5 Principles to Effective Health & Safety Communications
Hearing the phrase Health & Safety is often followed by moans and groans, as colleagues anticipate endless briefs and documents. This perception of Health & Safety, as an inconvenience, can lead to disengaged and uninformed employees. As a result, vital safety procedures and practices are neglected or misinterpreted – creating an environment where accidents are just waiting to happen.
Effective communication is the foundation to creating a strong safety culture, where colleagues are committed to maintaining a healthy, safe and productive work environment. An engaged workforce can reduce hazardous and unsafe incidents in the organisation by 64%, Gallup’s 2020 study has shown.
The question is where to start when trying to build an effective safety communication framework.
1. Understand your barriers to effective communication
Each organisation is different, and therefore will have different barriers limiting effective communication. It is key for each organisation to assess their own barriers and adapt their communication style in order to reach and engage every aspect of their workforce.
Common barriers are:
- Information overload – employees become apathetic, unable to distinguish critical points of information and absorb them
- Overcomplicating messages– finding the balance between finding new innovative ways to explain information and overcomplicating simple messages
- One-way communication – neglecting the perspectives and concerns of your employees, unable to ever get to the root of the issues
- Lack of responsibility and accountability – the myth that only managers and leadership teams are responsible for monitoring safety, leading to colleagues switching off
2. Keep the message simple and do not assume
Safety communications requires a more direct and clear approach than other communicative areas, as simple misunderstandings and assumptions can quickly turn into a fatal mistake. A recent survey conducted by A-SAFE, a safety solutions company, made visible the issue with assumptions in health and safety, finding that 70% of their participants thought that the ‘flammable’ symbol meant ‘naked flame’.
Organisations need to avoid jargon, creating information that is easily accessible and to the point, leaving no room for interpretation.
3. Use a multi-channel and style approach
People process and retain information in different ways, what might engage one employee, may go in and out the ears of another. As the potential consequences of being uninformed are serious in this instance, organisations need to be committed to taking a multi-channel and style approach to how they disseminate their information and safety messages.
This will also encourage organisations to not only confine safety communication to a handbook, where there is the possibility of glancing or skim-reading. Safety communications should be visual, auditory and kinaesthetic in order to create maximum engagement. From workshops to newsletters, safety communication should be part of the workforce’s everyday life.
4. Combine a community & safety culture
Often organisations miss the crucial link between community and safety culture, not recognising the power that collaboration and transparency can have on creating a healthy, safe and productive workforce. Each organisation should aim to create a two-way communication channel, where employees are unafraid to ask questions or for clarity on current safety procedures and practices. Silence will only lead to further accidents.
There is also a common myth that the responsibility for communicating safety only lies with managers and leadership teams. In reality, a strong safety culture relies on each employee being responsible and accountable for their own safety and the safety of people around them; building the mindset that it is everyone’s job to help everyone get home safely.
5. Listen, measure and adapt
An effective safety communication framework is built by measuring engagement. Organisations need to have a measurement process in place to track the success of their current strategies, pinpoint the areas in the workforce they aren’t reaching and adapt their style or channel accordingly. In order to measure accurately, qualitative data will also need to be collected by utilising the two-way communication structure through surveys, feedback sessions or focus groups.
Effective communication is a vital part of building an ingrained safety culture in the workforce, with the purpose of shifting mindsets so the term Health & Safety is no longer seen as an inconvenience, but an integral aspect of their everyday experience.