Employee involvement in safety efforts is one of the most crucial factors for creating a healthy work environment. Naturally, there exist various barriers and challenges to this kind of involvement, which should be considered when developing any safety program.
One of the most frequent barriers for employee involvement in safety issues is the lack of trust. This may be trust in management as well as in members of Safety and Health Committee or safety supervisor. When employee is not confident in his co-workers or leadership, correspondingly, there is a lack of commitment to the organization and negative perception of safety climate (Zacharatos & Barling, 2004). Employees should feel constant support from their supervisors or managers, especially when joining teams or committees, in order to overcome this barrier.
One more challenge for employee involvement is a climate of fear. The threat of direct or indirect punishment is often the reason for it. Employees cannot fully participate in safety issues if negative motivation methods are the only ones being used. In addition, strongly emphasized status symbols may also cause climate of fear because of separation of employees into different hierarchical levels (Zacharatos & Barling, 2004).
Furthermore, the amount of time and effort involved may also become an obstacle for workers’ participation in safety efforts. It is important to ensure that the organization supports employees’ desired level of involvement, and all efforts are voluntary and motivated.
Employees often follow their leaders who act as role models. The lack of demonstrated commitment from top leadership can demotivate workers and make them indifferent to safety issues. The appropriate leadership model is the one where leaders “demonstrate a commitment to safety” and are concerned with the needs and interests of their followers “enhancing workplace safety” (Zacharatos & Barling, 2004, p. 212).
Finally, inadequate safety training is a huge barrier for employee involvement and participation in safety programs. Often, workers receive only partial training leaving behind some of the most essential information, e.g. workers may receive training to avoid injury and omit training to deal with an angry customer (Neal & Griffin, 2004). One of the effective ways to get adequate training can be holding group interactive training sessions. Beyond providing employees with the knowledge and skills to do their jobs to the best of their abilities or to complete the tasks safely, such training has the added benefit of increasing organizational commitment.
By paying attention to the existing barriers, both managers and employees may improve the process of implementing safety initiatives, and thus “increase the likelihood that the program or policy will have the desired effect” (Grawitch, Ledford, Ballard & Barber, 2009, p. 132).