Optimal Safety Culture model by Propulo Consulting - Communication

Improve Your Safety Culture Today: Part 5 of Five-Part Blog Series

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Forward-thinking leaders are continually searching for ways to advance safety culture and prevent serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs). Several years ago, I published a book with Government Institutes entitled, “Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention.” The book was designed to be a user-friendly guide for leaders to improve safety culture and performance. Here are key takeaways from the book that may help your safety improvement efforts. Each of the five sections in Figure 1 will be detailed in this 5-part blog series. The first four focused on ways to improve safety leadership, systems, people factors, and behaviors. The final installment will address improving one-on-one Safety Communication.

Safety Communication

Giving and receiving safety feedback can be difficult. It’s important for employees to stress to their coworkers they are not trying to be intrusive. Rather, they are simply trying to keep them from getting hurt. This includes helping to identify safer alternatives as well as commending any other safe work practices they notice.

Employees may be reluctant to give safety feedback because they’ve never done it before, think it’s a supervisor’s (or safety person’s) job, question their own knowledge of the coworker’s job, lack confidence in their ability to provide good feedback, or because others may question their true intentions.

The Need for Safety Feedback

Providing safety feedback can save a coworker’s life. The challenge with this feedback is delivering it in such a manner as to positively influence people instead of making them angry or defensive. Clearly, this is easier said than done. Here are some considerations for providing effective safety feedback:

  • Give it one-on-one and right away.
  • Be friendly, positive and respectful.
  • Focus on the specific safety behavior.
  • Focus on risk potential, not safety rules.
  • Don’t lecture the person about safety rules. Ask them questions to facilitate discussion.
  • Show genuine concern for others’ feelings and well-being.
  • Work together to find better solutions.
  • Thank the person for listening.
  • Ask them to speak up with you when if you’re being risky.

Getting safety feedback from others can also be a challenge. Here are some considerations for receiving safety feedback effectively:

  • Actively listen. Remain open and receptive even if you don’t agree with everything the speaker says.
  • Accept feedback without getting defensive or harboring resentment.
  • Clarify the future desired behavior with the speaker. Try to get on the same page.
  • Thank the person for taking the time to give this feedback.

The Need for Recognition

It’s also important to consider the power of recognition to increase safe work practices. Acknowledging people for safe work practices increases the probability these work practices will be performed safely in the future and builds a more open and positive safety culture. However, praising people can also be difficult. Employees may believe you’re either being insincere (blowing smoke) or have ulterior motives (what do they really want?). Here are guidelines for providing praise for safe work practices:

  • Give it one-on-one. Public praise can be embarrassing (e.g., the employee is accused of “kissing up” )
  • Specify the behavior you’re praising so the person knows exactly what actions you’re addressing.
  • Be sincere. Insincere praise can be construed as insulting or condescending.
  • Do it more often. Increase the amount of positive gossip in the organization.

Although employees may not need constant recognition for everyday safety behaviors (e.g., using hearing protection) most appreciate an occasional thank you for these efforts. They also welcome praise for safety behaviors that go beyond the call of duty (e.g., cleaning up a spill in a different department after the shift ends). Increasing safety recognition makes these safety actions more likely in the future. It also makes the organization a safer, more enjoyable place to work.

These guidelines may help you improve your own safety communication. This should be modeled with your employees. Combined with improvements to the other four categories detailed in this blog series (see blog one, two, three and four), improved communication will help build a more open, positive, and safe work environment.

At Propulo, we work with you to build these 5 foundational elements of safe production culture to improve safety performance and prevent serious injuries and fatalities.

Read more from this Blog Series:

Part 1: Leadership

Part 2: System

Part 3: People

Part 4: Behavior

Part 5: Communication


Improve Your Safety Culture Today: Part 4 of Five-Part Blog Series


Convincing Someone to Work Safely