If you don’t feel safe, you aren’t safe.
This bold statement cuts straight to the heart of belonging. Workplace safety and inclusion can’t happen in an exclusive environment. Being physically safe requires a work environment where employees feel emotionally and psychologically safe to be themselves.
At WMFDP | FDP Global, our expert facilitators guide today’s leaders through the vulnerable work of building and sustaining authentic diversity, equity and inclusion in their workplaces. We help you navigate challenging conversations with your colleagues, employees and stakeholders as you create a sense of belonging for all. Contact us to learn more about our cutting-edge learning opportunities.
The Connection Between Workplace Safety and Inclusion
In 2021, the US experienced 4,472 preventable deaths in the workplace. That’s 4,472 people who never made it home from their jobs. What does this have to do with DEI? As it turns out, the connection between workplace safety and inclusion is significant.
People of color, specifically those identifying as Latino, Hispanic, Black or African-American, experience occupational fatalities at higher rates than white workers.
The most recent National Safety Council data shows that Hispanic or Latino workers have the highest rate, suffering workplace fatalities about 32% more often than white workers. Black or African-American workers have occupational deaths about 18% more often than white workers.
Of additional concern is the trend upward to higher death rates for Hispanic and Black workers while the numbers for white workers trend downward. Another ominous trend is that women are increasingly the target of intentional physical attacks in the workplace, primarily in caregiving roles such as medical or psychiatric workers.
Who you are impacts how safe you are.
How can leaders address this reality? How do our DEI efforts and initiatives help cultivate a physically and emotionally safe workplace? What input do we need to ensure every employee can feel safe and be safe?
On the Insider Outsider Podcast, WMFDP | FDP Global co-founder Michael Welp facilitates a discussion on these questions and more. Lorraine Martin, CEO of the National Safety Council, Nicole Piggott, President and Co-Founder of Synclusiv, and Wayne Pignolet, VP of Operations at WMFDP | FDP Global, examine the interdependence between workplace safety and inclusion.
Their conversation highlights several important aspects of the relationship between DEI and safety in the workplace.
Safety protocols and best practices are only effective when workers follow them. Ensuring compliance relies, in part, on employees speaking up when they see a safety issue or violation.
But if a worker is marginalized, an outsider, they might not feel safe saying anything about potential hazards or violations. They may fear retaliation, loss of hours or even termination from their job if they bring a concern to their supervisor. Workers from underrepresented groups also often face ongoing discrimination and bias from their employers and supervisors, leaving them feeling unheard and unvalued.
A similar problem exists on the opposite end of the workplace spectrum. Many supervisors and managers who are traditional “insiders” feel ill-equipped to advocate for women, people of color and other marginalized “outsider” groups. They fear making mistakes and misspeaking in a way that may land them in HR trouble. So, they remain quiet.
Both types of silence, from the boots-on-the-ground workers and their leaders, can be harmful or even deadly. Employees deserve to feel safe from retaliation, and we need to equip leaders to advocate for their colleagues and workers.
It stands to reason that high-risk, high-consequence industries would see the highest rates of occupational fatalities, and the data support that. Construction, transportation, warehousing and agriculture top the list of deadliest workplace sectors.
One of the most crucial ways to prevent deaths and injuries in these industries is by using personal protective equipment (PPE) that fits them properly. Unfortunately, many workers make do with ill-fitting gear.
For example, although women comprise an increasing number of workers in these traditionally male-dominated areas, most PPE is made and sized for men of a specific height and weight.
Women often receive ill-fitting, too-large items that can cause tripping hazards and falls and that can get caught in machinery. People who are bigger or smaller in stature than the “standard” man might have shoes, hats and vests that do not fit them safely.
Physical safety in high-consequence jobs also relies heavily on signage. Warnings and safety precautions may be visible throughout a workplace, but if some folks can’t read them, the signs don’t work. Workers with literacy disabilities such as dyslexia may need to receive safety information in a different format. Those who don’t speak the dominant language should have the materials in their primary language.
How can employers, chief diversity officers and safety officers address this? Lorraine Martin notes that supervisors and executives must answer this question: How is safety available for workers no matter who they are?
One concrete step organizations can take is to demand that their PPE vendors provide gear in a range of men’s and women’s sizes. As the clients of these vendors, businesses in high-risk industries have a position that allows them to advocate for diverse sizing. Additionally, safety directors and CDOs need to ensure their employees know that different sizes are available.
Workplace Inclusion and Safety Need Each Other
Companies can’t bring about true DEI without examining safety. And they can’t bring about safety without examining inclusion. How do organizations accomplish these seemingly disparate tasks?
Lorraine, Nicole and Wayne offer these suggestions:
- Diversity executives and safety directors must collaborate. These two roles are vital to the overall safety of a company or organization, and their work can’t happen in a vacuum. These roles should function together to ensure everyone can feel safe and be safe.
- Increase diversity in leadership. When employees see managers and supervisors who look like them, they are more likely to speak up when there’s a problem and to ask for clarification about safety guidelines and procedures.
- Follow the data. In a 2017 Gallup poll, only three out of ten Americans reported feeling strongly as though their opinions matter at work. Data suggests that if that number jumps to six out of ten, the benefits are significant, including a 12% productivity increase and a 40% reduction in safety incidents. It pays – literally – to create a sense of belonging and psychological safety.
- Make it personal. When having conversations with safety decision-makers, try to personalize the potential repercussions of unsafe environments. Ask them to imagine their daughter, mother or partner not coming home safe and sound. Or imagine their BIPOC friend not surviving their work day. This reality check can help create legitimate urgency to make meaningful policy decisions.
Examining Safety and Inclusion through a Mutual Lens
In Maslow’s famous hierarchy, safety is one of the basic human needs, coming directly after physical needs such as food and water. As such, it demands and deserves our attention.
Every leader in every organization should examine their workforce’s physical and psychological safety. And they must do this through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. Fostering and sustaining a sense of belonging in the workplace allows us to create a safer environment where everyone has a voice.
To help you achieve this, WMFDP | FDP Global offers several unique learning opportunities. These impactful events allow you to:
- Understand how a sense of “otherness” might impact workplace safety initiatives.
- Advocate for your employees when unsafe situations occur.
- Foster authentic collaboration between your CDO and safety director.