Safety Meetings: No More Business as Usual

Disaster Preparation/RecoverySafety

(This article originally ran in the March 2011 issue of OSP Magazine)

Say the words safety meeting and you can instantly see eyes rolling, boots quaking, heads shaking, and people walking away. All of this would be funny except for one thing: people’s lives may depend on what they learn in a safety meeting.

Our empirical research shows that all companies who conduct weekly or monthly safety meetings have one thing in common: they struggle with making them relevant and fresh. Often companies use safety committees and volunteers to plan the meetings. Some people refuse to volunteer for the committee slots because they simply don’t want the responsibility of engaging everyone in a meeting that no one wants to attend.

Why Do We Have Safety Meetings?
If you asked employees in your organization why the company has safety meetings, what would they say? It’s likely that you’d hear at least a few say: “Uh, I dunno.” How would you answer this question?

Some believe that OSHA requires safety meetings when actually all that is required is a way to communicate with employees about safety issues and hazards related to their work. Many ways exist to do this including training, posters, and bulletin boards. We continue to advocate face-to-face gatherings as much as possible. We also recommend that you rethink how you conduct your safety meetings.

Reframe the Meeting
Ask anyone who is required to attend any type of meetings as a regular part of their work how much they get out of the experience. You’ll probably hear words such as “time waster”, “boring and mediocre”, and “mind-numbing and mundane”. Yet, we expect employees who typically work in the field or in the shop to sit down and listen to one more boring explanation of a safety rule or to read with enthusiasm from the accident prevention manual.

Consider reframing your approach to safety meetings so that they are conversational, interactive, and relevant. The following 3 tips will increase the opportunity to share meaningful information.

3 Ideas to Change the Face of Your Safety Meetings

The following are 3 ideas that you can implement for your next safety meeting to add variety and increase participation:

1. Hold Safety Conversations rather than Safety Meetings. What you call something can affect how it is perceived. Marketers make millions figuring out what to call new products. If you call your gatherings Safety Conversations the connotation is that you will create opportunities for two-way dialog. Employees will show up with the mindset that they can contribute their thoughts.

2. Instead of an agenda, ask a question. Agendas can be very useful for keeping meetings on track. Maybe you can’t have a meeting without one; they keep you on topic and on schedule. So what would happen if you called a Question Session to discuss a relevant safety topic or a recent incident? Just imagine what could happen! Yes, some of you skeptics are thinking: “This will turn into an instant gripe session or it will get completely out of hand.” It could. Think about how you can facilitate such a session by setting a specific timeframe and stick to it. Use your best skills to keep the discussion on track so that it relates to the question at hand.

3. Create a moving experience. Who said safety meetings have to be sit-down sessions? Sure, there are times when it makes sense to have people sit around the table to look at diagrams or drawings and to write notes. What would happen if you made some of your safety meetings highly interactive with hands-on exhibits? For example, if you are discussing the use of hard hats, you could have a table display of various types of hard hats that your company purchases. At another table, a subject matter expert could show employees how to properly adjust and clean their hard hats. In effect, you could have a “walk-around” meeting.

You may need to experiment with these ideas and others to increase the conversational element in your safety meetings. Look for ways to have more informal safety sessions that will energize and engage everyone.

Expect Engaged and Energized Employees

When you experiment with your safety meetings so they aren’t just boring “business as usual,” you will find:

•  More people positively engaged in the process of making your workplace safer.
•  More ideas flowing freely in your workgroup because people are encouraged and want to participate.
•  More energy devoted to creating and maintaining a safe workplace.

Do your part to increase the involvement potential, think of good questions to prompt conversations, and use your best facilitation skills. You’ll find that everyone is more eager to attend the safety meeting when it’s not the same ol’ same ol’. After all, the goal is: Nobody Gets Hurt!

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