Severe weather, active shooter events, and civil unrest were just a few of the top threats to employee safety and business continuity in 2022. In the first 30 days of 2023, the U.S. has already seen a multibillion-dollar weather event, experienced more than 40 mass shootings, and witnessed several nationwide demonstrations.
Studies consistently show that safety is top-of-mind for employees now more than ever. For businesses, ensuring employee safety goes far beyond their duty of care, impacting daily operations as well as the organization’s overall reputation.
As the world watches critical events such as these become more common, employees are turning to employers for timely and accurate information in the face of an emergency. In fact, trust in businesses as a source of truth continues to rise globally. As a result, organizations are re-evaluating their responsibility to prepare employees for all emergencies – especially those that have become more common – and what it looks like to keep them informed and protected during any critical event.
Here’s how safety leaders’ roles will become more visible in 2023, the impact of training upgrades which many will be focused on throughout the year, and why psychological safety will become more integrated into concrete safety plans.
Elevated presence of safety leadership
While today’s threat landscape continues to evolve, organizations also have more locations to prepare and monitor for potential emergencies than ever before. One reason for this is the widespread and ongoing adoption of remote work. Prior to the pandemic, employers had a set list of locations they knew all employees visited on a day-to-day basis. Now, the rise of remote work has resulted in a massively disbursed workforce as many employees moved to different locations and many work from secondary locations as well such as coffee shops. In addition to an already-disbursed workforce, 78% of travel managers expect business travel to be higher or much higher in 2023 than it was in 2022.
Over the past couple of years, business executives and HR leaders have faced challenges in keeping track of employees in order to understand who is at risk of being impacted with an increasing number of threats to their people and business. Executives have shifted their perspective on emergencies from reactively responding when a critical event occurs to supporting emergency preparedness and planning initiatives ahead of time. Safety leaders now have more support from the top and more executive buy-in than ever before. But the question remains: what do you do with this newfound visibility in the broader organization?
Building a culture of safety
When employers act on their duty of care to keep employees safe from harm in any environment, it promotes a safety culture from the top down. Once employees see and feel their safety is a priority, it’s common for employees to also want to be involved in organizing and promoting safety initiatives. One way many organizations leverage this is to develop safety subcommittees. When emergencies occur, it’s instinctual to look for guidance on what to do. Safety leaders can designate subcommittees that regularly review emergency action plans and have designated roles when a specific emergency occurs.
For example, a fire safety committee at each primary location can stay adept at fire evacuation protocol in the event of an office fire or even an incoming wildfire. This group can be responsible for assisting in making sure everyone has what they need and be a known go-to source for all employees in the area to ask questions if they need basic assistance. This leverages the value of a safety culture and increases the number of people who understand the protocol and can help get everyone to safety.
Improving safety training
In the efforts to gain employee buy-in in addition to stakeholder buy-in, safety leaders will continue to overhaul outdated training and begin to diversify training for different scenarios. Tabletop exercises are a great way to interactively walk through emergency preparedness plans and pinpoint areas for improvement to ensure a smooth response as well as a smooth recovery process.
Another way safety and business leaders will promote a safety culture at a more granular level is through creating smaller “safety moments” or “safety opportunities” among employees who are both in-person and remote. Managers can often work safety moments into weekly calls that focus on possible events coming up that week. For example, if there’s a storm headed in the direction of a facility or remote employee, managers can more mindfully remind team members of items they’ll want to have on hand and resources the company offers they can use if they find themselves in need of assistance.
Ultimately, employers should work to elevate employees’ situational awareness so they have the skills and knowledge required to safely navigate any incident they may encounter in their day-to-day lives. No one truly knows how they’ll react to any emergency until they find themselves in a critical situation. Situational awareness is a matter of being and staying aware of any environment which may have an impact on one’s safety or the flow of their daily life. Situational awareness is a habit that can be strengthened through the regular practice of recognizing potential hazards and orienting options to mitigate the impact of a potential hazard. When organizations enable and encourage employees to practice situational awareness, it gives them a sense of preparedness and peace of mind overtime which allows them to effectively response to an emergency but also promotes holistic employee wellness.
A focus on psychological safety
Mental health may seem like one of those things for which HR, people, and culture professionals are responsible, but psychological safety is a key aspect of ensuring physical safety and vice versa. The U.S. Surgeon General’s office published a report earlier this year that shows 81% of workers will look for a workplace that supports mental health in the future. Additionally, in a study we produced, 97% of employees said safety is an important factor when considering where they work, and nearly 40% said increased communication would make them feel their safety is important to their employer.
Everyone in every industry has experienced multiple crises and a lot of economic turbulence over the past few years. More frequent and clear communication from employers has proven to alleviate some of the stress and worry which comes with today’s ever-evolving threat landscape. Emergency communication tools that enable safety leaders to communicate accurate, critical information to the right people when seconds matter most are critical for holistic employee well-being.
Many tools available today not only offer the ability to send notifications via multiple channels to ensure delivery but also receive responses as well as send quick wellness checks which require a single letter or number response. Wellness checks such as these allow safety leaders to confirm whether employees are safe or need immediate help.
The bottom line
The bottom line is that employees are more worried about their safety than ever before and collectively put trust in their employers to inform them, keep them updated, and provide assistance should they find themselves in harm’s way. When employees feel their employer cares about their safety and invests in their responsibility to address the impact of today’s threat landscape on their employees’ well-being and the success of the business alike, it boosts morale and strengthens the culture of the organization–regardless of whether an employee works in a remote location or in an office.
Organizations will continue to recognize the value of investing in safety measures, and safety leaders’ roles will only continue to become more embedded in the overarching success of the business.