two employees in hardhats, sharing safety suggestions

Employee Safety Suggestions: A Hack for Culture Improvement

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

There are no shortcuts to safety culture improvement. However, if there was a safety culture improvement ‘hack’ it would be getting and using more employee input for safety. One of the best ways of doing this is through safety suggestions from front-line employees. This should be done both formally (e.g., peer checks, safety committees) and informally (1-1 conversations). Many of the best and most practical safety ideas come from front-line employees. Also, getting more employee input leads to better decision-making and increased front-line discretionary effort for safety.

For example, at one manufacturing facility in Southwest Virginia, the safety manager was tasked with purchasing safety signs and banners for the organization. Of his employees suggested they should create their own posters. So, rather than shop for posters, the EHS manager set up a competition for employees to design their own signs and pay the top three winners as voted on by their peers. Prizes were given out for first ($100), second ($50) and third place ($25). Employees were two hours in one of the main conference rooms and were given flip chart pages and markers/crayons to design their posters. They were allowed to make as many posters as they wanted to for the contest. In the end, the winning employee was a maintenance worker who drew Forrest Gump running down the road carrying a box of chocolates and wearing safety glasses and other PPE under the caption, “Safety IS as Safety DOES.” Completed posters were hung around the facility and were highly effective in getting employees’ attention.

Getting safety input from employees improves safety culture and fuels discretionary effort. So how are you doing getting this feedback? Answer a few questions with a “yes, no or maybe” below to find out.

· Leaders regularly request employee safety suggestions through various formats.

· Employees consistently provide safety suggestions formally (forms) and informally (one-on-one with supervisors).

· Safety suggestions are effectively tracked and prioritized for improvement.

· Safety suggestions are addressed in a timely and valuable manner.

· Status updates are provided to the individual submitting suggestions.

· Improvements and status updates from suggestions are provided to all employees.

If you’re not doing a great job with safety suggestions from the field, you probably have “one-way traffic” with your safety communications. Safety decisions may be made in a vacuum without proper field perspective and without explaining the rationale behind these decisions (e.g., rule changes).

Here are two things you can do today to get better.

Suggestion 1:

Implement listening tours where leaders ask for employee suggestions to improve safety. Set up a system where leaders hold each other accountable for sharing what they learned on these tours.

Suggestion 2:

Create learning teams where front-line employees systematically investigate ways to improve safety processes and facilities. Establish a reporting mechanism for them to share their findings and suggestions with leaders.

Try these quick hitter tips and see if you start getting more discretionary effort from your field employees. Along the way, you may get some great suggestions to improve your safety processes and performance.

At Propulo, we work with leaders to improve organizational safety communication to get and use more field-level suggestions.

Take the following Self-Assessments to gauge the current effectiveness of your organizational safety suggestion processes:


Driving Safety Improvement Through Minimizing Distractions


Listening Tours: A powerful leadership learning tool