Employers around the world have had three of the toughest years in living memory. First, the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to rethink the way they work. Next, employees reconsidered their options and looked for a better work-life balance, resulting in the Great Resignation.
Although that movement appears to have fizzled out, filling vacancies remains tough. Employers have had to offer more to attract top talent. Here’s the thing: ‘more’ doesn’t always mean more money or a bigger benefits package. Workplace safety is high on the wish list of prospective employees. Putting it at the core of your recruitment strategy could just give you the secret sauce you’ve been looking for. Read on to find out how your business can leverage safety to attract candidates who will make a difference to your business.
Building a Safe and Healthy Work Environment
Our first point may seem a little obvious, but still, here it is: you can’t leverage a safe working environment until you’ve created it in your business. To help you do that, it’s important to understand the potential hazards your employees face.
When we talk about health and safety at work, most people will think of physical occupations like construction. You may also have images of hard hats, safety goggles, and other personal protection equipment (PPE) in your mind. Those measures work well in environments where employees are concerned about their physical safety.
However, employees today face a much wider range of hazards, including:
- Physical hazards
- Chemical hazards
- Environmental hazards
- Psychological hazards, and
- Violent incidents
When your organization is looking to create a safe and healthy work environment, you need to start by identifying which hazards your team may be facing, determining the best ways to address them, and implementing the necessary safety and security procedures.
What the numbers say about workplace safety
How big of an issue is workplace safety really? Let’s investigate a few statistics to get a clearer picture of the problem. This will also help you understand just how big an opportunity a strategic focus on workplace safety is.
The U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics reported 5,190 fatal work injuries in 2021. That number represents an increase of nearly 9% over 2020. The increase is perhaps not surprising, considering much work was halted during the first year of the pandemic. If those numbers are not enough to convince you that workplace safety is a concern, consider this: 5,190 fatalities mean that a worker died every 101 minutes from an injury related to their job in 2021.
Once we add non-fatal injuries and illnesses into the picture, the BLS’s figures are even more staggering. Private companies reported 2.6 million injuries to the bureau in 2021. This figure represents a slight drop compared to the previous year, which is due to fewer cases of illnesses, especially respiratory illnesses. Again, this is likely a representation of the difference between the first and the second year of the pandemic.
Workplace violence is another growing concern. Leading occupational safety and health magazine EHS Today reported that one in seven employees doesn’t feel safe at work. Workers are also unsure how to react to violent incidents in their workplaces. The magazine refers to a 2019 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), in which just under 50% of the surveyed human resources professionals reported violent incidents in their companies. It’s a staggering increase compared to 2012 when only 36% of HR professionals had had the same experience.
Then there is psychological safety at work. We’ve written in-depth about the concept and what it means for companies. In short, being in a psychologically safe environment allows employees to make mistakes without the fear of being punished. In addition, psychologically safe workplaces also encourage employees to speak up when they notice that something could be better.
Taking steps toward leveraging workplace safety
Based on these numbers, it’s obvious that workplace safety is a huge concern for employees. For employers, the need to increase safety – physically and psychologically – should be just as clear. So, let’s talk about the opportunity to leverage workplace safety.
It’s no secret that businesses in all industries are finding it hard to recruit qualified personnel. The problem runs deeper than a passing period of labor shortage. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there were 9.9 million job openings across the country in June 2023 but only 5.8 million unemployed workers. As the Chamber’s Director of Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives, Stephanie Ferguson writes: “If every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have more than 4 million open jobs.”
Leveraging workplace safety in your recruitment process could truly be the secret sauce your business needs to distinguish itself from the competition and fill critical vacancies. For the remainder of this article, we’ll examine different strategic approaches to turning intention into reality.
Showcasing Safety in Recruitment Efforts
We’ll start by assuming that your company has done the work and established a safe and healthy company culture and work environment for its employees. Now it’s time to ensure potential new hires know about your efforts.
Take a look at your recruitment process and identify the touchpoints between your business and prospective employees that would make it easy to highlight your commitment to workplace safety. Here are a few examples:
Brief recruitment partners
If you’re working with a professional recruitment company, make sure your recruitment partners know about your commitment to workplace safety. Think of recruiters as part of your salesforce. They may not sell the company’s products and services, but they are actively approaching potential candidates on your behalf. This kind of information will make you stand out from competitors.
Leverage your blog and social media channels
Prospective employees tend to spend time on potential employers’ websites and social media channels to try and get to know the companies they may want to work for. Talk about your efforts to build a safer and healthier work environment and the results you’ve achieved. Even better – use existing employee testimonials to add social proof to your content.
Take advantage of recruitment events
Perhaps your company attends job fairs and other recruitment events. These events offer excellent opportunities to meet potential employees face-to-face and highlight your commitment to offering a comfortable, safe, and supportive work environment.
Take a look at your recruitment process today to identify opportunities for your business.
Using Technologies for Improving Workplace Safety
Technology has changed the way we run our professional and personal lives, so it’s unsurprising that it’s also had an impact on workplace safety.
Think about how your company can utilize technology to create safer work environments. The answer once again depends on the nature of your business and the potential issues you identified at the beginning of the process.
For example, if physical safety and potentially violent incidents are among your main concerns, limiting access to the business or certain areas of the company will help. Issuing employees and visitors with badges programmed to limit the locations they can enter is a big step toward creating safer work environments. Well-known measures like CCTV cameras also contribute to increasing the safety of your employees.
If you have employees who work alone, either on or off your premises, consider giving them access to wearable technology such as panic buttons. These portable personal alarms are essential in case of an emergency. They send the user’s exact location to security personnel, minimizing any delays in getting help. Panic buttons can be effective when an employee in your team detects any kind of threat.
Leveraging Safety Certifications and Accreditations
Are potential employees aware of the work your business is doing to create a safer environment for them? Aside from the communications channels we mentioned above, leveraging safety-related certifications can also be an effective tactic to highlight your activities and your commitment.
Organizations like to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offer certification programs that allow you to demonstrate your commitment to workplace safety. OSHA’s Safety and Health Fundamentals certificate is an in-depth training program available for the general industry as well as customized to the construction and maritime sectors.
These courses cover health and safety standards, health management, and incident investigation, among other topics. Becoming certified and ensuring certifications are clearly visible on your recruitment materials allows you to leverage your commitment.
If these programs are not the best fit for your business, consider other accreditations, including first aid training. At first sight, office workers may not be prone to serious accidents and incidents, but they are just as likely to fall sick or burn themselves with hot coffee as workers on a construction site.
Collaborating with Employees for Ongoing Safety Improvement
At this stage, it’s time to talk about involving your existing employees in your quest to leverage workplace safety in your recruitment strategy.
At the beginning of the process, existing employees are best placed to highlight areas for improvement. Encourage your team to speak openly about the threats they perceive in their job and work actively with them to minimize those. This approach will speed up the process of creating a safe and healthy environment.
Having these conversations requires an environment where psychological safety is a priority. If you feel that employees are hesitant to share information, it’s important to get to the root cause of their hesitation. Perhaps they are fearing repercussions from line managers or other teammates. If that’s the case, it needs to be addressed urgently across the entire company.
When it comes to marketing your commitment to safety to prospective hires, think of existing employees as ambassadors. No one is better placed to share with potential new employees how the company prioritizes safety. Ask employees for written or video-based testimonials that you can share as part of your recruitment activities.
Workplace safety requires ongoing efforts, and, again, your existing employees are essential in making those efforts successful. Encourage your team to highlight potential or actual safety breaches proactively and take their advice on how best to address the issue. After all, your team on the ground often has greater insight into potential issues than their colleagues in the office. Why not take advantage of that?
Tracking and Measuring Safety Success
How can you tell that your efforts have been successful? Tracking and measuring safety across your business can take different forms.
If your company keeps data on accidents and incidents, it’s relatively easy to monitor how long the organization has been incident-free. If you’re planning on training more employees as emergency responders, you can compare numbers across several years. In hands-on environments, your team could track the proper use of PPE. Put simply, there is more than one way to track and measure the effectiveness of your safety commitment. What’s most important is that you do measure to ensure the business can demonstrate its commitment.
Attracting the right employees has never been easy. But the recruitment process is even more challenging for employers in times like these, when there are more vacancies than job seekers. Putting workplace safety at the heart of your recruitment strategy can give your business an edge over its competitors and help you attract the talent you really need.