4 Simple Steps to Creating Safety Accountability in the Workplace

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 2.8 million cases of workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2017. Although the number and rate of workplace injuries are falling, problems with health and safety at work still present a significant challenge in the U.S.

Employers have many reasons to be concerned about workplace safety. In fast-paced, labor-intensive environments, protection from harm can be difficult to guarantee. The manufacturing industry alone saw 300 incidences of work-related fatalities in 2017. 

What’s more, health and safety risks can increase in correspondence with productivity. As the demand for direct-to-consumer purchases increases, companies like ecommerce titan Amazon are under increasing pressure to respond to orders with speed and efficiency. Seasonal spikes in productivity can put warehouse workers in danger if safety protocols are not followed closely. 

Additionally, with nearly 16% of the American workforce employed in the gig economy, state lawmakers are now taking steps to ensure protections for flex-workers and extract penalties from companies exploiting contractors.


Workplace safety is not only an ethical imperative and sound legal practice, but also has clear business benefits. The total cost of workplace injuries to private companies in 2017 was over $161 billion — costs lost to worker’s compensation, legal fees, and reputation management. Promoting the health and safety of employees can boost morale, solidify an accountable workplace culture, and drive strong financial outcomes. 

It’s no wonder that over 90% of business leaders agree that promoting safety and wellness can impact productivity and performance. Any safety-centered culture starts with the cultivation of accountability. 

Improving Workplace Safety through Accountability

Employee safety and wellbeing are not inherent to workplace cultures — they are actively fostered and maintained through a commitment to accountability. The New York Times bestseller The Oz Principle defines accountability as: “a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.” 

By simply allocating blame in response to individual incidents, organizations may fail to address external factors such as engineering protocols and best practices training — as well as the underlying beliefs that shape the organizational culture. Instead, focusing on cultivating a safety mindset among employees can empower all employees to uphold and improve environmental safety standards and overall employee wellbeing in their day-to-day activities. Here are four simple steps for putting accountability at the center of your safety program:

1. Make Workplace Safety an Organizational Goal

Leaders and upper management can streamline organization safety goals by baking safety, health, and wellbeing in to their Key Results — three to five meaningful, memorable, and measurable organizational goals that the organization must obtain to be considered successful.

By distilling the company’s strategic vision for both topline performance and workplace health and safety into clear, salient organizational goals, leaders can ensure that employees understand how their roles and responsibilities align with the organization’s as a whole. 

Shared Key Results empower employees at every level of the organization to take an active role in promoting better performance and better safety. With clear targets front-and-center, employees view safety not simply as a managerial duty but also as an objective of their day-to-day work.

2. Cultivate ‘Safety Mindsets’ Among Employees

An effective approach to achieving Key Results starts from the bottom up. This is because, according to the proven wisdom of The Results Pyramid model, individual experiences form the foundation of change because they generate beliefs, which in turn spark actions that produce results. 

Leaders often fall into the trap of focusing their change efforts at the top two tiers of the pyramid — by enacting policy meant to influence actions and results — without considering the underlying beliefs and experiences propelling them. 

Proceeding from the bottom up can be difficult, but there is a simple way to get started. Leaders can jumpstart the process with tools like Focused Storytelling. By imparting simple stories about the effectiveness of safety — such as a story about employees proactively laying down non-slip mats and preventing a fall, or stopping an assembly line to inspect faulty products — leaders leave employees with a positive, clear message about the change they want to see. By listening to their stories, employees undergo an experience likely to influence their beliefs and actions.

3. Set Workplace Safety Expectations

It’s critical that leaders set clear health and safety expectations for their employees to meet. You can use the simple FORM guide to ensure clarity: make expectations frameable, obtainable, measurable, and repeatable

When workplace health and safety expectations are frameable, they are consistent with the vision and strategy of your organization. Expectations must also be obtainable, or achievable given existing resources and capacity restraints. When expectations are repeatable, they are transferable to different teams and able to be executed effectively time and again. Lastly, expectations should be measurable. Whenever possible, design quantifiable metrics that give an accurate read on the degree to which expectations are being met. 

4. Reward Great Workplace Safety Performance

Incentivizing employees to remain accountable for driving safety Key Results is an effective means of improving overall workplace health and safety. Employees who know they will be acknowledged for their efforts are more likely to engage deeply and take actions that improve safety in the workplace. 

As such, leaders can deliver Focused Recognition, championing the efforts and successes of individual employees in the form of a card or a verbal acknowledgment. For instance, if a member of the engineering team is consistently taking accountability to follow safety protocols and inspiring others to do the same, a leader can convey public praise. By receiving positive reinforcement, employees are better able to align themselves with overall organizational goals and set an example for others. 

Putting Workplace Health and Safety at the Heart of Company Culture

Safety cannot be just another task for management to complete. It is an integral and indispensable part of a thriving workplace culture. With an organizational culture shaped by experiences, cultural beliefs, mindsets, and Key Results surrounding safety and wellbeing, an organization not only guarantees employee wellbeing but positions itself for long-term business success. 

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