Defining Element 1: Demonstrate Leadership Commitment to Worker Safety and Health at All Levels of the Organization

Commitment to worker safety and health throughout all levels of an organization, as re­flected in words and actions, is critical. Organizational leaders should acknowledge and communicate widely the value of workforce safety and health as a core function, and they should prioritize worker safety and health on the same level as quality of services and products.

Additionally, mid-level supervisors and managers should actively participate in efforts that support worker safety, health, and well-being. Middle management is the direct link between workers and upper management and plays a critical role in program success or failure. For example, supervisors often serve as gatekeepers to employee participation in programs, and when program involvement competes with productivity demands, they may discourage employee participation. In this example, the supervisor is a key resource in communicating safety and health priorities and in over­coming barriers by interacting with more senior management.

Effective programs thrive in organizations that promote respect throughout the organiza­tion and encourage active worker participation, input, and involvement. Leaders at all levels of the organization can help set this tone, but everyone (from managers down to front-line workers) plays an important role in contributing to this shared commitment to safety and health. Beyond written policies, stated practices, and implemented programs that endorse safety and health in your workplace, consider the extent to which your organization’s spo­ken and unspoken beliefs and values either support or deter worker well-being.

Tips for Success

Before plunging into the process of modifying existing practices, conduct a preliminary needs analysis. Is there a need to change the existing initiative? What is the organization’s readiness to change?

More broadly, build accountability into implementation of initiatives. Accountability reflects leadership commitment to improved programs and outcomes and should cascade through an organization, starting at the highest levels of leadership. Reward success in policies, practices, and management styles that prioritize and support the safety, health, and well-being of workers, and adjust or modify initiatives on the basis of established milestones and the results of monitoring and evaluation.

Also, ensure that members of worker groups that are disproportionately vulnerable to safety and health risks are involved in program design and implementation. This means, for example, that night shift workers, off-site staff members (such as drivers and the salesforce), and lower-wage workers (such as housekeeping staff) give input and have access to services and program elements.

As you work within your organization to improve worker safety, health, and well-being, encourage managers in these ways:

1. Encourage top leaders to

  • Establish and clearly communicate the principles of the proposed initiative to all levels of the organization; teach managers to value workers’ input on safety and health issues.
  • Maintain the visibility of the initiative at the organization’s highest levels by presenting data that is linked to the program’s resource allocations. Promote routine communications between leadership and employees on issues related to safety, health, and well-being.
  • Openly support and participate in workplace safety and health initiatives.
  • Facilitate participation across all levels of the workforce.
  • Add safety- and health-related standards into performance evaluations.
  • Build safety and health into the organization’s mission and objectives.
  • Establish a mechanism and budget for acting on workforce recommendations.
  • Emphasize that shortcuts must not compromise worker safety and health.
  • Provide adequate resources, including appropriately trained and motivated staff or vendors, space, and time. If necessary, ensure dedicated funding over multiple years, as an investment in your workforce.

2. Encourage mid-level management to

  • Discuss worker safety, health, and well-being in terms of its connection with improved workplace productivity and long-term sustainability (for more on Making the Business Case, visit the NIOSH Total Worker Health: Let’s Get Started website).
  • Highlight examples of senior leadership’s commitment to Total Worker Health.
  • Provide training on how managers can implement and support Total Worker Health–aligned approaches, such as those related to work-life balance.

If you are a manager, show your support for Total Worker Health efforts by

  • Encouraging workers’ feedback on work conditions and working collaboratively with them to make changes
  • Encouraging and rewarding team leaders and employees who take the initiative to improve work processes, reduce work stress, or improve the quality of work life
  • Providing recognition for achieving goals or meeting benchmarks in safety and health. [NOTE: Goals and benchmarks must be supportive of the health and protection of workers rather than be designed for under-reporting of safety concerns or incidents.]
  • Emphasizing that shortcuts or production demands must not compromise worker safety and health