Managing a Dangerous Job? Try Three-Way Communication to Keep People Safe
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
Three-way communication is a technique used to ensure the reliable transfer of safety information in dangerous situations like confined space entry or working at heights. With these tasks, human error or poor communication may lead to serious injuries or fatalities. Use three-way communication when providing and receiving critical information in error likely situations, directing equipment operations with dangerous tasks, and instructing others when they are performing high-risk jobs.
As an example, mountain climbers regularly use three-way communication with each other using carabiners to ensure they are properly tied off so that they don’t fall off the mountain. They are continually checking, verifying, and rechecking that they are properly tied off during their ascent.
Broadly, three-way communication involves these steps:
- The informer provides the receiver with safety information or feedback.
- The informer waits for the receiver’s response.
- The informer verifies the receiver understood the original message as intended. If not, the informer repeats the information patiently until the receiver has demonstrated complete understanding. The task doesn’t begin until everyone has the necessary information to stay safe.
Leaders and employees need to take all possible steps to avoid human error. However, optimizing safety performance doesn’t mean eliminating all human error. Rather, it’s accepting that some human error is inevitable and acting accordingly by building safeguards/defenses into the system to ensure this error doesn’t have catastrophic consequences.
Three-way communication is one of these defenses to prevent human error and save lives. Implement it today with dangerous jobs to ensure everyone goes home safely to their families.
At Propulo, we work with leaders to teach three-way communication and other techniques to reduce human error.