If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already understand the importance of organizational safety culture in helping to improve safety performance.

At Enform, we believe that improvements in safety culture need to start at the top. That means that employees in every level of your organization must  be confident in your leadership’s commitment to safety. But is that enough?

How can you ensure that your commitment to safety translates to behaviour changes on the frontline?

T J Larkin, speaker at the Enform Petroleum Safety ConferenceAccording to T J Larkin, of Larkin Communication Consulting: the end goal of safety training is a change in behaviour. Without that behaviour change, there is no improvement in safety. Larkin is a specialist in the field of safety communications and a repeat speaker at Enform’s Petroleum Safety Conference. His presentations have proven highly popular for their valuable insights into communication and messaging.

What the research shows

Larkin’s work is based on the result of five decades of research. The research has shown that a decrease in accidents can be expected as a result of different safety training activities as follows:

  • An increase in safety classes: around one per cent of the time
  • An increase in job-specific safety courses: around five per cent of the time
  • An increase in informal conversations with supervisors about safety: around 42 per cent of the time

Larkin explains that, when it comes to creating behaviour change, the way the safety message is communicated is equally as important as the content of the message itself. He says there are two distinct stages required to create the change, and he shares some valuable communication tips for both stages:

1. Safety training and awareness

Both formal safety training and in-house training are crucial ways to communicate and reinforce safety protocols. And of course your commitment to safety training also affirms your dedication to the safety of your workers.

Larkin has some valuable advice on how to present the safety message for your own in-house training purposes:

a). Make it simple to follow.

It’s important for written materials, posters and emails to be visual, high impact and easy to understand.

  • Make it visual. Use graphics, illustrations, charts and diagrams to make the message easy to understand. According to Larkin, graphics can result in a 43 per cent higher recall than text alone.
  • Make it human. People are genetically hardwired to look at pictures of other people, so Larkin recommends using photos or illustrations of people wherever possible.
  • Use colour. Larkin says that colour illustrations or charts get 21 per cent more attention than black and white materials.
  • Write at a Grade 8 level. Avoid the tendency to use technical terminology or jargon because it can over-complicate an already complex message.
  • Break it up. Avoid long paragraphs and large blocks of text. Bullet points are a useful way to break up the text and emphasize important points.

b) Fear gets the message through. 

Photos or illustrations showing the consequences of safety lapses are proven to command high attention, however it’s important to note that fear of injury or accidents works best when easy-to-do solutions are provided.

2. Supervisor follow-up

According to Larkin, when training is followed by an informal conversation with a supervisor about safety, that can increase the likelihood of a change in behaviour by as much as 14 times, compared to providing a document alone.

“When supervisors talk about safety, the incidence of accidents goes down,” says Larkin. “The problem is, we don’t give supervisors safety messages they can easily talk about.” He suggests that supervisors should be armed with simple, highly visual materials that they can use to start a discussion with workers.

You can see more of Larkin’s presentations and papers here.

To read more about the importance of changing behaviours among frontline workers, check out these blog posts: