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When not to send a safety alert (and when to)...

4 min read: Nowadays technology allows us to compile, produce and send information easily to an unlimited amount of people. We live in an information rich environment, with more information available to us now than ever before. This has its obvious benefits, but it has also led to information overload. We now must spend time working out which information is applicable; which information we should pay attention to. The more time we spend triaging and mining, the more potential there is to miss important relevant information. Emails with important messages that could potentially save someone’s life are forwarded with a click followed by the request to remove that mouldy sandwich from the fridge.

The ease in which we can produce and send information has become one of the causes of overload. In the past, we were more selective as producing and sending information took time and effort. These days often the sender believes they have done their bit and it is now the receivers responsibility to act. But little is done to check if the intended recipient has even noticed that the inbox count has increased.

It’s not just email that’s used inappropriately, a number of safety communication methods have been hijacked too. There are more safety alerts circulating than ever before; with the majority of them having similar messages. Messages that, if we are being honest, we already know.

“Warning, ice is slippery”

“Using an excavator next to a live cable may result in death”.

“Attempting to breathing underwater is without the correct equipment is life limiting”

Safety alerts are overused as a medium for communicating important information. Often sent via email and for a mixture of general and genuine important critical information. It is difficult for the recipient to know which ones to really pay attention too. Safety alerts are often over relied upon to control risk. A safety alert should not be used as a control measure. It is just a collection of words organised into a story, it has no influence over the local environment.

It would be a good idea, therefore to define when we should and when we should not send out a safety alert. Here is a short guidance note. However, it is not always black and white and don’t or do but by following the below sense check, we could dramatically clean up the murky waters around safety communication.

When not to send a safety alert.

What is the safety alert for? Describe this in a pinpointed way, then answer these questions.

  • Is what you are alerting someone to, something that their risk assessment, safe system of work or training should have alerted them to? If so, a safety alert isn’t a control measure, you have control measures in place already (they are just not being used) so, don’t send it out.

  • Are you issuing the safety alert to plaster over a hole in supervision or management? If so, don’t’ send it out.

  • Are you issuing the safety alert to plug the whole in a process or procedure? If so, don’t send it out.

But, you still need to do something, right? So, identify the supervisory, managerial, procedural or training issue and fix it.

When to send a safety alert. Is it a genuine alert for something unforeseen or unknown about that wouldn’t have been identified through standard control measures, supervision or management? If so send it out. According to the HSE safety alerts are for major faults that would result in a serious or fatal injury and where immediate remedial action is required:

The safety alert (if you think you should send it). Consider the following:

  • What actions (behaviours) are you expecting as a result of the safety alert and from whom?

  • How will you make sure each person that receives the safety alert acts on your instructions?

  • How will you close out the safety alert?

Think of a safety alert like a product recall. Stop relying on safety alerts to manage normal task hazards.

Safety Campaigns Safety alerts and safety campaigns are different. You may decide to have a company wide safety campaign because of recent trends or perhaps because of the time of year or the introduction of a new regulatory requirement. Safety campaigns should be specifically designed with the intention detailed, implementation described, and outcome calculated. If you want something to be noticed, it has to be different. It can’t look like everything else. If you use the same methods for trivial information and really really important information, the recipient won’t be able to tell the difference… wolf, cry, boy!

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