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How to Communicate in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS): A Practical Guide

Communication must be effective across every role, team and department for organisations to operate efficiently. The importance of good communication practices cannot be understated, as there are several consequences that can arise if they are neglected.

February 2024

What is Occupational Health and Safety?

Occupational health and safety (OHS)  is a multidisciplinary field that deals with the personal safety, health and wellbeing of workplaces and workforces. Legally, organisations have a responsibility to look after their employees and implement measures for the prevention and treatment of any health issues staff members may experience during or due to their work. For more about information about OHS, take a look at the top 3 Things You Need to Know.

At their centre, all occupational health and safety jobs are about people, and communicating with the workforce to understand their needs and keep them safe is a vital part of that pursuit. If you’re looking to elevate your communication skills, we will be looking at communication strategies explicitly tailored to OHS and how you can immediately apply them to your own workplace.

Why is Effective Communication Important in Health and Safety?

Proper communication channels are a two-way street. All parties need to listen to one another and be given the opportunity to provide their own perspective. Health and safety professionals should be looking to adapt how they communicate based on who they’re dealing with without speaking condescendingly.

It is important to note that Health and Safety management necessitates well-grounded communication to be appropriately implemented. Collapses in communication channels may well mean a breakdown in adherence and proper care – leading to more potential for workplace hazards, risks and accidents. This is why all health and safety practices are fundamentally built on how they are communicated.

How to Communicate Effectively in Health and Safety

1. Look at Different Types of Communication in Health and Safety

In our NEBOSH Level 6 Diploma course, we break down different communication methods to promote health and safety messaging throughout an organisation. These are:

  1. Verbal Communication – This involves any direct or indirect verbal communication. Direct involves anything face-to-face, and indirect involves anything where you don’t have sight of the person, e.g. telephone calls.
  2. Written Communication – This allows for complex messages to be presented and recorded, allowing the reader to return to the message later for revision if they wish.
  3. Pictorial Communication – An excellent example of this would the free poster we gave in our Top 10 Workplace Risks and How to Combat Them blog. Using diagrams and graphics to relay information. This allows for a better learning experience for those who learn visually – which improves uptake of the guidance. A picture paints a thousand words!
  4. Social Media – Younger adults use social media as an integral part of their day-to-day lives. The resources may be more trustworthy to them than those sent through official channels. The Health and Safety Executive make lots of useful information available through social media channels, as do we.

When incorporating these different methods into your health and safety strategy, you should include a good mix of each. Some communication methods will be more or less effective depending on the person(s) you’re communicating with. A range of methods will ensure that everyone receives the messages and understands them.

2. Consult and Influence Health and Safety at a Management Level

When developing your organisation's health and safety plan, as an OHS professional, you will have to consult with and influence every area of the business.

Consultation will involve openly sharing information with employees and engaging in a conversation where you will take their views and experience into consideration for decisions. Your ability to influence other operational areas of the business will be tested during these sessions, and having the necessary communication skills will be essential. Negotiation will also be important as both parties will come away feeling they have been heard, and a worthwhile compromise has been made. Making them more likely to adhere to the set guidelines.

CEOs, Line Managers and Operational Staff all need to contribute in order for your guidance to be effective, so ensure that each level of the organisation has been communicated with.

3. Develop Your Interpersonal Skills

Building interpersonal skills is a pivotal cog in this wheel as well. Having the right technical skills is a must for any job role, but an often-overlooked area of improvement is ‘people skills. These are necessary to properly engage with the workforce and motivate them to pursue good health and safety practices. Right down to body language and expressions, a health and safety professional should be aware of their tone of voice, positioning of the body and using too much jargon. However, signals can be misread, and it can be a dangerous game to assume there is one clear definition for all scenarios.

Poor communication can jeopardise all your work towards optimising your organisation’s health and safety practices. Not only will it open the door to potential accidents, but it can also impact employees' work. They will likely become disillusioned with the work they are allocated – creating a domino effect that might lead to mental health issues.

How to Develop Your Communication Skills Further

Those looking to elevate themselves to expert communicators as health and safety professionals should seek to complete their NEBOSH Level 6 Diploma with us. Not only will you gain an industry-recognised qualification – you will acquire an understanding of how to articulate safety protocols and drive a culture of prevention through clear, concise, and influential communication.

The NEBOSH Diploma is not just about health and safety; it’s about leadership, management, and how to apply your knowledge wherever you work.

Above all, understand that if you’re going to bring about definitive action for health and safety in your organisation, you need to have the right approach to communicating with the workforce. If you don’t, no matter how many risk assessments and preparations you do, it will have zero impact.

If you think you’re ready for the next step in your career, take a look at the NEBOSH Level 6 Diploma below.

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