Get safety suggestions from employees

Employees are undoubtedly the best place to turn for solutions about safety concerns, but they often don't volunteer this information.

"The worker may feel like the 'squeaky wheel,' if they report near misses," says Judith McKenzie, MD, MPH, FACOEM, director of clinical practice in the division of occupational medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Workers may fear retaliation, or may fail to see how reporting a safety concern is important. "They may prefer not to draw attention to themselves for what might be construed by supervisors or upper management as a negative occurrence," she says. To get employees to share safety input:

Post signs noting the importance of reporting near misses to prevent accidents.

Make employees aware of all the different ways they can report concerns.

"This information can be reported to the safety committee in the institution," she says. "Occupational health can work with safety or industrial hygiene to address the issue."

Be specific about what workers should report.

Tell employees you want to hear about spills on the floor, wet areas, snowy areas, back or upper extremity injuries, and lack of easy accessibility to personal protective equipment. "Workers should report unsafe behaviors, such as seeing others work at heights without a harness," she says.

Offer every option

Employees should be able to provide safety input using "every communication medium," says Kenneth A. Pravetz, health and safety officer at the Virginia Beach Fire Department, including suggestion boxes, online forums, web-based surveys, informal conversations, and surveys.

"Cost savings should be shared, either through cash rewards or lower benefit premiums for all participants," he adds. "Year-end bonuses are a good way to encourage reduced consumption of resources."

As a result of employee suggestions, the fire department replaced hydraulic rescue tools with stronger, lighter models, and provided five-gallon water coolers at emergency scenes.

All suggestions should be responded to in some way. "Individuals who provide their input should receive a note, or be invited to discuss the idea in front of decision makers," says Pravetz. "Anonymous suggestions should be responded to via newsletters, intranet member forums, or at meetings."

When you listen to employees and start implementing their solutions, "they realize you are serious about safety," says Pam Dannenberg, RN, COHN-S, CAE, ergonomic and occupational health services consultant at EK Health Services in San Jose, CA. "Employees will actually use the equipment and the safer procedures they think of. They now have a stake in what occurs."

EK Health has gotten good results with its clients by asking managers and line workers to sit at a table together. Each person is asked what they think would prevent an injury or near miss from happening again.

"We ask the person who was injured, or in the near miss situation, first. Often, they have the best solutions and are the best champions of those best practices," says Dannenberg. "We have great results with this simple process."

Sources

For more information on encouraging workers to offer safety feedback, contact:

Pam Dannenberg, RN, COHN-S, CAE, Ergonomic and Occupational Health Services Consultant, EK Health Services, San Jose, CA. Phone: (877) 861-1595. Fax: (415) 643-6775. E-mail: pdannenberg@ekhealth.com.

Judith McKenzie, MD, MPH, FACOEM, Division of Occupational Medicine, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Phone: (215) 662-4439. Fax: (215) 615-0666. E-mail: jmckenzi@mail.med.upenn.edu.

Kenneth A. Pravetz, Health and Safety Officer, Virginia Beach Fire Department. Phone: (757) 385-8713. E-mail: kpravetz@vbgov.com.