It should be easy to get people to listen to important safety messages, but this is often not the case—that’s the message of the June 2017 Safety & Health magazine.

According to research psychologist Steve Casner, there are two factors that make it challenging to convince workers to listen and follow safety advice. First, they may have heard the message before. Second, they may believe what they are doing is safe enough.

Some additional thoughts to consider. How was the message presented to the worker.  If orally, the retention factor is almost zero. There needs to be a much more reinforcing system for the people hearing the message to retain and follow.

He notes that we all have a tendency to “overestimate our ability to do literally everything and underestimate the risks we face while doing it. We also seem to have an unshakable belief that bad things are more likely to happen to others than they are to us.”

Unless a worker experiences a close call or tragic event that relates to your safety message, it can be difficult to interest them in changing work habits to comply with your advice.

Likewise, it can be tough to convince a coworker that a behavior is unsafe if he or she has years of doing things their way without incident. And what about if management has permitted the unsafe methodology or not taken action to correct it?

When workers cut corners without incident, they are reinforced for doing so. The longer this goes on, the harder it will be to get them to buy into the safety message and change their undesired habits.

“Experience is such a huge factor when it comes to compliance and thinking about safety messages,” says Casner, “experience is what allows us to feel confident enough to cut corners, to skip steps, to break from the safety protocol.”

People don’t like to be told what to do, so avoid sounding like the safety patrol. In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Instead of insinuating that you’re going to be on the lookout to catch people taking risks, send the message that you’re determined to help everyone build sound safety habits.

It pays to send a clear and convincing message the first time. Be prepared with examples that make sense.

Think about delivering the message from the worker’s point of view. Executives care about the bottom line; workers care about getting out of work on time and returning home safe and sound. So, invite conversation to really listen and discover what workers perceive as barriers to following necessary safety precautions. 

If safety advice is delivered as part of an ongoing and collaborative dialogue, workers are much more likely to listen to and follow your advice. 


Vargas, Susan. Speaking of safety: changing the atmosphere around safety conversations. Safety & Health, June 2017, 54-57. 

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