Life-saving internal communications are a game-changer in health & safety 

Saturday, 2 November 2019 / Vaughan Reed

Updated October 2022

“Destructive and devastating” is how Skycity executives referred to the fire at Skycity Convention Centre in Auckland.

If working in the health and safety space sometimes feel like ‘ticking boxes’ to inform employees about things that might put them in danger, it’s time to take a long hard look at what your organisation is doing to protect employees and its assets, especially if you are a health and safety manager or have responsibilities in this area.

SkyCity Convention Centre Fire - Photo by Vaughan Scott IMAGES

In October of 2019, a fire broke out on the roof of the New Zealand international Convention Centre, part of the SkyCity complex. The fire burned for over 48 hours, disrupting many businesses in the area. This costly incident not only involved millions of dollars in repairs, but it also impacted at least 24 major conferences that were booked for 2021.

This cautionary tale highlights the importance of health and safety procedures on site. It’s a reminder for businesses how easily a massive crisis can take place.

Challenge: It’s hard to catch employees’ attention

We retain 80% of what we see and process visuals 60,000 times faster than text! Millennials have an attention span of only 12 seconds, Generation Z only 8 seconds – realistically you can’t absorb much text during that time. The case for more visual communications is even stronger when you consider 65% of the population are visual learners and our attention span is waning.

As society has evolved, so has our communication. This has a direct bearing on how you need to communicate in your workplace. Under the influence of social media and other online platforms, we now have an appetite for highly visual, snackable and dynamic communications.

Solution: Use passive communication channels

Internal communications is going digital - don't get left behind. Use digital screens around your office or make use of screensavers and browser home pages to share your messages. This is a passive way of getting your internal communication messages in front of people without distracting them from their tasks.

Challenge: Employees struggle to remember messages

The big issue organisations are facing is around retention of health and safety information and getting it through to front line staff. Most organisations are communicating health and safety messages during employee inductions and staff training programs and it’s difficult to change a lifetime of habits through a one-off program.

To ingrain methods and messages they need to be reinforced continuously, in a way where workers feel comfortable and can relate. The current methods of  emails, posters and noticeboards, are simply not getting through, nor are they being retained by employees.

If you are a person responsible for health and safety in your organisation, the quality of your communications can literally mean the difference between life and death or avoiding the catastrophic events which unfolded at SkyCity Convention Centre. If you want your business to live and breathe a health and safety culture, your messaging needs to be reinforced daily, from top management down to people on the ground and at the coal face, where it really counts. It is not acceptable to rely on one method of dissemination, such as middle management passing on information in an inconsistent and haphazard manner – it needs to be more considered, well planned and co-ordinated.

Solution: Snackable content and spaced repetition

Condense your health and safety messages into bite-sized portions, and make sure to repeat those messages over a period of time – just rephrase the messages to keep them fresh and memorable

Take preventative measures with your internal communications

When lives are at stake, health and safety is not something you want people to learn through mistakes and experience. No organisation wants the spotlight on them for the wrong reasons, and certainly you don’t want to be one of the health and safety people having to account for the part you played in ensuring employees were adequately briefed and protected.