Workers’ Compensation Safety Issues: the 5/4 Method of Communicating Safety to a Diverse Workforce

As indicated in previous articles, the field of workers’ compensation risk management is not only many faceted and complex but also presents various challenges.

Communicating safety issues effectively to a diverse workforce represents one of these challenges. As a risk management consultant for many years, I’ve gathered solid information and experience on the best way to communicate safety and workers’ compensation messages to a large and diverse workforce, including organizations with thousands of employees with diverse backgrounds and many different job descriptions.

We can call this the Five/Four Method: 5 Safety Communication Techniques and 4 Safety Message Formats. Before beginning, identify your target audience and the safety message you want to give.

However, the most important thing an employer must do before implementing any safety communication program is meet with employees and supervisors to discover their ideas on what needs to be communicated and how best to do it.

Five Safety Communication Techniques

First: Identify the specific message you want to communicate.

Example: Is the message about getting employees to work more safely around certain equipment?

Or is it to provide information on steps to take if they are injured?

Second: Identify the skill set and grade level of your audience.

Example: A message to the vice president level on how to improve commitment to the safety program would be presented differently than instructions to first-line employees on how to report an accident.

A general rule of thumb for thinking about language levels is to keep in mind the Wall Street Journal is written at a first-year college level, while the Reader’s Digest is written at a sixth grade reading level.

Third: Consider the job functions and how best to get your message across.

Example: Some employees might spend most of their work day in an office or one specific area of a plant. Others may spend it working in different areas of the plant or facility. Still others may spend their day driving from location to location. It’s a good idea to tailor your safety message to the types of safety issues more likely to effect those employees and areas of work. 

Fourth: Identify the languages your employees speak. Don’t assume they will be just English and/or Spanish. There can be many other languages. In many areas of the country there are large contingents of Russian speaking workers just to mention one. In addition, there are differences within languages, such as Cuban Spanish and Puerto Rican Spanish. 

It would not be too far off the mark to suggest management survey their workers’ languages and provide all safety messages as appropriate. This is especially true if non-English speaking workers are employed in high-risk safety areas.

Fifth: Consider the work environment. If you have congenial workforce, don’t use a heavy-handed communication style. Save it for a workforce where there may be a lot of discontent and resentment.

Four Safety Message Formats

Now it’s time to look at a number of ways to present your safety message.

1. Wallet Cards: A heavy-duty wallet card is one of the most effective tools to give your employees to convey your safety message. Each card is printed with important safety information and/or accident reporting information.

A wallet card for accidents would provide information on where to seek treatment in the workplace, where to report the accident, where to file a workers’ compensation claim (usually with the workers’ compensation coordinator), the importance of returning to work as quickly as possible, etc. The card also has contact information for the workers’ compensation office and other parties involved in the process. (E.g.: TPA, insurance rep, etc.).

Information is printed in English on one side and Spanish on the other (or another prevailing language from your workforce). Supervisors receive different cards outlining their role in responding to accidents.

2.  Safety Sheets: A laminated one-page safety sheet is another good option. Post in each work area using a permanent non-removable method. Use bright-colored paper to draw all employees’ attention to it, but allowing the supervisor to distinguish this post from other posted documents. Direct the employees’ attention by saying: “Please read the safety information on the orange sheet.”

3. Pictograms in one-page safety sheets are very useful in communicating with people who have lower level language skills or who speak different languages. An example might be pictograms on proper lifting techniques.

Each month a different safety sheet on a different safety topic is posted: on lifting correctly; on fall protection; slips and falls, etc. Also, give each employee an individual copy for permanent reference.

4. Safety Packets: For employees who drive all day, prepare safety packets of information to be stored in a glove compartment. The packet also contains a disposable camera for use at the site to record an accident, along with an accident reporting form.

For more information and tools, see WC Cost Reduction Tips. (www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/lower-reduce-workers-comp-costs.php There are several free forms and tools on the site.)

Note:  Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws are different. Consult with your corporate legal counsel before implementing any cost containment programs.

Robert Elliott, senior vice president, Amaxx Risks Solutions, Inc. has worked successfully for 20 years with many industries to reduce Workers’ Compensation costs, including airlines, health care, manufacturing, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality. Contact him at: Robert_Elliott@reduceyourworkerscomp.com or 860-553-6604.

©2008 Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc., All rights reserved under International Copyright Law

Robert Elliott, J.D.
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