COVID-19 Causing Major Communication Disruptions

May 06 2020
By: Shawn M. Galloway

Safety communication is suffering. When sailing in turbulent waters or into uncertainty, the plans and individual roles and responsibilities to execute must be clear, concise and understood. How well are yours?

While travel has been disrupted for the most part, our work with clients carries on. An area that continues to manifest itself in our conversations with organizations is disruptions to safety communication.

One client with global HSE oversight told us, "Sites that were already poor at communication are using this pandemic as an excuse. COVID-19 Causing Major Communication Disruptions Whereas sites that were good at it have found creative ways to ensure signals are sent and received."

Many meetings have stopped. Several kinds of training have ceased. Workforces are reporting what used to be a normal cadence of collaboration, briefing and information flow, has come to a halt. If your organization has experienced this, are you confident the workforce knows why and is satisfied with the reason? Our firm is currently conducting several culture assessments (remotely), and this is a common issue expressed by different workforces.

Communication has two parts: a sender and a receiver; and both must be turned on and tuned in to the message. Sending signals is just one part. Are the messages received and understood? Journalist and a best-selling author, William H. Whyte, perfectly captured this problem with one sentence: "The great enemy of communication is the illusion of it." How are you monitoring that messages are received and understood?

For tactics and measurements to assess your safety communication effectiveness, see this article.

To assess your personal communication effectiveness, find a tool outlined here.

Lastly, communication is competitive. Priorities are perceived by what gets talked about more. While COVID-19 prevention precautions and updates are critical, we can't allow this to compete with the need to stay on message on the importance of safety and the prevention of injuries. Verify conversations are occurring and focusing on:

  1. Understanding the (big and common) risks employees will face.
  2. Precautions (required and discretionary) that need to be taken to overcome or mitigate the risks.
  3. Ensuring (controlling and influencing) these precautions are regularly being taken.

Companies demonstrate their continuing dedication to the pursuit of safety excellence by not using the pandemic as an excuse to hinder progress. We have helped find creative ways to conduct safety trainings, briefings and meetings. This takes being open to thinking differently. If safety excellence is truly your goal, COVID-19 is just another disruption your company will inevitably face. All progress begins by thinking differently. Leaders innovate; followers follow. Be a safety leader in your company and industry. It has always been not just the right thing to do, but also a competitive advantage. Today is no different.

If there is anything we can do to support your efforts, please consider us a resource. We will get through this together.

Stay healthy and safe.

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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