If you visited any of your facilities and asked, “How often are you pulling your team together to talk about safety?”, what response do you think you would get? Varied responses are an indicator of the need to reexamine how, when, and what your facilities use to talk about safety, and to implement consistency across all locations.
Here are some key ways to streamline your safety communications protocol and get everyone thinking and talking about safety on a regular basis.
Get People Involved in the Safety Process
No one enjoys just sitting in a room getting lectured on what they need to do better or differently. While managers have the responsibility to ensure their team members are engaged in safe practices, they also have the opportunity to foster an environment that encourages team members’ participation and involvement in the safety discussions. It’s the employee’s role to not only listen but to participate and get involved in the actions that address the hazards and issues they face.
Additionally, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States Department of Labor, worker participation is vital to the success of safety programs.
Retention Improves With Increased Participation
People tend to retain information better when a discussion is collaborative. Additionally, collaboration gives workers a voice in the discussion and the opportunity to be heard. This way, management and employees can address and act on issues as a team.
Get team members involved during safety huddles by:
- Asking for feedback on the discussion
- Performing demonstrations
- Having team members present the topics
- Including team members on safety gembas
Overcome Resistance to Change to the Safety Culture
Change is never easy. It takes time to implement new procedures and protocols. But when it comes to safety, there can be no greater change a company can make than to those that will protect the health and well-being of its workers. Overcoming any barriers to an improved safety culture is an essential first step.
Keep Safety Huddles to the Point
A safety huddle should be structured so that it’s easy for participants to retain information. You may have heard that people now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish — falling from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2012.
Whether that’s really true or not, the easy access to information afforded by the phone in our pockets has affected our ability to block out distractions and sustain focus.
While a safety chat certainly needs to be longer than eight seconds, shorter, more concise communications at a higher frequency can facilitate better retention than longer, less frequent communications. So talking about safety more often isn’t about having more hour-long meetings.
Add Safety Huddles to Your Daily Schedule
A safety huddle can be as quick as five minutes with an agenda of no more than two topics — conducted in person or virtually. It can be incorporated as the kickoff to existing meetings (i.e. daily management) without taking over the agenda. Safety should be talked about on a daily basis to ensure it is foremost in all associates' minds.
Where to Find Good Safety Content
Covering good information during safety huddles is just as important as having them. Keeping the content relevant, timely, and brief are essential for retention. Good sources of content and reference points include:
- A company newsletter: Pick an article and go over it with your team. Reference previous editions for additional content.
- Injury alerts: Discuss an injury that occurred at another location to get your team thinking about how to mitigate the hazards they face.
- Results of safety gemba/checklist: Go over the results of a recent walkthrough, including what hazards were observed and what should they be concerned about.
- Recent training: Recap any recent training and discuss what they learned.
- Near-miss reports: Review the reports to discuss how to fix issues and prevent similar events before someone does get hurt. Use the report as a teaching moment.
- Safety program updates: Discuss why the company has started a new program (safety toe work boots, safe cutting tools/gloves, etc.) and why it’s important.
- Injury stand down meeting: Pull team members together, in-person or virtually, to talk about the injury and what to do differently to mitigate future risk. Simply telling associates to be safe next time is not an adequate corrective action.
- Feedback content: Hold employee feedback sessions on risks that have been observed. Instill the understanding that safety improvement is a team effort.
- Safety demonstration: Demonstrate safe lifting, safe cutting, proper housekeeping, safe forklift operation, etc.
- Internet safety research: Use resources from the National Safety Council or local/national regulatory agencies to supplement internal information. Be sure that online research is consistent with your company's safety policy.
Provide Coaching and Feedback
Dedicating time and effort to hold daily safety discussions is key, but confirming that the messages are being received and acted on is part is what makes a safety culture effective. Routine coaching and behavior observation are essential to maintaining a safe working environment.
There are two main ways managers can determine if safety steps are being internalized.
1. Peer-to-Peer Coaching
With an open environment established at all levels, team members and managers should feel confident that their peers will coach them on unsatisfactory behaviors and that they, in return, can do the same without fear of retaliation or ridicule.
- Managers should make sure everyone understands the expected performance to drive a culture of accountability and safety improvement.
- Everyone should accept coaching with a “thank you” and the acknowledgment that they will work to improve the behavior going forward.
- Managers and team members should feel comfortable coaching at any level, regardless of position, title, or tenure. Allowing a co-worker to bypass a safeguard or practice essentially condones the behavior and the person who "let it slide" may feel accountable if the other person is injured.
2. Positive Feedback
For every unsatisfactory or "needs improvement" observation, provide four positive observations, such as “Thank you for using your gloves while cutting.” This 4:1 ratio provides the opportunity for genuine positive feedback on a regular basis, reinforcing the importance of proper behaviors.
Safety Becomes a Core Value
Staying on top of workplace safety is of paramount importance in every industry. Following these guidelines and continually making the necessary adjustments will help keep safety top of mind, where it should always be.
Article originally published Nov. 2018, and updated for accuracy and relevance.