Is There a Better Way to Lead a Pre-Job Safety Meeting?

My personal experience with this (and with coaching the leaders of those meetings afterward) tells me that an average pre-job safety meeting is simply “read,” not “led.” Employee engagement and participation is often reduced to allowing them to read some safety talking points to the rest of the group. Needless to say, attention spans and engagement levels in those types of safety meetings are often quite low. [content_protector password=”meeting05″ identifier=”meeting05″]

In fact, one company where we rolled out our program had a policy to read three incident reports during each pre-job safety meeting. I attended several of these meetings over the course of a week with the intention of coaching the meeting leader on improvements to his communication style and leadership presence. During each meeting the leader would begin by talking about the day’s operations, and then would hand one of the workers (a different one each time) a printed sheet containing summaries of three incidents that took place in the past at one of the company’s locations. The employee was instructed to read the first incident summary, after which the leader would make some brief statements about the incident and would then instruct someone else to read the second incident summary, and then the third, until all three incident summaries had been read. Once that task was completed, the meeting leader would then resume his talk on that day’s job activities.

At the end of each of those meetings I engaged the meeting leader in a coaching session and reminded him of the principles we covered in the “Compliance to Culture” workshop he had attended, and how he really needed to engage each person in the meeting by creating a discussion around each incident. I emphasized that while the incident summaries could act as launching points for a discussion, they were essentially powerless in themselves to raise safety awareness. But, with each new day he reverted back to simply having them read the summary while he provided brief comments about them afterward.

On day four, after having witnessed the lack of energy in the crew when these incident reports were read, and being determined to drive my point home to the meeting leader, I tried an experiment. I allowed the meeting leader to again go through the ritual of having his crew read all three summaries. Each summary took no longer than a few of minutes, so the entire ritual was complete within ten minutes. At the end of the third summary the meeting leader again offered some brief comments and was just about to launch into his talk about the day’s activities, when I stopped him and asked if I could pose a question to the group. He nodded his permission. I then raised my hand in the air and asked the group, “Who can tell me what that first incident summary was about?” Silence. Everyone looked at each other and avoided eye contact with me. No one knew. It had been read to the entire group just five minutes prior, but no one could tell me what it was about.

The meeting leader smiled and nodded knowingly. He was now convinced of the ineffectiveness of his communication to raise safety awareness in his crew. The very next day’s pre-job safety meeting was different. He created a discussion around each incident summary and engaged each worker in that discussion. I had made my point and his crew was safer as a result.

Watch the short video below to learn how comprehension and retention works, and see if you can begin applying the same principles to your own safety meetings. Enjoy!


About the Author

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.