Effective communication is a fundamental component of all management systems. Good communication will make a well-crafted system effective. Bad communication will ensure the system fails, no matter how well it is designed.
Whether communications are in written or verbal format, it’s important to be confident that the communication processes are effectively and efficiently providing the right information to the people who need it.
Our modern technological life has habituated us to short and sharp, ‘byte-sized’ snippets of information. But this has a negative side-effect on our attention span. Studies have shown that the ‘window of opportunity’ where everyone is focussed and ‘switched on’ is diminishing –it would appear that around 5 minutes is now an optimal length for pre-start or toolbox talk.
In terms of written communications, it is no longer sufficient to pin a Safety Notice to a cork board and argue that it’s the worker’s responsibility to read it. Under the WHS Regulation (sec 39) information and instructions need to be provided in a manner that is ‘readily understandable’ to all workers. Some organisations have assessed their workers’ capacity to understand safety communications, and recognised that more effective communication of key safety messages can be achieved using videos, photos, symbols, visual language flowcharts and process mapping.
Safety professionals can learn from the advertising industry, using their well-honed principles for the communication of critical safety messages:
- Know your audience & use their language – this may include consideration of the level of literacy, rethinking the use of jargon or tech-speak, and catering for those whose first language is not English.
- Keep it short and sharp – remember that 5 minute ‘window of opportunity’ and be concise. For written information, use dot points, subheadings and line spacings to lay out the message.
- Communicate early and continually – advertisers recognise that the audience need a message to be repeated at least 3 times for it to be registered, so repeat, repeat and repeat the message.
- Clearly detail what is required – give the workers clear, simple instructions.
- Explain ‘what is in it for them’ – make the message about the worker (not you).
- Reinforce the key messages through actions – lead by example.
- Double check – that the message has been received and 100% understood.
It is also absolutely essential that any communication, written or verbal, one-on-one or to the whole team, is delivered in a genuine and ‘believable’ manner.
Please contact QRMC if you would like assistance with WHS communication processes, plans and strategies.