17 techniques to ensure your employees understand your safety procedures

Health and safety procedures are a vital component in the workplace. They increase productivity and ensure all employees keep safe while working.

But a big problem comes to play when employers set out comprehensive health and safety procedures that are difficult to read and understand. This can impact their overall effectiveness. And what's the point of having health and safety procedures which your employees can't understand?

So to avoid this, the most important thing to do when writing your health and safety procedures is ensure they can be easily understood.

Here are 17 techniques you can use to make sure your employees understand them

TECHNIQUE#1: Use an introduction

It's always nice to have a brief introduction that explains the purpose and scope of the procedure, and its significance.

This adds clarity around the procedure/s as a whole, along with its relevance, importance etc. - all of which will enhance understanding.

TECHNIQUE#2: Write carefully

Health and safety documents should be very precise, and that's why it's important for them to be written very carefully.

List all the important points that need to be mentioned, after which you can then place them in a logical order and start writing.

By presenting your procedures in a logical way, your employees will be able to understand them better.

TECHNIQUE#3: Make comparisons

When you're done writing the final piece, summarise it and compare it with your introduction to ensure consistency all the way through. Because if you lack that consistency, chances are your employees will become completely lost while reading your procedures and not understand them.

TECHNIQUE#4: Perform an end-user test

Give the final copy of your health and safety procedures to an employee and check if he understands it.

TECHNIQUE#5: Adapt to the reading levels of your employees

Before writing up your procedures, first think about whether or not your employees can actually read, or if their reading levels are adequate enough to understand simple health and safety procedures.

If they can't, you may have to read out the procedures in a way they can clearly understand. For example, call a meeting with your employees and take them through every step of your procedure. Speak clearly and slowly using simple language.

TIP: you can do this in an informative and detailed safety talk where you clearly explain, and possibly even demonstrate, the safety procedures they' need to carry out

TECHNIQUE#6: Use pictures in your health and safety procedures

Using pictures in your workplace procedures can greatly increase your employees' comprehension of them, especially if some of your employees can't read.

TECHNIQUE#7: Use colour in your procedures

Believe it or not, but research has shown that colour can greatly enhance comprehension.

So instead of using black and white in your procedures, include coloured backgrounds to help enhance comprehension.

TECHNIQUE#8: Use translators where necessary

Consider whether your employees can fully understand the language you use in your workplace procedures. If not, then you may have to get a translator in to translate them.

TECHNIQUE#9: Be specific

Health and safety procedures should refer to various tasks in the workplace and the risks those tasks might have.

So make your procedures specific to each of these tasks. Try avoid creating general procedures for the workplace, it can confuse your employees as they may try apply it to the wrong task.

TECHNIQUE#10: Use an effective format to increase readability

Choose a format for your health and safety procedures that makes it easy for you and your employees to find specific rules. If you format your procedures properly and set them out in an easy to read manner, your employees will understand them more.

Here are five methods you can use to enhance the readability of your health and safety procedures

  1. The most important method to use is to clearly display procedure numbers. This is usually done on the top right of the page.
  2. Keep titles short. Five words are usually enough;
  3. If your manual has sections, show the names of them;
  4. Include the date of issue of procedures, and indicate them as new or revised; and
  5. Show page numbers like, for example, 'page 2 of 4'. This way an employee will know that there are several pages related to a particular procedure. He will also be able to tell if a page is missing.
REMEMBER: It's easier to understand structure, not chaos.

TECHNIQUE#11: Watch the tenses you use

Write in the present tense. This gives the impression that you're talking to an employee who is carrying out the procedure right there and then.

TECHNIQUE#12: Use action verbs

Action verbs are verbs that show an action being performed. They are very useful as they can clearly express an action in a single word.

Doing this will help keep your sentences shorter and more direct, which can make understanding your procedures a lot easier.

Examples of action verbs include:

  • Walk;
  • Stop;
  • Continue;
  • Watch;
  • Assess;
  • Report;
  • Arrange;
  • Assist;
  • Authorise; etc.

TECHNIQUE#13: Use the imperative

The imperative is used to give orders, commands, instructions, warnings and so on. They are direct and not optional. In other words, it places emphasis on what 'must' be done and not what 'should' or 'ought' to be done.

This is an effective technique as it makes it very clear what's expected of an employee, and that it simply 'must' be done. Keep reading to see what the last four techniques are

TECHNIQUE#14: Use short sentences

Keep your sentences short, and break each thought up into separate sentences.

BONUS TIP: Also keep your paragraphs short. Each paragraph should only expressing one separate idea.

TECHNIQUE#15: Use layman's terms

Avoid using complex jargon, instead keep things as simple as possible by using everyday language and layman's terms.

If you really need to use technical terms, clearly explain what they mean so that your employees can understand them.

TECHNIQUE#16: Write out abbreviations at first

Don't just assume your employees know what all your abbreviations stand for. Write out any abbreviations in full at first, so your employees know what you're referring to.

TECHNIQUE#17: Adapt to the orientations of your employees

Some of your employees may be visually, word or number oriented. So to ensure that all your employees understand your health and safety procedures, include things in your procedures that can target each every orientation directly. This can include using diagrams, charts, statistics and written examples.

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