Check-in Safety Beats Check-box Safety

You may cover the check-boxes but you need to ensure employees are going to give safety their attention and focus.

Is yours a check-box safety culture? Or a check-in safety culture? What’s the difference? A check-box safety culture is just what the name implies. You go through the checklists and check off the items that you have completed.

Let’s take a safety meeting for example. You call the meeting. Check. Everyone signs in. Check. You throw up a chart showing an increase in slips, trips and falls. Check. You discuss slips, trips and falls. Check. You show a PowerPoint slide of the high-risk areas for slips and trips. Check. You remind your crew that they need to be better at identifying the slip and trip hazards. Check. You send them back to work. Check. An hour later, someone slips outside of the target areas you identified in your PowerPoint slide.

You may have covered all the check-boxes but you didn’t check-in with your people to ensure that they understood it or that they were going to give it their attention and focus. You didn’t get their commitment to being more diligent or to ask them if they’ve seen something that could a potential danger point. You lectured them and hoped they would follow the rules.

The flaws in check-box safety

The inherent weakness of check-box safety meetings is that they are more like lectures. Check-boxing is a one-sided broadcast of what you think needs to be covered. At the end though, you still don’t have employee commitment or even their attention. Because you didn’t check-in with them to gauge their response or level of understanding.

Check-in safety meetings are built around having discussions. When you are part of a conversation where you are asked for your opinion or input, it’s difficult to not be engaged in that process. But a lecture-like safety meeting creates a culture where the back row of chairs fills up first and guys sit stoic with arms crossed waiting for it to end. Check-box safety is not an effective way to engage your people.

Check-box safety, to the front-line employees who live it daily, is about making sure that someone’s ass is covered – where it can be said that it was covered in the meeting. Check-in safety, meanwhile, creates dialog between safety people, supervisors and each member of the crew to find out how they are doing, what they’re seeing, and asking for their input in making their workplace better and safer.

Let's not forget what safety is for

Check-box safety is never about people. It’s about the company, management, the safety team, the processes and procedures, the rules and the legislation. Oh, sure you can argue that check-box safety may actually benefit employees. But it doesn’t get their attention or their engagement. Most concerning of all, it doesn’t get their participation. And without their participation, are you actually building a culture based on safety, teamwork and trust? Or are you building a culture based on compliance, following rules, and ultimately, consequence?

With check-in safety, it’s all about people, above all else. Even after an incident, check-in safety ensures that the first question asked is not “what happened?” Instead, the first question would be, “are you OK?”

If all you are interested in accomplishing is to get your people to follow rules and procedures, then check-box safety will do just fine. But a word of warning: you will turn over your staff as a result. Being forced to follow rules is not on the top ten list of what employees want from the job. (Here is that list.)

It’s no fun to go to work where you are required to just follow the rules and meet compliance guidelines. It wears you down over time and takes the motivation out of you. People not motivated to go to work or give their attention actually become a greater safety risk.

Going home safe is not enough

PeopleWork buy now on Amazon If you want to cause your people to grow, to come together as a team and to want to do safety voluntarily, then check-in safety is your best way there. Improve your people, build a team, and do safety voluntarily? How can they not want to be part of that, to participate in it and give their focus and attention to it?

While checkbox safety may send you people home safe, check-in safety sends your people home better. And check-in safety builds an attitude of employees wanting to come back and do it even better tomorrow.

Now, ask yourself, are you trying to get people to follow rules and procedures? Or, are you trying to build a culture of respect, participation and looking out for each other? The approaches to getting you there are very different.


Kevin Burns is a management consultant, internal safety communications strategist and author. His most recent book, PeopleWork: The Human Touch in Workplace Safety, is changing how companies do safety.

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Topics: safety speaker, safety leadership, kevin burns, safety culture, safety marketing, safety communications, peoplework, safety complacency