by Tim Neubauer and Julia Kunlo, Evolution Safety Resources on October 24, 2017

This article is a continuation in the Evolution Safety Resources series, “Your Safety Manual Isn’t Enough.” While stressing the importance of building a safety program that reaches beyond written policy, our series explains the need for a Safety Management System (SMS) while exploring common SMS components. Defined as a structured and organized means of achieving and maintaining a high level of safety, Safety Management Systems are a collection of efforts, policies, and strategies that work together to keep your team safe. We previously noted the National Safety Council’s Nine Elements as a collection of common SMS principles. In this article, we will discuss the second element in this collection – Organizational Communications and System Documentation.

Once management leadership and commitment to safety has been established (element one), it is the responsibility of executives to communicate this commitment to their teams. It is important that multiple channels of communication be used to express corporate initiatives; these channels are verbal (toolbox talks, stand downs, employee meetings), non-verbal (leading by example, purchasing top-level PPE, hindering production until safety is confirmed), and written (posting safety goals, distributing safety memos, reviewing SOPs).  In larger organizations, multiple layers may be required to move a message from the highest level of management to the newest field employee. In these circumstances, clear procedures for carrying the message to all recipients should be outlined and written communication is preferred. While written policies ensure that a message is communicated to all levels of an organization without being distorted, it is also the most impersonal method; verbal and non-verbal messages from management go much further in proving commitment to safety processes. Whenever possible, it is best for the message sender to communicate directly with the message receiver – this will help alleviate misconstrued meaning often created via “whisper down the lane.”

Even more important than pushing their message, managers must create clear means for team members to respond with ideas and concerns. This two-way communication is vital to ensuring safety policies are understood, implemented, appreciated, and reasonable for daily operations. It allows for the creation of a safety program that moves beyond theory and into practice. Furthermore, who better than employees to create solutions to the workplace hazards they face? The key to ingraining safety procedures into operations is to make safety personal, practical, and vital. These goals simply cannot be accomplished without receiving employee feedback on policy. Managers must create a system within which employees are given the opportunity to communicate; often, opinions will not be given unless they are asked for. Structured and documented means of collecting feedback, such as perception surveys and suggestion boxes, are great means of encouraging two-way communication. When employee feedback is given, management should respond, follow up, and continue to keep the employee informed of how their ideas are being processed internally. Not only will this make an employee feel validated, but it will help that person (and others) feel confident in bringing their thoughts forward in the future.

Even the most well-intentioned safety programs will fall flat if they are not communicated effectively. Organizational communication is a vital component of safety that is often overlooked or underappreciated – the fact of the matter is that effective communication takes thought, effort, and consideration. Communications should be presented consistently, clearly, and in a variety of styles (verbal, non-verbal, and written) to appeal to every team member. Furthermore, two-way communication must confirm that the message is fully understood by employees and that policies are appreciated, practical, and in place. Records of safety communications (such as near misses, written employee suggestions, site inspections, and more) should be retained and studied to ensure continuous evaluation and improvement. While these communication rules sound intuitive, they require effort from every department to be a pillar of your Safety Management System. There is a reason that organizational communications and system documentation is the second element listed by the National Safety Council; without it, safety will never be ingrained in corporate culture.

Originally posted on GroundBreak Carolinas