Improving Job Briefings

Someone I hold in high regard once said to me, “David, if we can improve our job briefings, we will reduce our injuries by 60%.” I had some hesitation about his statement at the time, and to this day I am not sure I agree with that percentage. But I decidedly do know this: improving job briefings improves safety. I also know that the topic of improving job briefings arises at virtually every education event I am a part of and in conversations regarding almost every incident I’ve heard about.

So, what can we do to improve job briefings? For starters, it takes confidence and competence to conduct them effectively. This article will briefly discuss competence and introduce you to Frontline’s Job Briefings training program (https://ip-institute.com/job-briefings/).

Baseline for Job Briefings
Before we discuss competence and the specific skills needed to conduct effective job briefings, I want to address the purpose of such briefings. Too often we define job briefings as simply work planning and safety tools. However, done effectively, they also play a part in creating culture; help to align and empower your team; provide and reinforce training; allow you to evaluate your team; encourage a questioning attitude and stopping when unsure; and help us improve by serving as a mechanism for brainstorming and new ideas.

I also want to address the baseline for job briefings established in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(c). Among other things, the standard states that:
• The employer shall ensure that the employee in charge conducts a job briefing …
• The briefing shall cover at least the following subjects …
• At least one job briefing shall be conducted before work begins, and additional briefings shall be held if significant changes occur that might affect employee safety …

I cannot stress enough that compliance with this standard is the baseline – the minimum – not the goal. I also want to highlight a few areas that are misunderstood, specifically around the meaning of “conducts,” “at least” and “significant.”

“Conducts”
This word is defined as directing the course of, managing or controlling. It also means to serve as a medium for conveying. The clear implication is that the employee in charge must ensure a job briefing is completed, but they don’t have to do it themselves.

Job briefings must cover hazards associated with the job, the work procedures involved, special precautions, energy-source controls and personal protective equipment requirements. It’s also a good idea to ensure they cover lessons learned from past events and human error. And how about my favorite discussion topic – what could go right?

“At Least” and “Significant”
When are additional briefings required? We’re great at performing at least one briefing before starting a job, but how often do we hold additional briefings? This is where we can introduce another tool – two-minute drills – that should be conducted after questions, minor changes or short delays, and we can supplement those with additional job briefings after extended delays or significant changes. Part of your job briefing training program should define and provide examples of minor and significant changes as well as short and extended delays.

Competence for Job Briefings
At an absolute minimum, everyone involved in job briefings – which means all field employees – should be familiar with risk assessment, risk tolerance, error precursors, hazard identification, and hazard mitigation through safety by design and defense in depth according to the hierarchy of controls. Ideally, the crew will have a job hazard analysis for reference that is pertinent to the task being performed. Understand that without this knowledge and skill, effective job briefings are not possible.

Further, the person conducting the briefings, who may or may not be the employee in charge, must recognize that job briefings are a form of communication that must result in mutual understanding. This requires a feedback loop. The person conducting the briefing also assumes a leadership role and needs to demonstrate competence, commitment, caring, courage and credibility (also known as C5 leadership).

Post-Job Briefings and Available Training
I am a huge proponent of post-job briefings to discuss what could have been done better on the job and what went right that needs to be repeated. Some of you probably perform post-job briefings already. In addition to benchmarking against high-performing teams and conducting effective job briefings, these briefings need to be a part of our safety-related processes.

The Frontline program is now offering a new Job Briefings training program, which has two components: Job Briefings for Crew Leaders and Job Briefings for Supervisors. You can learn more about the program at https://ip-institute.com/job-briefings/.

Conclusion
It is difficult to keep job briefings from becoming monotonous, but it can be done. The process starts with defining their purpose and baseline and providing everyone involved with the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to conduct effective briefings. Couple those activities with leadership, communication, hazard identification and hazard control training, and you will see improved job briefings. And those improved briefings will equate to improved performance in areas including customer satisfaction, productivity, quality, safety and system reliance.

Please join me September 8 at 1 p.m. Eastern for a free virtual discussion about this topic. We will discuss the article, form design and job briefing evaluation, plus answer any questions you may have about the Job Briefings training program. I hope to see you then.

About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (https://ip-institute.com). He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators.

About Frontline Fundamentals: Frontline Fundamentals topics are derived from the Incident Prevention Institute’s popular Frontline training program (https://frontlineutilityleader.com). Frontline covers critical knowledge, skills and abilities for utility leaders and aligns with the Certified Utility Safety Professional exam blueprint.

Webinar: Improving Job Briefings
September 8, 2021, at 1 p.m. Eastern
Visit https://frontlineutilityleader.com for more information.

Learn more from David McPeak on the iP Institute Podcast. Visit https://ip-institute.com/podcasts/#frontline or scan the QR code to listen now!

Frontline Fundamentals


David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM

David McPeak, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM, CUSP, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (www.ip-institute.com). His experience includes operations management, safety and training roles. McPeak holds multiple safety and training certifications and has received numerous awards. He also has served as chairman of Task Team One of the OSHA ET&D Partnership, as a member of Incident Prevention’s editorial advisory board and as a member of the North Carolina Apprenticeship Council. Reach him at [email protected].

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