6 Tips To Empower Safety Leaders


I hate working from ladders – especially when I’m working from a ladder under pressure. Put me on a ladder to leisurely clean gutters? Cool. Put me on a ladder in an underground coal mine working with a fast-paced production crew? Not so much.

As I attempted to set a guide point into the roof of a coal mine drift, a continuous miner turned the corner, squared his laser site on my forehead, and approached with authority. In that moment I was the production crew’s bottleneck and I knew it. He needed that guide point to continue to eat thousands of tons of coal and meet the shift’s production goal. I was anxious as I steadied myself on the middle rung of the ladder. My safety glasses were fogging from the stress and I couldn’t make eye contact with the operator or see the work that was above me.

I took a deep breath and removed my safety glasses to get a better look at the small hole I was drilling into the coal above my head. The operator immediately shut down his machine. I closed my eyes and prayed he wouldn’t scream at me and decided right then and there to take control of the situation with what little confidence I could muster and yelled,

“ I’ve got this! Just another minute and I’ll be out of your way!”

He put his steel toe boot on the bottom rung of the ladder, placed his hands on the side rails to offer stability, and said,

“I know you’ve got this, you’re doing a great job under pressure… but you’re gonna need to put your safety glasses on. The last thing I want is to see you with an eye infection. Here. Let me see them. I’ll teach you an ol’ trick. Spit on the lens and wipe it around. Helps stop the fogging…”

He handed me back my glasses (smeared with his saliva!), told me he really appreciated my hard work and walked back to his machine. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t my supervisor. He didn’t know me. I wasn’t a member of his crew. But in that moment we were family connected through a strong safety culture. He had the courage and confidence to gently correct my safety behavior without shaming me – he was an empowered safety leader.

The foundation of a successful behavior-based safety culture is a blend of these four key priorities; management commitment, communication, reward/recognition, and employee empowerment.

Empowered safety leaders in your workforce take the lead all the time, every day.

Here are six tips to empower safety leaders on your team:

  1. Educate on the Why – As you create a behavioral safety training program, remember to explain the “why” as often as possible. Safety concepts that are intuitive to seasoned employees may be totally foreign to new younger employees. With the changing complexion of today’s workforce, you can no longer tell someone to just do something and expect no questions asked. To motivate and retain younger generations, you need to explain why they are doing something and how it fits into your company’s vision and behavioral safety program.
  2. Be the Role Model – They’re watching. Always. Watching. When you get out of your work truck and you’re not wearing PPE, you’ve immediately sent the message that you are not committed, so the workforce doesn’t need to be committed and word will spread like wildfire on the frontline. If you’re gonna talk the talk, you’d better walk the walk.
  3. Find the Quarterback – There’s always at least one frontline employee that everyone watches, follows, and respects. He can make or break success at your operation. Find the boots on the ground quarterback for your behavioral safety program and make sure he plays an integral role in the vision and implementation. He will be your advocate in the field and his followers will lead your company’s shift in safety culture.
  4. Listen & Act –  We often hear about safety programs that are top down, but are successful programs also bottom up? When a safety culture engages and empowers employees, they will feel like they have a direct impact. Safety rules are safety rules but listen to feedback and ideas from the frontline. Offer structured ways to give feedback through safety meetings, safety committees and face-to-face conversations in the field. Follow up quickly to prove your commitment – thank the employee for his feedback, make the changes recommended, or explain why the changes won’t be made.
  5. Don’t Hover! – A leader that is constantly looking over an employee’s shoulder is a glorified babysitter. When you hover, you send a message that the team can not succeed without you and you may not trust them to succeed. Allow employees to stretch and have the authority to take on safety leadership responsibilities – empower them!
  6. Recognize & Reward – Your best employees aren’t always motivated by money. They need to feel that management appreciates their contribution and values their participation. Find creative ways to reward employees that demonstrate they are empowered safety leaders – from a pizza party for achieving a milestone to an impromptu public recognition of safe behaviors in the field.

Are you ready to take your safety culture to the next level? We can start by working with your executive leadership team and your employees on the frontline! Let’s connect and chat about how Q4 Impact can help your organization!