Even when you think you’ve checked all the right boxes regarding safety compliance, there’s one crucial element you may be neglecting: your employees. Not even the latest and greatest PPE will protect them if they aren’t willing to wear it consistently and compliantly. Having a system in place for ensuring that your employees understand and adhere to work safety requirements is critical to your organization’s ability to meet OSHA regulations and safeguard against risk.

Here are four ways to make sure your employees follow your safety program as intended:

1. Provide effective training

A strong training program should be your starting point for gaining employee buy-in. Training is specifically required in many OSHA standards, but that's just one reason to do it. Employees can't comply with a safety program they don't understand, so effective training is the key to bridging the gap between regulations on paper and compliance in practice.

It's imperative to thoroughly educate your employees about when they will be required to wear PPE and how to wear it compliantly, as well as the best procedures for caring for, inspecting, storing, and disposing of PPE. Demonstrating to employees using real equipment and having them replicate the proper procedures is an effective education method. Constantly evaluate the effectiveness of your training program by assessing your employees' knowledge and observing their work practices. If you notice gaps, a refresher might be in order, or retraining might be required. It's a good practice to retrain your employees whenever new equipment, new hazards, or new tasks are introduced to the work environment.

2. Create and enforce clear-cut policies 

The best safety policies are often practical and easy to understand. A clear communication strategy that outlines the relationship between safety policies and potential disciplinary actions is a key ingredient to overall program success.

Your disciplinary policies should be consistent in how they are communicated and enforced. The most effective disciplinary programs tend to be cumulative, with a first offense or a minor infraction resulting in a mild consequence like a verbal warning, and severe or repeated disregard for safety potentially leading to termination. Your programs should also be focused on behaviors (e.g., not wearing required PPE) rather than outcomes (e.g., getting injured).

3. Engage employees 

A strong safety program must include open lines of communication between employees and managers. If punishment becomes the only occasion when safety issues are addressed, employees may become afraid to raise safety concerns or ask questions. Employees are often the first ones to notice and encounter workplace hazards, so it's important that they feel free to raise concerns without fear of reprisal.

Sometimes it can be tempting to label noncompliant employees as lazy or disobedient and accelerate their path to disciplinary action. However, resist reactionary impulses and try first to understand why an employee isn't following the rules. Is the PPE uncomfortable? Does the employee feel like the PPE gets in the way of his or her workflow? Active listening builds mutual trust and encourages employees to share their valuable insights, which can lead to a more successful program.

Another way to increase engagement is to involve your workers in PPE purchasing decisions. If your employees have a stake in selecting their own PPE, they will advocate for something they're more likely to wear consistently and compliantly.

4. Secure supervisor support

Supervisor buy-in is another critical element of employee compliance. As a link between management and line employees, supervisors play a pivotal role in relaying important information within the workplace safety ecosystem. Supervisors set the tone for how a workplace safety program is perceived on the floor, and much of their oversight and reinforcement is relied upon to make progress reports to upper management. Make sure your supervisors understand and share your vision by giving them all the tools needed to implement and execute the program most effectively.