Whether you’ve been working in an industry for years or you’ve just landed a part-time job for the summer, everyone deserves a positive, productive, and safe work environment. So how do you make sure that happens?
One of the most powerful tools you’ve got is your own voice. Your opinions and concerns matter and, by sharing them, you can make a real difference in the workplace. Of course, it’s important to do this kind of thing with a bit of savvy and tact around your superiors.
That’s why we spoke to Ella Boutcher, a young worker, and Alison Jones, Manager of OHS Consultation and Education Services at WorksafeBC, to get their take on the best ways to speak up in the workplace, and why you might need to.
Why speaking up is important
Expressing your concerns, ideas, and feedback can help create a better work culture that benefits everyone.
For Ella, who was working as a Starbucks barista for a couple of years, having the confidence to speak up meant she felt better prepared and self-assured going into work every day. “Using your voice is always super important. If you feel that you are alone in a situation, you may be surprised how many other people feel the same way you do.”
Everyone has a role to play, that’s why speaking up is particularly important when it comes to health and safety issues because you have the power to protect yourself or a coworker from a serious, even life-changing, injury.
Employers are responsible for your health and safety
Employers have a responsibility to their staff, and every team member deserves to return home safely at the end of their working day. First and foremost, Alison says, employers are responsible for making sure this happens by addressing any hazards in the work environment. But workers can also participate by raising their health and safety concerns to employers and asking for training if they don’t understand them.
“Workers are the ones who often know the work best,” Jones says. “They’re the first to see if there is a risk to their own or their colleagues’ safety and they often have ideas about how to eliminate or mitigate those risks.”
It’s also useful for employees to become familiar with common workplace injuries. However, hazards aren’t always easy to recognize, so be sure to speak to your employer who can help you identify the ones in your job and show you how to stay safe.
How to voice your opinion
When it comes to raising a concern or safety issue, the first step is to respectfully let your manager know that you would like to speak to them privately. “Coming across professionally when voicing your opinion is super important, [along with] letting your manager know what led to having this conversation,” Ella says.
If you feel uncomfortable speaking with a manager in-person about an issue or concern, there are other options. One approach is to write an email first to express your concerns in a clear and concise manner and make sure all important points are addressed.
You can also build up your confidence by finding a fellow worker you feel comfortable talking to about the issue. This can help you gain some perspective and prepare yourself for a conversation with your manager. “Reaching out to coworkers and making friendships creates a much more welcoming workplace, as well as not being afraid to speak up when something is out of your comfort zone, and setting professional boundaries,” Ella says.
Ella recalls a time when she had been struggling to do nightly tasks by herself and felt that she was taking on the workloads of other people, and it was causing an unsafe working environment.
After speaking up about the issue, she was given extra support on the night shifts to make everything run smoothly. Procedures and safety strategies were reviewed to ensure staff could buddy up instead of working alone late at night. “It had turned out that quite a few people were struggling with my same concern so it had not only benefited me to speak up but my coworkers as well.”
The importance of health and safety
It’s important to speak up if something feels unsafe. If you see something that might be immediately dangerous to you or someone else’s safety, stop and say something right away.
But when things aren’t so immediately urgent, it’s important to follow your employer’s process for bringing forward safety concerns. “Usually this includes bringing the issue to your supervisor’s attention,” Alison tells Daily Hive. “And if you’re not sure, talk to your supervisor. Many workplaces are required to have either safety committees or safety representatives.”
It’s also not uncommon to feel uncomfortable about performing certain tasks, and that’s why it’s crucial to get the proper training and orientation before starting work. If you’ve had training and still don’t feel fully confident, ask for retraining or more training.
Over half of workplace accidents involving young and new workers occur during their first six months on the job. Effective orientation and training is the best way to prevent these accidents. Your employer is responsible for ensuring that you and your co-workers are prepared for the job before you start working.
Whatever your concern may be, it is valid no matter your position. “It is super important to speak up and let your manager know that you are not comfortable with this to protect your safety,” says Ella. “It’s always more beneficial to speak up in the end rather than an injury happening to you or another coworker. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard.”
For more information about communicating the importance of workplace health and safety, and other concerns, visit WorkSafeBC.