We interviewed one of our account directors – Carol Feinberg – who has had numerous years of experience helping clients develop powerful communications around environment, health, and safety (EH&S) topics. She provided us with valuable insight as to how these three areas impact the well-being of employees and other stakeholders, and shed light on the importance of having a robust communications strategy.
Q: How critical are EH&S communications to a growing business?
A: Communications about EH&S are critical to every business, regardless of size. Communicating clearly about safety goals and expectations, and providing the tools necessary to achieve them, shows concern and respect for employees. It doesn’t matter if the business is a manufacturing facility or an office, injuries can happen anywhere on and off the job. The information and support that a company provides can mean the difference between someone staying safe and getting hurt. A robust plan around your business environmental strategy and impact is something that employees take pride in – it also demonstrates respect for your community and stakeholder concerns. The whole package of great EH&S communications elevates a business by fostering internal and external engagement.
Q: Why are EH&S communications such a tough topic to navigate?
A: It’s easy for people to tune out, thinking they’ve “got it” or heard it all before. As with all communications, it takes creativity and experimentation to craft and deliver your messages so people notice them. At VTLO, we work with our clients to identify locations where safety or environmental incidents might occur and bring our communications right to that spot to draw attention and encourage safe behaviors. For example, in high-traffic stairways, we’ve installed clings right on the risers of the steps to remind people of the basics of stairway safety, such as holding the railing. This builds on the foundational messages from leaders that we help to create, which sets the tone and level of importance.
Q: How did you become an expert in EH&S communications?
A: My background in healthcare and laboratory science highlighted the need for practicing safe behaviors and acting environmentally responsible for my own personal safety as well as the good of the businesses where I worked. In fact, I had an incident early in my career where my unsafe behavior in a lab could have resulted in a serious injury. I worked in an analytical lab and routinely used liquid nitrogen, which requires a special container because of its extremely low temperature. One day, I poured some of it into a plastic container, although I knew better. The container was at eye level at first, and as soon as I moved it, the container exploded and shattered into tiny plastic shards. Had that still been near my face, I could’ve been injured. It was a careless moment that could’ve been a life-changer, and it provided an indelible lesson in why safety cannot be ignored. The split-second decisions we make every day can have life-changing consequences. Since then, I’ve had a keen interest in communicating EH&S topics so that they “stick” with people, and have had the good fortune to work with clients who understand that this is fundamental to every business.
Q: How do you partner with clients to create successful EH&S messaging that has an impact on business?
A: There are two sides to EH&S communications—the “data” side that documents incidents, conducts root cause analyses, and generates numbers like the cost of lost time; and the “behavior” side that encourages and models safe practices, nurtures employee health and wellbeing, and cares for the environment. A successful EH&S communications strategy uses both and must encompass engagement on three levels: among leaders, to employees, and between employees. Leader engagement comes from providing convincing statistics that show the impact of safe and unsafe behavior. Employee engagement comes when they sense an authentic interest from leadership in their safety and environment, coupled with actions and programs to support them. Employee-to-employee engagement is people who are committed and empowered to watch out for each other. And, it all starts with getting people’s attention with strategic, compelling messaging.