Earning Worker Trust, Respect & Cooperation

September 3, 2018 No Comments

To be an effective safety manager you will need the trust, respect and cooperation of the workers.   I didn’t learn this in school, I learned it through 40-years of experience on the work floor.  Below are the twelve maxims that have helped me to improve my relationship and credibility with factory workers: 

  • Spend lots of time on the work floor.  At one company I worked for, the VP of Operations insisted that I spend at least 50% of my time on the work floor.  Talk with the employees when on the floor.  Ask them if there have been any accidents (or near misses) in their area recently.  Ask them if they have any ideas for improving the safety program or eliminating an on the job hazard? 
  • When employees speak, listen hard.  Make them think you care about what they are saying.  Seriously consider their suggestions.  Aggressively champion their suggestions that you believe are worthwhile.  Conversely, explain to them the reason why you decide not to follow up on a suggestion.
  • Truly care about every single employees’ health and safety.  Every chance you get talk about how your most important objective is to send every employee home in the same shape they came to work in. 
  • Never talk about the cost of accidents, insurance claims, or insurance premiums to employees.  If you do, you’ll turn off employees and make them think you care more about money than them.
  • When enforcing safety rules, give employees a break and treat them like you’d like to be treated.  When on the work floor, I carried a pad of the forms we used for writing up employees.  The employees knew that I carried it and that I had the authority to use it.   But, I’d often go months without ever pulling it out.  I believe that the vast majority of safety rule violations are either because the employee either did not know/understand the rule; or that the employee simply forgot the rule.  I cann’t count the number of times I’ve walked into the plant from my office and forgot my safety glasses.  When you spot a safety rule infraction, point it out to the employee and ask them why it happened.  If they say they didn’t know the rule, tell them the rule – give them a copy of it.   If they said that they simply forgot, remind them of the rule and state that if they forget again you will be required to write them up.   You will get your point across in a nice way and 99% of the time you will not have a recurrence of the violation.
  • Break bread with the employees.  Eat your lunch with them in the employee lunch room or where ever they eat and take breaks.
  • Anytime there is a waiting line (for a free meal, to exit the plant, etc.) let the employees go first.  Don’t get in line until the last employee has been served.
  • Dress more like the employees than like the managers and executives.  Wear denim jeans, scuffed up safety shoes, baseball caps, and whatever else the workers wear.  Early in my career I got allot of razing about the keen shine that I kept on my safety shoes.  I leaned that letting my work boots get a little dirty would stop the razing and help me to fit in better.  You see politicians dressing down all the time when on the campaign trail – same principle.
  • Don’t be a “yes man” to management.  If you do not agree with a safety position management takes don’t give in, fight for what you believe.  You need to operate in the no-mans-land between management and the employees.   Do not choose sides – rather in all cases, do what is right from a safety standpoint. 
  • When investigating accidents, look for the management oversights  and operational errors that caused the accident.  Never blame the employee for an accident (unless it was an intentional act, horseplay, or a purposeful rule violation).
  • Stick up for the underdog.  Safety knows no color or sex.  If you see discrimination taking place, address the violation immediately.  I view discriminatory acts just like horseplay, they are counter productive, distracting, and can certainly lead to accidents.
  • Learn how to do the workers’ jobs.  If you are the safety manager at a welding company, you need to know how to weld.  Take a welding class at the local technical school.  Then, when there’s a temporary shortage of skilled workers due to sickness, bad weather,  a sales spike,  or a strike you’ll be able to roll up your sleeves and weld right along side the professional welders.


The key to making the above tips work is to truly believe in them.   If you are not sincere, you will come across as a phony and a hypocrite.   At one company I worked for an employee came up and told me of a fellow worker that he suspected as being “impaired” while on the job.  The informant suggested that I send the offender in for “reasonable suspicion” drug and alcohol testing.  Now that’s trust!  

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