Communicating Safety to Young Workers

You can’t expect young employees to value safety if you don’t. It isn’t adequate to post a few warning signs or cover safety on page 72 of the company policy manual. Communicating safety must happen routinely, be direct and include written and verbal elements. Be the boss, be the safety leader.

Here are five ways to make sure you create a strong safety culture.

1. Provide a strong, general safety orientation on day one.

Safety, regardless of the workplace, should be a key part of orientation, right up there with benefits, salary and operational policies. At a minimum, we recommend you:

  • Inform employees verbally of their rights to a safe work environment and your commitment to providing it.
  • Cover the common causes of injury in your industry – slips, trips, falls, overexertion, operating equipment without being trained, etc.
  • Explain the social and financial ramifications of unsafe behavior; for example, seriously injuring or killing a co-worker or the fact that workers’ comp payments only cover two-thirds of an injured employee’s pay.
  • Encourage employees to ask questions about any thing at any time.
  • Insist employees are fully trained and tested on all tasks / equipment before they go it alone.

2. Follow up with young workers regularly and specifically.

A great percentage of workplace accidents happen in the first few weeks of employment or after a reassignment. Even if the employee is thoroughly trained, it’s always a good idea for his or her supervisor to pay attention and connect about safety specifically. Don’t ask an employee how it’s going. Ask … Do you feel comfortable in your job? Have you inspected your safety gear today? Are there any issues you’ve discovered safety-wise? Do you have any questions about this equipment or task?

3. Make management’s commitment to safety obvious.

Safety discussions should be part of management, department and company meetings. In these meetings encourage workers to bring forward any concerns or questions. We recommend that safety be a line item on the agenda, just like finance, personnel or operations. Young workers want to impress their employers. Show them safety impresses you.

4. Create a structured program that ensures continuous safety reminders.

Initial orientation is important, but reinforcement is vital, too. Create a safety committee. Test employees on new equipment. Reorient employees who change positions. Develop a comprehensive Return to Work program. In these ways, you’ll build in reminders that safety is important to your company and to your employees’ health.

5. Use positive reinforcement.

For young workers, a pat on the back goes a long way. If you notice a young worker carefully going through a safety checklist on a piece of equipment or showing responsibility toward a co-worker’s safety or making a safety suggestion to his supervisor, commend him. Let him know safe work will be rewarded.