Safety procedures: time to talk

Speech is silver, silence is golden. But when it comes to safety procedures, clear and direct communication is the gold standard. How does communication about safety procedures work in practice? We asked project manager Arjan Bossers and crane operator Raymond Staal of Wagenborg Nedlift.

For Arjan, the art of communication begins with observation : “In the preliminary phase you take a good look at the site and make an inventory of the safety procedures. In doing so, you take into account the site-specific safety procedures that are already in place. These take priority over your own safety process and form part of your calculations and work planning. You talk to the employees about specific requirements and additions, and highlight any aspects that require extra focus.”

In an ideal world this should all go smoothly but, as Arjan points out, real-life situations tend to be less manageable. When we ask him how he determines whether safety procedures are sound, he emphasises the importance of working with those directly involved to look at solutions or alternatives when significant differences arise after the preparatory stage. “And if situations change as a job progresses, I talk to people individually with a view to arriving at practical solutions together. That's your first approach route. But in other cases, it might be work running parallel to the main job that presents you with additional risks. Talking to everyone involved gives you a complete picture at the end of the day.”

We asked Raymond how he experiences communication about safety from his perspective as a crane operator: “I’m positive about it. Communication is the most important thing there is. In our company, we start by running through a step-by-step plan before we get started. During the next stage a lifting plan is drawn up and we are informed of what needs to be done. On site we go through the plan one more time with an added focus on how to carry out the work safely. We are always well prepared.”

What does Raymond actually think about all the safety measures he is confronted with? “By and large they are a good thing,” he says, “but it can reach a point where things become almost unworkable.” We asked him for an example. “Sometimes you have to be attached to fixed lines at every turn, which can seriously restrict your movement. That makes it hard to do your job.” Raymond also reveals that working for different customers means dealing with different safety regimes. “One customer insists that you have to be hooked up to safety lines at half a metre above the ground, while for another customer it’s over two and a half metres.”

The range and various levels of safety regulations per customer are also something Arjan has noticed. “They make communication a challenge,” he says. “There’s room for a more unified approach in all that diversity. That’s something I often miss working for a range of customers. Of ​course every company is different, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have more of a common thread running through things.”

No static on the line

Arjan believes that there are many different sides to communicating safety procedures. “No two projects are the same. On one project you can gather everyone together for a talk and on the next people are constantly coming and going and it’s just not possible for everyone to be in the same place at the same time. In that case you have to organise two or three sessions. And when new people join the operation, they need to be brought up to speed separately.”

Arjan says that rules on paper are all well and good, but to really work safely you have to talk to each other. “When you do that there’s no static on the line Of course there are tools such as Last Minute Risk Analyses, and that’s a good thing because they also help start the dialogue. In the end it often comes down to having a good conversation.”
Last but not least, Arjan observes that specific risks should always be the focus for extra attention. “Take high-risk work, for example. It’s all about the extreme situations, the special cases that are specific to a particular job. I don’t need to tell my crew to wear safety shoes at work. When it comes to low-risk work, measures like that have become second nature.”