Are You Communicating Safety (or just talking)?

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will probably admit that our efforts around communicating safety are compliance oriented. We do it because we’re bound by a policy or an organizational expectation to do it. There’s nothing particularly exciting or inspiring about it. It’s become a monotonous checklist that we complete and file away, and we’re glad when it’s over with (and so are they).

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Eric Svendsen

Eric Svendsen, Ph.D., is Principal and lead change agent for safetyBUILT-IN, a safety-leadership learning and development organization. He has over 20 years experience in creating and executing outcomes-based leadership development and culture change initiatives aligned to organizational goals, and he personally led the safety-culture initiatives of a number of client organizations that resulted in “best ever safety performance” years for those companies.


  1. I want to post quick hello and want to express appreciation for this good article.

  2. tramadol says:

    Great site. Keep doing.

  3. Thank you! This is just the kind of thing I’ve been looking for : ) This is coming out once a month? Any plans to make it more frequent?

  4. Mitch Daniels says:

    Someone forwarded me a link to your site, and now I’m glad they did. This is very timely since we’re starting to look into how we can improve our safety communication and leadership practices in toolbox meetings.

  5. John Nelson says:

    This looks promising. I’m going to try some of the things you suggest. With the current way we conduct our safety meetings I don’t think we have much to lose! Keep up the good work!

  6. Wow! I thought I was the only one who thought this. Thanks for putting words to my thoughts : ) Great material!

  7. I agree with the other commenters. All production supervisors need this. I’ll be sending links to them.

  8. Katie Brunner says:

    I’ve been in the safety world for over 20 years and agree that safety communication is typically a check-box ritual. There are some exceptions, but they are few. We need more resources like this to help us communicate the message of safety in a better way.

  9. Bob Haskle says:

    I am looking forward to your next Recordable Insights post. This has really opened my eyes to some things I need to change.

  10. Thanks for the great–and free–resource! : )

  11. I really appreciate what you’re saying here, and it’s a breath of fresh air. I already have plans to put this into practice. I can’t wait to see the rest. Thanks!

  12. Ronnie Todd says:

    Great stuff, and thank you for it! I’ve long noticed the breakdown in safety communication that you mention in the post. Safety meetings–and especially tailgate or toolbox meetings–tend to be viewed by all concerned as little more than a required ritual we have to go through before starting a job. But they don’t do anything to raise safety awareness. What’s needed it better communication and leadership. For what it’s worth I find this same thing true of BSS programs. We’re using STOP, and it’s really viewed more as a a “safety police” program. Maybe we’re just doing it wrong, but without a leadership-driven culture change and better communication it doesn’t seem to be all that effective.

  13. Very insightful. Based on my years of management experience, “bolted on” programs come and go and are very soon forgotten and put aside. Programs can be effective to a point but so often programs soon lose the initial enthusiasm and devolve into simply going through the motions of safety compliance, and doing only the minimum required at that. There’s no consistency because there’s no personal motivation. Why? Because programs overlook a critical ingredient – leadership. Without an environment of trust and open communication facilitated by leadership, people don’t take the program seriously. They start taking shortcuts and accidents happen. The defining difference between bolted-on programs and leadership is that leadership sets a vision and creates a culture of safety that inspires people to want to follow. It’s no longer a program. It’s a mission and it’s theirs – they own it, rather than some program mandated by management. In my experience, what keeps people safe on the job and performing at their highest level is to is make it personal somehow – motivate people from the heart. That’s where real change has to happen.


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