills a sense of importance and significance in every employee. And most importantly, workers feel that their opinion is heard and matters to decision-makers.

Building Safety Culture Through Worker Participation

In order for employees to invest themselves in a corporate safety culture, each individual worker must feel that they are an important part of establishing, operating, evaluating, and improving their employer’s safety program.

According to OSHA’s “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs: Worker Participation,”the following elements should be present in an effective health and safety program:

  • Workers should be encouraged to participate in the program and feel comfortable providing input. Any workers who wish to participate in the program needs to be granted the necessary time and resources to do so.
  • Workers should have access to the information they will need to participate in the program effectively. This information can include Safety Data Sheets (SDS), injury and illness data, chemical and equipment manufacturer safety recommendations, and workplace job hazard analyses.
  • All phases of program design and implementation should be open to worker participation. Barriers to participation should be removed (such as language barriers), training programs for coworkers and new hires should be held regularly, and constant feedback should be shared with participating employees.
  • Workers should never experience retaliation when they raise safety and health concerns, report injuries or hazards, or exercise their rights to participate in their employer’s safety program. A company’s management should directly encourage employees to report safety and health concerns by establishing an open-door policy.

An objective look at a corporation’s safety program and culture will reveal just how well the company is doing.’s “5-Star Safety: Best Practices in Employee Engagement” paper itemizes four safety culture phases:

  • Forced – Safety is essentially obligatory on sub-par performers who are threatened with negative consequences and then blamed if they are injured.
  • Protected – Safety is maintained for average workers, injuries are rationalized as “part of the job.” In a protected safety environment, efforts rarely evolve beyond simple attempts at making a workplace “idiot proof.”
  • Involved – Workers tend to perform above average and safety is seen as an opportunity to transform a work site into a “great place to work.”
  • Engaged – Worker performance is world class, and safety comes from the self-motivation efforts of employees. Injuries in an engaged safety environment are truly rare. Everyone acts as a safety manager.

Building a safety culture within a corporation is not something that happens overnight, however. Many workplaces will slowly evolve through each of these phases as they implement new programs and realign their health and safety priorities.

Eastern Kentucky University’s Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety Program

Eastern Kentucky University’s online bachelor degree in occupational health and safety program is designed to teach students how to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions, and risks.

Industry-experienced safety professionals guide students through environmental health and safety classes online, covering modern trends in employee engagement and the establishment of a safety culture in the workplace. For more information, contact EKU today.

Recommended Reading:

Common Errors in Safety Management

Leadership in Safety Management

10 Benefits of an Online Industrial Safety Degree


Employee Participation in Safety – EHS Today

The Difference Between Compliance and Culture –

Engaged Workplaces are Safer — Gallup

Worker Participation — OSHA