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May 17, 2016

Follow These 5 Steps for Effective Safety Conversations

Anyone can conduct an effective safety conversation to promote learning and improvement. The key is to start with a caring attitude and a goal of collaboration with employees to seek their commitment to safety - not an attempt to simply criticize, correct and control them.

This concept of effective organizational conversations is not new, but David Galloway, of Continuous MILE Consulting, has written an article for EHS Today that applies these concepts to workplace safety talks. The goal is to generate conversations that enable coaching and collaboration that can improve the safety culture in your workplace. The framework can be used after an incident or proactively to help identify risks that can cause problems. Here a brief overview of the essential five steps:

1. Frame the Conversation

Framing a conversation with care and concern will make it clear that you need the employee’s help and will encourage him or her to participate. Ask questions in non-threatening ways, such as: “Can you help me?", “What is the major risk?” or “What mistakes could be made?”

2. Listen for Influences

Your challenge is to find out why it made sense to the employee to take an unnecessary risk. These include: perceptions, habits, obstacles and barriers. In a
proactive conversation, inquire how someone might be influenced to take a risk when performing a specific task.

3. Discover Error Traps

These are conditions or circumstances that increase the likelihood of mistakes, such as time pressure, distraction, vague guidance, multiple tasks, complacency and peer pressure. Acknowledging these error-prone conditions is the first step in finding ways to reduce their effects.

4. Identify the Behavior

Truly reckless behavior is rare. Most of the time, people are set up to fail (by error traps) or are influenced to take a risk (by a perception, habit, obstacle or barrier). In a safety conversation, listen for influences and error traps.

5. Take Action

It is a mistake to simply warn, counsel or discipline employees for not following safety rules without understanding the reasons for their decision. There could be hidden organization or process issues that influenced the employee. Seek to understand and mitigate any error traps. Coaching can be effective for perceptions or habits. Collaborative efforts can help remove obstacles or barriers.

Safety conversations that start from an attitude of caring and collaboration should be an integral part of your safety strategy.

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