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What Does Safety Commitment Mean to the Employee?

August 14, 2013

Organizations are continually searching for cutting-edge techniques to decrease risk exposure for their employees. Consequently, management must understand that adopting new policies and procedures can at times be met with resistance, and the approach by which safety standards are implemented and enforced can influence employee attitudes toward the organization as well as their personal safety behaviors.

Discussions about safety commitment are typically focused on management’s efforts to show that safety is a priority to the organization. It is one of the most visible components of a safety program, as a simple internet search will produce an endless list of formal safety commitment statements proudly spotlighted on the mission statement pages of company websites. For example, in their code of conduct manual, Ford Motor Company states:

Our most valuable asset is our people. Nothing is more important than their safety and well-being. Our coworkers and families rely on this commitment. There can be no compromise.

Clearly, commitment to safety is critical to improving safety performance, but less obvious is the nature of safety commitment at the individual employee level.

Although strong safety performance begins with the organization, it is actually carried out by the collective behaviors of employees. Thus, every employee’s personal safety commitment can dramatically affect safety outcomes and carry consequences not only for themselves, but their coworkers as well. Commitment to safety is a characteristic of high SafetyDNA®, such that some individuals are more thorough than others in their job briefings prior to performing a task, more mindful of having all of the necessary PPE to complete a job, less likely to break rules to get a job done faster, and generally more cautious on the work site.

Conversely, employees who do not exhibit a strong commitment to safety may simply have poor SafetyDNA, an issue that management must address through assessment, training, and possible disciplinary actions, or they may perceive that safety is not valued by the organization and adjust their safety performance accordingly. Therefore, building lines of trust and communication to improve employee attitudes towards safety can be key to fostering a culture of safety commitment. 

Many organizations recognize the importance of personal responsibility for safety performance, and some even go so far as to have employees sign a statement of personal safety commitment. For instance, the Babcock & Wilcox Company presents its employees with a social contract that reads:

I am dedicated to maintaining a safe work environment and will demonstrate my commitment to safety through these actions:

  • I am responsible for my safety and the safety of others.

  • I am committed to an incident and injury free workplace.

  • I acknowledge that people are fallible, and even the best make mistakes.

  • I will actively anticipate and communicate error-likely situations and failed defenses.

  • I will not perform or permit an unsafe act — I have the responsibility and authority to stop work.

  • I will encourage and reinforce the safe behavior of others.

  • I will make these commitments part of my everyday life at work and at home.

Beyond formal measures like this, organizations should encourage employee involvement in their safety programs. However, employees must be internally motivated to create the safest working environment possible, or the organization’s efforts will be fruitless. The basic tenets of a personal safety commitment philosophy should include:

  • Safety is everyone’s responsibility.

  • I am responsible for my own workplace safety.

  • I will go above and beyond the minimum safety standards required of my job.

  • I will continually improve my safety behaviors.

  • I will work with management to decrease my exposure to risk.

  • I will set an example of safe behavior for my coworkers.

  • Every incident can be avoided.

  • Every job can be done safely.

  • Working safely is a Condition of my Employment!

Employees can use any or all of these principles as personal safety phrases while they work to improve their SafetyDNA, consequently increasing safety commitment and helping create a culture of effective safety performance.

SafetyDNA The Science Behind Personal Safety

Craig White Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.