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Communicating Safety: Participating in Safety Meetings

A safety meeting should be an organized, orderly, and respectful conversation with a single purpose: prevent injuries.

Nobody is happy about going to a meeting except the one who called the meeting, and that may be questionable, too.  Purposely, safety meetings are really no different than a project planning meeting or a meeting by any other title.  Meetings are by definition: a coming together of two or more people, by chance or arrangement.  Safety meetings are not by chance but arranged to be started and typically stopped at a certain time.

When I am presenting to a group of people in a company who make up all the safety committees I am often asked, “How long should a safety meeting take?”  My answer is taken from the description for the length of a short-story, “Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.”  Long, drawn out safety meetings only make people wish they hadn’t shown-up for work.

People do not wish to appear foolish; to avoid the appearance of foolishness; they are willing to remain actually fools. ~ Alice Walker

Have you ever noticed that people in the safety meeting can be generally identified in two categories?  One is loud and all-knowing while the other is the quiet and seemingly stupid?  This could be seen as a range that results from the level of knowledge (correct or incorrect), experience (good or bad), and confidence.  The key to a successful communications during a safety meeting is getting quality participation from everyone in both categories.

A safety meeting is not about the person who has organized and is facilitating, but the participants themselves.  Many times I attend safety meetings where I am the featured speaker.  This gives me the opportunity to stand back and watch the dynamics.  Some are sitting up front ready to learn, while some are sitting in the back with their tinted safety glasses on, arms crossed and looking like they would rather be in the hospital with a broken arm than in the meeting.  For the person facilitating the meeting, these behaviors are uncomfortable.  As a participant you might try a few of the following tips that can make you a better participant:

  • Stay focused on the topic and purpose.  Sometimes a safety meeting can begin to degrade into a human resource nightmare.  Workplace issues such as union negotiations, company buy-outs, lay-offs, and you-name-it that have no direct connection to safety.  I say direct because these all can affect attitudes; however they have no place in the agenda at a safety meeting.  Stick to the purpose of preventing injuries in the workplace.
  • Participate by bringing up facts, data, and figures that support your safety concern.  State clearly the issue based on observation not your opinion or hearsay.  Example: Just the other day I was walking by an area our contractors had been working and found trash left behind.  I stopped and cleaned it up, but isn’t there something we can do to make sure they don’t leave a mess behind?
  • Encourage others to participate by asking them fact-based questions so they feel comfortable in sharing. Example: (say to the facilitator) Maybe Bob can shed some light on this situation since he was involved?
  • Maintain respect of each person in the room, including the person facilitating the safety meeting.

These same tips are also right on target for the meeting organizer and facilitator.  A few added tips for safety meeting facilitators are:

  • Have an agenda that states the topic and purpose.
  • Begin the meeting by reminding everyone of ground rules we previously discussed.
  • Don’t let the meeting get off the subject. Reframe issues brought up by asking, “Is this a safety issue or operational?”  If it is an operational issue, make a note, write it on a flip-chart or board in the “Parking Lot” (a section where ‘off-topic’ items are listed for follow-up)
  • If the agenda or good discussions are long, plan breaks every 45 minutes, and
  • Engage everyone in the room; don’t just lecture. (This doesn’t mean every person is required to speak, but you can tell if people are participating by listening. Watch body language in the room – you’ll see if someone wants to speak but hasn’t felt the opportunity to do so.  Call on them.)

The safety meeting should become an organized, orderly, and respectful conversation with a purpose.  Safety can become emotional when participants are concerned, fearful, or just plain bored out of their minds.  This emotion ranges from being loud (making oneself project a larger presence), to the seemingly quiet (I’ll get you later) participants.  Both types of extremists are a hazard to any workplace culture.  To mitigate this hazard, participants must be mindful of their own behaviors.  Safety meeting organizers and facilitators must strive to make sure everyone is engaged and comfortable sharing.

Communicating safety, safely should be everyone’s goal, but it takes everyone’s commitment for it to happen.  If communications are great it is likely that you will experience a workplace where it is difficult to get hurt.

Thanks, and Be Safe!

Carl Potter, CSP

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FYI:

Communicating Safety, Safely Workshop can be delivered to your workplace.  For more information email me at: carl@safetyinstitute.com

If you are interested in having Carl deliver his motivational safety keynote Who Is Responsible for Safety? to your workforce, email: deb@potterandassociates.com for availability and a quote

New Book is Available to Order

Conquest for Safety: Leadership Required is a new book by Carl Potter, CSP, CMC with Deb Potter, PhD., CMC and is available for pre press purchase.  Cover price is $39.95 but a limited pre-press price of $18.95 is available until December 15th.  Books will be shipped on approximately December 15th, 2015. To order today go to: www.safetybooks.com

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