Three Tips for Better Safety Conversations

Tired of feeling like the safety police? This role can be frustrating – it’s in the entire team’s best interest to support a solid safety culture, but sometimes it falls on a select few to lead the discussion and sometimes it just doesn’t go the way it could or should.

Naturally, accidents happen. However, with training and a strong safety culture, accidents can be minimized.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), safety culture is the result of positive workplace attitudes adopted by everyone in the organization at all levels, and requires the buy-in of all employees to utilize safety policies and procedures as useful reference tools instead of obscure rules.

However, strong safety culture needs to start at the top – if people in leadership and managerial roles aren’t leading by example and adhering to OSHA and ANSI Z133 guidelines, then everyone working below them can’t be expected to fully understand what’s at stake.

When this happens, workers may not feel enabled to take a proactive approach to finding and fixing hazards. This creates an uncomfortable, and potentially controversial, environment for everyone involved.

Safety conversations between colleagues shouldn’t feel controversial, uncomfortable or difficult.

Here are three tips for having better safety conversations in the workplace:

  1. Involve employees in the process. The goal should be to get your entire team to buy into the workplace safety culture. What better way than enabling them to lead the conversation? Work with your employees to allow them to present topics and lead conversation at daily tailgate safety meetings. Allowing them to take ownership gives them a personal stake in the outcome of the conversation.

    Looking for topics for your next tailgate safety meeting? Each month, TCI Magazine runs a summary of accident briefs which are taken from published reports or are reported directly to TCIA staff. If you don’t have a copy of TCI Magazine handy, the
    full archive can be found on (We recommend that you share this link with all of your employees and encourage them to bookmark the page on their phones for easy access!)
  2. Take it off the playing field. It can be hard to remain neutral when observing risky behavior that could lead to a dangerous situation – adrenaline can kick in, causing an uncomfortable interaction between team members.

    By having regular safety conversations off the jobsite, you’re able to remove any potential emotion, aggression or judgment that may happen when having the conversation in the midst of a potentially dangerous situation. Supporting these regular safety conversations means that team members will be less surprised – and defensive – when risky behavior is called out.

    OSHA’s Safe + Sound whitepaper on better safety conversations is a great place to start.
  3. Ensure that everyone on the team has the appropriate training. You wouldn’t put a chain saw in the new person’s hands without training and expect them to know how to use it safely, would you? Take that a step further – you can’t expect to have a positive safety conversation with a team member who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

    While it is common for members of your team to cross train, especially on smaller teams, it doesn’t change the fact that each member of the team needs to have training that matches their role on the jobsite. We recommend using a mixture of on-the-job training and TCIA’s Tree Care Academy programs to help your team be prepared to handle their roles, and observe others, as safely as possible.

Remember, a positive safety culture enables everyone on the team to feel comfortable talking about safety and pointing out opportunities for improvement, regardless of their position.

At TCIA, safety is a conversation we believe is important all year. We provide many training opportunities for tree care workers to ensure they stay informed and ahead of the game. Visit our Training Calendar for a list of upcoming events across the country.