How Employee Engagement is Linked to Safety Performance

Refinery Workers
February 04, 2020

Recently I had a conversation about Process Safety Management (PSM) with Kyle Schiber, Product Manager of Environmental Compliance and Process Safety at Enablon.

We were talking about the 14 elements of PSM defined by OSHA. But Kyle threw me a curve ball. He was highlighting 13 distinct elements, and treating one separately.

I asked “Kyle, you did not include ‘Employee Participation’ with the others, but are treating it separately. Is that a mistake?” His answer was “No, because Employee Participation affects all the others. Organizations must drive employee participation for all elements, to have a successful PSM program.”

Later I connected the dots…well, three dots to be precise.

First, there was Kyle’s view that Employee Participation must be seen as an underlying requirement for a successful PSM program and all its elements, not a standalone element.

Second, there was a blog post we published in January about what’s top-of-mind for EHS professionals. Employee Engagement was number two among the top three most important issues. Also, Employee Engagement was number one among the major challenges that professionals face in improving safety.

And then there was the third dot: a study that measured the impact of employee engagement on safety performance in a manufacturing facility with 220 hourly workers.

The study was the subject of the following article in the November 2019 issue of Professional Safety Journal: Management Leadership: Improving Employee Safety Engagement

Strong Evidence

According to the study, there is strong evidence to support what previous research has indicated: employee engagement positively impacts safety performance and reduces injury rates.

Workers who see their organizations as being supportive, and concerned and caring about their general wellbeing and satisfaction are likely to have positive perceptions of the organizational safety climate. This in turn influences safe work behaviors and reduces the frequency of incidents, the article says.

The results from the study show a correlation between safety and levels of employee engagement:

  • Almost 60% of 171 respondents to the survey answered that they had been injured on the job while working at the facility.
    • Almost 70% of injured workers reported that they sometimes, seldom or never reviewed their job risk analysis (i.e. job safety analysis or job hazard analysis).
    • About one-third (34%) of injured workers reported that they don’t always fully complete lockout/tagout procedures.
    • Almost three-quarters (74%) of injured workers felt that safety policies and procedures “got in the way” of doing their jobs.
  • More than one-third of respondents (36%) reported that they had not been injured on the job while working at the facility.
    • 95% of these employees reported that they mostly or always follow safety procedures.
    • 89% reported that they would sometimes, mostly or always confront another employee about an unsafe act or behavior.
    • 92% reported that they mostly or always wear PPE in good condition.
    • 79% reported their likelihood to report an unsafe act or behavior to management as “sometimes”, “mostly” or “always”.
    • 92% reported that they sometimes, mostly or always support new policies and procedures.

Clearly there’s a strong contrast between the responses.

The study says that unengaged employees are much more likely to get injured compared to their engaged colleagues. Disengaging with policies and procedures increases a risk of injury.

The authors of the article have two overarching recommendations for increasing meaningful employee engagement.

The first is to turn employees into safety advocates. This means giving employees a voice in safety decisions, providing them opportunities for development and education, and involving them in the development of safety metrics.

The second is to emphasize management’s role as servant leaders for safety. This means engaging with employees, taking responsibility for failure in workplace safety, treating all employees with respect, listening to employee concerns, and taking corrective actions.

The article concludes by reinforcing what has been repeatedly observed and stated: Management’s leadership is crucial to engaging employees in safety, and encouraging them to comply with procedures and report unsafe behaviors or conditions.

Finally, if you’re considering the use of safety software or technology, be sure to evaluate how the solution can help drive employee engagement in your occupational safety and health and PSM programs.



Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader