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Better Communication: The Impact on Safety

In high risk industries, it’s common for companies to suffer from gaps in their communication process. Even with a strong safety culture, lack of communication across an organization can make safety functions within an organization ineffective. In fact, in a survey we conducted, 85% of safety professionals identified communication to be the number one area they’d like to improve within their safety departments.

Understanding the two types of communication

In order to deliver projects in the workplace on spec, on time, on budget and with no reputational loss, it’s important to have a great team, partners, smart bidding, effective management and lastly, effective communication throughout the organization. Whether you’re onsite or in the office, communication can come in many forms. For example, for everyday site specific communication between the workers onsite or site staff and head office, communication can be in the form of toolbox talks (verbal), email correspondence (electronic) or simply on a conversational ad hoc basis. This type of communication is considered “regular” day-to-day communication. Whereas, types of communication that are typically reoccurring events, involving correspondence across the company (paper forms/reports, company-wide safety meetings etc.) are considered forms of “cross-company communication”.

The Impact of Technology on Communication

Technology has played a vital role in health and safety by shaping the way we communicate with individual co-workers on a day-to-day basis and across the company. In the past, if a site worker found an issue with a piece of equipment, he/she would verbally alert their supervisor and collectively, they’d have to answer the questions of “how” and “why” this happened and figure out ways to fix it. Now, if a site worker finds an issue with a piece of equipment, they’re able to use their mobile device to document the hazard and alert their supervisor in real-time. They’re also able to assign a corrective action to fix the issue and monitor its completion. The evolution of technology in the workplace has allowed the safety industry to work more effectively and efficiently by closing the feedback loop and focusing more on data management and analytics rather than the initial stages of gathering and capturing.

Challenges in Cross-Company Communication

Although it’s easy to understand the ways technology has changed over the years and its impact on safety communication, it’s also important to recognize the challenges that companies face when embracing technology in their safety program.

Challenge #1: Low Information Efficiency
Oftentimes, companies are focusing more heavily on the legal and contractual aspects of their day-to-day safety operations and less on analyzing and understanding the data. The gap exists due to lack of communication and accessibility of information. Unfortunately, companies facing this obstacle are operating at a lower level of efficiency than they should be.

Challenge #2: Lack of Effective Feedback Loop
When looking back at the classic model of “plan, do, check, act”, many companies face the obstacle of not completing the loop. They’re often stuck in the planning stage and missing the opportunity to engage their workers or peers to move through the other steps. The missed opportunities create a gap in the communication process and leaves the continuous improvement cycle incomplete.

Challenge #3: Management Decisions Are Not Based on Facts
Due to the lack of data knowledge, management decisions are not always based on facts. Although the data may exist somewhere in the department, it may not have been communicated effectively to upper management, which limits their ability to understand the true impact of specific safety activities and effectively measure their success.

To combat the common challenges organizations face, it’s imperative to understand the advantages technology brings to the table when trying to better manage project safety, risk and performance. Through the use of technology, you’re able to capture higher quality information, communicate and confirm actions immediately and most importantly, analyze and report data effectively to make fact-based decisions. Within your safety department, the use of technology allows organizations to reduce the administrative burden resulting in saved time, creates consistent real-time reporting resulting in improved management visibility and builds a stronger continuous improvement system resulting in a reduction in injuries, incidents and overall corporate risk.

Technology is completely transforming how a company communicates and leverages information in real-time. Realizing a shift in the status quo will enable companies to remain competitive and reduce corporate risk.

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