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When Do Safe Work Chats Actually Lead to Safe Work Practices?

Posted by Andrew Watters on

The theme for the 2021 October National Safety Month is "Have a safety chat over a cuppa ", but how does 'havin' a cuppa' lead to actual safe work practices? In addition to celebrating the month with a 20% site-wide discount, we're also going to explore how you can make that safety chat into a vehicle of change. So, grab a cuppa and let's get into it.

We'll briefly look at some foundations. These are the fundamentals on which everything else is built. They include:

  • Having safe work practices in place before the conversation begins.
  • Having a culture where speaking up and asking for help is the respected norm. 

We'll then explore some dynamics that can help make change a reality. These will include:

  1. Have regular and expected talks 
  2. Keep them friendly but structured.
  3. Maintain a safe work practices focus.
  4. Set a good example.
  5. Appeal to their vested interests.
  6. Hand over some power.
  7. Create an expectation of accountability. 
  8. Apply Toolbox talk wisdom.

There are several things you can do to make your conversations actually result in change. 

Before You Talk About Safe Work Practices

It seems obvious, and perhaps almost condescending to mention it, but this really does bear thinking about: having a safe work chat is not enough. Safe work practices need to be in place before the "cuppa" even gets poured. What if a worker suddenly realises they need to lift their game in an area? What if they are unsure about what their next steps should be? In either event, the answers and resources need to be ready to go.

Similarly, your workplace culture needs to be a safe and proactive space where speaking up and asking for help is the norm. 

  • Do your workers feel comfortable asking for help from their peers? 
  • Do they approach supervisors when needed? 

The importance of having safe work practices and a culture of open safety conversation is essential. Without these foundations in place, your other efforts at promoting change will fall flat. 

Techniques That Help Safe Work Practices Happen 

Tip 1 | Make Your Meetings Regular and Expected

If you make your meetings predictable and habitual, workers will know, expect, and perhaps even mentally prepare for those talks. The sort of chats that facilitate change often require forethought and a willingness to participate. That is more likely if you make your meetings regular. If workers know that they will be discussing an issue with their peers at regular intervals, they will be more likely to speak up. 

Tip 2 | Keep it Friendly but Structured

Safe work chats can be informal and even seem casual to the outside observer, but they need to also be an open dialogue between people working toward a common objective: safe work practices! That means they should follow a plan or structure of a specific form. Everyone should know they are expected to conform to that pattern. Everyone present should be free to draw the conversation back on topic and back on plan if they sense wandering. If one of the most basic safe work rules is not cutting corners, then that rule should also be reflected in your safety chats. Cutting corners or taking unnecessary risks only leads to more significant problems down the road! 

Tip 3 | Ensure it is Only About Safe Work Practices

Maybe you're different, but I reckon skim milk and coffee do not go together. Yuck! That ain't a coffee! Similarly, don't let anything else get stirred into your safety chat. That tells everyone that the safe issues you discuss really do matter. As a bonus, it also helps the meeting be more efficient and effective.  

Tip 4 | Be a Good Example

The best way to see change and engage workers is to model change be fully involved yourself. If workers see that their supervisors and leaders are open to ideas, follow safe practices, and do not take shortcuts, they will be more likely to do the same. In practical terms, this would mean:

  1. Sticking to the safety talk structure, 
  2. Being obviously attentive when workers are talking, 
  3. Asking clarifying questions to ensure the message was heard as intended, and 
  4. Where appropriate, admit to errors, seek corrective alternatives and implement solutions.

Tip 5 | Appeal to Vested Interests

Workers are more likely to pay attention when they have a vested interest in the conversation. If they see that what is being discussed will benefit them or their work processes, they are more likely to pay attention and learn from it. So, try to frame your safety chats as part of an ongoing dialogue between co-workers rather than an authoritative lecture about safety rules.

Tip 6 | Hand Over Some Power

Invite your workers into the reviews and designs of safe work practices. Whether you do this during chats over a cup of coffee or during group sessions, workers are typically keen to engage if they feel it is a genuine invitation. Why do this and why does this work? To begin with, it's usually true that those closest to a process have a better idea of what is needed. Plus, we all know that when we are involved in designing a solution, we are more likely to take its careful implementation seriously.   

Tip 7 | Include Accountability

Have you ever been on your way to a meeting and suddenly remembered you were tasked with something in the last session, and you were expected to have it done by today? I have - and the embarrassment of having not followed through is a powerful incentive for change. For my part, I can tell you this: I didn't do it again. For the same reason, your cuppa time should include both:

  1. Actionable responses, and 
  2. Accountability measures.

When your chats lead to actionable safe work behaviours, it is easier for workers to implement safe practices in their routines. It also puts them under the sort of pressure most of us need to make a change. 

Accountability for those behaviours should come through some sort of mechanism. One way to do this is to follow through on the items when you next meet. Supervisors and Safety Officers can also track the details of safety talk topics, items discussed, who was present, action points that resulted AND a check that these were followed through on. There also needs to be appropriate consequences if people aren't following through.

Tip 8 | Apply Toolbox Talk Wisdom

Last month we gave you some tips on toolbox talks, and some of that article is worth revisiting here. In "Toolbox Talks and How to Engage a Tool", we shared some suggestions to deal with casual or flippant workers. 

These workers create problems for themselves and others, so we offered ten quick tips that we'll repeat for you. These are much shortened here, though, so if you'd like to see the meat on these bones, take a look at that article

The 10 tips were:

  1. Prepare and plan. Think your talk through beforehand.
  2. Anticipate the fools and plan on how to engage and challenge them if needed.
  3. Give advance warning about meetings and topics. Let them mentally prepare.
  4. Call upon and involve those who have a passion or skill that is relevant.
  5. Ask questions and engage with their ideas and suggestions. It ain't about you.
  6. Acknowledge and appreciate those who are making safe work practices a priority.
  7. If there is a laugh to be had, enjoy it.
  8. Share the responsibility and invite others to lead different discussion areas.
  9. Acknowledge and value the contributions you receive.
  10. When you're all finished, follow up and get feedback. 

Safe Work Practices Start Here

You can access some Safe Work Australia resources for free by following the links. We're happy to share these links with you:

  1. Safety Chat checklist.
  2. Editable promo poster and bunting. 
  3. National Safe Work Month video background.

To take advantage of our 20% site-wide October discount use the voucher code “CUPPA” - even if make a purchase before October 1. 

More specifically, you can search out quality resources by following the links. Some that are appropriate to today's discussion would be: 

As always, since you have a business to run and targets to meet, and you don't have countless hours to spend on research and development, we're here for you. We already have fully compliant and templated solutions, and we back all of our products with no-charge confidence inducing and effectiveness enhancing telephone support.

If you'd like to purchase or inspect any of the products, just follow the links provided. If you'd appreciate some extra pointers, you can request a callback or call us on 1800 304 336. During October, you receive 20% off across the entire site. If you phone before October and mention this article, you will also receive that discount; after all, we like it when our chats lead to improved safe work practices!


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