Director of CIRAS Catherine Baker wrote about an inclusive approach to listening in Safer Highways magazine.

Listening through a hole in a yellow background with hands cupped around ear

In the September 2021 issue of Safer Highways magazine (pages 34-36, issue #13), for the highways industry, CIRAS' Catherine Baker wrote:

'I've been in groups (hard to call them teams) where everyone else seemed to be on the same page.  Maybe it's the "banter" which borders on offensive, maybe the awkward silence when I walk in the room, or not being given space to speak amongst the dominating voices. It's hard to deliver your best in that context, and easy to let the majority view win even if it really didn't seem to be the best solution.

'This is one thing when you are working in an office or running a community event, but out in a safety-critical environment this moves to another level...

'The great thing about people is that we are all different, so we see things from different perspectives.  Because of your background, culture and experiences, you might notice something that would not register on my radar – and that something might just be the early warning that needs to be noticed to keep us all safe.  It could be as simple as somebody being able to see a crack in a machine that is below the eyeline of their taller colleagues, or as subtle as the realisation by someone using English as a second language that the way an emergency procedure is written is ambiguous.

'Noticing it just the start – only if that something is voiced and actually heard can it become useful.

'Many organisations have made great progress in creating listening cultures where everyone is encouraged to speak out openly on safety.  But is it working for everyone?  Do we listen for the "safety silences" to identify where there might be gaps in what we hear about because some viewpoints are not voiced or not heard?

'Those with less secure employment contracts, those in any kind of minority (whether protected characteristics or not), those who are new to the team, those who have been burned by past experiences of speaking up – there are many factors influencing who chooses to speak up.  Whether it is conscious or not, there are also factors influencing which voices are listened to most.  It might make sense to trust a safety inspection by an experienced team member, but a passing comment by a site visitor about the way people are talking to each other on site might be far more valuable in unlocking the cause of an upward trend in near misses.'

Read more in Safer Highways issue #13