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How to ask the right questions about safety

How do you respond to being told what to do by your boss? Probably not with the most positive attitude, it may even increase your stress levels and stop you thinking rationally, impair your cognitive processes.

You will probably at best become defensive.

So there’s a right way to approach people when you want to understand, and indeed change their behaviour in the workplace. Yet when we teach people how to hold positive safety conversations in our engagement workshops a common concern some people express at the beginning is: ‘I don’t know what to say’.

If you want to find out more about how someone does their job, and whether they follow good practice or unsafe practice, we need them to reflect on their performance and consider the potential consequences of their actions (and by this I mean visualise the actual consequences, the harm, the injury) and engage constructively in the conversation.

To achieve this we need to ask open non-threatening questions and avoid ‘telling’ until it really is the last resort. So here are some suggested questions that can be woven into TalkSafe/SUSA safety conversations:

Opening questions

  • Tell me about what you’re working on at the moment
  • What would you like to focus on today for this safety conversation?

 Activity questions

  • How did we get to this situation and why do you feel the need to work in this way
  • What’s working well/not working well for you at the moment?

Consequence questions

  • How could you or someone else get hurt doing this job?
  • What would the consequences be for the individuals involved?
  • What would the harm or injury be and to whom?

Values and feelings

  • What’s the excuse that people use when they can’t follow the procedure/SOP?
  • Where do you feel that you’re compromising yourself and what are the potential consequences of that?
  • If you saw someone else in this situation, what would you do?
  • What do you think your (manger/supervisor/respected colleague) would expect you to do in this situation?

Follow-up questions

  • How would you resolve this situation?
  • What have you done so far to improve things?
  • What would be the most helpful thing that you could do now to improve this situation?
  • What’s preventing your perfect day?
  • Who do you need to speak to about this issue?
  • Is there anything else that you need to consider?
  • What makes you proud about what you do and your work?

Find out more