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OSHA shares tips for safety conversations between supervisors and employees

Hospital Safety Insider, May 31, 2018

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Is it possible to overemphasize the importance of safety conversations between frontline supervisors and the workers who report to them? According to one source recently cited by OSHA, these exchanges are remarkably rare.

To address this problem, OSHA has developed a 7-page pamphlet titled “Better Safety Conversations.” Directed at supervisors and other members of management, it’s packed with reasons why safety conversations are important, information on the different kinds of conversations that can occur, how to develop trust while ensuring that critical information is received, and recognizing and overcoming the reasons safety conversations do not happen.

To build empathy, it is essential that the employee believe he or she is being heard correctly. OSHA says supervisors can do this by building active listening techniques. For example:

  • Mirror or repeat what the person is saying
  • Paraphrase the message
  • Summarize content
  • Ask for clarification
  • Acknowledge feelings
  • Avoid reacting with criticism

The greatest obstacle to productive safety conversations is employee fear that raising concerns will result in retaliation. All supervisors, even the friendliest, need to state up front that no employee will get into trouble for raising safety concerns.

A useful next step is to pose a nonthreatening question. One good question suggested in OSHA’s pamphlet, which can help get an employee talking, focuses on the employee’s knowledge: “If you could address one safety concern—say, by buying equipment, changing a work process, or changing a work rule—what would it be?”

Another effective conversation tool is storytelling. Telling a short, compelling story describing a real event is a good way supervisors can show that they have experience with the consequences of on-the-job injuries. OSHA recommends that the story be short—just a few sentences delivered in 15 to 20 seconds. For example: “I knew a worker who was injured doing that on the job. After a few surgeries and three months of recovery, he managed to come back to work. Unfortunately, he was never the same. The trauma of the event impacted his confidence and he just couldn’t do things he did before.”

These are just a few of the many pieces of advice in OSHA’s pamphlet. The message for supervisors is clear—communication skills will promote open and regular safety conversations with employees.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the OSHA Compliance Advisor newsletter, a BLR publication.



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