Effective Storytelling Can Improve Workplace Safety

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Employee safety is a chief concern for any business.  And for a good reason, since the HSE estimates that work-related illnesses and injuries cost employers £13.8 billion a year and are responsible for 28.2 million lost working days annually.  

Despite those figures, motivating employees and capturing their attention whilst discussing health and safety can, at times, be challenging.  Employees may find subjects to be dull, or may believe that the hazards being discussed do not affect them.  However, in actuality, health and safety risks are always present in any industry.  In an effort to better engage employees, some employers have begun to utilise storytelling techniques in their health and safety discussions.

Stories are an educational tool often used to teach particular lessons—in this instance, proper health and safety behaviour.  Unlike other educational tools, such as presentations, lectures and handouts, stories can allow the audience to make an emotional, personal connection with the topics discussed.  Therefore, a well-crafted story that testifies to the importance of health and safety may have the potential to reduce more work-related illnesses and injuries than if you were to solely provide your employees with facts and figures.

A successful, well-crafted story should be memorable and illustrate a particular lesson to employees in an enjoyable fashion.  Such a story should be composed of four key ‘ingredients’, listed below, which help ensure that it has the greatest amount of impact on your employees.

  1. The story should have a well-established central character with a name, an accessible position within your industry, and a relatable problem or obstacle.
  2. The story should have a central obstacle or problem your character is facing that is simple, realistic and familiar to your employees.
  3. The story should have a rhythm and pace, established through the use of colloquial dialogue that tells the story like you would to your mates.
  4. The story should have a well-developed story arc with the following parts:
  • Part 1: Introduce the central character and the scene.
  • Part 2: Introduce the obstacle or problem that the character will need to overcome.
  • Part 3: The resolution—you should then ask your audience, ‘What did the character do correctly or incorrectly?’ and ‘How could the problem or obstacle have been avoided?’

These four ingredients can be supplemented with other educational tools to help create a narrative that links the facts and figures together in a personal, relatable manner.  For example, instead of producing a traditional PowerPoint, create a narrative that runs through the presentation that makes each slide and the information on it engaging rather than forgettable.

Stories are able to capture the attention of an audience, and they have the potential to package health and safety information in a pleasant format that, when used effectively, can act as a persuasive risk management technique.