Employees are all over the place these days, from truck drivers out on the road to construction workers hanging their hardhats at job sites. Energy workers, home health nurses and teleworkers are among those not tied to a central facility. As a result, they may not be tied to your safety program either!
Keeping workers engaged in safety is key to their protection. A Gallup study of 1.8 million employees in 230 organizations found that business units with top engagement scores had 70% fewer safety incidents than those that scored at the bottom. The issue is especially relevant for off-site workers who don’t get the full benefit of centralized safety messaging, activities and training.
How do you keep far-flung workers engaged in the safety process? Four strategies can make the difference.
Be crystal clear about policies, rules and expectations. Employees in disparate locations attend fewer safety meetings. And they don’t have the advantage of informal safety exchanges throughout the shift with co-workers and supervisors. That’s why it’s essential that they have a firm grasp of the rules—yours and OSHA’s. They also need a clear understanding of the risks they face and how to address them. Communication, be it by text, phone, email or satellite, helps assure workers across town or across the world that their employer cares about their wellbeing, and that they’re part of an organizational culture.
Use traditional risk-identification tools like job hazard analyses (JHAs) and post-incident reviews offsite as well as onsite. Build safety into the task, for example by incorporating a safety audit into a supervisor’s overall project review. Give your lone employees the safety advantages and opportunities other workers enjoy. One way to do this is to create a system that provides access to in-house safety resources including Safety Data Sheets. Skype them into safety meetings. Solicit their opinions on options for new PPE. Recognize and reward safety milestones. Sure, it may be impractical to throw a pizza party for one. But how about a gift card to a pizza delivery service?
It takes creativity to keep distance workers involved in safety. Let’s say you have a small number of subs on a large, multi-employer jobsite. Ask the GC if your workers can participate in safety briefings held by the larger contractors. Find ways for those who show interest to develop as safety leaders, maybe by sharing a safety innovation in an upcoming newsletter. Research lone worker safety apps to see which is the best match for your processes and risks.
Offsite workers need to act as their own safety managers. They must be familiar with the rules and regulations, able to monitor compliance, and comfortable reporting incidents and unsafe conditions. The more they understand and embrace organizational values, the more this will happen. Some companies find adaptations of behavior-based safety (BBS) effective in self-management training. Pre-task checklists can achieve the same purpose as a pre-shift toolbox session does in a group setting.
When there’s no in-house first-aid brigade to rely on, a worker on a cell phone tower or delivering care in a patient’s home needs to know how to respond to emergencies, including violence. And they need a clear sense of what conditions warrant stopping work.
For lone workers, it’s critical to keep safe working procedures top of mind. Microlearning—bite-sized, focused training—is a proven strategy to build engagement while reinforcing key principles and procedures. Look for a microlearning platform that’s accessible via any web-enabled device, with a centralized dashboard that lets supervisors assign topics and track progress.
Safety consultant Abby Ferri advises employers to respect workers’ time and be intentional about what training must be delivered in person. When it comes to following up with microlearning she says, “An employer must gauge the culture to understand what type of digital solutions will work best for their personnel.”
The big takeaway in all this? Make sure out of sight isn’t out of mind in your efforts to turn distance workers into engaged partners prepared to protect themselves and help you achieve your safety goals.