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Change the Way Your Employees Think About Warehouse Safety: A How-To Guide

Change The Way Your Employees Think About Warehouse Safety

Every warehouse manager wants their employees to go home safe and sound at the end of their shift. Good managers know that safe employees are productive employees and that means a more profitable business overall. But profits don't drive safety. What really drives a warehouse safety program is how employees think about safety in the warehouse.

Getting employees involved in safety starts with one main thing. That's corporate culture and an entire commitment — a total engagement — towards safety in the warehouse workplace. It's more than just having employees participate in workplace safety procedures. Safety is a central part of any first-rate warehouse culture.

Role as a Warehouse Manager

Your role as a warehouse manager involves creating a business culture where all your employees commit to safety. It's a workplace mindset far above mere compliance to rules and regulations. Your workforce must be actively engaged in safety practices rather than just responding to hazards and unsafe situations. Being a good safety manager starts with understanding this cultural approach to warehouse safety steps.

The Importance of Safety in the Warehouse

A safe workplace is a sound business. That advice comes right from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which falls under the United States Department of Labor. OSHA exists to help businesses implement a corporate culture focused on promoting safety and health in the warehouse workplace. It's wise to look at OSHA as your partner rather than a compliance officer.

OSHA reports injury rate

OSHA has some alarming statistics about the importance of safety in your warehouse. In their Worker Safety Series publication on warehousing, OSHA reports the fatal and serious injury rate for the warehouse industry is higher than the national average for all other industries. That makes managing safety in your workplace a vital role. Statistically, your warehouse business is at greater risk than other employers.

Accidents and injuries put a tremendous toll on all businesses. Your warehouse is no exception to these costs. Accidents are extremely costly due to personal injury expenses, production downtime and diminishing worker morale. All this hurts your business' profits. But your warehouse can be the exception in your industry. If you change the way your employees think about safety, you'll begin to see accident rates decline, production increase, morale improve and your overall bottom line continue to rise.

Improving your profit returns is not the only objective for working safely. Keeping your employees safe is an ethical issue as well as a financial responsibility. Good managers are ethical people who value and respect their employees. Foremost, they treat workers like people, not just workplace assets. The best managers engage employees in safety. They get employees involved, and they build that involvement in safety into the core of their business.

Your Role in Warehouse Safety

As a warehouse manager, you must wear many hats. You manage material procurement and logistical support. You're responsible for budgets, overheads, payables and receivables. You have a lot of balls to juggle, including proper human resource management. Implementing, maintaining and improving your occupational health and safety program are all parts of HR.

Your primary goal in having a successful health and safety program is preventing injuries, illnesses and deaths in your workplace. The human cost of employees suffering any one of these hardships is immeasurable. This goes beyond just workers. It includes their families, friends and co-workers.

Your best results in a workable OHS program come when you focus on worker buy-in. Your crew must believe in your genuineness when you demonstrate your commitment to their well-being. Credibility is the key to employees considering you sincerely support a comprehensive safety program. They must feel assured that you are committed to upholding their right to be protected as valued workers rather than pushing safety just to be compliant with regulations and inspections.

Your credibility begins with actively engaging your employees. You need to listen to their issues and concerns. It's an absolute fact that no one wants to see anyone hurt in their workplace. That extends to coming and going from work as well as making sure they don't feel excessive work-related stress during their time off. It all comes back to a corporate culture where you reinforce that safety is the only way you do business.

Clearly Communicate Expectations

Engaged workers will, in turn, engage other workers. Safety is infectious. The best way to motivate your workers about safety is to clearly communicate what you expect from them and what they can expect from you as their leader. Leadership is tremendously influential whether it's positive or negative. The best leaders are the best communicators.

How to Talk to Your Employees About Warehouse Safety

Clear communication is credible communication. This involves holding a multi-way dialogue where leaders listen to what their subordinates are saying. You can better achieve an open culture in a non-threatening atmosphere where workers feel they're appreciated and their feedback is valued. It takes real leadership talent to build an efficient culture of mutual respect, but it's crucial for a proper safety system.

Workers can spot an insincere leader in a flash. People instantly raise their guard and begin to mistrust when they suspect someone is insincere and doesn't respect their needs. The first principle in effective communication and being able to talk about warehouse safety is recognizing what your employees need.

Security and safety in the working environment is a prime driver for worker well-being. Safety is a basic need for all employees. According to a well-known psychological base called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, safety, health and mental wellness are just one level above the most basic human needs of food, water, sleep and shelter. Businesses who don't look after their workers' basic safety needs will never allow full growth and production potential.

Good communicators are excellent motivators. Employees who genuinely feel safe in their working environment will automatically respond with positive motivation. In turn, they'll contribute to an overall culture that is genuinely open and believes safety is a priority. Communicating this in an upfront and consistent manner will do more for employee buy-in than all the posters and slogans you can display.

Talking to your staff starts with your honest and sincere belief that safety is a top priority in your warehouse. But effective safety communication is more than just talking about it. It's creating an environment in which effective communication is central.

Tips to Engage Employees in Warehouse Safety

Getting workers to participate in safety programs depends entirely on their motivation. It starts with leadership that builds and encourages a safety culture in the entire corporation from the office to the warehouse floor. Motivation is an active state and engagement stays in motion. Once positive safety motivation is underway, it's a hard force to disengage.

Lack of motivation

Almost always, a lack of motivation comes from management failing to harness or channel motivations that employees already have. To improve safety conditions and motivate workers to engage in safe practices, you should ask yourself some simple questions about your current workplace conditions:

  • What does safety really mean to your employees? Safety can feel and look different from different perspectives. Frontline people on your dock or handling material across your floor see it personally. They do not want to get hurt. They don't want anyone else hurt. And they also don't want to see expensive products or material handling equipment damaged. Management also doesn't want anyone injured or to experience property damage. It's vital that everyone in your organization is on the same page about understanding what safety really means. They need to know how it's mutually beneficial for everyone to commit to safety rather than just reaching the regulatory compliant threshold.
  • What does engagement actually mean?  True engagement means taking an active role in the entire safety culture. It's more than just standing on the sidelines and watching it go by. Employees are safely engaged when they're in open discussions about managing risks and eliminating hazards. They're motivated to offer suggestions and their input is more than appreciated. Plans get implemented, and actual steps are taken to remove safety barriers. This includes making sure there are no barriers to communicating with management. Engagement crosses the entire workplace spectrum from acting on safety committees to observing other workers' actions. Engaged workers are easy to spot. They show it by the way they safely perform their job duties.
Barriers inhibit worker motivation
  • How are the workers being motivated right now? "Barrier" is a common term in the safety business. It's all-encompassing and includes any barrier or baggage that inhibits worker motivation. That means all employees must have an opportunity to participate in safety programs. It means when a worker reports a safety concern or identifies a hazardous condition they're rewarded. That can be taking immediate action to solve the problem then making sure management recognizes their contribution. Be sure to also distribute genuine appreciation throughout your workforce.
  • What is being done to engage workers through training? Training is a vital part of engaging workers in safe work practices. Your warehouse likely has highly sophisticated material handling equipment like stretch wrapping machines and pallet inverters. You probably have workers operating pallet dispensers, pallet changers and pallet tippers. You certainly have pallet trucks and lift tables on the floor and around the dock. All these dependable pieces make your workers' tasks much easier. But your employees need proper training in how to safely operate potentially dangerous material handling equipment. Training is engaging. Trained workers are motivated to encourage others to buy into a safety culture.
  • How do employees buy into a safety culture? According to research, there are ten top reasons that employees actively engage in your company's safety culture. Whether each idea becomes a priority depends on the individual worker and what personal motivations they have. In no particular order, these ten reasons include:
    • Management has built a positive safety culture
    • Personal protection and welfare
    • Satisfied with training and education in safe equipment operation
    • Excellent machinery and equipment quality to work with
    • Promising future within the company
    • Positive support for work/life relationship
    • Corporate responsibility and efforts to maintain and improve safety
    • Management who genuinely treats employees with respect and dignity
    • Management who recognizes and rewards safe employee practices
    • Confidence in the company's future prosperity

Unfortunately, despite your most genuine and sincere efforts to actively engage your employees in safety culture, some workers will never step up. Much of it has to do with their personal motivation. There are three types of workers at every company:

Three types of workers
  • Non-compliant workers are the resisters. No matter what motivation and incentives you offer, they will never go past only doing as much as it takes to keep out of trouble. They might openly defy rules and regulations or disregard safety practices because they believe the way to get high production is by taking shortcuts and risks.
  • Compliant workers make up the biggest part of most workforces. Most workers do what they're instructed, including following safety precautions like wearing their personal protection equipment when operating stretch wrap machines and pallet inverters. But there's a downfall to compliant workers. As soon as they're not under supervision, they tend to slip and take shortcuts. As compliant workers comprise the majority of your workforce, they also account for the greatest amount of risk.
  • Committed workers are your warehouse stars. They are committed to safety all the time and are cautious no matter who is or isn’t watching them. Though these dedicated employees might be the lowest number by percentage, they have the largest impact on engaging others in safe work practices.

Your challenge as a warehouse leader is to capitalize on commitment and have that positive energy replace negative attitudes. That direction comes from you. It's vital that your workers spread the message you're sending from the top down to other workers. This message should be that productivity and safety work hand-in-hand.

You need to communicate that working safely is the right thing to do in your warehouse and that it's okay to talk about it. That includes between workers, line supervisors and with you.

How to Keep Your Workers Engaged in Safety

So what exactly is an "engaged" employee and how do you keep them that way? There are a few different definitions of engaged. One explanation is someone who is fully active and involved in every aspect of your safety culture. They're enthusiastic about their work and pass this on to others. Engaged workers are morale boosters. They have everyone's interests at heart — yours, theirs and everyone in the company.

Engaged works exhibit pride in their work

Engaged workers act in a way that furthers everyone in your organization. They exhibit values like pride in their work and job satisfaction. They believe that their work has value and that it contributes to the overall good. Engaged workers enjoy what they do. They have the perception that they're part of a team and part of the company's culture. They bring that sense of dependability and support to everything they do at your facility.

Engaged workers are at the center of workplace morale. They know their employer's values are genuine and have a sincere concern for the safety and well-being of every person from the most junior to most senior. But they weren't born that way. Yes, some are more adaptable to motivation than others but these cheer champions have recognized the good in your organization. They've stayed that way because your management kept them continually engaged in safety and other morale-building roles.

Keeping employees engaged means having them directly involved in all facets of your safety and business culture. Employee engagement correlates directly with the involvement level that you allow workers in work processes and activities. Without enough involvement, they'll get a sense of ownership. Keeping workers engaged creates mutual company benefits like:

  • Pride and job satisfaction
  • Compliant workers who, in turn, motivate others
  • Employee experience that helps management be efficient
  • Stronger communication lines
  • Lower accident and jury rate
  • Lower insurance premiums
  • Reward and performance incentives
  • Personnel recognition
  • Roles on safety committees
  • Helpful and realistic improvement suggestions
  • Workers observing and helping co-workers
  • Higher productivitiy and throughput
  • Better automation and training
  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Increased profits

All these benefits come from engaging your workers, having them participate in safe work practices and keeping them engaged long-term. Companies have tried many different devices to make sure that workers remain actively engaged in safety activities. The best returns for motivating and retaining engaged workers come from:

  • Discussing work change proposals with affected workers before implementing
  • Having workers research the quality and value of PPE and material handling equipment prior to purchase
  • Solicit input from workers at all levels on a constant, ongoing basis
  • Invite and encourage workers at all levels on a constant, ongoing basis
  • Develop and implement job hazard analysis (JHA) procedures
  • Include workers in developing and implementing emergency response plans
  • Make sure regular safety meetings are all-inclusive
  • Encourage suggestions and reward good performance
  • Make sure workers have privacy and anonymity for sensitive matters
  • Encourage near-miss and hazardous occurrence reporting
  • Have formal and informal worker discussions
  • Always address concerns promptly and follow-up immediately
  • Give credit where credit is due

Engaged workers are open to communication. All managers have a personal communication style, but the best ones have a few techniques in common. Here are some tips on effectively communicating in the workplace:

Message is clear and concise
  • Make sure your message is clear and concise. Don’t leave room for assumptions. This leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Your communication might be verbal or written but make sure you use language that your workers get.
  • Use your industry terminology. Refer to your material handling equipment by its rightful name. Call a pallet truck a pallet jack. There is nothing wrong with saying stretch wrapper. Just say lift table instead of getting detailed about the model and power source. The same goes for talking about all types of pallets, tippers, upenders, inverters, changers and dispensers. Your workers know what a freezer spacer remover is. They also know what washing equipment does.
  • Don’t refer to technical OSHA document numbers. Even if it’s an important OSHA regulation or strict company policy, make sure you explain why it’s necessary for their safety. It might be obvious to you but not to your employees.
  • Always give positive feedback. Listening is a powerful skill. Don't make the common management mistake of focusing on formulating a reply instead of actually hearing what their worker tells them. Feedback gives employees reassurance and confidence that you've heard their concerns and are willing to do something about them.
  • Finally, be sure to respect your employees. They'll know whether you do or not. True respect shows in everything you do as a warehouse manager. If you genuinely respect your workers, they'll respond by committing to your safety culture. They'll strive to engage and show others why safety is the way you do business around your warehouse.

How to Get Started in Engaging Employees

Employee engagement is a powerful safety performance tool. It lowers your hazard risk, your accident rates and is an exceptional business measuring method. No matter what state your safety culture is in, there are always ways to improve it.

As a leader and manager, you need to have the big picture in mind. You have to understand your employees' motivations and then effectively communicate with them. Genuineness can't be overstated. There is no way to fool your workforce about your safety program if you don't have genuine intentions.

Getting workers engaged in promoting safety incentives is a group or team activity. Everyone from your senior executives to your junior laborers needs to be aware of your expectations and their responsibilities. One of the best approaches is to identify your key influencers within your warehouse and collaborate with them to implement changes.

You'll know who these influencers are. They stand out for their enthusiasm and individual leadership qualities. They're the ones who have already bought into your company's safety culture and have continual engagement. Confide with these key team members and strategize what you intend to do and how to best get it done. They'll know the best way to ramp up engagement with everyone in your warehouse business.

Another key implementation strategy is to engage with an outside industry partner that already has a core safety culture. You material handling equipment supplier is exactly who you're looking for to help improve your warehouse safety. Cherry's Industrial Equipment has been helping other warehouse managers build a safety culture for over 30 years.

Work With Cherry's Industrial Equipment on Your Warehouse Safety

Excellent equipment

Safe material handling equipment operation starts with having top quality, American-built machinery that your workers trust. Excellent equipment is a frontline defender of worker safety, especially when warehouse employees have been properly trained to handle potentially dangerous tools like stretch wrap machines and pallet tippers. A trained workforce means a safe workplace, and Cherry's Industrial Equipment supplies and trains safe warehouses nationwide.

Turn to Cherry’s for all your safe material handling equipment. Call our specialists at 800 350-0011 and discuss how we can help change the way your employees think about warehouse safety. You can also contact us online.