May 25, 2021

What can organizations and their leaders do to enhance workplace safety?

Findings suggest that greater adoption of empowerment practices may be one way to improve safety
What can organizations and their leaders do to enhance workplace safety?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work and has heightened the health and safety risks of all employees. Human resource management (HRM) practices may be one-way organizations and leaders enhance workplace safety. HRM practices refer to the specific methods and procedures that an organization adopts to help improve organizational performance. These practices are designed to enhance employees’ capabilities—knowledge, skills, and abilities— commitment, and productivity. HRM practices enable organizations to enhance performance through careful selection of job applicants (systematic selection), supporting comprehensive training and development opportunities (extensive training), sharing information and providing feedback (e.g., performance appraisals), providing competitive compensation (high relative compensation), and providing employees with greater opportunity for autonomy and participation in work-related decisions (empowerment).

To investigate the relationship between these HRM practices and workplace safety, researchers Nick Turner (Haskayne school of Business), Julian Barling (Queen’s University), Jeremy Dawson (University of Sheffield), Connie Deng (Haskayne School of Business), Sharon Parker (Curtin University), Malcolm Patterson (University of Sheffield), and Chris Stride (University of Sheffield) examined the extent to which organizational-level HRM practices—systematic selection, extensive training, performance appraisal, high relative compensation, and empowerment—predict organizational-level injury rates. Data was collected from 49 single-site organizations from the United Kingdom. HRM practices were audited by independent observers and organizational injury rates were collected from the UK national regulator (Health & Safety Executive) one and two years after the HRM practices were audited. The results indicated that, after controlling for industry-level risk and organization size, empowerment was the only practice among the five HRM practices that predicted lower subsequent organizational-level injury rates.

Findings from the research suggest that organizations and leaders can enhance workplace safety through how they design employees’ work. Organizations may consider providing employees with greater latitude and control over how employees conduct their work. Importantly, leaders can facilitate empowerment practices through their own behaviors. For example, leaders can support and encourage employees to exercise discretion over how and when work tasks are completed; this allows employees to manage changes in job demands more quickly and safely. Leaders can also encourage their employees to speak up about organizational issues; this involves being open to hearing and discussing issues that may affect safety. Furthermore, in doing so, leaders signal to employees that they support and care about health and safety.

Click here to read the full paper.


Turner, N., Barling, J., Dawson, J. F., Deng, C., Parker, S. K., Patterson, M. G., & Stride, C. B. (in press). Human resource management practices and organizational injury rates. Journal of Safety Research.

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