I recently performed several safety assessments for a company. Over the course of three days, the assessments identified hundreds of hazards that will be tracked to completion. While this may seem monumental in nature the most meaningful and impactful aspect of the assessments was the conversations we had with employees. I call this “conversation-based safety.”

Conversation-based safety involves routine two-way discussions with employees to identify, control, or eliminate hazards in the workplace. Consider the following opportunities to implement conversation-based safety:

Routine Meetings

Conversation-based safety can be incorporated into routine meetings (e.g. pre-shift, weekly, etc.) by simply discussing types of activities performed, the hazards involved with each activity, and the most favorable strategies to control or eliminate the hazards.

Effective Supervisor Communication Training

Routine Discussions

Conversation-based safety can be incorporated into routine discussions with employees in individual or group settings. Simply ask employees what the top five hazardous activities they are asked to perform, or things that make them nervous about their safety or the safety of their coworkers. During one of the assessments referenced earlier, we asked an employee these very questions and discovered several working at height hazards that the assessment team might not have identified.

Permit Processes

Conversation-based safety can be incorporated into permit processes. Permits (hot work, permit required confined space entry, etc.) should be “question-based.” Question-based permits stimulate conversation and allow the employees performing the work to identify, eliminate or control hazards as a team. Companies may require permit approval by a supervisor or manager. This should require more than just a signature or verbal confirmation, but a discussion using predetermined questions to solicit conversations about the hazards and the best strategies to eliminate and control them.


Engaging employees through conversation-based safety is an effective way to improve the safety culture at your company. Remember, whenever more than one person is present, there is an opportunity for a conversation. Seize the opportunity!

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Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, Inc. He has over 25 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at [email protected]