Conducting a frontline worker survey equips you with essential insights for improving safety on-site. Frontline workers are the ones carrying out work in high-risk settings which makes them typically the first to observe and encounter safety hazards. Therefore, it’s crucial to take their perspective into consideration to identify current barriers.

With over 50% of frontline workers indicating they might quit within a year without improved safety prioritization, it’s clear we need to listen. One way to do this is through a survey – but where do you start? And how do you develop one?

Having carried out these exercises in the past at a global chemical manufacturer, one thing I learned is a successful safety survey requires consideration. So, to help you prepare, in this article you’ll learn:

  • What frontline workers are concerned with
  • Why you need a study
  • How to design survey questions
  • Choosing the right survey format
  • Interpreting results and taking action

First, let’s start with understanding frontline worker concerns.  

Frontline workers’ safety concerns soar

According to a recent Verkada study, 58% of interviewed employees expressed a lack of safety in their current job. Alarmingly, 40% said they are more concerned about their safety compared to a year ago.

This can have a major impact on the engagement of frontline workers.

When frontline workers feel that organizations recognize their safety as a primary concern, it significantly boosts their morale and job satisfaction. However, a Gartner study found that only 31% of employees find their work engaging.

Consequently, organizations need to make it their priority to reach frontline workers and to understand how they can make their workplace safer to improve employee engagement.

Reach Frontline Workers with EHS on Microsoft 365 →

Why you need a frontline worker safety survey

A survey enables frontline workers to share feedback on their workplace. It also gives you the opportunity to identify potential roots and correlations of current problems.

For example, do employees feel comfortable enough to report an incident? Do they feel that safety is a top priority?

For that, you’ll need a thought-through survey that is available to every frontline worker of the site you’d like to improve.

So how do you create a survey that gives you actionable insights into your safety culture? And that motivates your frontline workers to fill it out?

Deciding on what to research

While it’s tempting to develop survey questions from the top of your head, you’ll need to spend a bit of time beforehand.

Ever heard of the 5 Ps? “Proper preparation prevents poor performance”. A well-prepared survey will generate better insights than a rushed one.

Before you start designing questions, we recommend reviewing your safety performance to identify areas of concern.

For example, is there a lack of near misses being reported? Do inspections regularly go overdue, or do preventative actions get completed on time?

Simultaneously, you can initiate small focus groups with both management and frontline workers to get a better understanding of current problems.

This will let you decide on the central research question and hypothesis to test. Importantly, having clear research objectives helps you communicate the need for the survey. 

While this process takes some time, it will make your study better in the long run!

Designing your survey questions 

Once you’ve identified safety culture themes to analyze, you can design a question catalog for each.

For this, it’s worth double-checking whether there are existing questionnaires that have successfully measured similar concepts in the past. For example, Carder and Ragan (2003) developed a survey-based system for safety measurement and improvement.

You can use these questionnaires as inspiration and complement them with site-specific questions that you gathered from your initial research and focus group discussions.

After you develop your questionnaire, test it with a group of people. The more people from different backgrounds, the better.

For my study, I tested my questionnaire with more than 30 individuals. I chose people who conducted studies before to make sure my questionnaire was methodically correct. Then I tested it with workers on-site, the site manager, and the EHS manager.

I also tested it with the work council to make sure the survey was as anonymous as possible and no individual member could be identified by the demographic questions. This empowers employees to share as much feedback as possible without feeling threatened.

Choosing the right survey format

The choice between a paper or digital survey depends on your organization.

If your workforce uses digital tools daily, a digital survey might be more efficient.

In contrast, a paper survey could suit organizations with limited tech resources.

After determining the format, initiate the survey by crafting an engaging introduction that encourages frontline workers to complete it.

Here are some tips for your survey introduction:

  • Begin with a personalized message from the site manager, emphasizing safety as a priority
  • Acknowledge the high-risk nature of the employees’ work and the priority of ensuring their safety, clarifying the goals of the study
  • Emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers, highlighting the significance and opportunity of honest feedback for improving safety
  • Reassure that individual questionnaires won’t be seen by workers’ managers and stress the anonymity of the survey
  • Communicate the estimated time needed to complete the survey
  • Clearly state the survey deadline
  • Sign off with an official signatory from the site manager

Once your survey is ready, it’s time to facilitate as much participation as possible.

Distributing your survey to frontline workers

When distributing your survey, it can help to speak with each shift manager personally.

This is the approach I took, informing them about the purpose of the study.

Even more importantly, we gained approval from the site manager to schedule time for workers to complete their copy. That way, no one was expected to answer the survey during their break time – an often overlooked barrier.

We also encouraged the site manager to send an email informing staff about the goal of the survey, that everyone’s input was valued, and that time will be allocated during work to fill it out.

Even though the survey was paper-based and frontline workers were difficult to reach, we achieved a 39% engagement rate which gave us valuable knowledge about safety on-site.

Discussing results to draw takeaways for safety improvements

Analyzing and discussing survey results is crucial for deriving actionable insights to improve your safety culture.

Think of it as solving a puzzle. When survey results align with your expectations, it indicates you’re on the right track in identifying current problems. However, if the survey reveals discrepancies to your hypotheses, it’s an opportunity to review existing safety approaches and learn more about potential safety barriers.

The survey findings should show you what’s working well and what needs to get better, so everyone stays safe at work. You can use the following points as guidance to discuss your results:

  • How do the survey results align with the current body of research?
  • Do they confirm or contradict your hypotheses?
  • What conclusions can you draw from these results?
  • How should these findings inform current safety practices?

In the study I did for the chemical manufacturer, we found out which type of safety communication worked best for frontline workers – for example, if they are more likely to see and act on safety posters that show workplace injuries vs. safety posters that communicate safety risks in a neutral or cheering manner.

The study gave us key insights into which factors played a crucial role in perception of and engagement with safety communication. From that, we concluded what style worked best and which needed updating.

Taking safety actions from your study results

A Gartner survey revealed that only one-third of employees expect their organization to act on their feedback, with 46% expressing a desire for more proactive measures.

Therefore, creating a concrete action plan to address your study results is key for better safety engagement. You reward everyone’s participation in the survey and demonstrate that you value the input of your frontline workers.

Acting on results is where you can really get creative. For example, one of the actions we took off the back of my study was creating a new safety movie. In an engaging video, we tackled common safety hazards at that particular site and showed how to act on them.

By actively addressing concerns and investing in tools that drive EHS engagement, organizations strengthen safety practices but also foster an environment where frontline workers feel heard, rewarded, and integral to their company.

Do you want to take your safety culture to the next level? Then have a look at our whitepaper that analyses how employees’ values have changed, what this means for your safety culture, and how leveraging Microsoft 365 helps to engage staff in EHS:

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