How could I get hurt? A safety conversation online

Materials World magazine
5 Feb 2012

I must admit that up until now, online networking has largely passed me by, but as it is now so ubiquitous I have taken the plunge and joined the IOM3 Group on LinkedIn. In doing so I came across one of the best pieces of advice I have ever read on how to have an effective safety conversation, a subject that can make even the most self-assured clam up. Coming from the website it was put rather more plainly – ‘How to have a safety chat without looking like a pompous arse’.

Those of us working in mining and mineral extraction, including oil and gas, are acutely aware that these are hazardous industries. But a hazard is defined as something with the potential to cause harm, and that potential only becomes actual harm after some form of human involvement. This might be poor design, inadequate maintenance or procedural deficiencies, but these become less common themes over time as lessons are learnt, equipment design improves and procedures are honed. It still leaves a large rump of accidents that are the result of human behaviour, essentially someone doing something wrong. Even worse, in many cases the individual knew it was wrong or was observed by others who knew it to be wrong. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to intervene and have that safety conversation, which is why unsafe conditions are reported far more frequently than unsafe acts – machinery and equipment don’t answer back.

Jamie Ross at gives six practical tips on how to have that difficult conversation, including picking the right moment, not making it personal and leading by example. Another tip that I learnt from an Advanced Safety Leadership programme is to ask the obvious question ‘How could I get hurt?’. Humans are by nature risk takers and we all take risks every day, often without realising it – think of your journey to work today. Put simply, risk is the product of probability and consequence – the probability that something will happen multiplied by the consequence if it does. Subconsciously, when we cross the road we are assessing ‘what is the likelihood that I’ll get knocked over?’. What we rarely consider is the consequence of being hit – injury to our self or people with us.

Safe people tend to be those who buck the trend and do consider consequence over likelihood, so one of the most effective safety conversations is to ask how a hazard could cause injury. It focuses the mind much more than how likely it is an accident will occur – the human self-preservation gene is a strong one.

This brings me back to those discussion forums and networks. As a written rather than spoken form of communication it is easy to observe what effect our words have on people. Tact and diplomacy will win out every time over abrasiveness and argument. At the end of the day, I’d rather have hurt feelings than broken bones. 

Further information

IOM3 group on LinkedIn

MiningMan safety article