Strong teams consist of workers with various backgrounds, experience levels, social personalities, and skillsets. Along with embracing these differences, all team members must understand the importance of voicing feedback. In the context of creating a cross-organizational safety culture, all employees—regardless of their social comfort and experience levels— must feel empowered to raise concerns, report safety-related problems, provide suggestions, and refuse to perform unsafe work.
According to an article published by the American Psychological Association (APA), experts believe that 40-50% of adults experience shyness, which is just one reason team members may not voice safety-related issues. A National Safety Council study found that due to a sense of powerlessness, young workers take a “wait-and-see” approach to safety concerns, rather than immediately speaking up. These statistics reveal an obvious gap in the safety communication comfort-level of workers. All team members are responsible for creating a safe environment to discuss issues, concerns, and ideas. This environment, though, starts with team leaders.
“Especially because of the wide-array of work PLH Group workers perform, it is vital to our organization that we have a unified safety culture throughout all 11 of our entities. This culture must not only encourage, but also foster, safe and open communication from every single person within our organization,” said Elsie Bentley, vice president of Safety, Health, and Environmental at PLH Group, a leading, full-service power line construction, pipeline construction, and specialty contractor that serves the electric power line, pipeline, oil field electrical, and industrial markets.
So how can team leaders create an environment where concerns, issues, and feedback are safely and openly shared by all members of the team? Consider tips from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s Better Safety Conversations, which is packed with information about effective safety conversations, overcoming reasons why workers avoid crucial discussions, and the importance of leading by example.
Additional communication tips for more effective safety conversations with those who naturally prefer to stay quiet include:
Do not push verbal participation. This may cause disengagement. Do not assume that just because workers are quiet, they are not actively engaged.
Thank workers for sharing comments and questions. Let workers know that all feedback is important.
Make sure that everyone has an opportunity to speak. Ensure that those more likely to verbally participate do not dominate the discussion or voice opinions that would cause others from communicating differing views.
Provide multiple communication avenues. Multiple avenues of communication include team meetings, one-on-on conversations, suggestion boxes for written feedback, and informal check-ins.
Model safety communication. Managers and supervisors must model the communication that they expect from their team members throughout their daily work.
Create a safe feedback environment. Ensure workers know their comments will not be reprimanded. Near misses and identified safety gaps should be viewed as learning experiences, not pathways to punishment.
Become a relatable figure. Do not talk about work and safety all the time with employees. Instead, talk to each member of the team on a daily basis to simply check in. By fostering a relationship with workers, supervisors and managers will become more approachable when urgent issues arise.
All workers have thoughts and voices that deserve to be heard. In the world of safety, these thoughts could mean the difference between an injury or sending workers home safely. By finding specific ways to communicate with each worker, team leaders can ensure that their teams may not only grow closer, but will stay safer.