Nowadays most organizations start meetings with a “safety moment”. Someone comes up with a topic (often at the last moment) and says a few words, reminding people to be aware of something or avoid a certain hazard. These dull, perfunctory speeches do more harm than good: they reinforce the notion that safety is about “going through the motions”, and promote the idea that safety is up to “someone else” — in this case, who ever’s turn it is to present the safety moment. We find it’s useful to begin meetings with “safety conversations” that engage everyoneAsking a good question and facilitating an interactive conversation is more interesting and effective — and in the long run, demonstrates that safety is up to each of us. What follows is a list of twenty conversation-worthy questions.  The absolute best questions are not on this list — they’re in your head, or more likely, your heart:  they’re the real questions you have about what it takes to keep people safe. Review this list and see which ones catch your attention. What questions would you add?
  1. What’s going well lately? Where are we improving?
  2. How have you been affected by safety? Maybe something that happened to you, or someone you know… or something that could have happened but didn’t. What did you learn from that?
  3. Who around here is a “leader” when it comes to safety? Why?  What do they do that makes them stand out?
  4. What’s the most important thing we do on this team – the thing that’ll get us in trouble if we screw it up? (If the answer is “production”, then ask how “safety” and “quality” fit in. If the answer is “safety” then ask how we balance that with “production”.)
  5. What’s something you do very often — like you’ll do it today — which could really hurt someone seriously?  What’s the trick to doing it safely?
  6. Who’s the newest (or youngest) person here?  The rest of you:  what does this person need to know in order to work safely — their whole career — without getting hurt?
  7. Who spoke up or intervened yesterday?  How’d it go?  Why is it tough to speak up?  What’s the trick — what can we do to make it easier?
  8. Who’s going to get the call if you get seriously injured today? How will they be affected if you get hurt?
  9. So many of our injuries are the result of repetitive stress – what would we have to do in order to protect people from the wear and tear of this work over many months and years?
  10. How has working here – and all the time we spend on safety – affected the way you act off the job? Do you wear PPE at home? Why / why not?
  11. What does your team lead (or supervisors) do really well?  Think about the best foreman or team lead you ever had — what did they do to keep their folks safe?
  12. What’s the downside of all the time we spend talking about safety? Is there a risk of making things “too safe”?
  13. What’s the most dangerous time of day around here?  Why?  What do we need to do to be safe at that time?
  14. Imagine one of your kids was coming to work here – what would you tell them in order to keep them safe?
  15. What was the safest job you’ve ever been on?  What made it so safe?  What did people do?
  16. We talk about “flavor of the month” and safety programs that come and go… what are some things about safety which don’t change? What about safety is important to us regardless of the latest posters, classes, and speeches?
  17. Anyone have a story about a time when safety equipment or PPE saved their bacon?
  18. Old timers: who has an example of a time when we were asked to use “new safety equipment” that we didn’t like… but now it’s like second nature. Why did we resist it so much at first? What can we do to take on new ideas more quickly?
  19. Why do we always talk about “trinkets” — it seems like any time we talk about safety, there are trinkets or Tully’s cards that we pass out… or if we don’t have trinkets, people give me a hard time.  What’s that about?
  20. When was the last time someone here received a “compliment”.  What gets in the way of us giving each other good feedback like that?
Some tips for asking the questions:
  • The goal is NOT the answers… It’s to get people talking.  Ask the question and wait for them to answer.
  • When someone speaks, say “Thanks… who else?”  or “What do the rest of you think about that?  Anyone see it differently?”
  • Look for hooks — someone says something you feel is interesting or “juicy” — refocus the question on what the person said, “John says complacency is the issue… so what do we do about that?”
  • Surprise and provoke people by challenging politically correct answers.  “C’mon.  Bulls–t.  Tell me the truth…”
  • There is a subconscious agreement or understanding within the group about who will do the talking.  Let those folks talk, but call on other people to pull them in.  If necessary, cut someone off by saying, “Got it.  Thanks.  I want to hear from some other folks…”

One thought on “Twenty questions to get folks talking (and thinking) about safety

  1. Amme says:

    Andy- What a great perspective to focus and improve safety culture by asking questions to initiate a discussion. It is a great concept and approach that I can promote through our weekly Toolbox Talks. Getting crews and projects to “talk about safety” is something we try to include in the topic, but not always done.

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