skip to main content

The theme of the third week of National Safety Month (NSM) can sound a bit ambiguous at first—psychological safety.

How can safety professionals create a safety program that sufficiently covers something that can seem abstract? With the risks and issues of psychological safety not as easily visible as physical ones are, this aspect of safety management has been undervalued until recently.

Last week’s panel discussion presented by the National Safety Council (NSC) included three environmental health & safety (EHS) experts to break down the concept of psychological safety, its impact on employees, and what can be done to improve psychological safety in the workplace.

David Daniels, President/CEO of ID2 Solutions

Daniels said in the session that psychological safety is “the most significant safety issue of our time.”

To cement the differences and nuances between them, Daniels explained that physical safety/risk is in relation to the body, psychological safety/risk is in relation to mood, and psychosocial safety/risk is in relation to behavior.

Psychological safety means to live or work without psychosocial hazards and risks, which are worries like, “If I say or do X, how will people perceive me? How will they treat me after that?”

Operating in an environment with psychosocial risks creates stress for employees, which has a physical response. Employees may be exposed to this risk constantly during their workday, exhausting them and reducing their quality of work, as well as increasing their risk of injury.

Daniels stressed that more needs to be done to track and reduce psychological risks. With the world now operating under a knowledge-based economy, with fewer physical labor jobs, we need to take better care of our employees’ psychological health to keep them truly safe.

Joslyn Morales, EHS Sr. Analyst for The Mosaic Company

Morales explained in the sessions that, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a theory of psychology that displays the order of basic human needs in a pyramid model where the needs at the base must be met before any above can be attended to), the psychological needs of belongingness, love and esteem are central to human beings.

When someone’s basic needs are met, then they will continue developing to reach their highest self, and achieve their fullest potential—both in their personal lives and on the job.

Cassandra Dillion, MS, CESCO, SHEP, CSSM, COSS, Principal Consultant for Compliance Solutions: Safety Health Environmental & Risk Management

When asked how safety professionals can improve psychological safety in their workplace, Dillion just said, “Ask them.”

But, make it easy for them to give their honest feedback. Whether it’s an anonymous phone line or mailbox, a Google form or an LMS survey, make your survey system accessible for employees.

And, Dillion added, organizations need to be ready to accept that feedback, and commit to making changes based upon it. If an employee shares their fears, wants or needs with their organization—if they’re vulnerable—and their organization does nothing with that insight, that has a deeper negative affect than if no survey had been completed in the first place. By not following through, the employees’ trust is broken and can cause them to feel more at risk at work. This serves as proof that their organization doesn’t care about them.

With those surveys, include open-ended questions that encourage employees to share with you. Instead of a 1-10 scale of how safe they feel at work, ask them if there’s anything they’d like you to know, if there’s anything unmentioned that they’re worried about in the workplace.

Efforts like these can build trust, foster communication and help better meet the psychological needs of your employees, allowing them to feel less stressed, safer and welcome at your workplace. When employers make the effort to address workers’ concerns and improve psychological safety, they’re making the work environment more collaborative and productive, to the benefit of everyone.