I did an audit at a warehouse facility a few years back, it was a small facility with no safety manager. Although I walked in expecting the worst, I found they were winning at building safety culture.
It was AMAZING! Every SOP was being followed, employees knew the safety rules verbatim, and they were not doing a ton of safety meetings – what?!
Seriously – once a month they did a safety topic and facility inspection. That was it. The walls weren’t even plastered with safety posters (they did have a communication board in the break room).
It was the opposite of what I was used to seeing and I was curious.
What was the difference?
Following safety rules were an expecation.
Consistency and accountability (they fired a 10 year employee for a safety violation)
Safety in every conversation.
More Than Just a Safety Statement
There’s a prevalent method to build safety awareness that we see across our profession: Start every meeting with a safety statement.
This results in managers scrambling to come up with something before they start talking. Their unenthusiastic remarks are not fully accepted. A feeling of “OK – that to-do item for this meeting is checked off” is expressed.
Although Safety Statements are a good starting point, they are not effective when it’s not relevant to the situation. I will do another post on how to improve these in the future.
But, this is what makes Mini Coaching Sessions different. They are relevant in the moment. They’re conversational, making them more impactful. They are not separate from the topic at hand.
What is a Mini Coaching Session
After that audit, and this idea was shown to me, I had to name it something. Mini Coaching Session is all I could come up with. I don’t think it’s a perfect fit because there really isn’t any ‘coaching’ involved.
It requires adding safety to every conversation with an employee, either one-on-one or in a group. The safety statement can be at the beginning of the conversation, you can end the conversation with it, or you can work it into the middle.
The key is that at least one SOP (standard operation procedure) is verbally conveyed during the conversation that relates to the task they are doing.
Make Your SOPs Easy to Remember
Standard Operating Procedures should be written in short bulleted sentences. This makes them easy to remember and repeatable. For example here are two forms of proper lifting SOPs:
When lifting, always approach the object to be lifted straight in front of you, while keeping your back and neck straight with your knees slightly bent, grasp the object firmly with both hands, lift and hold it close to your body, move your feet and do not twist your back while carrying.
- Always approach the object your lifting straight on
- Always keep your back and neck straight
- Lift with your legs by keeping your knees slightly bent
- Always grasp the object firmly with two hands
- Carry the object close to your body
- Move you feet to prevent twisting when lifting
It is easier to recall short sentences, ideally under eight words. By using this method, in this example, you have six specific areas to coach, observe, and benchmark against.
This is even more crucial when the task is complicated or subjective. Having the elements broken down allows the supervisor to focus on just one area instead of the entire task.
When the SOP is written as a long form, it becomes more subjective and easier to say “Yeah, they are mostly doing it right.” This results in continued injuries and not identifying exactly what is causing the problems.
Also, take out any fluff from your SOPs, anything in there that won’t directly affect safety, quality, or productivity. They should be a pruned list of what really matters. It is easy for SOPs to grow into super long lists, that is why every so often, you need to re-evaluate and cut out the extra stuff.
Building Safety Culture Through Repetition
Now that you have your SOPs in a format that is not only easy to understand, but also easy to remember and repeat, the next step is to build them into conversations.
I like to think of repetition as building a pathway through a field. Every time you walk the same path (repeat the SOP), the path gets more defined. Eventually it’s smooth, easily walked and easily remembered.
This is why we call it building safety culture. It takes time and repetition.
Our brains like repetition, this is how habits are formed. When your employees hear the SOPs enough, not only will they be able to repeat them (like the employees during my audit), but they are more likely to follow them.
Going against what the brain is hearing over and over again becomes harder as the brain likes efficiency. It wants to follow the neural pathway you created.
Repetition makes the safety rule sink in.
Using Your Trending to Focus Mini Coaching Sessions
To really make this work best and see results quickly, you want these conversation starters to be focused. If your supervisors are repeating SOPs that will help reduce injuries the most, you will see the results faster.
When the supervisor’s see the results, they are more willing to continue their efforts.
Know your trending. Relate the accidents that are happening in your operation to specific SOPs. Communicate with your team the SOPs they should be focusing on and working into their conversations. Measure and repeat.
The way you can measure success is through Safety Assessments (we’ll go into detail about this in the future). Target your assessments to the SOPs they are coaching on.
Always share the results with managers and employees. Reassess, examine trending again, and pick new focus SOPs. Until eventually you have covered all of them and the process is second nature.
That is what happened at that facility I audited. That is how all the employees had the SOPs memorized.
It Takes Practice Building Safety Culture
When you first start this practice it will be clunky, your supervisors will be bad at it, you won’t see results. That’s how it is with new things. Embrace the suck for a bit.
The easiest way to implement this method is to train your supervisors through a lot of role playing.
Have them pick five SOPs at a time to focus on and practice working them into a conversion. It is best if they are all related to different job tasks. This will spread out the opportunity to work this in; you don’t want them only coaching on one task.
Role play regularly with a group of supervisors, practicing this out loud is the only way to get used to it and get better at it. Then have them start applying it in their daily work.
When they have those five down (probably two weeks), work on the next five, but don’t allow them to use the previous five. Wait about three weeks before you add in five more.
Keep slowly adding in SOPs and building safety culture. You will see a dramatic improvement over a 3-6 month period.
What Mini Coaching Sessions Look Like
Everytime a supervisor is talking to their employees, they need to think “What SOP does this relate to?” and add in one into the conversation.
[supervisor calls a worker on forklift over] “Hey, Warehouse Joe! Thanks for looking for pedestrians as you drove over here. There is a truck in dock door 4 I need you to unload; put the product in aisle 7. Thanks”
See how it just fits into the conversation? Can you even notice the SOP about pedestrian safety?
Technically, it’s not coaching because it’s not a question based conversation. But I know it works, it includes all the several elements of building safety culture:
- Safe work methods
- Supervisor lead
- Positive Reinforcement
And the best part, it’s easy to use when you get in the habit of doing it. There is no documentation needed, just a conversation with a safety reminder attached.
Try this out for yourself. You can’t expect your supervisor to do it if you have never done it.
Choose five SOPs and start adding them to your conversations with employees and supervisors. Measure your results, if you can – results will not be as effective because of your position, but you should see some. (see my post on accountability).
You will learn how to teach them to be good at this.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
Comment below with your go-to safety statement. Let’s build up a list that everyone can use.
Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)! I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience. Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world. I would love to help you too.