How to Have Better Safety Conversations on the Construction Jobsite

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The vast majority of safety related “conversations” that I’ve overheard, or have been a part of, in my career has been mostly a supervisor telling a worker to “knock it off” or something to that effect.  The typical reaction from the worker is to stop doing the unsafe behavior, wait a few minutes when the supervisor has left the area, and then go right back to the way they were doing it originally.

Most people don’t think what they’re doing is unsafe, especially if they have never seen any negative results from it in the past.  That’s why it’s important to have an actual conversation with people.  This is something that I’ve personally struggled with, as one of my current duties is construction safety training and jobsite inspections.

As part of OSHA’s Safe + Sound Campaign, which is a year round campaign that encourages every workplace to have a safety and health program, the agency has released a resource called “Better Safety Conversations.”

The objectives of the Better Safety Conversations resource is to define the basics of a good safety conversation, provide tips for making conversations more effective, share ways of overcoming common excuses for avoiding safe behavior, using stories to enhance your conversations, and discuss the importance of “walking the walk.”

I encourage you to read the full document, which you can find by clicking here, but I want to highlight some of the items that I found most interesting below.

You must allow workers to be open and honest about safety topics without fear of repercussions

If you want successful conversations in your company, you cannot reprimand people for expressing their views. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to you, you’re unlikely to ever get any feedback.

Give Twice as Much Positive Feedback than Negative

According to the document, “negative feedback is two to four times more powerful than positive feedback (but in a negative way). If you want to promote a positive environment, limit negative feedback and give twice as much positive feedback. Praise with enthusiasm, criticize lightly.”

Two Methods for Construction Feedback

The COIN Method – Connect through finding common ground, make specific and accurate Observations, describe the Impact of the behavior, and discuss Next steps

The “Ask, Tell, Ask” Method – begin by asking the worker to assess their own performance, then tell them what you observed, and finally ask what their understanding and strategies for improvement are.

Telling Stories is Extremely Effective

Keep the stories short, around 15 to 20 seconds, but using either personal stories or real stories from the news, OSHA, or your even your insurance provider, can really help drive home a point.

Leaders Need to “Walk the Walk”

The leadership team needs to set a strong example for everyone else.  If workers see management performing unsafe tasks or not wearing PPE, then they can easily assume that they don’t actually care about safety…and who could blame them?

Full story: Better Safety Conversations | Safe + Sound