Best Ways to Engage a Health and Safety Guest Speaker Who Engages With Your Workforce - Part 1

I’ve had cause to sit and reflect recently on the different ways in which organisations have used my brother's story to positive effect and some lessons learned along the way as to what is effective - or not so effective - in driving engagement.  I plan to set these out over a series of briefings in the coming weeks, but starting with: critical project stages and safety stand downs.  

Critical Project Stages

As it’s been described to me, ahead of a project start there will be 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 expectations from the outset.

At particular project milestones it may be felt there is a need to take time out and issue a key briefing about a new hazard that is about to be introduced. “We have reached the critical stage of “power on”…” read one email I received recently.

michael's story feedback safety speaker

Indeed, the biggest couple of pieces of work I’ve carried out have been ahead of the High Voltage systems being made live on both of the Aircraft Carriers being constructed at Rosyth Dockyard by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance.  

Both instances involved multiple presentations over a few week period, to thousands of people from the various ACA partners and sub-contractors, alongside their Safe Systems of Work Manager. 

What made this effective was the combination of presentations, and their proximity to the go live dates.  

What threatened the effectiveness at one point was other industrial relations issues going on on-site at the same time as one of the sets of briefings.  This was thankfully swiftly overcome by open communication.    

As an aside, the first time was when my youngest son was only a little over 3 months' old.  So I can also attest to the fact the arrangements for breastfeeding mums at Rosyth were tip-top.  Privacy to express milk, suitable storage for it and slabs of Galaxy chocolate supplied without having to request.    

With that same son fast approaching 4 years old, I was asked to speak on a project at Roosecote Battery Storage Facility by Centrica. They were hosting an off-site “LV Power - Time Out for Safety”, again, just ahead of power being switched on.


It was a couple of hours which worked really well as there was balance in the presentations. Myself opening with the personal story to get minds engaged; then a senior member of management talking also from a personal perspective, and setting out key commitments; then a briefing on the safe systems of work that were to be implemented on the project to ensure safety.

As you’ll see from the feedback, the client didn’t think they could achieve the level of engagement that they did without the personal story.

And what has been particularly pleasing here is that the learnings are being kept live through use of toolbox talk ideas I shared, and the client coming up with the photo collage board at the entrance to the site.

An added bonus for them: including my pic will help scare the wildlife away from site.

Safety Stand Down

Holding a safety stand down is a good way to refocus minds and are often held 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. So, rather than go straight back to work, the first morning is spent at a stand down.

This worked well at the request of AHUS Ltd in January of this year, when I found myself Newcastle-bound at silly o’clock on Wednesday 3 January to speak at their “Back to Work 2018 Safety Briefing”.

Note to self for future such stand downs: don’t “first foot” the client with Scottish sweet treats.  "I need these like a hole in the head" as a response did make me laugh though. 

This was a slightly unusual one for me as it was the contractor who had organised it, and who had then invited along the client management team and staff. Often I find it’s the other way around: client inviting along contractors.  But again, this worked well as it showed commitment on both sides.   

There are also stand downs 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.

As I've mentioned, I was recently invited to speak ahead of "the critical stage of “power on”" in one area of a larger construction project.  A run of events subsequent to this across the project more widely then resulted in an invite back to speak to larger groups over the course of two days.


The effectiveness of this was greatly enhanced in my opinion by the fact that the most senior member of the project's management gave a very clear message: “here’s my mobile phone number”…if you have a concern any time of day or night and you are not being listened to…phone me.  Likewise, if there's some great work going on that you feel I'm not aware of but should be, I want to hear that too! 

Another valuable way of driving home messages around intervention and prevention is the use of actors to portray scenarios.  And this was used to good effect during the largest stand down I've been involved in to date, on the country's largest road building project, the A14.  With an audience of around 900 at a time, the actors were able to draw the audience into scenarios and roving presenters sought feedback from the audience to change the outcomes of scenes.  

What was perhaps not so effective was a comedy improv group who garnered further audience participation.  But, a room full of 900 construction workers were unlikely to ensure the comedy stayed "clean" for long!  There's probably a time and a place, but a museum open to the public with school trips taking place wasn't it.  

Putting that to one side, subsequent to having told Michael's Story to so many people over the course of the day, I was very pleased to be asked by the Project's Health, Safety and Wellbeing Director to provide some wording as an introduction to a visual standards booklet which was in production.  A further way to keep the lessons from what happened to Michael at the forefront of minds as the project progresses.    

What is Your Experience? 

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? 

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

Still To Come...

And in future briefings I intend covering: safety walkrounds / visible leadership tours; maintenance shutdowns; safety days...weeks...or months; behavioural safety programmes; and annual conferences; among others.  


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.