10 Phrases to Use When Talking About Safety
In particular, principle 10 states that there is no single best way to establish an effective safety management system; however, it must “be perceived as a positive.” Petersen’s (2003) 10 basic principles of safety have guided my approach to safety for many years.
The supervisor’s comment made me think of all the phrases and clichés we use or allow others to use that negatively reflect on the safety profession and safety in general. At the very least, phrases such as “be careful,” “it was just an accident” or “it could have been worse” make our job as safety professionals much more challenging.
Rather than using phrases that do not lend credibility to a safety program, try one of the following 10 better phrases.
1. “Thank you for. . . .” Choose anything. Just make sure it is specific, sincere and personalized. Deliver the message on the spot. Immediate feedback is more impactful than delayed feedback, even if it’s just a few days. Thanking workers shows appreciation for their efforts and contributions to a safe work environment. Here is a good example: “Joe, thank you for reporting the hazard. Your efforts will create a safer workplace for everyone.”
2. “I want to follow up with you on the hazard you reported last week.” Reference phrase no. 1. Not following up within a reasonable time diminishes any goodwill that was created when thanking them for reporting the hazard. Worse, the next time you ask employees to report hazards or close calls, it will ring hollow. Even if there is no new information, let them know that you have not forgotten. As soon as you have an update, follow up with a sense of urgency.
3. “I am interested in what you think.” Everyone wants to know that their opinion, thoughts or suggestions are heard and appreciated. Employees want to be involved, and asking their opinion is a high-impact, low-cost way to include employees. Asking someone’s opinion is also a form of recognition. It acknowledges the person’s expertise, which we can all afford to do more often. Finally, asking for input shows humility—a leadership quality.
4. “Let’s work on this together.” This phrase shows that you value teamwork and, in particular, people’s input on the issue. It also shows that you think enough of workers to want to partner with them. Everyone wants to be on a winning team. Give workers an opportunity to do so by forming a project task force to solve a problem. Professional instructors understand that problem-solving is an adult learning characteristic and often employ this tactic to enhance the learning experience and retention.
5. “I value your safety.” This statement demonstrates that you care about the worker. It makes safety personal. Having the technical safety knowledge lends credibility but making safety personal influences change. The follow-up statement is, “What can I do to help you create a safer work environment?”
6. “We are a learning organization and view audit findings as an opportunity to improve.” This phrase is best used after an incident or a less-than-stellar audit result. It shows that you understand that most issues result from a management system breakdown, and disciplinary action will not fix the problem. You are not willing to accept substandard performance. Learning organizations view incidents, audits and inspection findings as opportunities to identify a breakdown and improve. Remember to celebrate the improvement and show appreciation to those who contributed.
7. “How was your vacation?” Asking this question shows that you care, not just about work, but also about more important things. Of course, it must be sincere. Be in the moment, listen carefully and ask follow-up questions. Listening is another leadership characteristic. See phrase no. 5.
8. “Have you noticed any changes in your work environment?” This question recognizes that changes usually bring along new hazards. Noticing something different and the potential dangers is an opportunity to be proactive. Asking about changes encourages employees to be proactive on their own.
9. “Are you interested in serving on the safety team?” This shows you recognize their past efforts and offers an opportunity for them to grow. A chance to learn, grow and be promoted are intrinsic motivators, and make for a more well-rounded, valuable employee. Being involved and part of a winning team is a desirable trait.
10. “I believe every injury is preventable.” I recognize that there are two schools of thought here. Zero is either an achievable goal or an impossible goal not worth kidding yourself over. That debate aside, using this phrase shows you understand that there is a direct correlation between possibility thinking and effort level. It says you are willing to give a bit more effort to prevent subsequent injuries, rather than saying, “We could not prevent that incident.”
People generally like talking about themselves more than hearing about us. Asking questions shows you care. Asking what workers think and how they feel and providing positive feedback keeps people engaged, enthusiastic and on target. Look for the good in people and let them know they are appreciated. Using these phrases in a safety context helps create a positive attitude about safety. PSJ
Petersen, D. (2001). Safety management: A human approach (3rd ed.). ASSP. Petersen, D. (2003). Techniques of safety management: A systems approach (4th ed.). ASSP.
Cite this article
Karol, P. (2022, June). 10 phrases to use when talking about safety. Professional Safety, 67(6), 37.