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Maximizing the Impact of Safety Communications

The Essential Role of Communication in Safety

In today's fast-paced world, where information competes for our attention from myriad sources, effective communication, especially regarding safety, is more vital than ever. Like any training or message, its impact hinges on the follow-up reinforcement. In the realm of workplace safety, this couldn't be more true. The competition for attention is fierce, with various departments vying to get their message across. This makes the task of communicating about safety not just a matter of dissemination but also of ensuring engagement and retention.

Embracing Return on Attention (ROA) in Safety Communication

Tim Sanders, in his insightful book "Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends," introduced the concept of Return on Attention (ROA). He emphasized the priceless value of attention in an age where it's pulled in countless directions. This concept is particularly relevant for safety communication. When we speak about safety, we need to think about the ROA – are our messages not just reaching the employees but truly engaging them?

Adapting Dr. Kirkpatrick's Training Model to Communication

Dr. Donald L. Kirkpatrick's four-level model for assessing training effectiveness, proposed in the late 1950s, can be ingeniously applied to evaluate safety communication. This approach helps in clearly defining objectives and desired outcomes at each level before rolling out any safety communication or training.

Four Levels of Effective Safety Communication


Aspect of Communication




Assessing how employees respond to safety messages. It is important to understand and anticipate their emotional reactions to tailor the communication effectively, ensuring messages resonate emotionally and prompt a thoughtful response.



Ensuring knowledge transfer is not just about being heard but also understood and remembered. Since the human brain processes limited information at a time, it's crucial to focus on key points and use stories and visual aids to enhance recall and understanding.



Aiming to influence behavior through safety messages. This involves either adopting new safety practices or reinforcing existing ones. The goal is to achieve clear and observable changes in behavior following the communication.



Achieving tangible results from the communication. This involves changing perceptions or improving safety practices and measuring the impact before and after the communication, often through informal focus groups or surveys.

Practical Implementation: Balancing Ideal and Feasible

While striving for perfection in communication, we must also be practical. It's not feasible to scrutinize every message with the same intensity. Focus on the most critical communications first, observe the impact, and then gradually expand to other areas. Remember Voltaire's wise words, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Sometimes, a 'good enough' approach, while not ensuring the highest ROA, can still significantly impact safety awareness and practices.

In conclusion, adopting Dr. Kirkpatrick’s model for safety communication can lead to more engaging, impactful, and retained safety messages. This approach is not about over-complicating communication but about ensuring that when we do communicate, especially about something as vital as safety, we do it in a way that truly captures attention, fosters learning, changes behavior, and yields measurable results. Let's focus on creating a safety communication culture that values not just the transmission of information but its effective reception and implementation.

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