According to the Hoffman Institute, 90% of our reactions are emotional. In fact, our emotions respond 400 times faster than our intellect.
You can have the best safety system in the world, but if you are not communicating it correctly, your organisation is at risk.
Tell-tale signs of poor safety communication include safety is seen as boring and staff tune out. As well as employees having no clear or consistent understanding of what is required from a safety perspective.
It can also mean that safety communication gets stuck either through one department or throughout one area of leadership (for example: supervisors refuse to pass on safety information).
Very few safety professionals have been taught how to convert compliance information into easy to understand and engaging content. In other words, how to make safety information matter to the average employee.
It's no longer enough for a safety practitioner to just understand safety compliance rules. It's now becoming increasingly important to be able to influence others, so that they understand how safety processes relate in their day to day job.
That's why it's so vital to ensure that all company safety communication is written and discussed in a way that enables everyone to work to a common standard.
Some important tips to include in all of your safety communication are:
- Simple Message – Whittle down all of the information to one core sentence. People are unable to process lots of information, so create one simple message. Repeat this often. For example: “Wear sunscreen everyday” is much easier to remember as a takeout from an article about why people need to wear sunscreen.
- Use positive language – Make sure you tell people what you want them to do. If you use negative words like “Don’t” or “Can’t”, people will just ignore them and remember the other words. For example: “Don’t run”, often gets remembered as “Run”. Instead, say “Walk”.
- Multiple message placement – Advertisers know that to get their message noticed, it needs to be seen at least 4-7 times. Place your simple message everywhere. Use posters, video content, email newsletters, and letters from the General Manager. Put together a schedule of communication events that constantly drip-feeds your message.
- Consistent look – Once you’ve started promoting your one message, make sure it always looks consistent. Don’t change the wording or images. Make sure all of your safety campaign materials all look the same. This way it creates a mental model that helps people remember the information.
- Use visuals – Avoid just doing lots of talking or writing an article that is wall to wall text. Use compelling visuals such as photos, diagrams and video content that help those who are visual learners.
- Customise your safety information. If your message involves a speech at various sites, customize it for that location. Talk about their individual safety records, not about the company as a whole. Make each site feel special.
- Explain Why – To help people understand why a new safety initiative is important, tell them the benefits. Talk about the thinking behind it and how it will affect staff, their family and the company. Let them know why it is important and how they will personally benefit. For example, a new training program will contribute to a reduction in injuries and the consequences of that.
- Get people involved with your message. If you are talking to a group of people, get people actively involved. Ask them questions about the content that makes them think about how much they really know.
- Tell stories. The right brain prefers story. It also provides an emotional connection to information that people will remember. What real-life workplace stories can you use that show the importance of safety?
- Expectation Clarity. Let everyone know what it is expected of them and how you will be measuring it. Clearly set goals and targets.
- End with Action. Tell people what you want them to do. Always ensure people are clear on their responsibilities. Make them think about their current behaviour. For example: A Victorian Workplace Safety ad ends with the line “Would you do what you ask your workers to do?”
- Reward in public, condemn in private. Once you have communicated the new safety information, recognise high performing safety leaders or change leaders publicly. This will encourage others to work more safely. For those that are not doing the right thing, pull them up privately.
- Allow feedback. Ensure that there is a mechanism for workers to let you know how the new safety procedure is going. If it is less productive, fix it. If it is more productive, keep improving it.
Safety communication is a continual process that never stops. Constantly practise and improve your safety communication skills to ensure high quality safety leadership. If you find that your communication isn't working, try a new method to get attention or to help people take action.
This is a small summary selection of some of the tips from the book, Transform Your Safety Communication. This book provides safety professionals with lots of different techniques to use at their workplace. This highly acclaimed book provides 5 easy to use templates and frameworks to quickly update your safety communication.
Gone are the days when safety professionals could act as gruff policemen and just command compliance. Organisational culture has changed to that of collaboration, in which employees want to be treated with respect when it comes to being told to work safely.
One of the mantras I teach my SELLSAFE Communication system students, is that communication is about feedback, not failure. It's about getting everyone to work together on safety, rather than criticising those undertaking safety activities incorrectly. Over the long-term organisations have a better success rate at safety compliance if employees have their input into safety matters, rather than being told to comply.
Which of these communication tips can you apply to your organisation?