Health and Safety communication comes in varying forms including policies and procedures, performance statistics, hazard and incident reports, workplace inductions, risk assessments and training. David Cant looks at ways to make tool-box talk more effective.

Effective communication is critical to engage staff in any activity, to gain cooperation and support, and to maintain a positive culture. Health and Safety is no different and regular tool-box talks give companies an opportunity to talk directly to staff and operatives about important issues that they may need to consider.

Communication techniques will need to complement practical and technical health and safety strategies. Clear and constructive communication can improve knowledge and understanding that prevents at-risk behaviours and enhances safe work practices.

We need to communicate about safety with clarity, credibility and impact. Your language may need to provide examples and solutions that preserve or enhance health and safety and above all start with this simple idea: any talk can be interesting.

It’s true health and safety has a reputation for being among the ‘more dull’ subjects, but believe me your talks don’t have to be boring! And if the audience is engaged, and even relaxed and enjoying themselves, your lessons will go in and be remembered. Your workers will be safer because of it.

Here are five suggestions to help create an engaging health and safety talk:

  1. Keep it concise – not too long

You have to adopt some world-class speaking skills here. And a key one is to manage people’s attention and energy during the talk.

To do this, firstly, watch the time. Plan how long it will take, and keep it going at a strong pace. Just enough to deliver the information, with any stories and jokes included. Then when you’ve said what you need to say – stop!

It can be far better to follow up with leaflets, notices and maybe other meetings to drum in the lessons. Don’t drone on and bore them.

  1. Open with a story

This is an extremely powerful trick to get the audience engaged.

Open the talk with a story – just plunge right in, from your first words; “Let me tell you a quick story…”

And the trick here is, don’t finish the story! Cut it when it’s at the most exciting point. Then give your talk and only finish your story right at the finish of the talk. It can be incredibly powerful and makes people listen right until the end.

Of course, make it related to health and safety – the exact lessons you plan to teach. This also makes the lessons very real to your audience. So they pay more attention and remember it  all better.

An even more powerful tip – open with two or three stories. Cutting them all and not finishing until the end works wonders, you’ll see. They don’t have to be jokes or funny stories, but if they are, all the better!

  1. Don’t overuse PowerPoint

Speaker support visuals can enhance any talk; however, PowerPoint can be a very dull thing to look at.

Maybe use it for a chart or two. But far better to talk the whole time, and illustrate things by writing on a flipchart in a variety of coloured pens. This is powerful and studies have shown it to engage people much much more.

  1. Don’t patronise or punish

Connect with your audience. No ranting and patronising.

Sometimes health and safety talks mean giving information which is common sense, but you have to say it anyway.

So deliver it in a way that tells them you know they already know it. And drill it home with a story or real examples. But focus on connecting the whole time. You’re on the same team.  With the same goal in mind.

  1. Make it real

There’s no need to make the talk a scare or all about doom and gloom. But it’s worth illustrating how accidents happen to normal people too. Just like your employees and workers.

To make it real for them; find examples with people they know. Or in situations they are regularly in. But don’t make the whole talk about this. Too much and it tends to turn people off.

And finally…

Try to learn to be more light hearted. This will help talks about health and safety topics be more likeable, more promotable, and encouraging for others to take on-board what is actually being said.

There you have it. If you follow these five steps your talk should be twice as engaging and twice as and safety communications

David Cant
Veritas Consulting