Employees who are engaged are more likely to be highly involved and absorbed in their work. If an employee is not engaged, they are less focused on their work and more likely to make mistakes. This has significant implications for industries in which safety is an important factor.
There has been extensive research into the link between employee engagement and safety outcomes. A meta-analysis undertaken by Harter et al. (2009) found that the top 25% of business units (in terms of engagement) have 49% less safety incidents than the bottom 25%. Similarly, the same study found that in health settings, the most engaged organisations have 41% less patient safety incidents (i.e. falls, medical errors, infection rates, and risk-adjusted mortality rates).
Furthermore, engaged employees are more likely to use their initiative to suggest and implement improvements to safety systems. Their engagement gives them a greater sense of ownership in their role, and increases the chance of them taking on the responsibility to act on potential problems. Attitudes drive performance and behaviours, and it has been estimated that unsafe behaviours cause up to 70% of workplace accidents (Ronald, 1999; Health and Safety Executive, 1995).
Research has shown that "engaged employees are motivated to work safely" and non-engaged employees are more susceptible to "burnout" (Nahrgang, Morgeson & Hofman, 2011; Gonzalez-Roma et al. 2006). This decreases employees focus and motivation to do the right thing. It has been shown that employees who say they almost always enjoy their tasks were two and a half times less likely to report a back injury than those who said they hardly ever enjoyed their tasks (Ronald, 1999).
There are both human and financial costs when safety incidents occur. While the human costs are more difficult to measure, it is possible to put a price on safety. For example, research by the SHRM Foundation found in one manufacturing company engaged employees were five times less likely to have a safety incident and seven times less likely to have a safety incident involving lost-time. This had a significant impact on cost. The average cost of a safety incident for a non-engaged employee was $392, compared with an average of $63 for an engaged employee (Lockwood, 2007). It is clear that in terms of safety, engagement matters.
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Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., Killham, E. A. & Agrawal, S., T. L. (2009). Q12® Meta-Analysis: The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organisational Outcomes. Retrieved 5 June 2011, from www.gallup.com/consulting/File/126806/MetaAnalysis_Q12_WhitePaper_2009.pdf
Health and Safety Executive, Human Factors in Reliability Group. (1995). Improving Compliance with Safety Procedures: Reducing Industrial Violations.Health and Safety Executive,1-63.
Lockwood, N. R. (2007). Leveraging Employee Engagement for Competitive Advantage. SHRM Research Quarterly,2-11.
Nahrgang, J, Morgeson F. & Hofman, D (2011). Safety at Work: A Meta-analytic Investigation of the Link Between Job Demands, Job Resources, Burnout, Engagement, and Safety Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology.
Ronald, L. (1999). Identifying the Elements of Successful Safety Programs: A Literature Review. Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia,1-53