There are many safety pros who fear or dread having to present a safety toolbox talk to their work crew. Part of the fear is rooted in the thought of looking up from their notes and seeing most of the workers not looking at them or even nodding off.
Making safety talks or meetings engaging can be difficult, but not impossible. This post dives into six tips on how to get workers to be more engaged and participate in safety meetings.
Defining Engaged and Participation
While these two words can overlap in some ways, there are a few important distinctions to make between them prior to jumping in the tips below.
While definitions can vary depending on where you look, for the sake of this discussion, we will define engaged as “being interested or focused,” and participation as “actively take part in.”
In my opinion, you need employees to first be engaged in what is being communicated before getting e voluntary and meaningful participation.
The 6 Tips to Increase Engagement and Participation at Meetings
While this list is not exclusive nor exhaustive, it can provide you with a much better idea of what to try to make the time at safety meetings more effective. While not every tip will be appropriate for your specific organization, there will be more than a few ideas that will be worth trying out.
1. Change up the topics that are discussed.
One common pitfall that safety pros become susceptible to is presenting the same old run-of-the-mill safety topics over and over again. How many times do you think a construction worker with ten years of experience has heard a safety meeting on slips, trips, and falls? Ten meetings? One hundred meetings? It is safe to say the number is well more than one time.
While it is important to re-cover critical topics that comprise the majority of injuries, you often lose engagement instantly when discussing certain beat-down safety topics. Do not be afraid to venture outside of the box and approach your safety message differently.
For example, using our behavioral safety talks to communicate the WHY behind the WHAT of safety is a great option to share a different safety message than workers are used to. Sharing these topics from time to time is arguably more impactful than covering more traditional talks.
These safety messages may not provide step-by-step best practices for injury prevention (which most workers have heard over and over), but they can provide your work crew with the motivation to WANT to follow those best practices that they know they should be following.
2. Tell stories or share experiences during the meetings.
One effective method in getting workers to be more engaged in safety meetings is to be more engaging yourself. Being an effective public speaker can be difficult to do and takes time to do well, but one tip that can help you get employee engagement is by telling stories as part of some of your meetings.
Sharing personal experiences and stories is more engaging than just reading a dry safety bulletin line by line. It is easy for a worker to lose focus when information is presented in such a way. Audience members may be more willing to share their own experiences if the presenter does so.
3. Use photos and videos.
If the daily safety meetings consistently entail workers hearing from the same person (or persons) over and over again, it can be difficult for them to be engaged, even if they want to be.
Using photos or videos during these meetings is often a welcomed change-up to a traditional verbal-only mode of communicating. Using media can often add stimulation as well as increase understanding to what is being said.
Some of your employees may even have a video or photo they would want to share at a safety meeting if they knew it was an option.
4. Have ownership or high-level managers participate during the talk.
One way to almost ensure that engagement and participation will increase at your next safety meeting is by having ownership or a high-level manager participate or lead the meeting. The employees are more likely to be attentive when someone who is higher up on the operations side of the business is taking part in the meeting.
This tactic also reinforces to the entire organization that management and ownership support safety. If the workers hear from more than just the same supervisor or safety representative during safety meetings, it can demonstrate that what is being said is not only lip service.
5. Ask for volunteers to present a topic at the next meeting.
Believe it or not, there are employees who would love to present at a safety meeting. There are many benefits in terms of increasing engagement and participation by asking for volunteers to share a story, experience, or safety article at the next safety meeting.
Asking for volunteers ahead of time allows someone to prepare a topic as well as enables you to know what will be covered so you can add to their message during the meeting. It also provides you the time to ensure that the topic being covered is relevant and accurate.
6. Call on people to participate.
This tip on this list is last because it is arguably the least popular. Some people would say it is even counter-productive to call on people in a meeting to participate. While I do agree that calling on a worker to contribute to a safety meeting may be counter-productive at times, it may be necessary to get participation.
There is also an added benefit that calling on people to contribute has. It can motivate everyone to pay attention during these meetings. If workers are aware that they can be called on at any time, they are more likely to be present and in tune with what is being said during the meeting. The only thing worse than being called on during a meeting when you do not want to be is to not have any clue what was asked of you.
While possibly unpopular, this method is sometimes needed to at least get the conversation started as well as to improve attention during meetings. You may find that people begin to volunteer on their own to provide comments in order to not be called upon randomly in the future.
Getting through to the workforce takes a lot of soft skills. Use the tips above to get workers to be more attentive and engaged during safety toolbox meetings. Do not be afraid to step out of the box and be different to get your workers to buy into safety efforts.
All too often, we in the safety profession have a very black and white robotic-like approach to our very HUMAN job.
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