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11 Reasons Why Most Safety Management Systems Fail To Engage Employees

Do you know the saying, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”? In safety management, the weakest element is usually the engagement of employees. Most Safety Management Systems (SMS) often focus too much on Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) policies and documentation failing to do what's important for good safety culture: engaging all employees for keystone safety habits such as incident reporting and corrective actions. This is despite the fact that employees are central to incident reporting.

Companies rarely prioritise the role of employees in effective incident management and safety implementation. Typically, Safety Management Systems are used only by a small percentage of workers, resulting in poor adoption and reporting rates. Consequently, risks, accidents, near misses and other safety issues stay unaddressed. 

The Problems With Health, Safety And Environment (HSE) Management Systems

Organisations aren't failing to engage workers for lack of desire. Companies want and need information from their workers to improve safety conditions. The hunger for real-time and actionable analytics have grown exponentially in the last few years and safety as a function is no different in this trend. Most employees also have a need to be heard and a desire to fix issues. As we can see from this the problem is not in demand or supply of data points in safety. 

The problem in most reporting mechanisms lies in the barriers between supply (employee engagement) and demand (management reports) of safety information.

Here are 11 ways that Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) reporting systems fail to engage employees: 

1. Too difficult reporting tools for employees

Employees will avoid reporting if the tools make it too difficult. Often, reporting mechanisms focus on the report and administrators, not on the person that should send the report. Making sure your system is easy-to-use is vital for engaging your employees. What is "easy-to-use" is another discussion but looking at your current solution, the following baselines should help you draw conclusions:

  • Employee adoption rate (= what percentage of employees use the system annually) should be at a minimum 50% but preferably closer to 80%.
  • Average and median reporting rates (= how many reports do each employee report on an annual basis) should be at a minimum between 2-5 but preferably more than 10.

2. Limited access to employees and other stakeholders

If you haven't given access to employees, contractors and other stakeholders for your reporting channels due to cost restrictions or something else, you are not giving everyone a voice to say something when they see something.

Accessibility for everyone means that all employees can use the reporting channels. Some organisations have gone around this by enabling only middle managers to use reporting channels and asking employees to raise their concerns and issues to middle management. However, this only creates bottlenecks in the organisation and moves the problem to information holding.

3. No mobile or offline functionality

It’s the 21st century and employees are drawn to convenience in their private life. They expect the same from the systems they are working with. To be effective, your workers need to be able to file a report anywhere and at any time. With no mobile functionality, there is a limitation on when employees can log the reports and findings. 

Mobile reporting platforms make reporting much easier and more accessible for not just workers but all stakeholders.

For even greater convenience, and accessibility, reporting should even be available without an internet connection. Sometimes workers won’t have access to the internet on a job site. But, it’s important that they can still report a possible hazard as soon as they notice it with all the relevant details and images or they might forget to either do that altogether or add important details of the issue.

4. Poor or non-existent feedback loops

Receiving reports is only the first leg of what can be a very long marathon. You need to keep providing feedback throughout the whole process to keep your employees engaged. This builds confidence, transparency and accountability. 

Keep all stakeholders involved and up-to-date regardless of the size of the issue. Everybody hates the bottomless pits of feedback and hearing feedback a year after they initially filed a report.

5. One-way communication

Opening communication channels around incidents and observations is another important way to keep employees engaged. Like feedback to the notifier, it fosters transparency and shows that every voice matters in your organisation.

Having no two-way communication limits further information-sharing and collection of additional details from the original reporter. This goes against the ethos of giving and receiving that well thought incident reporting systems capitalise on. 

6. Lessons learned are not shared

It is important to see information sharing as part of company culture. This extends beyond the people involved in a particular report. Being open about incident causes, CAPAs (corrective and preventive actions) and lessons learned can contribute to transparent communication and encouragement of more reporting.

It also assures employees that cases don’t vanish into thin air. Together, everybody can learn from mistakes and improve on successes. 

7. Poor information distribution

Information being siloed and decisions being held are huge reasons why employees fail to report issues. Information backlogs in management leave employees in the dark and discourage further issues to be reported.

This causes uncertainty about where their information goes and if it leads to any changes at all. To counter this, best companies have automated the sharing and assigning of incidents to multiple people for improved transparency and accountability.

8. Too many reporting channels

There’s no need to have a ton of reporting channels in your EHS function. Not even in your whole organisation to be precise. A mix of channels creates confusion about which bucket do each incident and observation belong. As a result, employees don’t know where to file their report, so they end up just saying nothing.

It's important to understand that if all other functions besides EHS, such as quality, risk management and IT security, also insist employees to use their channels for incidents and deviations in their respective area of responsibility, all of these channels are competing from the mental capacity of the staff. The most agile companies use a single channel for all types of observations, regardless of their function, origin or department.

9. Reporters don’t want to be burdensome for managers

Reporters also may not want to cause trouble or be burdensome. It may be due to the fear of their superior or just simply the fact they don't want to make anyone already busy any busier with small issues.

What this thinking doesn't take into account is that even tiny uncorrected issues do stack up and create bigger problems and losses on a systemic level. This is already understood by most safety departments that call for reporting of low threshold of safety observation and unsafe conditions.

Encouraging the reporting is sadly just one part of the solution. If the reporters need to choose the assignee and always inform their super busy managers, they may just not do it because of not being seen bothersome. Good reporting platforms take this issue into account by automating the sharing and assigning to the right people based on the context of the issue so that the observer doesn't have to make a decision on it. 

10. The Blame Game

Workers will not come forward if they anticipate negative repercussions from the report like blame or retaliation. Make sure anonymous reports are an option to encourage more reporting in incidents and cases that might be seen as "somebody's fault".

Anonymous reporting is a basic requirement for whistleblowing observations and safety reporting in Aviation but most employees don't think issues belonging to "whistleblowing bucket" or "safety bucket". They just want to raise their concerns as effortlessly as possible. Again, speak openly and positively about reporting to discourage “snitch” stigmas.

11. Language barriers

Being unable to express your concerns in your own language is simply frustrating. Not only is it more inclusive to allow reporting in different languages, but it will certainly make more people comfortable enough to step forward. Just consider not being fluent in some language and trying to articulate on mobile what you have in mind.

Modern Safety Management systems address this issue with localised versions of the user interface. The system should also enable admin users to implement the actual content (e.g. incident reporting forms) in multiple languages.

Conclusion

If you’re going to take one tip from this article, it should be this: most safety reporting systems only engage 10-20% of the workforce. In the worst case scenario, the reports you are taking to your management are telling a distorted view of the reality. Share information, enable feedback loops and create more open channels that allow employees to be comfortable with sharing what they see, feel, know and hear. 

If you're looking for a incident reporting platform that is hyper easy-to-use, ticks all the boxes for anonymity, two-way communication, has built-in workflows for multiple use cases and more, test drive our incident reporting platform or  contact us for more information!

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We're a tech company with a passion for helping our customers adapt to the fast changing VUCA world. We're doing that by developing easy-to-use SaaS products that make gathering, managing and analysing field information as easy as possible for the end users. Remove gatekeepers, go horizontal and learn from your mistakes before they actually happen. More info at planbrothers.io

Safety Management Incident Reporting

Arttu Vesterinen

Chief Executive Officer