April 28, 2022 is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. In this article you will find out how managers are the key to a safe workplace and what role the establishment of a safety culture plays in this.
When the term occupational safety is mentioned, many people only think of one thing: avoiding accidents at work. But a safe working environment requires much more. In order for employees to feel safe and healthy in the office and when working from home, there are a few things that need to be considered. Managers have an important task in this regard. Nowadays, you should have a wide range of soft skills ready to support employees in actively promoting occupational safety and health.
Mental stress increases the risk of illness
The last two years have been a challenge for all of us, regardless of industry or position. The measures to protect health at work, or on the way there, have determined everyday life. With distance, hygiene and mask regulations, it suddenly became clear: Occupational health and safety is an important topic in every working environment.
In addition to the many changes that employees have experienced at their workplaces, the switch to home office for employees in office jobs was certainly one of the biggest and most lasting upheavals. Even if the newly gained flexibility with regard to the workplace is largely positively received and many employees would like to be able to freely choose their workplace for a few days of the working week even after the pandemic: This type of work also requires special leadership and team strength. In addition to the many advantages that remote working offers, employees and managers must also be aware that working from home can have health consequences. Mental stress is an issue here. On the one hand, this is due to the lack of personal contact with colleagues, because the lunch breaks together or a cup of coffee in the company kitchen make even the most stressful day at work more relaxed. On the other hand, people who work outside the office often feel that they are always available. This leads to an increased stress level.
Occupational safety is everyone’s business
The corona pandemic has given specialists and managers in occupational health and safety a whole new level of attention and appreciation for their work. But they also faced many challenges. Suddenly, not only specialist knowledge but also leadership skills were required. The managers in the companies who are legally responsible for occupational health and safety felt the same way: suddenly the health protection of the employees was a constantly present topic.
However, this attention, the new challenges and the increased sense of responsibility are also a great opportunity for the future. The new understanding can and must be the basis for a healthy safety culture in companies. This means that ensuring safety and health at work will no longer depend solely on those responsible for technical and legal matters, but rather a culture of mutual respect will involve all employees. In order for this to succeed, managers must be aware of their key position for a safe workplace. The principle here is called safety leadership, a term that requires an active management level. This is the only way to motivate employees to also commit themselves to safety and health in the corporate environment.
Take, for example, the area of accidents at work. It used to be assumed that fewer reported accidents meant that the working environment was safe. However, this does not necessarily have to be true. Because when managers put too much pressure on their employees not to make mistakes, they are afraid of the consequences if they caused a dangerous situation themselves. Accordingly, they will not report such incidents. While this is good for accident statistics, it is devastating for safety in the corporate environment.
What is almost a matter of course in the IT industry is a new concept in occupational safety. Today, more and more experts are pointing out that a strong error and safety culture increases productivity and safety in the company. The prerequisite is that employees feel motivated to report risks and dangers in the work environment. So you experience psychological security through a working environment in which employees are not afraid to communicate openly. This applies all the more to psychological risks and dangers, about which it is usually even more difficult to communicate openly.
Safety leadership – this is how it works
Through safety leadership, all managers can help ensure that employees actively participate in a safe working environment. The following tips show how this can be achieved:
- Put your focus on the employees. Ask about their wellbeing, needs, and fears. Listen and communicate solutions. For a safe working environment, it is important that employees feel respected and understood and that they can trust managers.
- Mental illness can affect anyone. Especially exceptional times – like a pandemic – can endanger mental health. Show understanding for this and make it clear that you care about the mental health of your employees and that they can always turn to them if they have problems without fear of consequences.
- Take action when employees come to you with observations. Your colleagues only feel heard and valued if worries and concerns are visibly taken seriously and protective measures are taken as a result.
- Organize training courses on the subject of occupational safety and practice for emergencies. Everyone needs to know exactly how to behave in dangerous situations.
- Draw attention to the topic of health in the workplace. Provide your employees with ergonomic office furniture. This applies not only to the office, but also to the home office. Support the working population with a selection of relaxation offers, such as virtual yoga classes.
- Take employee mental health seriously. Training on the topics of time and stress management and work-life balance can increase well-being and productivity. But the real key to a balanced work environment lies in the company culture. Encourage collegial behavior, respect quiet times and create a place for open exchange.
- Lead by example. A healthy safety culture will only emerge if managers themselves take part in occupational safety training, report unsafe situations and make a positive impression with their safe behavior. This also applies to the home office: in order to counteract the pressure of constant availability, e-mails and communication programs should be taboo after work, on weekends and on vacation.
Conclusion: Regardless of the industry, every manager can learn how to motivate employees to actively help shape safety and health in the workplace.