Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Safety Communication


Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Safety Communication

Sing the Right Lyrics

Relationship experts tend to agree it’s less about what you say than how you say it. When it comes to building a culture of safety, a component manufacturer (CM) can have a treasure trove of good information to share, but if it isn’t broken down into bite-sized pieces and delivered in an effective way to each employee, it really doesn’t matter. Obviously, in today’s CM facility, employees are continually bombarded with information. Helping employees avoid communication “overload” so they process what they are told is one of the greatest hurdles to surmount. This article will discuss overcoming that obstacle through three simple approaches:

  1. Sing the right lyrics to the right group.
  2. Keep the message clean and concise.
  3. Teach by example.

Sing the Right Lyrics

You wouldn’t sing “Brown Eyed Girl” to your blue-eyed wife, would you? Toolbox talks, safety communication boards, lock-out/tag-out procedures, safety committees, safety bonus programs—these are all great communication methods to have as part of a safety program. However, it’s important for safety communicators to tailor their message to the right audience. A company doesn’t need, nor even want, everyone in the component operation together to discuss a safety topic. When speaking to a specific group, the message should be focused on what is pertinent to them. For instance, don’t devote a lot of time talking about personal protective equipment like gloves and earplugs with the administrative staff or spend much time on lock-out/tag-out with delivery drivers.

Safety training also needs to be fresh, not the same thing over and over. A recent study referenced by professional safety trainers found that the average goldfish has a longer attention span than the average adult. That might seem a bit over the top, but it raises a good point: Keep training short and the message targeted like a laser on a specialized group of employees.

Keep the Message Clean & Concise

A study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information agreed: The average adult attention span has dropped from somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 seconds down to just eight (we’ve never seen a goldfish pay attention to something for more than eight seconds; granted, after seven and half seconds, we lose interest in the fish). Michael Pateidl, a specialist with Lockton, the largest privately held insurance brokerage firm in the world, advises, “Try to cover only one simple concept during each training session.”

Ultimately, effective safety communication leads to greater safety awareness and fewer accidents in the workplace, which leads to lower costs and lower premiums.

Teach by Example

Companies are quick to train employees on what is expected from a productivity prospective, whether in the office, at the jobsite or in the production facility. It makes sense that safety fits right alongside. Show employees what safe behavior looks like. Don’t assume all your employees know or remember exactly how to properly and safely use a gantry roller; periodically give them a refresher training by showing them.

Want to avoid back injuries and pulled muscles? From time to time, have a supervisor properly lift a box of plates off the ground. This approach to “demonstration” training dovetails nicely when management walks through the plant. Don’t stop at just observing production, but go up to a team at the table jig and show them how they should use a staple gun or swing a hammer to conserve energy and avoid repetitive motion injuries.

Behavioral safety training like this focuses on the exchange between employees and the sharing of techniques and knowledge. This approach to safety communication has also proven effective for companies to communicate they care about employees as individuals as opposed to just trying to avoid accidents and paying workers’ compensation. After all, the whole point is for each employee to return home after their shift in the same healthy condition they arrived.

To reinforce this approach, ask supervisors to point out good behaviors, to stop someone they see exhibiting unsafe behavior, and take the time to demonstrate safe practices.

Use Multiple Approaches

Safety Communication Boards. One of the easiest ways to show employees the importance of safety is through maintaining a Safety Communication Board. Located close to an area where employees congregate to check in, read company news, eat lunch or read productivity reports, safety should be the first item on the board in the upper left. Our eyes are trained to read top to bottom, left to right, so the best place is in the upper left.

Just like with the five-minute training at the beginning of a shift, the safety information put on this board should be brief and updated regularly. Start simply by posting a safety slogan, but try to avoid using the same one over and over. The eyes tend to gloss over something if it matches a familiar pattern, so change the saying, change the font, and change the color often. As far as slogans go, try to keep them short and to the point, for example:

  • Safety Is No Accident
  • No Safety—No Business
  • Safe Workers Are Healthy Workers

Slogans like these can readily be found on the Internet, insurance companies likely have hundreds, and there are also several used in the SBCA Operation Safety program. Putting regular effort into this communication board shows a commitment to the words written on it.

Five-Minute Shift Start. Some CMs have had success starting each work shift with a targeted group meeting lasting less than five minutes. Use this time to communicate a simple daily safety tip or demonstration. Remember, focus on only one topic at a time. It’s more likely to be retained, and spreading out the information leaves plenty of material to rotate through to keep it fresh.

Toolbox Talks. Insurance carriers can be very helpful in providing targeted training materials and tips prepackaged into easy presentations. These “toolbox talks” are perfectly suited to give during lunch or afternoon breaks. They have all kinds of topics you can choose from to present to the various groups in your operation and to everyone as a whole. This approach, which doesn’t have to be formal in any way, can be a good one for answering questions, generating dialogue and getting employee buy-in to the safety culture.

Outside Experts. Don’t hesitate to bring in an expert from the outside, whether it’s a friend from the industry, a state OSHA consultant (many states with approved OSHA programs offer this business liaison service for free), or even someone from a related industry. For instance, a friend of Ben’s, Jim Caspers, is a training instructor for marine pilots. He offers his services to shipping companies providing training to maritime officers. Jim says, “It’s always beneficial to the boat captain to have a different perspective on the importance of safety brought to the crew by someone else.”

Go Visual. A huge part of effective safety communication is visual imaging. Mark areas out on the floor with a caution color paint or safety tape to designate the path of moving parts of machines. Do the same for staging areas, or truck traffic lanes, or any place where electrical equipment might exist. Consider putting up posters throughout the facility near areas where caution needs to be exercised. SBCA’s Operation Safety program has developed a number of bilingual posters as a visual aid and tool to train good safety behavior.

Train the Trainers

Got a manager or supervisor who may not be comfortable communicating safety? Practice makes perfect. Give that individual a safety topic to present and have them give the presentation to another manager who can provide feedback and tips. That practice will build confidence and familiarity in the material, as well as increase their experience in sharing the information with others. Remember, everyone gets nervous at times; giving managers and supervisors an opportunity to practice amongst peers will help reduce that anxiety and ultimately improve the chance the material is retained by the employees receiving it. If there isn’t a lot of opportunity for one-on-one practice sessions, another approach is to encourage co-presenters, where one supervisor gives the main points and the supervisor who is practicing fills in minor details during the presentation until they are more comfortable doing it all on their own.

Concluding Thoughts

Again, it’s less about what you say and more about how you say it. Help employees avoid situations where they reach information overload and tune out important safety communication. Keep the message short, target it to the right audience, and continually vary how the information is presented, in order to catch their attention and engage their critical thinking about safety.

Ben Hershey is Past President of SBCA and a Lean Management & Manufacturing Expert with 4Ward Consulting Group. The topic of Reading Construction Documents will be covered in the November issue.