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How to improve safety communication in hazardous workplaces

Author : Rick Farrell, President, PlantTours

11 October 2022

Safety is a priority for any business. Safety communication is exchanging information with employees to help them perform safely and efficiently. It enhances awareness of risks, strengthens teamwork, and improves relationships between workers, supervisors, and managers.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

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The best way to prevent workplace accidents is to ensure that employees know all potential dangers. It is vital in any industry where there is an element of risk involved.

However, when it comes to hazardous environments it's even more critical to ensure that everyone is well informed about potential dangers so they can take appropriate steps to avoid accidents.

Safety communication can take many forms. It may be conducted verbally or in writing, face-to-face, or electronically. It may be a one-way message from management to employees about a specific hazard or risk or an ongoing dialogue where management shares information with workers, who then provide feedback.

In addition, technologies such as tour guide systems can be introduced to help improve safety. These are designed to provide employees with relevant information about their immediate surroundings (e.g., hazards, equipment). This article looks at some of the ways to improve safety communication in a hazardous workplace.

Provide regular training

Safety training should be integrated into the company's culture, as it will help ensure that employees are constantly reminded about the hazards they may face on the job. Everyone in your organisation needs to know how they can best communicate during an emergency, especially if they don't have a specific role like first responders or medical personnel. Provide training on effectively using their voice, gestures, and body language when communicating with others. This will also make them more aware of the proper procedures for dealing with any such hazards.

Introduce a chain of command

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Establish an effective chain of command so that all employees know who they should report to during an emergency or if they have questions about their role during an evacuation or lockdown. Your chain of command should be clearly defined and easy to follow so that any employee can quickly determine their responsibilities, who they need to report to, and how they should go about doing it.

Use plain language while communicating

You must use plain language when communicating with others in your organisation. People often use jargon or technical terms when they don’t know what else to say. They may also use vague or ambiguous language without realising it because they aren’t thinking about how other people will interpret their words. If you want people to understand what you mean by “the equipment requires regular maintenance,” tell them exactly what needs to be done: “The equipment needs cleaning every three months.”

Have routine safety checks

Use checklists at all times so that employees know what they need to do before leaving their work area during an evacuation or lockdown event. This includes understanding where shelter locations are and what supplies should be taken with them (e.g., food and water).

Address an identified need immediately

It should be addressed if there is an identified need for safety information and communication. This could be a requirement from your employer or local authority. It could also be a requirement from your company or organisation; perhaps you have identified that injuries occur because of lack of knowledge about safety procedures. You should consider questions such as how many people have been injured or killed at your workplace? Is there a particular type of injury or accident that occurs regularly? For example, do employees often get burned by hot machinery? Do you have any machinery hazards or slippery floors? Have there been any near misses recently? If so, why did they happen? What could have prevented them from happening again?

If you don't know why people need to know something, it's unlikely they will understand it or remember it when they need it most. Ask yourself, "Why is this information important?" "How will it help my employees do their jobs safely?" If you are unsure what this need is, ask your employees and managers. They will be able to tell you if there are areas where communication could be improved.

Rick Farrell, President, PlantTours
Rick Farrell, President, PlantTours

Safety messages

Once you know what needs improvement, it's time to focus on how your employees will use the new system. Make sure it is easy to use and understand by everyone who needs it. Also, safety messages should always be appropriate to their audience, keeping them simple so that anyone can understand them easily. You should also keep the language simple and avoid jargon when possible.

If workers need information about how to use specific equipment safely, they probably don't need a lengthy explanation of how it works. They want to know how they can use it safely with respect to their particular task at hand. Similarly, if someone visiting your workplace wants more information about what's happening around them, they'll likely appreciate more detail than someone who is already familiar with what's happening at the site and wants confirmation that things are okay before moving on with their day.

Employees who do not speak English well may need translations or other assistance. Those with disabilities may need alternate formats such as large print documents or video presentations instead of PowerPoint slideshows. Remember that safety messages are not just for workers but also for supervisors and managers who will be in charge during emergencies and need to communicate with others during those times.

Final thoughts

The goal is to ensure that each employee has access to all the information needed to perform their tasks safely and efficiently without having to interrupt their daily routine by asking someone else for help or more information. Also, your work environment will define your audience. For example, if you're working underground on a construction site, your audience may be other workers (e.g., electricians), people who are visiting the site (e.g., contractors), or even passersby who happen to see something unusual happening at the site (e.g., neighbours).

About the author:

Rick Farrell has been President of PlantTours for 18 years and is an expert in improving manufacturing group communication, education, training and group hospitality processes. In total, he has over 40 years of group hospitality experience and has provided consulting services with the majority of Fortune 500 industrial corporations improving group communication dynamics of all types in manufacturing environments.

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