May 19, 2017 Corporate blog

Safety conversations are not all talk

Matleena Lujala
Matleena Lujala
HSE Specialist
You could say that any open conversations between management and employees must be a good thing for an organisation, but what about open conversations around employee safety?
Safety conversation between employees.

At Metso, a companywide campaign has put safety conversations high on the agenda of managers and their teams, and the impact on our evolving safety culture has been transformative.

Safety conversations are not something that happen among safety professionals in remote offices somewhere. Every one of us needs to commit to talking openly and often about safety. For managers with teams, safety conversations have also become part of management performance criteria, targeting at least one safety conversation per quarter.

Where is the best place for a safety conversation?

Some managers, in their rush to become experts, might make the concept of safety conversations more complicated than it should be. Safety conversations are actually as simple as they sound – people having a chat about safety. Safety conversations do not take place in an office but at workstations or on factory floors. They’re not lectures, read-aloud instructions or management briefings to employee groups. They’re face-to-face conversations, among no more than three people.

Manager tips for conducting successful conversations

From a manager viewpoint, conducting a good safety conversation is less about being a good talker and more about having good listening skills. For maximum learning, it should be the employees doing most of the talking.  We think the optimum ratio of talking to listening for a manager is 5:15 minutes.

That doesn’t mean managers should stand silent like onlookers. They need to know how to drive conversations comfortably forward. A successful safety conversation is about asking the right questions then listening carefully to the replies. It’s a chance for managers to get better informed about the daily tasks of their teams as well as make risk observations together and come up with corrective actions. It’s also a chance to show they care.

How big an impact can you expect?

Even though safety conversations are subjective and their outcomes are not easily measured, the number of safety conversations conducted does seem to have a positive impact of on the safety performance. The same can be said for the number of risk observations recorded – and we believe that safety conversations do tend to positively impact the number of risk observations.

We’ve seen that safety conversations help us influence, measure, and evaluate our safety culture. They raise safety awareness and reinforce positive safety behaviour. They may even help us all get along better. So let’s keep talking - or better still - listening.