“The safety meeting is the most efficient tool in getting employees to quickly embrace and buy-in to your safety program,” says Kevin Burns. Burns is a management consultant, international thought leader in workplace safety, and a speaker. He is the CEO of ZeroSpeak Corporation and principal consultant at M4 Management Consultants. Burns has also written ten books on human performance and safety, including his most recent release, “PeopleWork: The Human Touch in Workplace Safety.” We interviewed Burns to learn proven ways that leaders can improve their safety meetings, one of the most critical components of building a strong and participative safety culture within a business. In our two-part series exploring the topic, we first start with two major mistakes to avoid when looking to build safety meetings that work.
Safety Meeting Mistake #1: Focus
One of the biggest mistakes made by leaders is the focus of the safety meeting. Realize that employees don’t work for safety people; safety people work for employees, says Burns. The job of the safety person or supervisor is to ensure that employees have the tools, strategies, and motivation to become exceptional safety performers as often as they can. “It’s like the job of a professional coach,” says Burns. “The coach’s job is to ensure that he or she puts their players in a position to win. Safety people need to help put their people in a position to win—not to avoid a loss.” But that’s the kind of safety that is often discussed at safety meetings—information aimed at “avoiding a loss.” “It’s a very different mindset to go ‘get your win’ instead of playing to ‘avoid a loss.’” Safety leaders have to make sure that, in addition to meeting the legal requirements of reviewing incidents and near-misses, that they spend more time on building a team focus on safety. In turn, this will build employee motivation to want to do safety by choice, not by legislation—in other words, it will encourage their own buy-in to a safer culture—says Burns. “People who want and choose to do something, do it well. Those who are forced to do things give it just enough effort to not get fired.”
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Safety Meeting Mistake #2: “It’s the Way We’ve Always Done It”
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The second biggest mistake in safety meetings is that safety meeting organizers take their predecessors’ poorly run meetings and use that as the bar. They use it at the standard to gauge how to conduct the meetings, and unfortunately, often don’t question if there’s a better way to support safety with employees. “This means the worst meeting becomes the level of expectation. One person’s bad example gets repeated,” says Burns. So while leaders have good intentions to promote and improve safety, meetings continue to be uninspiring, and they lead to uninspired performance in safety. “Good enough becomes good enough,” says Burns. Realize that people are in the room because of safety. The employees you want to keep, want to learn about it, to improve it, and to engage with safety and the content you’re sharing. “But if the focus of the meeting is only on meeting the legal requirement, then safety becomes an enforcement and compliance exercise. No other department in an organization is required by legislation to meet, just safety. So, use these meetings to engage people, to motivate and inspire them to want to be better at safety.”
Quality Over Quantity
Leaders can also ensure that the safety meeting is not an exercise in filling a time slot. “It is an exercise in making good use of an employee’s time to set them up with strategies, ideas, and motivation to go out and do a better job of looking after themselves and their fellow workers,” says Burns. That means if a meeting can be done in 10 or 20 minutes, it shouldn’t be necessary to keep employees in the meeting any longer. “Don’t make them sit there for an hour and fill the meeting with padding and time filler material,” says Burns. If that happens, just like with any meetings, employees can start to become disengaged and less involved before they even come to the next meeting. Everything that is brought up in a meeting competes for attention in the brain, argues Burns. “Too many topics all over the map will water down the essential reason for meeting.” If you’re having trouble keeping meetings focused and compelling, use these tips from Burns: 1. Stop thinking in blocks of time. Instead of thinking “we need to fill an hour,” start thinking in blocks of workable information. “Do you really need to set aside 45 minutes to address ladder safety? Give a presenter a block of time and they will fill it. Even if they only have 15 minutes of solid information, the rest will be padding and filler.” Every off-topic thought in a presentation competes against the important subject matter.In turn, attendees are left to discern what was important from what was padding and filler.“If you can get it done in ten or twenty minutes, cover it enough to make an impact, and deliver motivation to want to do safety better, then don’t stand in their way. Let them get back to work,” he says. 2. Ask for input. If a speaker is just sharing information and isn’t asking for any participation, typically it won’t be as engaging if you can get people involved with the content. Asking for input, in general, can help avoid “information dumps,” which can be disengaging and boring. “I don’t know about you but I hate being lectured to. I want to have a voice at my safety meetings if I’m an employee.” 3. Encourage two-way conversation. If you’re going to bring employees to a safety meeting, involve them, engage them, and ask them questions. “It’s their meeting too,” adds Burns. Check back in later this month for part two in the series on how to optimize your safety meetings.
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