Focus on People over Policy: Achieving Safety Excellence Through Better Safety Meetings

Focus on People Over Policy: Achieving Safety Excellence Through Better Safety Meetings | Call to Action!Here’s something you can be certain of. No one has ever been inspired to work safely or to follow safe work procedures simply because it’s the policy. Safety policies are necessary to set baseline expectations, and they can guard people against unsafe conditions if people follow them. But they are incapable of instilling an internal motivation in people to be safe on the job. That requires a focus on people over policy if the goal of our safety meetings is achieving safety excellence.

So far we’ve covered five tips in this series on making safety meetings stick: (1) “lead it, don’t read it,” (2) “ask, don’t tell,” and (3) conduct roving safety meetings, (4) make “safety meeting leader” a floating role, and (5) use props and visual aids to reinforce your points. There’s one more tip we want to address to help improve our toolbox meeting effectiveness. [password=”ste-05″]

Tip 6 – Make the Meeting about People, Not Policy 50 things you must know about safety leadership

This tip is by far the most important we’ve covered. The content of our safety meetings sometimes gives the impression that we’re more concerned about compliance than we are about culture and achieving safety excellence. Our message in a safety meeting may very well include policy, but it should never exclude culture.

People are more readily engaged and respond more favorably to a safety message when the focus is on things that matter most to them. Messages that focus on compliance, policies, regulations and statistics may in some cases spark interest and curiosity, but they don’t inspire people to do the right thing when no one is looking.

That requires striking a nerve at the heart of their core values—and with very few exceptions, that core value will have something to do with their families.

As an example, many safety meeting leaders already use incident reports in their meetings to raise awareness about hazards with a view to achieving hazard reduction. Some even solicit help from select participants in the meeting to read the incident reports in an attempt to get audience participation. That’s a good start, but true engagement that results in achieving safety excellence requires more than that.

Reading an incident report takes us right back to the problems we addressed in in an earlier article; namely, safety meetings should be led, not read. Having a participant read (and in many cases, stumble through) an incident report usually doesn’t engage anyone—not even the one who’s reading it! The reader is often unprepared and self-conscious due to being put on the spot, and the result is often that the reading itself comes across as monotone, unimpassioned and sterile, and the focus is usually on the mechanics of that incident rather than the impact to people.

If instead we tell a story about that incident, and focus on the impact it had on people and their families — How did it impact the employee, the employee’s family, the employee’s coworkers and friends? What was the true “cost” of that incident in terms of people? —we end up engaging the participants of that meeting by creating a “vicarious experience” for them.

A vicarious experience allows meeting participants to “feel” the impact, find themselves empathizing with the people involved, and relate the story to their own lives and situation, even though they haven’t personally experienced that incident for themselves, nor necessarily know the people who were involved.

Now, if we do this successfully there will be little need to bring policy and regulation into the picture to convince them to do things the right way. It’s something they’ll want to do out of a desire to spare their families the “cost” of an incident. Doing this will go a long way toward improving your toolbox meeting effectiveness and achieving safety excellence through those meetings.

fctc-online-bannerBe sure to view the video below for more information on this. And be sure to see our other tips in this series for improving safety meeting effectiveness. That’s all for this edition of Recordable INSIGHTS. Until next time.


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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.