Safety communication to captivate
Safety communication efforts can become boring if we, as safety and health professionals, continue doing the same things year in and year out.
Let’s face it, the conventional safety and health presentation showing the lagging indicators from the previous months and years don’t get many people excited. The same applies to the safety and health toolbox talks that are presented to working groups on site.
A few months back, I was visiting one of our operations during an annual maintenance shutdown. Having concerns about the safety culture of one of the contractor companies, a colleague and I participated in the contractor’s daily toolbox talk.
Not surprisingly, what we witnessed was disappointing: the safety officer, rather than the contractor manager or supervisor, conducted the toolbox talk, and he simply proceeded to read two full pages of safety jargon verbatim. To add to the challenge, the content had very little relevance to the maintenance shutdown activities that were front of mind at the time of our visit.
For example, this particular toolbox talk would have been an ideal opportunity to address the high-risk activities associated with the mill’s maintenance shutdown, including topics such as working at extreme heights and heavy lifts.
The reality is that, regardless of the fact that the safety content has the potential to save lives, the way in which we deliver that content plays a critical role in how well it is received and internalised.
It’s in the “what” and “how”
To ensure maximum impact, the way we communicate needs to captivate our audience! We need to catch the attention of employees and contractors from the start; they need to feel completely engaged in what we’re saying and how we’re saying it.
To do this, we should:
• Select topics that are relevant to the risks of the current tasks being conducted, as well as the department or working area;
• Keep safety talks brief, clear and to the point;
• Ensure talks are focused on the high-risk activities and not the same old housekeeping or personal protective equipment-type issues;
• When using photographs to support the content, seek images from the actual site;
• Avoid using only off-the–shelf/generic safety talks and posters – rather provide a customised message;
• To be more effective, health, safety and environment (HSE) professionals should assist by developing the communication material. However, the safety talks should be conducted by the managers and supervisors. The message will be more powerful and have a better effect if the working teams hear it from their leaders rather than the HSE professionals.
• It is always useful to develop a poster or two linked to the safety talk, which can be placed on the HSE notice boards after the communication session to act as a reminder of what was discussed.
• Avoid clutter: keep the contents of the posters short and to the point. Once again, if using photographs in the posters, try and use ones taken at the actual site.
Focused HSE days
Consider having a focused HSE day each year, during which all sites within the company place additional focus on the HSE topics. The company that I work for has an annual “Making a Difference Day” during which all operations worldwide are encouraged to dedicate a full day to focus on the safety, health and environmental issues prevalent in their working and personal lives. The enthusiasm with which employees embrace these days seems to grow every year.
There is so much that companies can do during similar focused HSE days to promote the safety, health and environmental programmes and drive a culture of safety. Some examples include:
• Encourage employees and their families to focus on creating a 24-hour safety mindset.
• Conduct regular information sessions focused on the top risks specific to that site.
• Involve third-party companies to promote activities such as road safety, healthy eating and stopping smoking.
• Use simulators to demonstrate the benefits of wearing a seat belt when in a vehicle.
• Conduct hazard searches, during which employees and contractors are requested to search for specific hazards related to the selected topics. These can then be listed and suitable action plans developed to address the issues.
• Launch new initiatives, videos and employee engagement initiatives.
• Demonstrate the use of key personal protective equipment such as fall-arrest equipment and breathing apparatus.
• Conduct refresher training for forklift and other mobile plant and equipment operators.
• Involve family members to develop a set of safety posters that can be used for an annual calendar.
So what should leaders do?
Just think about how many people actually listen to the air hostess giving the safety instruction on an aircraft prior to take off – not many! When asked why not, the most frequently stated response is: “I have heard it so many times before!”
The same human behaviour applies to our industrial safety communications – if it’s the same old message delivered in the same old way, your audience may hear you, but are very unlikely to listen. This has no benefit on your drive for continuous improvement and zero injuries.
Encourage and support your front-line managers and safety professionals in developing suitable skills to be able to prepare and present good, to the point and interesting safety communication material. This will, without doubt, make a huge difference to your future efforts.
Brian Darlington is the group head of safety and health for the Mondi Group, based in Vienna, Austria. He has filled the role since 2012 and is responsible for safety and health in more than 30 countries. Brian started working at Iscor before joining Mondi in 1987, working in Gauteng. In 2000 he transferred to the Kraft Division in Richards Bay. During 2005, Brian transferred to Europe, taking up the position of business unit SHE manager, responsible for SHE in paper mills in Austria, Hungary, Israel, Slovakia, Poland, South Africa and Russia, as well as forests operations in South Africa and Russia.