By Marie-Claire Ross

Your workforce will give you less than one minute to convince them to work safely.  Do you know what to say, or write, in those first 60 seconds? 

Employees quickly tune out when they hear bland, irrelevant safety messages.  Too often, they’ve heard boring safety communication that demands compliance.  What’s often missing in most safety communication is the human element.  The needs of what individuals prefer to hear are ignored, in preference for what the safety professional believes they need to be told.  Yet, this is key to getting buy-in. 

To get people to listen, you really need to know the psychology behind why people tune out to information.  Here are 7 safety communication techniques that will help you to get people to pay attention: 

1.      It’s not personal – Self-interest is one of the biggest human motivators of all time.  Tap into this by getting into the mindset of your target audience.  While writing, keep asking yourself all the time: “So what?  What’s in it for me?”  Let people know how the new safety information will help them.  Don’t assume they will know.  Give them a “why.” 

2.      It’s not interesting – Our brains have been designed to stop information overload, by constantly scanning the horizon for items that are different than normal.  Anything unusual or unpredictable causes us to stop and listen.  Some of the most successful advertising campaigns of all time include fear or surprise to get attention.  Ask yourself “What can I use in this information that people won’t expect?” 

3.      They’ve heard it before – Three of the most dangerous words in the human language are “I know that.”  These words almost guarantee that the brain will shutdown and block any new information.  Avoid this by asking people questions about what they do not know (but think they do).  Make sure they publicly announce their answer.  Humans hate to be wrong, so we’re more likely to learn something if we have been publicly exposed as being incorrect.  Again, this involves working out an unusual angle that is counter-intuitive to what everyone expects.  

4.      They’re preoccupied – Everyday we are bombarded with around 150 – 5,000 advertising messages.  And then there are messages from home that you have to battle with such as family issues, social networking sites and money problems.  Your communication messages also compete with messages from the production manager pushing for better productivity, the human resources manager needing forms filled out more accurately, and co-workers distracting each other.  Never assume people will listen to you, when their heads are filled with so many other things to deal with. 

5.      They haven’t seen it – In advertising, marketers recognise that people need to be exposed to a television ad 4-7 times before they will absorb the message.  This is why frequency of message equals success in advertising. 

To ensure that your workers remember your safety message, you need to get into their head – a lot.  This means planning on placing messages in multiple places (such as posters, screensavers, email newsletters, toolbox talks etc) to ensure exposure to your safety communication around 4-7 times minimum. 

6.      They don’t understand you – As humans, we have a tendency to provide people with lots of information.  But that literally hurts the brain.  Providing lots of data or lots of text contributes to people switching off.  Essentially, you need to focus on one clear message and remove redundant information.  Supply just enough information to grab attention and then provide a little more and then, a little more. 

7.      They don’t know what to do – Any safety communication is all about getting people to think about a safety issue, in order to make changes to their behaviour.  Getting the viewer to act and expend some sort of energy on the message is crucial.  Always end with a call to action that makes it clear what you want people to do. 

Being able to create clear, easy to understand and attention grabbing safety communication is a vital skill for any safety leader.  It’s also important that communication is easy for people to remember and motivates workers to change how they think and act, when it comes to safety. 

If you want comprehensive safety communication training, in order to improve your safety communication techniques, refer to the book “Transform Your Safety Communication.”  This highly acclaimed book provides five easy to use templates and frameworks to easily update your safety communication.  Get access to the safety communication secrets that hundreds of safety professional across the globe are successfully applying.  Find out more about the book and get your free sample chapter at: 

Marie-Claire Ross is the author of Transform Your Safety Communication and the Workplace Communicator blog which reaches around 10,000 people per month.  Over the last 12 years she has helped over 30 medium and large sized companies improve their workplace safety communication, in her role as the Principal Consultant at Digicast Productions.