Translating Safety Language

translating safety language

Have you ever noticed the different ways that people give directions? One person will say “Drive straight until you see the big rock then turn right, keep going until you pass the blue house with yellow shutters and turn left, there will be a pond on your right and you’ll need to turn right.”  While someone else will say, “Drive straight for 2.5 miles then turn right.  Keep going for another 7.75 miles then turn left.  Go another 5.25 miles and turn right.”  Both sets of directions will lead you to the same destination, however, they are spoken in two totally different “languages.” The same can be said when it comes to safety professionals and corporate leaders.  They may both be trying to improve worker safety but may not be speaking the same language.

An article titled “Translating Safety” written by Terry Mathis suggests four key strategies to overcoming communication barriers between the corporate world and the safety professionals in the field.

  • Facilitate cooperation through the organizational design: Give the safety professional a seat at the corporate leadership table. Many times there are too many layers of management between safety professionals and the top tiers of the organization.  Communication gets crossed and the two work separately from each other instead of together.  By making sure that a safety professional is involved from the top down, safety can be incorporated into the way the organization is run from the beginning.
  • Ask and answer the “What’s in it for me?” question: Both sides want what’s best for them. Unfortunately if they aren’t considering each other, separate decisions can have devastating effects on the other.  Corporate plans can push safety aside, and safety initiatives, if done in isolation, can affect production.  Consider both “what’s in it for me” scenarios, and work to achieve both.
  • Strategically align the two: When safety is embedded in the organizational strategy the two will not seem so separate. An ideal corporate strategy would include safety, quality, environmental and regulatory issues all in the larger corporate organization.  When safety is included in the larger picture, situational problems have a basis and a specific way to be handled.
  • Work to find common terminology: It would be ideal if safety specialist were trained as business leaders first and as safety specialists second. If they are trained in such a way they will understand the corporate language and goals.  Likewise, if corporate leaders place an importance on safety and want to work it into the business as a whole, they should take time to learn from a safety specialist and take a look at what they are trying to accomplish.  Common language can be found!

When both safety and upper management can communicate using the same language it’s a “win win” for workers and production.  While the idea seems simple, this may take some work to implement but it will be worth it in the end!

Mathis, Terry. “Translating Safety.”, June 09, 2018. July, 30 2018. <>

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