“Safety complacency is a big problem today, but never more so than safety meeting complacency: the lack of focused engagement in preparing engaging safety meetings,” says Kevin Burns when we sat down with him to talk about building leadership in safety.
Burns is a management consultant, international thought leader in workplace safety, and a speaker based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the CEO of ZeroSpeak Corporation and principal consultant at M4 Management Consultants.
He’s written ten books on human performance and safety, including his most recent release, “PeopleWork: The Human Touch in Workplace Safety.”
We reached out to Burns because of his collaborative, people-based approach to improving safety. With the ultimate objective of improving safety culture through engagement and buy-in, we spoke to Burns about how employers can improve engagement with safety.
Whether it’s toolbox talks, educating them about personal protective equipment or OSHA safety they need to know about, here’s what we learned about how you can maximize the time you have with your workers.
Lack of Safety Engagement?
“Engaged employees take pride in their work. Engaged workplaces care about quality. Engaged organizations are highly productive. And, engaged employees take workplace safety personally,” says Burns. If you aren’t sure if employees are engaged, it may be time to look at how you’re leading your safety meetings.
Part of your overall strategy for your safety content, whether it be organized into toolbox talks or another format, should be a requirement to avoid mind-numbing and boring your workers, whenever possible.
“It’s so much more difficult for employees to engage and stay sharp if you insist on throwing every boring statistic, figure, graph and performance chart that you can lay your hands on at them in one session,” says Burns.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that if it’s not fun or engaging for attendees, they won’t participate.
Here are 3 ways to get started so that you can build better safety meetings.
1. Get rid of the PowerPoint.
Consider avoiding the use of PowerPoint (or similar) slides, recommends Burns. “If you can’t talk about safety without a PowerPoint slide, you’re either not trying or you’re in the wrong job. Besides, PowerPoint is lazy. It’s for people who won’t take the time to create a safety meeting strategy that engages the hearts and minds of employees.”
“It can be information dump. It’s a one-way lecture. 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.”
Burns says a fix can be to try running meetings with a Town Hall format. “Think discussions versus lectures, he says. To do so, keep these tips in mind:
- Involve your workers
- Don’t forget to ask their opinion and get feedback
- Solicit ideas from workers
- Do not let anyone sit silently for an entire meeting
“With this approach, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your people stop being passive spectators in meetings and start to become active participants.”
2. Focus on one idea.
Burns says you can’t underestimate the effectiveness of keeping it simple and focusing on one idea per meeting. “The reason that safety meetings are full of stats and charts and inspection reports and procedures and rules reminders is because organizers don’t know what to say so they say all of it. But you don’t have to say all of it,” says Burns. “In fact, you need to say very little.”
Re-consider how you approach your safety meetings; instead of trying to “fill” the meeting with information and content, focus on the one idea or concept that can really make your people better—not just more informed.
“Anyone can dump a load of information. But only the effective safety leaders can help people become better safety performers,” adds Burns. To advance one idea, Burns offers these tips to consider:
- Protect your people from being exposed to too much or conflicting information.
- Don’t forget to plan. “Plan it’s theme, points of discussion, content, and consistency of message.”
- Shorten the session with one thought at a time. “Stick the supplementary information—anything you would stick on those tiny lines of type on PowerPoint slides—into newsletters, emails, etc.
When in doubt, keep it simple. “Keep it short and tight. Focus on what you want to have happen,” adds Burns.
3. Create a call-to-action.
When it comes to the last step, if you’re truly planning a meeting, you should have some desired outcomes. “What’s the point of having a meeting if you don’t want something to come out of it?” says Burns. If you’re going to have a meeting, there needs to be a call-to-action.
Think of a “call-to-action” as the behavior or the change that you want to see out of your people after the session.
What do you want your people to do better, more of, or differently at the end of the meeting? “Start your planning at the end of the meeting and work backwards. Figure out what you want them to do, then point everything in the meeting at accomplishing that one thing.”
Burns says that everything you do and talk about should support the call-to-action. Each point-of-discussion, speech, instruction, or handout, if those are used, should be tweaked so that they support your call-to-action. “Your people must do something with the information,” adds Burns.
Burns points out that if have a weekly safety meeting, you have potentially 52 calls-to-action opportunities for your people. And, each of these can be incredibly timely. “For example, near the end of November when the rain starts freezing overnight due to cold temperatures, you could have a ‘Slips, Trips and Falls’ meeting.”
The call-to-action could be to ensure sand buckets are placed at high-slip locations, are fully stocked, and housekeeping measures are in place to ensure that at the end of the day, sand is spread on potential slippery spots before the day-shift goes home, says Burns.
“Do that for a week until the next safety meeting and then build on it. Maybe the following week, there is discussion around ice cleats in advance of the freeze and thaw temperatures in December.”
Perhaps, then, the call-to-action is a focus on filling out near-miss forms or creating a sub-committee that can provide recommendations to shorten the near-miss form or make it easier to collect so that people fill them out more often. Then combine the shortened near-miss report with a personal interview with a safety person to get more details. “I’ve worked with a company that did this very thing and their near-miss reporting skyrocketed. They had far better engagement and more heads-up proactive safety from employees,” says Burns.
Whatever it may be, the call-to-action is about getting out of the mindset that safety is the safety guy’s job and helping employees to accept their accountability and responsibility in safety, adds Burns. “It’s about doing something with the meetings you have. And you’ll find that if your meetings are discussions and conversations, you won’t need PowerPoint anymore.”
This is part two in our series on how to get the most out of your safety meetings.
Make It Easy to Have Your Workforce Participate In Safety
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