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You know you suck at Safety Communication when...

safety sucksOver the years, I've worked with a lot of safety professionals.  Some of them have really surprised me with their flair for not being able to influence anyone and to talk about safety in such a boring way that all I could do was stare catatonically at the floor.

While I generally use this blog to give safety professional's advice, helpful tips and how-to's, sometimes it's also beneficial to understand what "bad safety communication" looks like, so you know exactly what to avoid - that way you can create a thriving environment for safety.  And stop people looking at the floor, as some sort of magical escape route.

I've put together a little list of some misdemeanours that I've unfortunately, had to witness.  These are all true.  What they all do is actually turn people off from your message and also your authenticity as a leader that you care about safety.  People can always tell when safety is about self-gain and not them.

I've excluded the really common issues such as writing and promotion style, as you can read about that in 5 Mistakes that Sabotage Your Communication Success.  However, what I want to focus on are tell-tale signs that really do destroy your ability to be an effective safety leader.

What I always say to my students learning about safety communication in my SELLSAFE communication system is that "Communication must always reflect feedback, not failure".

If you're guilty of even one of them, change your wicked ways (okay, the fact that you're reading this means you couldn't possibly be making any communication mistakes but, if it gets you all worked up and you want to write some defensive comments, oops!  Might be time to rethink your communication style).

So you know you suck at safety communication when you believe that:

  1. The only way to get people to listen to you is to scare them with gory visuals and in-person re-enactments.  Fear is a perfectly reasonable method to get attention and it's not manipulative in any way.
  2. Threatening your CEO that if he doesn't give you more safety budget - OSHA, WorkSafe (insert your safety body here) will put him in jail.
  3. Having small chats with people should be avoided because they're boring and they should just do their job.  You don't need to know about their personal life.
  4. But, having big chats with people about a new safety procedure while they're busy doing something is a helpful way for them to remember important information.
  5. Communication can only be written when you have every single little detail available, so you can write a massive piece of communication that's so comprehensive that people need to spend an hour reading it.  Naturally, you don't believe Colin Powell, the former secretary of state for the US when he said, "I can make a decision with 30% of information.  Anything more than 80% is too much."
  6. Safety is very interesting and everyone looks forward to reading your Safety Bulletin.  People talk about it around the water cooler.
  7. Reading out recent accidents across your region is the best way to start a safety meeting.
  8. Putting up notes to let people know publicly that they've violated a safety regulation.  In my office building, a range of businesses share a communal kitchen.  One exasperated business owner put a note in the kitchen to request the return of their kettle.  A safety consultant wrote a stern reply "Always thought it was a health and safety risk.  Next time, ensure you cable isn't near any potential water hazard."  Poor timing, unsympathetic and well, there was no next time.  Kettle was stolen. 
  9. Only safety information is important.  All other company information must be ignored.  Particularly, in team meetings.  If other people start talking about their department, start writing copious notes to yourself about random stuff.  Look busy and important because you're in safety.
  10. Starting a presentation with a joke that isn't related to the safety content.  Or anything really.  But it was funny once.

There you have it!  A fun little list of safety communication misdemeanours.  Of course, trying to make people wrong when it comes to safety and just waffling without noticing that your audience is bored ties into most of the tips above.

It's also really important to keep changing how you're communicating because just because something worked once, doesn't mean it will necessarily work again.  Constantly keep introducing new techniques and methods to influence your workplace on safety.  That's why the book, Transform Your Safety Communication, is so helpful to safety professionals who want a fresh approach and lots of ideas to improve their safety communication.

What other bad safety communication habits have you been witness to?


Created on 09/20/11 at 15:37:47