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Building a safety culture through open conversations

Mar 03, 2020

It can be an uphill battle for Site Managers and Health & Safety Managers to understand the health and safety issues imp...


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It can be an uphill battle for Site Managers and Health & Safety Managers to understand the health and safety issues impacting their workers if the workplace culture is one where there is a mentality to be tight-lipped.  Whilst audits and investigations are an absolute necessity to ensure regulatory compliance is met, the formal structure of these activities can often stall conversations.

Here’s our advice on how to get information from workers through open and ongoing conversations.

1. Explain the importance of data

Without a solid understanding of what happens to the health and safety data that is collected from them, workers may become suspicious.  However, if they understand the intentions behind health and safety conversations, how reported incidents will help the company avoid making the same mistakes, and the benefits of adhering to the company’s safety management system, then they will feel more at ease, and will be happy to contribute.

2. Informal conversations keep safety a priority

When a worker sees their manager taking notes on their responses to questions, it can raise their hackles. What’s the purpose of these questions? Have they done something wrong? Are they under-performing? While there will be times where formal investigations will need to occur, informal conversations have the ability to be ongoing, keeping safety top of mind for everyone.

Once the conversation has been had, managers can formalise it by making notes on what was discussed.

3. Show interest in their work

Show authenticity and care by taking an interest in who the person is, what they do and the problems they face. Most people secretly love to talk about themselves, so to get someone to open up, personalise your conversation. Once you have an understanding of their work, you’ll be able to ask about how they get on with specific tasks.

4. Ask for their opinion on safety issues involving their job

While some people will have strong opinions on the safety issues they encounter whilst performing their duties, others may not have spared a thought as to the risks involved.

Use some open ended questions, such as “How could you potentially get hurt when doing X?” to ensure you get more than one word responses.

This method of getting the worker to think about hazards and risks for themselves actually sparks their brain into thinking about safety and risk mitigation the next time they go to perform the specific task. Therefore you’re creating a legacy of safety practice through open conversation.

Another great question to ask is “How could we improve things to make it safer?”.  This gets the worker involved in finding the solution to a problem and also ingrains a mentality that they are actively involved in their own safety as well as others.

5. Involve them in problem solving

“How would you train a new person to make sure they don’t get hurt while doing X?” This question gets the seasoned worker to think beyond themselves and puts them in the shoes of a novice.  As they start to talk you through the safety measures, you can assess whether they are following procedure accurately and whether they understand what controls are in place and their purpose. They may also give you advice on a training or induction gap they have identified that could be improved.  

This part of the conversation gives you an opportunity to accept their recommendations and reinforce the importance of complying with safety procedures.

6. Give and take

Show that you are committed to taking their recommendations on board in order to make the workplace safer for everyone. This might take the form of a commitment of resources, a commitment of ongoing support, or a promise to raise an issue at a leadership meeting. And then most importantly, follow through! If your people see that you deliver on your promises, they will deliver on theirs.

To build a culture of safety, communication and ongoing conversations are paramount. Encourage your workers to speak up, offer solutions, give and take feedback, and work collectively towards a safer work environment.


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