Let me ask you, is this good safety coaching? You’re walking through the factory floor on your way to a meeting. You look over and see Charles lifting a case of gears. His back is straight, no twisting, and his knees are bent. “Hey, Charles! Good job, that was a perfect lift!”
It may seem like good safety coaching. You acknowledged the employee. You gave positive feedback. And, you were specific to what safety behavior they were doing.
But this was a one-way conversation. It was NOT safety coaching.
WHAT IS SAFETY COACHING
The critical point here is that it’s “question-based.”
Without questions, it’s unlikely that the employee will internalize the correct behavior.
Asking open-ended questions makes them use the higher functioning part of their brain. They have to retrieve the information in their mind to answer it.
This retrieval and discussion are what strengthens the results of the safety coaching.
THE GOAL OF SAFETY COACHING
OK – a bit too much brain science there. Let’s take a step back and think about the goal of safety coaching.
Ultimately you want to do one of two things:
1. Change a behavior – get them to follow safe work practices
2. Reinforce a behavior – they’re already doing it right, and you don’t want them to change.
***side note*** check out this article “Which is Better? Positive or Negative Reinforcement.” It describes why you need to reinforce a behavior.
To do either one of these, you need them to really learn the safe work practice. Not just WHAT they’re supposed to do, but also WHY it’s important. You need them to intellectually believe it’s the best way.
The way you do that is through discussion.
Have you ever noticed that when you teach something, you remember it better? Or if you tell a story about something you learned. Or summarize a book you read.
All of these are ways to internalize or assimilate the information into your memory banks.
AVOIDING HABITUAL RESPONSES IN SAFETY COACHING
When you tell an employee “Good Job,” they will respond with a habitual response like “thank you.”
Habits are efficient and easy for our brains. No thought involved.
No thought means no learning. This is why saying “Good Job” doesn’t work.
Not that you shouldn’t acknowledge someone doing a good job. You will make them feel good about themselves.
But, don’t confuse appreciation with safety coaching.
ELEMENTS OF GOOD SAFETY COACHING
To effectively coach employees on safe work practices, you need to do only a few very specific things.
- You need to coach in the moment when the safe work behaviors are being (or not being) performed.
- You need to address the employee in the work environment. Don’t call them to your office.
- State the actions you saw.
- Ask an open-ended question and wait for their answer.
- A short conversation ensues. Conclude it with positive reinforcement.
It may sound like a lot, but it plays out like this:
Charles is lifting a box of gears.
SAFETY COACHING DOESN’T TAKE LONG
That whole coaching session took less than 2 minutes, and it included:
- 2 open-ended questions
- Made them check-in with how following procedures made them feel.
- Reminded them of their why
Open-ended questions can be hard to come up with. A good rule of thumb is to start the question with What, Why, or How. Those questions can’t be answered with a Yes or No.
If every member of management made an effort to coach on safety, by doing 10 coaching sessions a day, you would see a difference. The impact of compliance with safe work practices would be huge.
And it would take less than 30 minutes a day each. It’s not too much to ask that they focus on safety in 3-minute intervals throughout their day.
Try it out. Do it yourself. For the next week, do 10 safety coaching sessions a day. And measure your results.
Remember to follow the steps. And make your questions open-ended.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
What is your go-to safety coaching technique? What have you seen the best results with? Leave a comment below, and let’s continue this conversation.
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.