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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
October 25, 2006

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Listen up. . .but don’t shut up, industry told

Successful business requires good communication, but also some give and take and a lot of work, delegates at the 31st National Safety Symposium were told.

And the difficulty in communicating says Bob King, from EEF West Midlands, is that you are reliant on people: “People sometimes listen, but sometimes they don’t.”

The Lord Mayor of Leicester, Cllr Paul Westley, also highlighted the importance of getting people, and organisations, to listen: “It’s important for industry to work with you and to help you achieve your aims. There’s a lot that’s being wasted because organisations are not listening to experts like you.”

Tailor your message

Communicating effectively is critical to ensuring health and safety practitioners succeed in getting their messages across. But successful communication requires a range of approaches, as no two audiences are the same — senior management colleagues need a different approach to those on the shopfloor.

Ruth Doyle, IOSH’s director of communications, told practitioners that they need a plan of action, identifying who they want to reach and how they are going to do it: “Effective communication requires a lot of thought. It’s no good packaging your message in the same format to everyone because not everyone will understand. For others, a simple message might not contain enough information for them to make an effective decision.”

Ruth suggested using ‘news values’ to help internal health and safety messages pass the ‘so what test’: “Think about what makes the news, and pay particular attention to those stories that make people sit up and take notice. Can you use these to help make health and safety messages come to life for your colleagues? If you can, you’re sure to be more effective at communicating.”

Silence is a bad thing

Bob King advised health and safety practitioners to remember that just because their message is important, it doesn’t mean that they have carte blanche on decision making.

“There needs to be a place for discussion and negotiation on health and safety. I’ve seen situations where management has simply rolled over and introduced very costly safety controls that ultimately weren’t needed.

“Negotiation can assist us in achieving cost effective solutions. There is a bargaining chip in law because the term ‘reasonably practicable’ means you balance the risk against the cost and effort of controlling it. There are relatively few health and safety situations where the duties are absolute. We’ve got to be prepared to sit down and negotiate because that’s the world we live in.”

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