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Safety awareness might seem moot in many organizations. Most people know the general safety rules that apply to any work situation, even if they’re brand new to your company. They also sit through their fair share of safety training each year and are constantly reminded of rules and procedures via the OSHA posters on the break room walls.
So, is creating additional safety awareness really all that necessary?
In a word, yes. But safety awareness goes well beyond passive posters and occasional training sessions if you want your investment to be effective.
It’s not as self-explanatory as it sounds.
When many people think of “awareness,” things like temporary campaigns and sporadic activities often spring to mind. Leaders try to shed light on a new topic, bring it to the front of others’ minds, and then move on to something else. This type of awareness may be satisfactory to some topics, but workplace safety isn’t one of them.
Safety awareness is a constant realization every employee must have at all times. It goes beyond what they learn in the safety training classroom and at morning safety meetings. Being constantly aware of how they’re operating at work and being able to recognize hazards is critical in mitigating safety-related risks.
In addition, safety awareness goes beyond the obvious hazards like machines, ergonomics, and electrical safety. The term ‘safety’ broadly covers a variety of ways a disaster or accident can occur, from physical hazards to occupational, natural, and social risks.
Things like tornadoes, hurricanes, acts of violence, traffic-related hazards, and other incidents that can occur at work shouldn’t be neglected when creating safety awareness.
In short, safety awareness goes much deeper than many employees and leaders realize, and creating ongoing awareness is a huge part of building a successful safety culture.
Because safety is such an important part of our daily lives, it’s important to remain aware of potential safety issues at all times and consciously act in safety’s best interest.
It’s easier said than done, of course. Daily responsibilities at work can often distract even diligent employees and decrease alertness. Employees who have been doing the same job for years are at an even higher risk because they’re less likely to consciously think about their actions. Repetitive tasks can switch on a person’s autopilot to the point they don’t need to put much thought into their work.
When this happens, safety becomes less of a daily thought until it’s brought back to the spotlight.
Without ongoing awareness, employees may begin to neglect safe practices in lieu of faster, more efficient methods. Taking a shortcut once with no negative consequences makes it easier to repeat those shortcuts and look for new ones – but safety leaders know it’s only a matter of time before those “efficiencies” result in an undesirable outcome.
Increasing safety awareness in any organization doesn’t just happen by accident, nor can you achieve continuous awareness through passive engagement.
Things like safety posters and flyers may be read once or twice before they start to blend in and become business as usual.
Events like Safety Awareness Week or in-house training sessions can help to bring top of mind awareness to certain topics, but they do little to continue the conversation and keep employees engaged.
The best way to create effective safety awareness is to build safety into everything you do within your organization. Safety should be a natural part of business, not a once in a while thing that’s brought up in meetings or training sessions. When workers can approach safety as easily and as often as they do their work responsibilities, you stand a much higher chance of keeping EHS at the helm.
That’s not to say safety meetings, awareness events, and trainings aren’t effective – these things can certainly contribute to creating a stronger safety culture and shouldn’t be undervalued. But they’re not enough on their own.
To learn more about increasing safety awareness and putting safety in the hands and minds of every employee, check out our free eBook on how to create a stronger safety culture.
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