How OHS professionals can improve safety communications

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 13 January, 2023 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

OHS professionals need to avoid “content-first” approaches to safety and instead focus on a human-centred approach in order to improve the effectiveness of safety communications, according to an expert in the area.

“During the pandemic, OHS was granted priority messaging, but now safety teams are telling us the battle for corporate communication real estate has returned – even in organisations where safety is a core value,” said Narelle Wagner, head of innovation for safety, engagement and leadership consulting firm Everyday Massive.

“And it’s a challenge that’s forecast to stay given the growing list of strategic projects and change initiatives in post-pandemic operations.”

Wagner, who was speaking ahead of an AIHS and Everyday Massive webinar which will be held on Tuesday 7 February, explained that the first challenge is getting safety communication to cut through.

“Our brains are wired to protect us from overwhelm, and with the average person exposed to more than 10,000 messages every day we naturally screen out a lot of the noise. Safety communication needs to stand out to seize attention,” Wagner said.

“Then there’s the challenge of ensuring safety communication connects with the needs of different audience segments.”

While a generic, ‘sheep-dip’ approach to safety messaging will tick the box for information dissemination, she said this would miss the mark when it comes to impact.

“Messages must be meaningful and memorable to drive behaviour change, whether that’s following an SWMS, completing WHS training or putting controls in place to manage fatigue,” said Wagner.

To combat these challenges, there needs to be a shift in mindsets about what safety communication is.

Traditionally, organisations take a content-first approach (focusing on what information needs to be shared), but Wagner said OHS teams that are cutting through take a human-centred approach (considering the needs of the humans at the heart of the communication).

“Human-centred communication addresses audience needs such as how do we make this content relevant to them; what makes it important or interesting to them in their role; why should they care; and how do we make it easy for different groups to access this message?” she said.

“The last point is particularly important in high-risk industries where there’s a large percentage of employees who work offline. Thinking outside the box is necessary to help messages cut through – such as using alternative ‘real estate’ that is not already congested with corporate messages.

“We recently collaborated with a global logistics company and developed a communication campaign to build greater risk awareness in their large fulfilment centres and increase hazard reporting.

“The usual corporate communication channels such as noticeboards and toolbox talks were already filled with important messages, so we needed to think about an alternative approach to ensure the hazard reporting campaign cut through.”

An omnichannel campaign using a variety of unique communication channels was created, with floor decals and stickers along workflow process paths to put messaging in the employees’ line of sight and pique their curiosity.

Table tents engaged employees in the break rooms with a QR code linking to animated videos that explained the ‘why’ for the campaign by tapping into emotions, while Instagram-worthy corflute signage and temporary reporting kiosks at the fulfilment centre entry and exit points provided simple infographics and instructions for hazard reporting.

“It motivated teams to report hazards daily and created added hype around the campaign as they shared their stories through internal social media. The campaign really cut through and saw thousands of quality hazard reports from the frontline in just three weeks,” said Wagner.

Just like society itself, workplaces are made up of unique groupings of humans who all have different needs and preferences when it comes to communication, she added.

“It can take more effort to take a human-centred approach to safety communication, however, when it comes to messaging that cuts through, connects, changes behaviour and shifts performance, we’d argue that it’s worth it,” said Wagner.

Wagner will be presenting at an AIHS and Everyday Massive webinar on How to break the chain of command and create a culture that speaks up for safety: insights from high-risk industry which will be held on Tuesday 7 February from 2.30-3.30 pm AEDT. For more information please call (03) 8336 1995, email or visit the event website.