For a Safer Workplace, Talk About Safety Every Day
Frontline engagement, high goals and tangible rewards get results
Research shows that workplaces are safer when employees are highly engaged and feel free to speak up. To create such an environment, the unit-based team in San Leandro Medical Center’s Environmental Services department set a goal to increase and maintain the percentage of EVS workers actively engaged in workplace safety improvements—changing their work practices or pointing out hazards to others.
“We had a high injury rate because we were used to doing things our way,” says Rhonda Ashley, an EVS aide who's a member of SEIU-UHW and is the UBT's union co-lead. “We weren’t using the proper body mechanics—we were rushing—so we came up with teaching each other the right way.”
But despite training from San Leandro’s workplace safety leaders about how to talk about and promote safety, EVS employees initially were uneasy about speaking up.
Smaller teams speak up
It wasn’t until EVS aides and SEIU-UHW members Vivian Charles and Troy Mouton suggested reorganizing the department’s 138 employees into smaller teams that more workers began speaking up and acting on safety issues.
“I think they’re getting more comfortable with engaging not just their peers but other departments around workplace safety,” says management co-lead James Bostick. “They address nurses. They address doctors. They’ll address anyone that they see doing something unsafe. They’re working to change our culture.”
For example, after EVS workers pointed out potential hazards posed by older garbage carts that didn't easily accommodate a new trash compactor, the department purchased new carts, reducing the workers’ risk of injury.
Conversations are preventing injuries
The UBT also rewards employees for speaking up. Workers who conduct safety engagements have their names entered into a monthly drawing for prizes.
The team's approach is working. The number of people having daily safety conversations with co-workers inside and outside the department jumped to 95 percent, from 14 percent, in three months in early 2015. As of September 2015 that number was holding steady.
These results helped the team earn a National Workplace Safety award in 2015 and contributed to a turnaround in the department. San Leandro EVS has gone from being the department with the highest injury rate in the hospital three years ago to the one with the lowest, says Eric Nguyen, interim safety operations leader.
“The department has changed the culture about speaking up and helped other teams have conversations about safety,” he says. “The UBT is a big reason why. It's led the way.”