How to Improve Workplace Safety Communication

Written by Jeff Thorne | Manager of Training and Consulting

Over the past two decades I have had the pleasure of dealing with many safety leaders and supervisors that know their stuff; yet they find that their team sometimes doesn’t follow the direction provided. Problems are arising and the solution isn’t apparent. In many cases, poor communication is the root cause of the problem.

Many of us speak but we are not heard, some speak down to others with the expectation that the message being sent will be understood with very little explanation or follow-up. There are those that have poor communication skills and aren’t quite sure how to get the message across. Here are some tips that will assist how the safety message is delivered.

Provide explanations for standards and procedures. Adults need to see relevancy in the information provided. Ensure standards and procedures are clear and the purpose is reinforced. Educate employees as to why they exist and provide concrete examples as to how they are a benefit.

Allow time for the team or individuals to speak and actively listen. Listen to the message that is being sent or returned, and do not interrupt. Provide time to gain perspective on what you are being told, deliberate, and then decide your course of action.

Ensure the proper medium and forum is used when communicating. If the message being sent affects the whole team, ensure that message gets to everyone. Hold an open forum and allow opportunities for feedback. Do not single people out in front of their peers.

Be direct, use tact and provide positive reinforcement. Even if the conversation is a critical one, how you approach the situation and open up the conversation can determine whether the communication will be successful or not. Keep it simple and avoid long drawn out explanations and ask employees for solutions to identified issues. Reinforce safe work behaviour with positive feedback, as this supports the behaviour and increases the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated.

Address the substandard act or practice and not the individual. The model of communication involves sending and receiving messages. If the message becomes accusatory, this destroys the open lines of communication very quickly, so always be respectful.

Look for partnership opportunities during the conversation. Listen intently and find areas during the conversation where you can agree with the person or team. This helps to find common ground and assists with arriving at a solution more efficiently.

Be mindful of your body language. So much of what we communicate and how our audience perceives it, comes from our body language. The way you move, sit, and stand affects the way others perceive you. Improving body language centers on being aware of your emotions and the emotions of others.

Provide guidance and support. Identified substandard acts or practices should be followed by positive corrective action and specific direction to improve the undesired behaviour. Don’t just point out what is being done wrong.

Lead by example and set an example. Senior employees that know how to do the job safely may have picked up some bad habits or they may have identified short cuts. Address these situations quickly by providing brief corrective feedback and remind them to set an example for others.

Be an advocate for your team. When issues are brought forward, solve them when they are raised. For issues that cannot be solved immediately, ensure you keep your team informed of progress. This will improve communication and the likelihood of issues being raised in the future.

Ultimately, effective communication allows us to learn from one another. Applying these tips will allow for more open and constructive communication and can lead to the desired results you are looking for.

As seen in our January Be Safe Newsletter


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