Safety Conversations: An alternative to traditional behaviour-based safety programmes

Having an open working environment where employees are comfortable and confident in speaking up about any safety concerns and intervening if something is unsafe is an integral part of a safe organisational culture.

One way that organisations encourage these elements of the culture is via behaviour-based safety programmes.  A traditional behaviour-based safety programme involves observation of tasks, where observers watch a person conducting a task and look for safe and unsafe ways of working against a list of task-based behaviours.  These programmes involve training observers on how to conduct the observation and how to provide positive and constructive feedback to the person they are observing.  Some programmes require the observers to record their observation and conversation on forms and submit it for entry into a database.

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These programmes may be appropriate and effective for some organisations to reinforce ‘speaking up’ as part of the culture, but not all.  For example, some organisations find these programmes too structured, too frontline worker focused, more focused on recording than having a conversation, and not a good match to their current level of safety culture maturity.  In these cases, there are less structured, skills-focused approaches that companies can adopt.

The Keil Centre has been involved with developing safety conversations programmes for organisations where the focus is on the skills required to have an effective conversation.  For example, one recent programme involved developing a practical training course and an associated guidance booklet.  The training programme was structured around the process steps for conducting an effective safety conversation, including the key elements of preparation, observation, discussion, and action.  Role playing was used to allow participants opportunity practice their skills.  Different to traditional behaviour-based safety programmes, the observation prompts are more general such as Work Environment, Process Safety, and Tools and Equipment.  For each prompt, guidewords for the discussion were included, for example for Process Safety, guidewords may include Isolations, Leaks, Corrosions and Spills, and Shift Handover.  A guidance booklet was developed to support the training course and to reinforce knowledge after the course when participants set about to practice their skills.  The booklet included the conversation process steps, question prompts, observation prompts and tips for effective conversations.  It also identified how the safety conversation programme reinforced the safety culture model used in the organisation.

This approach to educating people about how to have effective safety conversations may suit the safety culture maturity and focus for some organisations.  For more information about safety conversations and other non-technical skills programmes, please contact Nicole Gray (

Some of our clients include:

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