Constructive Candor

10 Tips to Ensure Effective On-Site Safety Discussions

Safety is Job #1 for everyone on your team: employees, consultants and especially your contractors. Your contractors should be running effective meetings to set the proper tone for safety on your sites. These meetings are a valuable way to teach best practices, share lessons learned and make your team aware of potentially hazardous job site activities.Construction_picture

As project owner, you may not be tasked with leading these meetings but you should recognize good safety practices when you see them.  Review the following ten tips to see if you recognize these behaviors in your contractors.

Tip #1 - Lead with a Positive Attitude.  On a large hydro, wind or T&D (Transmission and Distribution) project, safety is the highest priority. When committed superintendents and job site managers lead daily tailgate meetings, the employees will understand the seriousness of their safety programs. Verify that your contractor’s team is not giving lip-service at their tailgate meetings just to check off a daily to-do. A good superintendent should approach their meetings with a plan, energy, and a positive attitude.

This is an important moment to show leadership. Your superintendent needs to look the team in the eye instead of reading through job site checklists and agendas. They need to identify and comment on positive safety practices noticed on-site.  Their job is to engage their team effectively, communicate an important message, and ensure they walk away prepared and more aware.

Tip #2 - Make Meetings Mandatory and Paid.  A telltale sign that reveals a contractor’s commitment to safety is if they hold daily mandatory tailgate meetings and if the employees are actually on the clock and paid for their attendance.  Otherwise, why would an employee be committed to safety if they see their company is not willing to invest any resources into ensuring a safe job site?

Tip #3 - Make Discussions Relevant. The great thing about the tailgate format is that it is quick, direct, and relevant. Make sure your contractor’s daily discussions address the needs of the day.  Topics should directly relate to the inherent risks on the particular job site they are on, and should welcome employee dialog.    

Tip #4 - Don’t be a Slave to Meeting Agendas. Don’t get me wrong. Every meeting needs an agenda. However, we’ve all sat in safety meetings where the facilitator runs through the agenda eager to get to the important work of the day - head down, mumbling quickly through each meeting point. This format is unproductive.  Your contractor should ask their employees open-ended questions to facilitate meaningful discussion about job site safety.

Tip #5 - Is Anyone Listening? Tailgate meetings are a tremendous opportunity for the field crews to get a feel for the safety attitudes and values of the team. There should be open dialog about safety issues and any “near misses” that may have happened on the project. Some work environments may deter an employee from bringing up a potential safety issue during a tailgate meeting for fear of ridicule, loss of reputation or embarrassment.   

Tip #6 -  Use Props. Is your contractor using props and other visual aids to help his employees best understand the message? Safety gear, photos, drawings, perhaps even a visit (from a safe distance) to a particularly challenging part of the site helps drive an important point home to the audience. Recognize that everyone absorbs information differently. Some have a knack for reading plans and visualizing a situation. Others will appreciate and remember visual messages relayed during the meetings.

Tip #7 - Change Tailgate Meeting Leaders. Ask a less seasoned team member to lead meetings. This is fruitful for many reasons. It can help them to grow and develop professionally. Also, switching facilitators will keep the meetings fresh and invite dialog more freely among different personality types.  

Tip #8 - Modify the Message for Varying Experience Levels. There are likely many levels of experience represented by staff participating in your tailgate meetings. Is your contractor leveraging those with greater experience? Similarly, is your contractor ensuring that everyone is getting this message? This means pausing to ask open ended questions, knowing the team’s experience levels and encouraging the construction team to share their expertise.

Tip #9 - Keep the Meeting Short, but… Effective. Typically, all the contractor needs is 10 to 15 minutes to get an important message across to the audience.  We understand they have other work to get done, and their team’s attention span is limited. The meetings should be kept on-topic and focused.  Recognize when time needs to be invested to ensure on-site safety, and when an important topic comes up during a meeting, there’s no better time than the present to address it.

Tip #10 - Adjust. Ultimately, your contractor needs to adjust their approach to find real engagement with the team.  They need to pay attention to their audience and notice who’s getting the safety message. Changing up the agenda regularly will also ensure the group doesn’t fall into bad habits. When you see your contractor losing his audience and there are grumblings amongst the crew, that’s the “canary in a coal mine” that safety is not #1 on the minds of the team….. and that’s when accidents happen!

I would love to hear your thoughts on ways you work with your contractors on managing tailgate safety meetings.  You can reach out to me by email, phone or LinkedIn.  

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Topics: Energy, Energy Generation