Monday, November 12, 2012

How do you "sell" safety?

In addition to being an HR and Safety person, I've also spent several years as an adjunct professor, teaching public speaking and other communication courses. One of the most important things I teach my public speaking classes is that you're always selling something - your ideas, your products, your clients and yourself.

Then I get to job sites and see people who are supposed to provide safety leadership - foremen, project managers, safety leads, etc. - who couldn't see water to a dying man in a desert. These are the people who yell directives, demand to know why someone isn't following the rules and read weekly toolbox training talking points from the sheets without even looking up to see if anyone's awake or listening.

This is one of those cases where it's not just good enough to know your own trade or know the rules. Leaders have to lead, which means they have to share their ideas and bring their teams along with them. But in construction, too many in leadership roles don't have any clue how to truly lead, making the role of any safety person more challenging.

Speaking and communicating are key skills for leaders in an organization and in a field like construction, those skills are often sorely lacking.

Leaders don't always get people to sacrifice for the team - they also get team members to see the how playing with the team can work for their own benefit. A lot of research, combined with real-world experience, teaches us that most people look to see how a situation or a decision can benefit them at least as much as it benefits each other.

So how do we "sell" the concept of safety so others will do a better job of playing ball with safety programs?

A recent article from the BLR Safety Daily Advisor website reminded me of this regular problem and offered a couple of really short and insightful items for thought on how to "sell" safety:

While conducting your weekly safety meetings, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to sell the benefits of safety—for example, avoiding injury, keeping healthy, keeping the paychecks coming.

Point out that some safety techniques can also be used off the job and help employees protect their families and homes.

Good safety practices can also save money, and that makes the organization more competitive and more profitable, which means greater job security for workers.

To help see how well employees are "buying", the article suggests employing a number of approaches, including:

  • Taking a poll to see what employees are seeing
  • Make it a competition with prizes for compliance or knowledge
  • Engage in problem-solving exercises where employees discuss what they see and encounter

Then the article suggests in some key speaking strategies that I use in my public speaking classes to help get your audience to tune in:

If you want to hold engaging and memorable safety meetings, you have to put in some time and planning. Preparation is the key to good safety meetings.
  • Select an appropriate topic. Focus on a current problem, an incident, new hazards or equipment, revised procedures, etc.
  • Write down your goals. Unless you have a definite idea of what you want to achieve in the meeting, both you and those attending might be disappointed with the result.
  • Decide what information you want to present. Remember, safety meetings should focus on a limited amount of information. It's better to give employees 3 things they'll remember than a dozen they'll forget.
  • Get creative. Whenever possible, use visual aids or handouts. Try especially to involve all your workers' senses. For example, bring in a prop they can feel, such as a damaged tool that is unsafe or a hazardous chemical bottle that is missing a label. Demonstrate the effectiveness of a steel-toed shoe by dropping a weight on it. Or have employees pair off and do an activity, such as a joint lift of a heavy object.

I teach the concept of PROD - Planning, Research, Organization and Delivery - in public speaking. The above tips provide some key strategies towards meeting those goals. Sell them by seeing them as "customers" and making the information interesting and relevant to them.

If your employees are "buying" what you're "selling", then you, them and your organization will benefit together.


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