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Spice up your safety meetings

We all have safety meetings and discussions. Thesediscussions are a chance to focus our thoughts and actions on those importantthings we need to do to work safely. The trouble is that if we have a lot ofsafety meetings then they tend to get pretty repetitious and stale. Chances arethat the last safety meeting you attended went on much too long, didn’t includeenough discussion and even worse, felt like a waste of time to many who werethere.

Let’s think about making your next safety discussion:effective, efficient, meaningful and, dare I suggest, engaging and encouraging?Wow! That’s no small order. Here are some quick ideas for making your nextsafety discussion a lot more interesting and a ton more effective. Theseapproaches really work!

Energy / barrier discussion

We can start by getting the people at the meeting to listthe energy sources that they’ll be facing during the next few hours of work. Isthere a chance someone could come in contact with electricity? Perhaps gravitycould work against us and we could fall. Is there a chance that objects may beflying at us, caused by us using a power saw or grinder?

Next, we need to list all the things that can be done toprotect us from those harmful energies. Perhaps we can wear a personalprotective device to ensure we don’t fall or get hit by a flying object. Maybethe use of lockout procedures will ensure that the electrical energy isisolated. These would be barriers to the energies hitting us and causing ourinjury.

Incident imaging

There is a long history in the occupational health andsafety business of asking employees to report “near misses” or “near hits.”

Basically we want to hear about incidents that could haveresulted in more severe consequences, but because of luck we didn’t pay ahigher price. Unfortunately in a lot of companies we are unlikely to hear aboutemployee mistakes, because frankly, we’re embarrassed. Not many folks I knowwant to document their latest mistake in triplicate to be reviewed at the nextround of safety meetings. It’s just not in most people’s nature to exposethemselves to this potentially embarrassing focus.

What we can do as a technique is to ask folks what “could”happen here. This will allow your people to tell you those stories that “did”happen but under the guise of maybe “could” happen. It’s a much safer way toexpose what employees know and not run the risk of public embarrassment. Itgoes like this:

In your next meeting get the group to do a bit of “let’spretend” or incident imaging. It’s a simple and effective process to get groupsof people to think about what could happen next.

Which incidents that we don’t want to happen could happen?For example, if your crew is doing earthworks then you simply get the group tolist all the incidents that could happen during that process.

No doubt you’ll come up with cave in, utility hits, workersfalling, tripping, people hit by swinging backhoe buckets, etc. The next stepis to list the things we’ll need to do to make sure these imagined incidentsdon’t actually happen. Barricade the swing area around the bucket, ensure wecutback the trench, keep the larger pieces of clay and rock out of the trenchaccess areas. It’s an effective way to engage discussion.

Safe activators

Another idea is to discuss what we can use and do to remindeach other to be safe. In a great number of incidents an important cause ofpeople getting hurt is that they just didn’t think about what would happennext. Behavioural experts call these activators to behaviour. A sign remindingyou to wear your safety glasses is an activator. A reminder from a co-worker isalso an activator. “Hey Alan, don’t forget your safety glasses!” is an exampleof a great activator. If I was going to go do something where an eye injuryhazard existed then my fellow worker warning me has increased the likelihoodthat I’d actually wear my safety glasses! We do this for our kids all the time,why not for our co-workers?

Celebrate safety

We could discuss what we can do to celebrate when we do haveour co-workers working safely. For example when we play team sports weencourage team members to cheer on their teammates. Rarely at work do we usethis technique, even though we know how well it works when we’re playingsports. When we see our fellow workers wearing the right personal protectiveequipment, do we even mention it?

I hope this gives you some ideas about your next safetymeeting or discussion, because if we can improve our safety discussions we canimprove our safety outcomes.

Alan D. Quilley CRSP is the author of The Emperor Has NoHard Hat – Achieving REAL Safety Results and the president of Safety ResultsLtd. a Sherwood Park, Alberta OH&S consulting company. You can reach him at

Mari-Len De Guzman

Mari-Len De Guzman is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine and
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