Written Safety Communication or Safety Notes?

Safety procedures, codes of practice, safety data sheets (SDS), guidelines and standard operating procedures need to be written in a manner the target audience can understand. For example, a study published in ‘Workers Compensation Fund’  Winter-Spring 2004 found that the average safety data sheet is written at a university level, which is well above the comprehension of most workers.

What that means for business owners is that all of your safety communication needs to be delivered in the format the workers will ‘get’. Even within a medium sized business, there will be varying degrees of ability in understanding the written word, including how the layout, grammar, sentence structure, word choice, graphics and so on all work together to convey a safety message.

The Safety Message May Not Get Through

Most of our formal literacy skills are developed at and finish at school; some go on to higher level training and others take up the profession of writing. Regardless, we are then influenced by TV sound bites, text language, short and sharp emails or even informal blogs which will degrade these more formal skills. There is nothing wrong with this, except if all your safety communication does not acknowledge this reality and continues delivering a safety message no one understands. And we have not even mentioned workers who are barely proficient with spoken English, let alone written English or cultural barriers around communicating. How does this relate to your safety messages?

Sell Safety With Basic Marketing Practices

Businesses need to start applying their own marketing skills to sell the safety message to their employees. While formal safety documents may be required at the management level and in dealing with contractors, they must be translated as appropriate so every person can understand the safety messages. Better yet, get the safety committee to identify those safety hazards that must be addressed, and ‘translate’ the message to worker speak.

Sell Safety with pictures, graphics, graphs and shorter text. Give your employees a video camera and ask them to shoot a safety video around a specific safety hazard. This will make the issues real and memorable to your workers. Run a competition for the best video, and reward staff for efforts in promoting and enhancing safety communication at work.

Or getting people to talk about safety (doesn’t that sound easier than ‘promoting and enhancing safety communication at work’?)

Written Safety Communication or Safety Notes – it really depends upon the audience.