Communicating about safety: more is not necessarily better

Are the walls of your company full of safety regulations and infographics to make employees aware of the importance of working safely? Then chances are no one’s read them yet. “Safety communication is only efficient if it is used in a targeted manner,” stresses Iris Vanstraelen, external prevention adviser at Mensura. “Simplicity and regularity are at the heart of this.”

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It’s the same with safety information. If you want to stand out, you have to scale back. Less but better information is the message. “The time at which you communicate about safety is very important,” Iris said. “Safety as part of the onboarding story is a first, essential step. Mensura developed the Check-In Tool for this purpose. But repetition is essential in order to anchor the principles in behaviour as well. Companies that make time for safety every day create greater support for working safely.”

Is there such a thing as ideal safety communication?

Iris: “How a company communicates about safety depends on factors such as the industry or size. In small companies, it is easier to reach people in the workplace, while large companies need to work more top-down. I still remember the time when safety manuals had more than twenty pages in them: lengthy and extensively explained. That’s fortunately over; today, it can be short and to the point. I myself am a great advocate of visual communication. Movies, posters, flowcharts, etc. Images attract attention and stick in the mind better anyway.”

Is there still too much classic communication about safety?

Iris: “More and more companies are making the shift to more focused and clearer communication. They omit the thick playbooks and instruction sheets, and provide lighter alternatives tailored to the workplace. Exactly how and what you communicate varies according to the risks of the job.”

“A risk analysis must first be carried out for each workstation and machine. But you don’t necessarily communicate them in their entirety. It is important for people in practice to know the residual risk, e.g. the risk of cuts when using a sharp knife. This will indicate the steps that need to be taken to reduce the risk. So communicate only what is needed and customise the content and language for each specific workstation.”

But we can’t create a safety culture with regulations and measures alone. Which tools can contribute to this?

Iris: “A good safety culture is only possible if the employer is convinced of its importance and actively follows it up. It will never work without their support and cooperation. In addition, a culture is something that is engrained in the human being, as it were. Safety must also be an automatism. Simply organising training sessions is not enough.

“Safety must be part of daily operations. This can be done in many ways and with the help of different communicators. Briefly address a number of important safety issues during the shift change, for example. Using mentors to bring newcomers’ attention to safety procedures, setting up a safety corner with all the relevant information, colleagues who set a good example, etc.; these are all things that ensure that safety becomes a habit.”

Is this attention to safety equally strong everywhere?

Iris: “That depends. On paper, a company can be perfectly in order with all legal regulations, but that is why safety isn’t yet engrained within the workplace. In a small family business, for example, we often notice that more attention is paid to psychosocial well-being than to safety. That’s an important action point, but a manager must also have an eye for the pillar of safe and healthy working.”

“Conversely, a multinational company, where managers have to report the figures to their superiors on a monthly basis, scores better on safety. There is also a certain amount of peer pressure: they see how other companies approach safety and do not want to be inferior. In general, the bigger the company, the more attention is paid to safety. The presence of the mandatory consultative bodies – the Committee and the Works Council – and the involvement of the trade unions may play a major role in this respect.”

And so it turns out once again that everyone has their role to play in terms of safety?

Iris: “Absolutely! The internal and external prevention advisers are only part of the chain. They check, advise, and adjust where necessary, but obviously have no power to impose sanctions. Safety is everyone’s job.”

Make safety a priority!

Mensura offers a wide range of infographics, posters on general well-being themes or tailored to your specific sector, and standard documents. Make targeted use of it.