Safety critical communications
Why are good communications important?
Spoken and written communication can be critical in maintaining safety. This can include general communications in the form of safety information, communications between team members or between different teams during operations or maintenance work, and emergency communications.
All personnel including employees, contractors and visitors, should have access to key information to help them negotiate the hazards in the work place safely. This may include key findings from risk assessments, induction to site, evacuation drills, emergency instructions, safety warnings and so on.
Communications are very important in a wide range of safety critical tasks and activities such as lifting operations, emergency response, entry to confined spaces, as well as coordination of activities between different parties and organisations.
This Key Topic contains links to two related issues:
- A key area of communications, particularly on major hazard sites, is shift communication including Shift handover.
- A Permit-to-Work, or PTW, is effectively a means of communication between site management, plant supervisors and operators, and those who carry out the work.
The individual topic pages include an outline of why each of these two areas is important, along with a list of key principles to consider and further guidance material.
Key principles in safety critical communications:
- Identify who needs to communicate, and what their communication needs are. This could be identified during risk assessment.
- Companies should consider the medium (e.g. face-to-face, procedure, radio) and method (e.g. written, verbal)
- Consider timings of key communications e.g. draw attention to hazards before people are required to carry out tasks.
- Language should be appropriate to the workforce (consider literacy, first language) and use appropriate terminology.
- Highlight safety critical steps in procedures and draw attention to them in training.
- If it is really important to get a message across, consider using two or more methods/media of communication e.g. written back up to a verbal communication.
- Remember that putting signs up is not a substitute for communicating, though it may be part of it.
More information on safety critical communications
Although several of these documents are about the specific communication issue of achieving an accurate, safe shift handover, many of the principles are relevant to other types of safety-critical communications.
- Successful Health and Safety Management (HSG65)
HSE Books 1997, (pages 23-26)
- Reducing error and influencing behaviour (HSG48)
HSE Books 1999, ISBN 0 7176 2452 8 (see pages 29-31, 38-39 and the case study on pages 67-68)
- Person to person communication model
A one-page illustration of the key aspects in communications from a sender to receiver.
- Human factors aspects of remote operation in process plants
Contract research report 432/2002. When centralising control (e.g. to a central control room) communications often suffer and operators can lose their previous (hands-on) overview of the real plant.
- Effective design of workplace risk communications - Research report 093
Focuses on the design of risk communication leaflets.
- Handbook of Warnings
Michael Wogalter, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 1st edition (January 20, 2006), ISBN: 978-0805847246