At first blush, the town crier and your safety manual may not appear to have that much in common. Stereotypically speaking, one stands on the street corner screaming for attention, and the other sits quietly in a desk drawer, rarely acknowledged unless the auditor is due for a visit.
On closer look, however, the town crier and the safety manual are one and the same. In the 18th century, the crier was the most important conduit of information between the government and the people. Carrying a bell and relaying official proclamations, the crier was responsible for making sure the citizenry was informed about all the important news of the day. Today, your safety manual is the foundation of your organization’s safety program, and the most important way to transmit your safety culture to all team members. It speaks loudly, and at length, about what matters to your company.
Ultimately, crier and manual are both important forms of communication. They both have a message and an audience, and without them, the foundation of a town or a business starts to crumble.
If we take it one step further, the crier and the safety manual face two similar challenges as well, and that’s the focus of this article. Turns out, we can learn a lot from the 18th century when it comes to creating and implementing valuable safety manuals.
The message of your safety manual must be clear. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many safety manuals out there are just a jumble of “required” information with no real purpose or direction. Yes, there are certain elements that must be present in your safety manual, but there’s an art to making it all fit together in a way that makes sense for your organization.
If you don’t know what to write in your safety manual, don’t make the mistake of muscling through it on your own. An unclear message in your manual doesn’t help anyone, and it doesn’t satisfy the requirements of having a safety manual in the first place.
Your biggest challenge here is to answer the question, “How do I know if my message is clear?” Chances are you know what you’re trying to say, but how can you be assured that your team will understand? Consider your level of expertise in safety relative to the expertise of your team. If you’ve been in the industry a lot longer than they have, you’ll need to be very careful to communicate in a way that meets them where they are, not where you are. It is the responsibility of your safety manual to bridge the gap between novice and expert.
And how do you know if your message is unclear? A really good tell here is if your safety manual is indeed sitting quietly in a desk drawer, rarely acknowledged unless the auditor is due for a visit. Your manual deserves a prominent place in your office, but if no one ever looks at it, chances are that’s because it’s unclear.
Fortunately, there’s a better way. You can improve your safety record, your safety culture, and your bottom line by creating a safety manual that clearly reflects your priorities and commitments. Boreal can help!
To expand on the last rule, the message of your safety manual must be clear to the right people.
An important rule of communication is to know your audience, and the same rule applies for safety manuals. (Can you imagine if the town crier started screaming his message in the wrong town? He’d be useless.)
Who is going to be reviewing the safety manual? Who is going to be using the safety manual several times per day? This is where things get tricky, because a safety manual can have multiple audiences, ranging from workers, to management, to auditors, to clients. How do you please them all?
The short answer is you don’t have to. While you will have multiple kinds of reader, remember that your frontline workers will be using the safety manual far more than any of the other group. Write your manual to them (better yet, get them to be involved in the writing of your manual), and make sure they can apply what is written there to their daily tasks. Consider your secondary audiences to be just that—secondary—and make it clear right within your manual who your main audience is so no one gets confused.
A side benefit to making your audience clear right in your manual is that you’ll encourage buy-in and loyalty among your team members. When they know their needs are met and their questions about safety are clearly addressed, they’ll want to stick around and help the organization succeed. And that’s a win for everyone!
Stay tuned next month for Part 3 about getting the most out of your safety manual.