Frontline workers and SMS efforts
What role should frontline employees play in an organization’s safety and health management system efforts?
Responding is Dan Corcoran, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, academic program director for occupational safety and health and environmental management, Columbia Southern University, Orange Beach, AL.
Frontline employees play a vital role in any organization’s occupational safety and health management systems effort. These are the individuals who are engaged in doing the hands-on work of the company. Subsequently, they’re more likely to encounter occupational hazards.
These employees perform functions such as welding, repairing downed power lines, and operating equipment and machinery. They work from height, enter confined spaces, work in noisy environments and face potential exposure to chemical hazards. Thus, the behavior of the frontline worker is critical to the safety endeavors of a given company.
It’s imperative for organizations to develop safety and health management systems that provide workers with the tools and systems needed to allow them to work safely. The success of a safety program relies heavily on management’s commitment to upholding organizational safety and health, and how much employees are involved in the decision-making processes of the organization. These aspects together are important for several reasons.
Top management support for safety and health endeavors conveys a message throughout the organization that the company is unwilling to compromise on the issue of worker safety. This may include verbal and/or symbolic support by leadership with clear policies regarding the importance of safety and health in the facility, their engagement in safety and health-related matters, and guaranteeing their organization’s safety and health program has the resources necessary to succeed. Commitment to the safety and health endeavor also drives the organization’s culture to embrace safety as a core value, which is key to ensuring employees choose to work safely.
Employee involvement in safety and health is also critical to success. When employees have an opportunity to be involved in the safety and health process – identifying hazards, providing input on methods for controlling hazards, exercising choice with personal protective equipment, and having input on decisions related to safety policy and procedure – they’re much more likely to take ownership of the program and work safely.
Thus, organizations that choose to operate exemplary safety and health management programs must give frontline workers an opportunity to engage. And because frontline workers witness many safety hazards firsthand, it’s their responsibility to be attentive during training sessions, be willing to volunteer for safety-related activities such as serving on committees and, of course, follow company rules related to occupational safety and health.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the authors and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.