Communicating Safety and Health

Effective communications is a lot more complex than most think it is. In fact, most individuals feel that they do a good job of communicating when in actuality, most do a rather ineffective job of communicating safety and health in the workplace. Sometimes it is the way the message is communicated. The timing of messages is often too late, and in many cases, messages are never delivered at all. No matter how hard someone tries, someone else is going to misinterpret the message, read something into it other than what was meant, or only focus on the part he/she perceives to be most useful to him/her.

Finding ways to communicate safety and health messages can be more of a task if your supervisors and workforce do not perceive its importance or meaning to them. In addition, their perception of the amount of real risk comes into play. If the company or business has a rather safe operation, almost everyone feels that there is no need to emphasize occupational safety and health (OSH) since little risk exists. They may make statements such as, "The company has only had one accident in the last 2 years." "It could have happened to anyone." "It was just bad luck. But when John fell, he broke his thighbone. The doctors put a pin and screws in it. He'll be as good as new." John did not return to work for 6 months.

What has not been communicated to the workforce is that John will never be as good as new. It took him 6 months to return to work, and workers' compensation did not pay him his full and normal wages during that time. John's medical bills cost $50,000, and the company's insurance premiums increased because of this. Someone was hired who was not as skilled as John to do his job, which could create a further hazard. John was a friend to everyone. He knew better than to jump off a piece of equipment. He was an experienced worker, but he disobeyed the safety and health rules.

This scenario is not unusual. Similar situations are played out everyday across the 6 million workplaces in the United States. How can a company address its safety and health concerns? It definitely starts with management's commitment and attitude toward OSH. If the motivational fire or the drive to push safety and health in the workplace is not there, then the communications attempts will be viewed as nothing more than a noise from a hollow log. There is a saying that someone cannot give the measles to someone else unless he/she has had the measles. This same logic goes for communicating the company's message on safety and health. A company must truly believe that it is important to foster effective communications in the workplace.

Many safety problems arise because we assume that everyone knows the proper and safe way to do a job. In actual practice, this is not so. It is imperative that management ensures that everyone on the property knows the safety and policies of the company and the proper methods to use in performing their job. This comes about by effective training and good communications.

A large percentage of injuries and illnesses occur when people are not aware of the policies, methods, or basic skills needed to perform a job safely. The responsibility for communicating these concepts rests with the management but is often assigned to the supervisor, who is already overloaded and does not see safety and health communications as an important part of his/her job. After all, there are no consequences to him/her if his/ her communications are not effective.

A line of communication that constantly furnishes information to all employees must be established. Some methods of communicating the safety and health message are as follows:

  • • Management setting the example by abiding by their own rules
  • • Safety meetings
  • • Job training
  • • Joint/labor management committees
  • • Employee safety representatives
  • • Employee involvement
  • • Safety bulletin boards
  • • Use of computers (e-mails)
  • • Use of electronics signs

All of these must be forthright, sincere, honest, and consistently utilized in order for them to be more than lip service. What a company does speaks so loud that the employee cannot hear what they say. It is important to walk the talk.

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