Special Topics in Safety Management

Can Better Communication Improve Workplace Safety?

Safety professionals focus on actions like training, recordkeeping, monitoring risks, and preparing budgets. An integral part of every action is communication—what you say and how you say it.

Most people believe the goal of communication is to pass on information, but in a workplace setting the purpose is more often to achieve a desired action or change in behavior.

Certified safety professional Larry Hansen, president of L2H—Speaking of Safety Excellence (www.12hsos.com), says that communication that succeeds in changing behavior must:

  • Have the right message
  • Be delivered in the right way
  • Have meaning for those who receive it
  • Be continuously monitored

Leaders Drive, Supervisors Deliver

Hansen stresses that safety communication must be leadership-driven and first-line-delivered. Senior leaders must show their commitment to safety through videos, meetings with employees, informal walkarounds, newsletter articles, adherence to safety rules, and other means.

Hansen cites research showing that employees look primarily to the corner office to find out what’s important at their workplace. “If they don’t see leadership being concerned, they aren’t either,” Hansen says.

What will OSHA’s priorities for 2014 be, and how might they affect you? Find out in BLR’s upcoming live webinar, which will help you prepare for
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First-line supervisors provide an all-important link between the corporate message and the employee who needs to hear and internalize it. Their daily interaction is an opportunity for dialogue around safety, which most workers value.

“Effective communication must be two ways,” says Hansen. It’s not about imposing rules on people but about putting a value on the table and allowing people to discuss it and come to agreement. Then they will accept it much more easily.

Effective safety communication should be:

  • Delivered face-to-face by supervisors
  • Relevant to employees and their work
  • Able to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Integrate Safety into Communications

Hansen also recommends that safety be integrated into an organization’s vision, values, and mission. For example:

  • Core guidance documents like vision and mission statements should address safety in addition to value for customers, commitment to innovation, service delivery, etc.
  • Safety should be part of one-on-one contacts with direct reports. Many studies have identified a link between perceptions of employee satisfaction and workplace safety. Hansen says that supervisors play a key role in enhancing that level of satisfaction.

Join us on January 2 for an in-depth webinar when our presenter, a seasoned safety lawyer who has helped many companies assess OSHA activities and initiatives, will help you get a clearer sense of what will unfold in 2014 and, importantly, how to prepare. Learn More.

  • Formal meetings and training sessions should always include safety. At many businesses, every meeting, no matter its primary purpose, starts with a brief safety communication.
  • Feedback systems, including safety suggestion programs, should be established to emphasize listening to employees and acting on the information they provide.
  • It is also important to pay attention to measurement and metrics, including reports, scorecards, and performance assessments. If an organization proclaims the importance of safety but only measures production quality and delivery, employees come to believe safety can be compromised. The old adage, "what gets measured, gets done" applies.
  • You must provide recognition and rewards that communicate the organization’s values as well. The reward can be as simple as a sincere "thanks" that costs nothing to deliver but serves as positive reinforcement.
  • Management must also make sure that its actions communicate its safety commitment. Hansen cites one company where the safety budget is exempt form the review-and-trim process that applies to the budgets of all other departments. This sends the message that safety is not negotiable.

Safety Success Requires Listening, Too

This year and every year, having successful, compliant safety programs depends not only on communicating well with employees but also listening to safety experts to find out what OSHA’s priorities are and how they will affect you and your worksite.

We have a live webinar lined up for January 2 in which our expert, a lawyer and safety professional recognized as a national expert on occupational safety and health, will help you start the new year off right and learn what you need to know about OSHA’s 2014 enforcement agenda.

OSHA can’t inspect all 7 million workplaces under its jurisdiction. Consequently, each year the agency seeks to refocus its inspection resources in a calculated manner.

For 2014, OSHA projects that fewer employers will be inspected for safety violations so that inspectors can undertake more comprehensive investigations. The most likely targets will be refineries, chemical plants, and establishments where employees are vulnerable to workplace violence.

2014 priorities will also include:

  • Regulatory and outreach activities, such as improving workplace safety and health by targeting the worst violators and most serious hazards
  • Greater emphasis on health hazards, including exposure to hazardous chemicals, regulatory safeguards to eliminate or reduce hazards with the broadest and most serious consequences as identified through rigorous scientific investigation, compliance assistance, and outreach to workers at greater risk—such as those with limited English proficiency and temporary workers
    Technical and compliance assistance to small businesses in high-hazard industries, are ambitious

How 2014 will actually unfold is still uncertain, but now is the time to get a sense of what to expect and when to expect it so you can gear up for compliance hurdles.

Join us for an in-depth webinar on January 2 when our presenter, a seasoned safety lawyer who has helped many companies assess OSHA activities and initiatives, will help you get a clearer sense of what will unfold in 2014 and, importantly, how to prepare.

You and your colleagues will learn:

  • How key 2013 activities will impact 2014 compliance

  • Key enforcement strategies that OSHA plans to take on for 2014 including targeted industries
  • The likely regulatory actions coming soon and the time lines involved
  • Various initiatives that have been announced including outreach programs and assistance to small businesses in high hazard industries
  • What personal or structural changes may occur within OSHA
  • Suggested strategies for participating in key regulatory activity
  • The role Congress and the executive branch may play in 2014
  • The significant activity that may occur by special interest groups, NGOs, and labor unions
  • Ways to identify and evaluate OSHA activities to be “one step ahead” of new requirements

About Your Presenter

Adele Abrams, Esq., CMSP, is an attorney and safety professional who is recognized as a national expert on occupational safety and health. She heads a 10-attorney firm that represents employers and contractors nationwide in OSHA and MSHA litigation, and provides safety and health training, auditing, and consultation services.

Abrams is a Certified Mine Safety Professional, and a Department of Labor-approved trainer. She is also a professional member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, and is co-author of several safety-related textbooks. She is chair of the National Safety Council’s Business & Industry Division committee on regulatory and legal affairs. She is admitted to the Bars of Maryland, D.C., and Pennsylvania, as well as multiple federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court.

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