Before employees in high-risk jobs like construction will act on the safety information their employers provide, they have to be convinced that it is both reliable and useful. This is the finding of a study appearing in Communication Currents, an online publication of the National Communication Association. Another significant outcome of this research is the discovery that workers who feel confident about the quality of the safety information they are receiving are more likely to perceive that they are working safely.
The author of the study, Kevin Real, Ph.D., from the University of Kentucky, used surveys to examine employee perceptions of how available safety information was at their job site, how likely they were to seek out available information, and how their personal safety behaviors were influenced by risk and the usefulness of the information they were given. The list below outlines some of his other pertinent findings:
- Workers’ perceptions of how much risk is posed by a particular situation are influenced by how much confidence they have in their ability to stay safe. Workers who feel capable of dealing with risks might view them as challenges to be overcome. However, workers who feel they don’t have the ability to stay safe might see themselves as vulnerable to injury. Accordingly, workers with a high level of confidence will respond differently to a hazard than workers who feel vulnerable. This response manifests itself in how well workers follow safety regulations. For example, employees who believe that wearing proper safety protection, such as hard hats, safety glasses, and earplugs, will keep them safe typically have a greater sense of their own capability to maintain their safety.
- Developing worker confidence begins with using first-line supervisors to provide safety information, both in word and by example. Workers surveyed indicated that having interaction about safety with the same individual in charge of productivity show how important safety is to the organization. Supervisors should make safety information available to workers who show they are proactive about safety as a way of helping them meet their personal safety goals.
- Safety messages must be simple. Messages that contain too much information about too many procedures and that do not prioritize the more important activities will likely be ignored. That’s because too many details leave employees confused about how to improve their own safety on the job. Real believes that while simplicity is best for safety discussions with the general work population, employers should always make more information available to workers who are proactive about safety. He believes that these workers are more likely to want more information and will seek it out when they know it is available. Making safety information available can also overcome suspicion that the organization isn’t doing enough to protect workers.
- Organizations should emphasize positive behaviors as opposed to trying to stop negative ones. Explaining that earplugs prevent hearing loss shows a positive way to avoid a hazard. However, telling workers to stop fooling around on the job provides them with no positive behavior to substitute for the negative one. The employee doesn’t learn what is considered “fooling around,” why it should be avoided, and what are acceptable expressions of social interaction in the workplace.
Safety messages need to be reinforced by being delivering the same message through more than one medium. Asking workers to watch, hear, and read safety messages acknowledges and accommodates the different ways in which people learn and makes it more likely safety messages will be integrated.