Workplace Safety

Engaging Employees for a Strong Safety Culture

By Eric Svendsen, PhD

Trainers and HR professionals have a great deal of power when it comes to influencing employee engagement, and it’s important that your workers are engaged when discussing workplace safety. With tips on how to keep employees engaged and safe, we present an article by Eric Svendsen, PhD, principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety leadership learning and development organization.

One thing HR professionals can do to help build a stronger safety culture in the organization is to build levels of employee engagement. An engaged employee thinks and acts like an owner, and because of that, he or she not only remains safer on the job but also he or she is much more likely to help you lead a safety culture.

There are many side benefits for HR to raising levels of employee engagement, including higher levels of employee retention, as engaged employees enjoy their job and are not looking for a reason to leave; higher levels of individual performance, as engaged employees outperform nonengaged employees on the job; and greater business outcomes, because a fully engaged workforce is collectively much more productive.

But the primary reason building employee engagement matters for a safety culture is that, according to at least one study (“Employee Engagement and Commitment,” Effective Practice Guidelines, Robert Vance, Society of Human Resource Management, 2006), engaged employees are five times less likely to get hurt and seven times less likely to have a lost-time injury than all other categories of employees; they will end up costing the organization one-sixth of what other employees cost in terms of workers’ comp, insurance premiums, fines, lawsuits, and shareholder confidence.

Let’s look at a few general principles of engagement that should be in place for employee engagement to take root.

  • Build relationships of trust. First of all, we need to actively build relationships of trust with our employees. Getting to know our employees, their interests, and their families is absolutely critical to building a strong safety culture. We need to know what drives employees individually if we hope to appeal to their core values as an internal motivator to lead safety on the job.
  • Promote a team environment. We also need to create and maintain a healthy team environment. That means that we as leaders need to create open lines of communication and transparency so that everyone feels free to register concerns with us. But it also means that we need to step in and manage conflict if there is conflict between team members; otherwise, we’re bound to have team members with low levels of engagement that just don’t want to be there.
  • Take the pulse of your workforce. Finally, we need to take note of the levels of engagement of all members of our team to ensure the general trajectory of engagement is on the rise and not on the decline. If we have direct reports who in turn have their own direct reports, it’s even more critical to keep an eye on the level of engagement of those on our team (particularly front-line supervisors) who are leading others—if they are disengaged, it’s very likely they are influencing others on their team to be disengaged as well. Disengaged supervisors tend to hire and create disengaged employees.


While these guidelines are insufficient to raise levels of employee engagement by themselves (that requires applying proven drivers of engagement), they are absolutely necessary for laying a solid foundation for that effort.