Advice from the safety pros

Safety series: This week, we celebrate World Day for Safety and Health at Work. On the Mic, we have some safety professionals, who work with safety communication in practice.

By: Signe Raskmark, Communication Advisor (28 April 2017)

On the mic, we have two safety professionals – both with years of experience from large international organizations, where employees work in different functions, cultures and environments and have very diverse needs in terms of safety communication.

Lene Brødegaard Hjerrild
Manager Global OHS at Novozymes

In your experience, what is the biggest barrier for safe behavior at work?
For many people, following safety procedures and working safely can seem difficult and time consuming. And it is – if it hasn’t become part of your routine. The more integrated safety becomes in your daily behavior, the easier it gets. This is of course a long journey that requires continuous focus, especially by managers, and that brings me to the next barrier: For many managers, safety is still somewhat a sidecar to their many other responsibilities, and they don’t always realize the crucial role they have in driving safe behavior, all the time. To truly change an organization’s safety culture, managers have to think about safety in whatever situation they are in, and they have to signal that safety always comes first with words and actions.

What type of safety communication or initiative do you think has had the biggest impact on the safety culture in your organization?
A relatively small thing, we’ve done, that made a big difference in terms of leadership focus, was mandatory safety training for all managers consisting of a training presentation and a set of dilemma exercises. This had a huge effect on our managers’ awareness and focus on safety, and it led to valuable dialogues between them – and with their employees. Another initiative that made a big difference, was our “Let’s talk safety”-campaign, which introduced a simple dialogue tool that first-line managers still use to talk about safety with their teams. The campaign gave people a common language regarding safety, and the tool is an easy way for them to keep focus on safety in their everyday work.

What is your best advice for your peers working with safety communication?
When people work in such different contexts and cultures, like we do here at Novozymes, it’s important to have a flexible communication toolbox and differentiate the safety communication as much as possible. Do yourself a favor and base your initiatives on already existing systems and structures. Keep your communication light, simple and visually appealing – and make sure to team up with communication specialists, who can help you communicate your messages in a simple and meaningful way.

Camilla Ransfort
General Manager Global HS at Haldor Topsoe

In your experience, what is the biggest barrier for safe behavior at work?
People generally think that accidents never happen to themselves. Capturing their attention before it’s too late, is therefore difficult. Another barrier is that in a diverse organization like Haldor Topsoe, safety is more urgent for some employees than others. It’s challenging to find messages that are relevant for everyone and getting managers to prioritize safety on locations without a burning platform. Having sufficient time and resources is always a barrier.

What type of safety communication or initiative do you think has had the biggest impact on the safety culture in your organization?
Two things stick out; It had tremendous impact when our top management endorsed and fronted a global safety campaign last year, meant to create awareness on safety and strengthen our safety culture. This really showed that working safely – and getting home safe – is a true priority and value in Haldor Topsoe. Also, whenever we have communicated the employees’ own stories, it has made a big impression on their colleagues

What is your best advice as a safety professional for your peers working with safety communication?
Firstly, safety is a management responsibility, and getting the management’s back up is crucial for success. If managers don’t show that safety is important by “walking the talk”, employees won’t prioritize it either, and you won’t get anywhere with your safety initiatives. Secondly, if you really want to reach employees and impact them with your safety messages, it’s important to team up with someone who knows about strategic communication and can help you plan and carry out your initiatives in the most optimal way.

To celebrate the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on Friday (28 April 2017), we at Open will share some thoughts and inspiration on the topic each day this week. Hopefully it will kick-start reflections and discussions – and help break with the bad reputation of safety communication once and for all.