If you view holding safety meetings as a necessary evil and are not working to engage workers, you are likely driving them away from safety.

So says safety communication consultant Kevin Burns, who adds that safety meetings are often organized in a mad scramble at the last minute, with no thought toward engaging workers’ hearts and minds.

Burns says workers’ eyes glaze over and they may even feel resentful when they are forced to listen to too much information read verbatim from pieces of paper or PowerPoint slides.

“You need to talk with your people, not at them. It’s a meeting, not a lecture,” he says.

A properly planned safety meeting has a theme and a desired outcome. The message cannot be vague, such as “be safe.” Having a theme planned out before a meeting allows the presenter to speak to that theme only, without going off on unrelated tangents. It also lets presenters end the meeting with a call to action for workers—what you want them to do differently after the meeting.

Burns says attendees want to know:

  • Why they are there.
  • What will be covered during the meeting.
  • Why the topic is important.
  • What you want them to do following the meeting.

“People don’t want to know what not to do,” says Burns, adding that trying to scare your workers into working safely by showing them gruesome pictures or gory videos often backfires, because negative messages don’t engage people.

Burns says 71 percent of North America workers are not actively engaged in their work, which means that seven out of 10 workers are not engaged in their personal safety. A low-quality safety meeting certainly isn’t going to change their attitudes.

One easy way to engage workers is to go around taking pictures of people working safely in your workplace before the meeting and include these pictures in your presentation slides. Burns cautions against copying Internet photographs of unknown workers, because your audience will not engage with these strangers.

He offers these additional tips for making safety meetings interesting:

  • Don’t hold meetings in the “dirty back shop.” Move them to another area of the building, or perhaps off site and encourage workers to get out of their dirty coveralls and ball caps and dress appropriately.
  • Put out fewer chairs than you anticipate you will need. If you have more people than chairs, escort workers to the front row chairs—generally the last ones taken—and add more chairs to the back row.
  • Speakers should stand in the middle of the stage, not off to the side. Ensure there is enough light so workers can make eye contact with the speaker, because people connect through eye contact.
  • Limit presentations to half an hour and don’t follow with a question/answer period, as this can bring an otherwise strong safety meeting to a screeching halt. If people wish to ask questions, let them do so after the formal presentation has ended and those who wish to leave have done so.
  • Don’t go crazy on PowerPoints. Present one thought per slide and don’t read the slides verbatim, because people will get bored.
  • Require your workers to take notes so they will retain important information afterwards.
  • Create a follow-up safety campaign. For example, if your safety meeting is on safe driving during the winter, you might hand out windshield sweepers/scrapers with your company’s logo to each worker at the end of shift, or set up a group to check that vehicles are properly equipped with winter emergency supplies.
  • End the meeting on a high note by recognizing workers who are working safely. Offer them a reward, such as a lunch or coffee gift card.

Related content:

If you are presenting a safety talk to your workers these tips can help you make it more interesting.

This article can help you build a high-performance safety culture.

If you are in Canada: Read this article to find out what you need to know about safety leadership.

If you are in the US: This article explains what a safety culture is and why you need one.

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