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  • Writer's pictureJoe Mlynek, CSP, OHST


Updated: Mar 28

If you are one of the many people who dread safety discussions, I have good news. There are simple strategies that can make these discussions meaningful and engaging.

Asking the Right Questions

Communicating information without engaging the audience is a presentation rather than a conversation. The goal of a conversation is to elicit feedback, concerns, and to understand employee needs. Asking questions that start with “are you...” or “do you...” result in yes and no answers that do little to develop meaningful conversation. Asking questions using words like why, what, how, etc. result in discussion. Consider the supervisor conducting a daily pre-shift meeting. An easy way to include safety in the conversation is to identify the day’s primary objective and ask simple questions in a logical order that will generate conversation and reinforce the safety message. For example, “what types of safety equipment are needed?”, “what are the steps involved?”, “what are hazards involved in each step?” and “how are we going to address each hazard? Asking the right questions stimulates conversation and leads to increased employee engagement.

The Approach

Unsafe conditions and at-risk behavior are great opportunities to have conversations with employees. A simple strategy focusing on the context, the condition or behavior itself, the potential negative result of the condition or behavior, desired future actions, and the results of these actions can lead to positive behavioral change. I know this sounds confusing but consider an employee who is using a bench grinder with a missing tongue guard. It’s easy to use compliance as the hammer, for example, “if OSHA walked in right now, they would issue a citation for the missing tongue guard.” These types of statements focus on compliance rather than concern for the employee. Consider this alternative message, “I noticed that the bench grinder’s tongue guard is missing. If the wheel were to disintegrate the shrapnel could hit you in the torso at 150 miles per hour causing serious injury. Let’s make sure we always have the tongue guard in place and properly adjusted, this will protect you and your coworkers.”

Focus on the “Why”

Many supervisors and managers conduct routine safety meetings and training sessions. They might run through a list of safety rules, review a company policy, or other pertinent types of information. These types of activities, similar to the bench grinder example, often focus on compliance rather than concern. Choosing not to focus on the reasons for implementing rules and policies and how they protect employees is a missed opportunity to change behavior. Consider the following delivery, “it is important that we conduct atmospheric readings prior to entering grain storage structures. In the last six months we have experienced two separate instances where air quality was not acceptable for entry. There were issues with both oxygen deficiency and elevated phosphine levels that could have impacted the entrants.” Using examples and focusing on the “why” has a greater impact on future behavior.

There is no question that engaging in can be intimidating. The more we can generate meaningful conversations the easier these conversations become. Remember to ask the right questions, focus on the “why” and use an approach based on concern.


Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, Inc. He has over 20 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at

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