3 Reasons To Stop Using Safety Surveys

Face-to-face, work-as-teams meetings get much better safety engagement than anonymous surveys.

survey03.jpgIt seems that you’re not allowed to stay in a hotel, or rent a car or eat in a restaurant without being sent a follow-up electronic survey. How was your stay? How was the housekeeping staff? On a scale of 1-10, how freindly were the front-desk staff? Did they call you by name? How was your meal? How was your server? Would you recommend us to your friends? Were there any problems that were not dealt with to your satisfaction?

Last week, I had an email conversation with John Petersen, Health and Safety Associate at EDP Renewables in Houston, Texas. We were discussing safety surveys and John asked where to turn for questions to include in surveys? His question prompted this Blog post.

Full disclosure: I have a bias. I dislike surveys - and that includes internal employee surveys on engagement levels and safety culture.

No one should fill out a survey when they can have a personal interaction with a human. If the person who serves you at a hotel, restaurant or the car rental counter didn’t ask you about your experience, you don't owe them more of your time to fill out a survey. You don’t need to send anonymous feedback especially if no one bothered to ask any questions when you were standing right there.

Similar thinking goes into safety engagement surveys. Here are three reasons you should stop using surveys:

1Safety engagement happens mostly in the relationship between employee and immediate supervisor. The supervisor is the tipping point for either improving or destroying employee engagement and safety culture. If your supervisor needs a survey to tell you the temperature of his/her own crew, then you have an ineffective supervisor. If you, as a supervisor, interact daily with employees and you still don't know what they are thinking, then you either don’t care or you don’t know what you’re doing. That's too bad for the employee. But if you have an effective supervisor, then employees don’t need surveys to be heard or to gauge their level of safety attitude. An effective supervisor is focused on the safety, the engagement level and the mindset of the crew.

2Safety communication matters, not the illusion of communication. Hands-on, face-to-face communication gets the best results. Seriously, when has a survey ever inspired better safety performance? Surveys are not communication. Surveys cannot account for frame-of-mind by the employee. Personal biases, the relationship with a supervisor, distractions, job stresses, life issues, etc. don't factor in. Making people fill out surveys intimates that the culture is "one that we don't talk to you directly." If employees have to fill out check boxes on a survey in order to be heard, skip the survey and assume that your safety engagement culture needs work. If you want to build safety engagement, you must build trust. Trust comes when employee and supervisor communicate effectively with one another - without the need for anonymous forms.

3If you don’t know which questions to ask, don’t survey. There are no uniform questions to ask. There are no one-size-fits-all surveys. Using someone else’s survey question template is just lazy anyway. Besides, surveys are fraught with inconsistencies. Poorly crafted questions combined with someone else's choices of 4 or 5 predetermined answers make employees uneasy. (As an example: the results are very different when you use a scale of 5 multiple choice answers versus 4 answers.) What if what employees want to say isn’t one of the supplied choices? What if they want to add a comment but there’s no space to do that? What if none-of-the-above is the preference? Too many safety, engagement, and teamwork surveys miss the point and are exercises in futility for the employee. Pencil whipping survey forms don't build strong safety cultures. Engaging your people in safety face-to-face does.

So, what do you do instead?

7 Nuts n Bolts Strategies for Safety Communications Go out into the field and ask for ideas to improve the safety program. Ask what would make employees more likely to embrace the safety program? If you want to engage your people in safety, ask them for the answers.

Do this in safety meetings.

Form small-group, round-table discussions. Ask employees to work in their groups to come up with 3 ways that the safety program could improve - not to tell you what's wrong with it. You want solutions and new ideas. It’s a very different mindset.

Give them ten minutes or so to come up with ideas. Have a spokesperson at each table rise and deliver their group's three ideas. Then comes the most important part: record the answers. Write them down on an easel for everyone to see. Then ask your people to chose their top 3 to 5 favorite ideas. Take those upstairs. Commit to doing something with the ideas and responses. Make employees feel like they were heard. 

Face-to-face, work-as-teams meetings get much better safety engagament than anonymous surveys. Employ the "ask-people-face-to-face" model of communication. Get comfortable with it. Do it often. Watch your safety engagement improve.

Kevin Burns gives engaging, entertaining and inspiring speeches to front-line employees at safety meetings. He also works with supervisors and safety managers on-site or in keynote presentations at conferences. He is an expert in how to get through to people. Kevin helps organizations integrate caring for and valuing employees through their safety programs. Kevin Burns is a management consultant, safety speaker and author of "The Perfect Safety Meeting" and "Running With Scissors - 10 Reasons To Invest in Safety In Slow Times."

(c) Can Stock Photo

Topics: safety culture