The business benefits to be obtained from employee engagement are huge. Studies have shown that (a) where employee engagement was low, those companies had 62% more safety incidents (Harter et al, 2006), and (b) where employee engagement was high, engaged employees were five times less likely to experience a safety incident, and seven times less likely to have a lost-time safety incident (Lockwood, 2007) than non-engaged employees. Similarly, the more employees are engaged in enhancing the reliability of plant and equipment, the lower the maintenance costs are, with correspondingly lower incident rates (Reliability Center, 2009). Thus the economic argument for employee engagement in safety is beyond dispute.
Employee engagement is an approach designed to help ensure employees are committed to an entity's goals and values, while motivating people to contribute to that entity's success. Such entities tend to possess a strong and genuine value for workforce involvement, with clear evidence of a ‘just and fair’ culture (Reason, 1997) based on mutual respect between the entire management structure and the workforce. The key aspect is ensuring an understanding by all concerned that engagement is two-way to decide on the best way forward and act together to make it happen: managers deliberately reach out to engage with employees to focus on issues of importance (e.g., safety), who in turn proactively and positively engage with management. In sum this means creating a genuine partnership between management and the workforce to improve performance in a specified domain.
A safety partnership is defined as:
Leadership, managers and front-line associates jointly focusing on safety and proactively working together in a business entity to minimize the possibility of harm and maximize safety performance.
Creating a genuine safety partnership, therefore, means management and the workforce jointly working toward achieving common and understood safety goals, with clear and consistent communication, efficient monitoring and reporting, and decisive action to investigate blockages and taking the appropriate corrective action as needed. Neither management nor employees can bring about good safety performance on their own. Management, for example, relies on their employees to report potential or actual incidents, follow procedures, work safely, etc. Similarly, employees cannot improve safety on their own. They rely on management, for example, to set the direction for action, develop supporting safety policies, develop appropriate procedures, release the necessary resources to enact the policies, and complete any corrective actions, etc. As such, both managers and employees must recognize that safety is a social activity where everyone has to work together as a team (Cooper & Finley, 2013). Moving from a traditional ‘command and control’ model of safety to one where safety is done with people, not at people is challenging, and takes a consistency of purpose, focus, and execution from all concerned (Cooper, 2008).