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All About You: Encouraging and improving participation

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Safety professionals who attend my “Create a Vibrant Safety Culture” seminar are asked to write down on an index card one workplace problem they wish I’ll help them overcome. By a large margin, the most common wish is “To get employees to participate more in our safety program, especially during safety meetings,” or something similar.

When you can’t get a response during a safety meeting, or when hardly anybody participates in a safety campaign, you can be left feeling drained of inspiration. I’ve had safety professionals tell me they’ve quit working at a company because of a “no-participation” culture. It made them miserable.

There are myriad reasons why employees choose not to participate – including some that have nothing to do with your safety program. Thankfully, you can improve the situation. And even if you already have plenty of participation at your workplace, the following suggestions will help you keep it that way.

Your demeanor matters

Start your safety meeting with “Let’s get going so we can get this over with” and you’ll puncture your audience’s desire to participate. Your demeanor matters more than you may think. That includes when you’re conducting an inspection, beginning an incident investigation or performing any other aspect of your job that involves people.

Enthusiasm is contagious. But what if you don’t feel enthusiastic or don’t want to conduct a safety meeting on a certain subject?

Fake it. But don’t act in a way that isn’t natural to you. Simply simulate the way you normally act when you are excited about something you’re doing.

There are times when I’m exhausted from traveling but have to give a talk. I still give my best effort to show the same energy and fun presence that I do when I’m well-rested. Of course you can’t keep that up for a long time, but you can maintain it for the length of a meeting or while interacting with a work crew.

Give plenty of personal praise

When someone does participate – in a meeting or perhaps by offering a safety suggestion – be sure to thank him or her personally. Go to the person’s work area or catch them in the break room and convey how much you appreciate the participation. When I was a safety supervisor, I would hand out a small, unusual prize to employees or crews who got involved. It wasn’t the value of the prize that made a difference; rather, it was the personal gratitude I showed.

When you have to point out something someone is doing that needs to change, such as not wearing proper personal protective equipment, don’t let that be the only time you interact with the person. Find occasions to ask them for suggestions and look for positive things to compliment them about. When employees believe you’re not merely someone who is always telling them to “do this” and “don’t do that,” they’ll feel more comfortable around you. That will lead to better participation.

Make it painless

Sometimes the reason people don’t raise their hands at a meeting or answer a question is because they’re nervous. They don’t like speaking up in a group. Try handing out blank index cards and asking your audience to write down something related to the topic – for instance, what they think about a safety policy or procedure, or a personal safety experience. Make the cards anonymous. Then collect the cards and use what’s on them to start a discussion. I’ve done this many times (such as the “wish” part of my “Vibrant Culture” seminar), and it always stirs up participation.

Make it easy

Make your safety and health campaign suggestions as simple as possible. When you stop getting suggestions, especially if the campaign has been going on for a while, change something about it – or start a new one. Professional marketers will tell you that no matter how awesome a campaign is, eventually people will ignore it. Change things up now and again.

By including these tips in your participation arsenal, there’s a good chance your “participation wish” will be granted.

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Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit

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