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Toolbox Talk: 4 Keys to Effective Safety Communication

By February 24, 2023 No Comments

Communicating occupational safety and health information effectively is crucial to preventing employee injuries and illness. But how can you be sure your message is getting across? Here are some helpful tips for more effective safety communication.

Remember the four keys to success. Effective safety communication is:

1. Interactive

It flows both ways, and you speak about safety and listen to employees’ concerns and suggestions.

2. Informative

It tells employees what they need to know to work safely under all conditions.

3. Positive

It focuses on exchanging ideas and information to improve workplace safety and prevent accidents and illness.

4. Productive

It allows you to interact successfully with employees and spread your safety message to all who need to hear it.

Watch out for communication barriers.

Unfortunately, numerous obstacles can cause communication to break down.

For example:

  • If too much information is being communicated all at once, it can be challenging for employees to absorb all those different messages at one time
  • If your message lacks clarity, is confusing or ambiguous, what a worker actually hears might be quite different from what you intended to say
  • If expectations are not clearly defined, you may be unpleasantly surprised by the results
    • It is important to know and express what you expect to happen due to your communication
  • The communication is incomplete if you communicate a safety message without taking the time to listen carefully to the employee’s response
    • Remember, you have to speak and listen for communication to be successful
  • If you don’t take employees’ concerns and priorities into account, they might not listen to what you have to say

Don’t forget that effective safety communication always begins with your message. The message is the safety information you want to transfer from your head into the minds and hearts of your employees.

  • Before you speak, think carefully about what you want to say
    • Be as straight forward as possible about each of the points you want to make
  • Organize your thoughts into a logical sequence for communication
  • Consider your expectations
  • Do you expect employees to take some action as a result of what you tell them?
    • If so, be sure to be clear about what that action is
  • Keep your communications simple
    • One safety message at a time, simply and directly stated, is more likely to be heard and understood
  • Be as precise as possible
    • Use concrete language and examples to explain what you mean so that you leave no room for misinterpretation
  • Be concise
    • Say only what needs to be said to get your point across
    • A lot of extra words will only confuse the issue
  • Demonstrate when appropriate
    • Employees generally learn better and retain more of the safety information they see and hear
  • Repeat your message as needed
    • Studies show that a safety message often needs to be repeated on several different occasions to get through to employees

Why It Matters

Failure to communicate safety information effectively can have serious negative consequences, including:

  • Accidents, injuries, and illness
  • Lost workdays
  • Reduced productivity and delays
  • Risk-taking by employees
  • Inability to comply with regulations
  • Higher workers’ compensation and health insurance costs
  • Damage to materials, equipment, or your facility (for example, in a workplace fire caused by carelessness or lack of knowledge)
  • Risks to community and environment (for example, in a release or improper disposal of hazardous chemicals)

Remember, we’re hooked on safety!

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