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8 reasons to consider safety perception surveys

Measuring the human factor is critical in sustaining quality OHS programming

January 10, 2020
Dennis Ryan

Surveys allow employees to respond to questions on a more accurate Likert scale. (zimmytws/Adobe Stock)

Safety perception surveys have a long history within occupational health and safety (OHS) circles.

Renowned OHS leaders like Dan Petersen, Scott Geller and Aubrey Daniels were all proponents of their use. These surveys reveal information critical to safety improvement that remains hidden in other measurement methodology.

For employers, safety perception surveys should be considered the first safety performance measurement option.

At present, safety system audits are commonly used to assess safety performance. Most audits do a pretty good job of measuring the basic health and safety elements typically outlined in the audit protocol — such as incident investigation, inspection and emergency preparedness.

What they do not do a good job of measuring are the human factors that actually determine whether or not these basic elements will work effectively.

Human factors such as management credibility, employee satisfaction, autonomy and work-life balance play vital roles in building and sustaining a good health and safety program.

Safety perception surveys benefit workplaces in the following ways:

Assessing the human factor

System audits assess what is in place, ensuring safety meetings are held and safety inspections are being conducted.

Safety perception surveys assess how effective these basic safety elements are perceived by the employees and how they might be improved.

There is some overlap between the two, but they should be considered complimentary. Companies that only audit will identify weakness in safety program elements but will not identify the underlying human factors that work against safety program success.

Encouraging employee opinion

During the audit process, some employees feel uneasy about the interviews being led by a co-worker or external consultant.

On the other hand, comments received by way of survey are anonymous and ensure all employee information is documented as stated by the employee.

Beware of surveys that only solicit employee scores and not comments to the survey questions. Employee comments help validate question scores.

Understanding workers’ perceptions

Safety perception surveys identify employee perceptions, which are their realities of the workplace’s health and safety culture.

Employee perceptions guide their behaviour.

Only when these perceptions are revealed do companies have the opportunity to influence or change negative perceptions.

Quantifying responses

Audits typically use an “all-or-none” approach to scoring employee interviews. This type of scoring requires the interviewer to interpret the interviewee’s response and then choose between a score of “Yes” or “No” or zero and 100 per cent positive.

Surveys allow workers to respond to questions on a more accurate Likert scale.

This method of scoring employee perceptions helps to ensure opportunities for improvement are not lost or concealed by an imprecise method of scoring.

Revealing gaps in perception

The perception gap between workers, supervisors and management is important to measure.

If question scores indicate that there is no gap between scores of all employee groups, this suggests there is strong alignment among them.

Large gaps indicate perceptions are not aligned.

Identifying specific actions

A properly constructed survey used in conjunction with a quality database allows for the sorting of scoring and comments by a number of parameters such as position, age and location.

Findings are presented more precisely, allowing the company to target specific improvement actions.

Reducing fear

Fear is one of the biggest reasons companies do not conduct safety perception surveys.

If your management is afraid of what a safety perception survey may reveal, it may be a prime candidate for using the survey measurement method.

Do not let fear dictate the level of safety your company can achieve.

Improving policy

In order to succeed, OHS professionals need to employ every tool in the toolbox.

Safety perception surveys are an underused tool. There is no better test of OHS program effectiveness than a safety perception survey that asks employees to rate various aspects of the program.

Dennis Ryan is president of Compass Health and Safety in Edmonton.