What Is Safety Buy-in? And Why It’s Important.

In safety, there are no trade secrets. That’s because the rules are the same in each industry. No one company gets an advantage over another because of safety regulations. No company is handed a better, less restrictive set of rules to operate by. The playing field is level. The rules are the same across each industry.


So why do some companies find it so easy to get their employees to follow safety protocols and other companies struggle? Why are some supervisors able to more easily rally their crews around safety and other supervisors can’t seem to get their people to even wear their safety glasses?

The answer is buy-in.

What is buy-in?

Merriam-Webster defines buy-in as “acceptance of and willingness to actively support and participate in something.”

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When it comes to safety, companies with employees who actively support safety and who are willing to openly participate in the safety program are considered to have high levels of safety buy-in.

In turn, buy-in from employees and supervisors has a direct effect on how companies hire, manage, and retain their people. Buy-in also affects the level of engagement and participation those people have in the safety program.

Without employee willingness to support and participate in the safety program, your company's default position becomes that of enforcing rules. Employee motivation and engagement levels drop in punitive, rules-based conversations and workplaces.

First, influence the influencers.

While there are no trade secrets in safety, there are secrets in how to get your people to buy-in to the safety program. (I outlined a good portion of this topic in my book PeopleWork: The Human Touch in Workplace Safety.)

New call-to-action First you start with supervisory. Supervisors are the largest influence on frontline employees.  Employees do what their supervisors do. If supervisors buy-in to the safety program, employees will follow.

Employees soon figure out what is important to their immediate bosses, and then they do that. If safety is important to the supervisor, safety becomes important to the crew. Supervisors are pivotal to safety buy-in – perhaps the most important element in your safety program.

Senior management has almost no daily interaction with the people that you want to increase participation in safety: the people at the front line. That’s up to the supervisors. So, they have got to be on-board or the whole thing falls apart.

Promote the right people into positions of influence.

Promoting to supervisor, an employee who does not buy-in to safety enthusiastically, may actually undermine the safety program. You cannot afford to put in positions of influence those who do not share the company’s safety goals and vision for their employees.

But let’s address why some supervisors can bring their crews on-board safety easily while others struggle. The answer is in the skill set of the supervisor. Companies that invest in training and supporting their front-line supervisors, those that focus on the development of skills, tools, and mentoring, find it easier to create employee buy-in to safety.

A safety-focused crew isn’t interested in doing the bare minimum when it comes to keeping their fellow team members safe. Safety-focused crews protect each other, look out for each other, and stand up for each other. They adopt a “not on my watch” attitude. That’s buy-in to the program. It’s demonstrable ownership of safety.

No trade secrets in safety, but ...

There may be no trade secrets in safety, but there are certainly tactics, insights and strategies when it comes to building buy-in to the safety program. And those strategies start with getting buy-in from the most influential segment of your workforce, the supervisors.

That’s why the Safety Communications & Coaching for Supervisors Program was created. It is a 12-week program that drives right mindsets and right behaviors to the frontline influencers, the supervisors. Want a taste? Take the free preview Module 1 from the program materials.

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For the month of December, we will be taking a break from our normal weekly blogging as we move our offices across the country to the Ottawa Region. May you have a safe, happy, and healthy Holiday season, and a safety-focused 2021.


Kevin Burns is the President/CEO of KevBurns Learning. Kevin works with smart, caring companies to energize safety culture, build teamwork, and improve employee participation in safety.

In 2020, BookAuthority.org named PeopleWork #7 of The Top 44 Workplace Safety Books of All Time. Buy yourself a copy of PeopleWork: The Human Touch in Workplace Safety and give another as a gift to a colleague. 

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Topics: safety culture, safety buy-in, supervisor safety coaching