Best times to hire a workplace health and safety speaker?

Best times to hire a workplace health and safety speaker?

Louise speaking at DSM Dalry prior to a maintenance shutdown.

Louise speaking at DSM Dalry prior to a maintenance shutdown.

If you’re thinking of hiring a workplace health and safety speaker, you’re most likely to be doing so because you want to engage hearts and minds at a particular point in your organisation’s health and safety journey. 

You’ll be asking yourself a number of questions, perhaps uppermost among them:

  • is this the right thing to do; and

  • is it the right time to do it?

Because, I get it: having your people away from their actual jobs - be it for an hour or two, or longer – it costs, whether in monetary terms, or through down-time, logistical difficulties, drop in production, etc.

So you want to make sure that’s all worth it.

If you’ve never engaged a health and safety speaker before, or have done, but are looking for new ways to do so, then perhaps one of the following ideas would give you some inspiration for what is most effective. 

It’s a list compiled having now presented on hundreds of occasions to tens of thousands of people over the last 5 years, and having also watched the great work being undertaken by other speakers in this field of work that none of us intended to enter. 

My intention is to expand on each of these on the website, giving some observations as to what works well (or not so well!) in each type of scenario.  So if you have any experiences or insights you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.  

Is hiring a health and safety speaker the right thing to do?

But first, the first part of your question…is bringing a safety speaker in the right thing to do? 

I’ve seen it said on social media that bringing in a safety speaker is a waste of money, much better to instead ensure that processes and procedures are fully understood via training.

On one level, I totally agree: sticking a safety speaker in front of your people is absolutely no substitute for training to ensure they are suitably qualified, experienced and competent. 

But what it should be seen as is an additional layer to your approach.

And the reason you would do it is summed up in the phrase: “no-one is a prophet in their own land”. 

In other words, what is often said to me after a session is something along the lines “it’s all well and good me standing up there talking about new procedures and why they need to be followed, but I can’t get to the nub of it the way you do.”

As has also been said to me: “the power of a true story well told is that there is no argument.”

Feedback following centrica lv power - time out for safety

Feedback following centrica lv power - time out for safety

In response to a LinkedIn post stating that I was reflecting on a few things on my way home from speaking at a Centrica LV Power Time Out for Safety event, I received a comment from the manager who had hired me stating that we’d achieved a result he “knew [he] couldn’t achieve alone.”

I know that health and safety presentations are often seen by those attending as more hassle than they’re worth. 

That was certainly the case when I spoke at a shipyard in the north east of England a few years ago at the height of a particularly glorious summer.  On the way into the room, one individual was heard to say: “you think it’s hot outside, wait ‘til you hear the hot air in here”. 

By the time he left, he thankfully felt rather differently, and I received the following feedback from their senior health and safety officer at the time:

I’ve been involved in Health & Safety for over 15 years and I realised a long time ago that the real trick in this game is trying to keep the message personal. Louise’s presentation was the ultimate in doing just that in my opinion.
— Terry McGuiness, Senior Health and Safety Officer

So, is hiring a health and safety speaker the right thing to do?  Only if it isn’t being viewed as a substitute for training, but is instead an added level of communication, where someone external to your organisation can personalise the message you are seeking to deliver.

Is this the right time to be hiring a health and safety speaker?

When, then, are the key times you might want to consider a speaker?

Here are the key ones I’ve experience of and which I’ll expand on further on the site over the coming weeks. 

Ahead of a Critical Project Stage

The opportunity may be taken at the very outset of a project to get all those involved together for a pre-start meeting, particularly where a number of sub-contractors are being used. As it’s been described to me, this might be part of a “relentless drive to instil a total safety culture in the team as it develops in advance of construction start.”

Use of a personal story helps bring to life the importance of the expectations that are being set. 

It may alternatively be that a particular stage is reached in a project where it is felt there is a need to take a bit of time out and issue a reminder about the hazard that is about to be introduced.  Understandably, I’m approached most often at the “critical stage of “power on””. 

Safety Standdown

Holding a safety standdown can be a potent way to refocus minds. 

You might choose to hold one after the lengthy summer holiday period, or else after the winter break, particularly so if there has been an enforced closure for all staff over Christmas and New Year period.  Rather than go straight back to work, the first morning is spent at a standdown. 

There are also standdowns held after a serious incident, or after a run of near misses.  And it’s particularly important to get the tone of these right.  That it’s not about blame.  It’s about future prevention. 

Board Briefings

“Strong and active leadership from the top: visible, active commitment from the board;” is the very first “essential principle” set out in the joint Institute of Directors and Health and Safety Executive publication “Leading Health and Safety at Work”.

While a legal briefing on latest sentencing guidelines will push many a director’s buttons, combining this with a real-life story will perhaps push them even harder.

On having spent the day with a company’s Group Executive Council in Cologne last year, the Chairman brought me to tears at the session’s end, leaving me with the words “We are fighting for you” ringing in my ears.  

Leadership Conference

Using a safety speaker at a leadership conference may most often be to hammer home the message that health and safety is not someone else’s job.  It’s everyone’s job. And leaders must set the standard.

This is an excerpt from a video that was produced by Siemens for a Leadership Conference they were holding. As I couldn’t make it on the day, this was pre-recorded and shown.

It distils the message you may want to get across to your leadership team.

That they need to live and breathe safety. That safety is not an add-on to their job, it is their job.

Safety Days…Weeks…Months

When you have a regular safety day planned, perhaps annually, it can be difficult keeping it fresh and relevant to your workforce.

Louise presenting Michael’s Story at Crossrail’s latest Stepping Up Week safety standdown.

Louise presenting Michael’s Story at Crossrail’s latest Stepping Up Week safety standdown.

This becomes even more acute when you have committed to regular safety weeks – perhaps bi-annually to coincide with International Workers’ Memorial Day in April and European Health and Safety week in October. Or you have gone even further and, like Crossrail, have had a rolling period of Stepping Up weeks over the course of their project. 

Then there are those, who, like Highland Spring did recently, designate a health and safety month, which needs filled with engaging content.

A health and safety speaker will provide your “Why?”

Maintenance Shutdown or Turnaround

Risk profile changes ahead of a shutdown as the range of hazards increases, perhaps as a result of installation of new plant, or machinery and equipment moves, a variety of external contractors being added to the mix of your own staff, and tight timescales needing to be worked to.   

Where a safety speaker will be most effective here is where they have a message around the need to have safe systems of work operating in practice, not just existing on paper, and where they recognise the importance of getting a job done on time, but can explain that the first priority must be to get the job done safely, and that “on time” is the added extra, rather than vice versa.

Behavioural Safety Programme

This can sometimes be a tricky one for me, because when is a behavioural safety programme a positive, and when is it a very different kind of BS?

If asked to get involved in a behavioural safety programme, I’ll want to understand more.  I’ll want to know there’s a Just and Fair Culture, that root cause is identified in any investigation, and that behavioural safety is not shorthand for blaming the worker. 

It remains difficult for me to come to terms with the fact my brother may have taken a shortcut, or gone against his training and relied on an incorrectly applied label.  We don’t know for sure, as only Michael could tell us.  But the fact remains, my brother was not provided with a safe environment in which to work, with the tools and equipment he needed to do his job safely, and with the supervision and management he deserved. 

So, when we talk about behavioural safety, let’s make it about behaviours at every level of an organisation. And as John Green has recently stated: ”It’s really important to understand that behaviour isn’t simply a choice but a symptom of the environment in which it occurs.”

Safety walkrounds or visible leadership tours

“The biggest fear of our management is going out there and people thinking: they don’t know what they’re talking about!”

Site Safety tours engaging the workforce and leaders

Site Safety tours engaging the workforce and leaders

This is what I was told by a TU rep when I was doing some research on behavioural safety and the role of management in engaging in a visible leadership programme.

Well, do you know what, I really don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to most industrial settings!  I went from school to university and then to working as a lawyer for 13 years.  I wouldn’t know one end of a compressor from another.  But, when it comes to safety walkrounds, it doesn’t matter a jot. It’s about having a conversation. 

Use of a safety speaker in such safety tours has the doubly positive effect of encouraging the workforce to open up, and helping demystify the process where there are leadership fears.

Line Management Workshops

I’ve often heard the line management of an organisation described as “the permafrost” or similar. 

It’s the level at which safety focus is perhaps most likely to get blurred by the need for productivity, profitability, quality, or financial performance.

As the quote below demonstrates, health and safety rules may be viewed as an add-on to the task in hand, but by engaging a safety speaker, you can regain the right focus. 

...never doubt the good you are doing. I and my team were fortunate to hear your story at our Managers’ meeting. For me it caused me to reflect on how I viewed Health and Safety. I found although I acted in accordance with the rules, I realised the rules were viewed by me as an add-on to the task at hand. Your story changed that. For me safety is the task, which we reflect on constantly. Are our processes correct? Are they keeping staff safe? Constantly reviewing. Constantly checking.
— Mike Withington, Head of DHFCS at Babcock International Group

Do you have insights or experiences of hiring a safety speaker to share? 

Over then to you. 

What is your experience of using a health and safety speaker ahead of a critical stage in a project, or during a safety stand down?  

What worked well for your workforce, both on the day and subsequently to keep the learnings live? 

What do you wish you hadn't done that you did...or vice versa?

Louise is a popular health and safety workplace speaker who, through telling her brother Michael's story, helps organisations reinforce their safety message. To find out more, view this short video.  And should there be anything you want Louise to cover in future briefings, please drop her a message to or comment below.