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How to approach workers about an H&S issue

An essential part of creating a good H&S culture at your work involves having regular H&S conversations with workers.

Some small business owners and employers, however, find H&S conversations both awkward and difficult — especially if they are trying to get people to change their behaviour.

This is often because they:

  • feel they’ll be judged for it
  • are younger or less experienced than their workers
  • don’t like telling qualified people how to do their jobs
  • are friends with, or related to, their workers.

Despite all this, empowering workers to take appropriate H&S actions — and supporting them to confront anyone not doing so — is a massive H&S step. It’s also an extremely important part of keeping people safe.

If you need to have a conversation about an H&S issue with a worker, a great approach is to follow the five steps below.

Conversations need to be tailored to the audiences and you’ll know how best to speak to your workers.

Conversations need to be tailored to the audiences and you’ll know how best to speak to your workers.

By following these principles, you’ll know you’re taking a great approach to getting your H&S message across.        

Steps to talking about H & S issues

Step 1. Approach your worker with a friendly and problem-solving attitude

A major reason workers have unsafe habits is because they’re not aware they’re being unsafe in the first place. Indeed, unsafe behaviour is often an ingrained habit. Start these conversations without blame and don’t assume a worker is deliberately being unsafe.

Step 2. Describe their behaviour objectively and say why you’re concerned

Be clear and avoid a criticising tone.

For example, don’t say: “I can’t believe you climbed the ladder that way! Don’t you know what could happen?”

Instead, say something like: “I saw the way you climbed that ladder and I’m concerned you could get hurt.” By explaining it this way, you’re letting the person know you’re personally worried for their welfare.

Step 3. Tell them what action is expected and what the benefits are

Give clear instructions about the right behaviour and explain the rationale for this.

For example, say: “I’d prefer that you get someone to hold the ladder for you. We want you to go home safely. If that means taking time to get help, I’d rather you do that than rushing and risk getting hurt.”

Step 4. Check they understand and get a commitment to the new behaviour

Studies show that by asking people to commit to a changed behaviour they’re more likely to actually change.

After your chat, check they understand what you’re asking of them. Then you could say: “Can I count on you to do this?” or “Do you agree to this?”

Step 5. Tell them you’ll back them up if anyone questions their new behaviour, or if they identify a risk on their own

It’s important to lead by example and be consistent with H&S if you’re going to create a new H&S culture. This means saying things like: “If anybody questions why you’re doing it this way, I can help explain it to them and let them know I expect all staff, including me, to do it this way.”

Your ultimate goal is to get staff involved in identifying risks and speaking up.

Your ultimate goal is to get staff involved in identifying risks and speaking up.

If done correctly, this becomes a mutually reinforcing thing and you'll have a work environment that's healthier and safer overall.

Do you feel more confident about managing your health and safety obligations after reading this information?

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