Do your supervisors blame employees for accidents?

Date Posted: 10/16/2023
Supervisor holding hard hat speaking accusatory to a worker

When employees get injured, supervisors sometimes blame the employee for causing the accident. This can prevent the employer from identifying the root cause and preventing future accidents. Even though employee behaviors do contribute, employers are responsible for correcting behaviors just like they are responsible for correcting unsafe conditions.

J. J. Keller invited safety and HR professionals to share their challenges and success stories during an online Virtual Conference hosted September 13, 2023. Read on for the event highlights.

Discussion topics

An accident typically results from a combination of workplace conditions (hazards) and worker behaviors (actions). Too often, supervisors or investigators focus on behaviors and blame the worker. Although employee actions can contribute to incidents, employees might have reasons for breaking safety rules. Those could include a lack of training or even pressure from management to work faster. The conference offered two questions to get the conversation started:

  1. What strategies have you applied to address or avoid a “blame the employee” reaction?
  2. How have you encouraged upper management to hold supervisors accountable for safety?

Attendee discussions

On the first question, attendees shared experiences and tips to increase the emphasis on safety, including the following:

  • During safety and planning meetings, give reminders and safety tips (even if you get repetitive). Ensure the tips directly relate to the tasks. Remind workers that if they get hurt, they may end up waiting for help to arrive, and nobody wants that to happen.
  • Several attendees mentioned the importance of developing a comprehensive safety program that involves all levels of the organization. Get as much of the corporate base as possible (including C-suite executives) involved in safety committees.
  • Don’t merely tell employees what to do, but explain why certain processes are required.
  • During accident investigations, emphasize to employees that the company is not looking to place blame. The investigation will focus on facts, not punishment, with a goal of preventing future incidents. One attendee noted that the 5 Why process can help get beyond blame by digging deeper.
  • When evaluating how to prevent future incidents, consider two questions: What could the company have done to prevent it? What could the employee have done to prevent it? Recognize that the company often could have done more.
  • Find ways to solve issues without spending a lot of money, and try to get some “wins” to encourage further change. One attendee posted safety notes by the time clock so employees would see them every day.

On the second question of supervisor accountability, attendees noted a need for upper management support. Too often, production has priority over safety. This gets worse if a supervisor was ever fired for failing to meet production expectations. Other thoughts shared included:

  • Incorporate safety into supervisor performance reviews — not just failures, but include positive feedback. Safety professionals could share positive experiences with a supervisor’s superior to provide reinforcement.
  • Get supervisors involved in accident investigations. Have the supervisor deliver the report, explaining what happened, how it happened, and what the supervisor could have done to prevent it.
  • If supervisors don’t enforce safety rules, review policies with them to show that the company expects compliance. Ask if they’d like to request a variance from upper management.

Employers can encourage a culture change through actions like tracking incidents and near misses, but a key is making things relatable.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

When you need help with non-regulatory topics, you probably check with other safety professionals in your network. If you’re still developing a network, check out the Discussions area in the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE. You can post questions and request feedback from other safety professionals, learning from their experiences. You might even find some posted questions that you can help answer!

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