The Importance of Effective Communication in Workplace Safety
Effective and transparent communication can strengthen your workplace's safety culture.
According to a survey by Forbes Advisor, 49 percent of workers say that poor communication interferes with their productivity and job satisfaction.
The issues don’t stop there, though. Poor communication also has a significant impact on worker safety, especially for those who work in the manufacturing or industrial sectors.
In this article, we'll look at why communication is so important and how effective communication can improve workplace safety.
Building a Safety Culture Through Communication
Transparent communication is vital to creating a stronger safety culture in the workplace.
For employees to prioritize safety and make decisions that protect themselves and their colleagues, they first need to understand what safety in this particular environment looks like. For instance, what is involved in using their equipment safely? When equipment is damaged or malfunction, do they know which supervisor or manager to report it to? How often does the machinery need to be inspected or maintained, and whose job is it to perform those tasks?
Employees must also feel comfortable addressing safety concerns with their colleagues and higher-ups. If someone worries that they’ll be penalized for bringing up an issue, they’re more likely to keep it to themselves, putting everyone (including the company as a whole) at risk.
Real-Time Hazard Reporting and Communication
Real-time hazard reporting is critical for addressing safety concerns. It also relies heavily on good communication, while also encouraging more transparent communication. Here are some examples of how to implement it.
Emphasize the Importance of Reporting Incidents
First, your employees must know what kinds of issues they need to report.
Sometimes, people notice something that seems a bit off, but they don’t know whether they need to tell anyone else about it. When they don't, the issue escalates and becomes a serious, potentially hazardous problem.
To prevent this, clearly list and communicate the types of issues that should be reported right away, such as equipment with frayed electrical wires, improperly assembled scaffolding, or a fall (even if no one appears to have been hurt).
Employees must also understand the importance of reporting incidents. Rather than simply telling them which who to notify and which forms to fill, let them know that reporting these issues will get them fixed sooner, which will protect their colleagues from being hurt on the job.
(Learn more in 10 Critical Steps for Investigating and Reporting Accidents)
Clarify the Chain of Command
In addition to knowing what to report, employees must also know to whom they should report it.
What is the chain of command in your company? Do floor workers report to a specific supervisor? Should they go straight to the floor manager instead? Or should issues be taken straight to the safety department?
Whatever the chain of command is, carefully detail it and make sure everyone is on the same page. There should be no guesswork about who to talk to when something goes wrong.
Create Resources for Easier Communication
When something goes wrong, it often creates a high-stress, high-stakes situation. That makes it easy for employees to get flustered - especially if they've never reported a problem before.
To minimize confusion and increase confidence, provide employees with resources that make communicating and reporting safety issues easier. For example, giving them access to email templates they can use to report specific concerns or holding brief training sessions to walk them through the reporting process.
Use Technology for Faster Communication
Email, chat software, online safety portals, and digital signage are all examples of tech solutions that can make communication faster and more effective. Consider incorporating these tools into your workplace to keep everyone connected.
Communication in Safety Training Programs
Proper training not only increases the likelihood that employees will communicate clearly and effectively during a crisis, but also equips them with essential safety tips to prevent issues in the first place. Whether your priority is manufacturing safety, safety for employees working alone, or anything in between, training matters.
The following guidelines can help you establish better training protocols at your organization.
Hold Training Sessions Regularly
Employees are more likely to retain information if they encounter it multiple times. For that reason, holding training sessions more regularly is one of the best ways to make them more effective.
Gather everyone at least a couple of times per year to review safety guidelines, discuss changes, clarify the chain of command, and ensure everyone understands what’s expected of them.
(Learn more in 6 Things to Consider When Planning Toolbox Talks)
Make Training Mandatory
Training sessions should also be mandatory. Getting everyone involved will help prevent mistakes in the future and keep everyone up-to-date on potential protocol changes. It also emphasizes the importance of safety training and contributes to a safety-focused culture.
Make Space for Questions and Feedback
Training sessions will be more engaging if they involve two-way communication. Instead of just talking at your employees for an hour, make it a conversation where everyone talks to each other.
Invite people to ask questions, provide feedback, and share their experiences. Getting employees involved helps the information stick and encourages buy-in for safety procedures.
Provide Visual Reminders
No matter how much training people go through, they can always use a reminder from time to time.
Display posters or digital signs throughout the workplace to highlight hazards that are easy to forget, notify workers of the type of PPE they need, or provide a brief checklist of tasks to do at the end of a shift.
Consider sharing information in multiple languages and using pictures, too. That way, you can reach a larger audience and don’t have to worry about language barriers, literacy levels, or time constraints.
Effective and transparent communication is essential for creating a safe and productive workplace with high morale. Follow the tips and guidelines shared above to improve communication among your employees and set them up for success and safety now and in the future.