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 (eg face-to-face, procedure, radio) and method (eg written, verbal)
  • Consider timings of key communications eg 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 eg 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.

Is this page useful?