How to Write Safety Materials Everyone Can Understand

August 27th, 2018 by Drew Vass

One of the most important parts of door and window installation is safety, but it can be difficult to write safety materials effectively for all employees. CPWR, the Center for Construction Research and Training, recently hosted a webinar titled, “Wait, What? Construction Safety Materials that Everyone Can Understand.” The event featured CPWR’s communications research manager, Clayton Sinyai. He highlighted how to write and create effective safety materials for employees.

Writers of safety materials should always use readability checkers. In order to reach a vast variety of audiences, readability should be between a sixth and eighth grade level. This ensures that employees of all levels will be able to comprehend the important material. There are readability checkers free online, and even one built into Microsoft Word.

Along with readability, writers need to be aware of suitability. This means the safety materials should have one main focus, and should be outlined with an easy layout and subheaders. Writers should also always incorporate illustrations into the materials. If a worker cannot comprehend the instructions, easy-to-follow illustrations will ensure that the message is delivered.

Sinyai referenced a study done by CPWR in which workers were given two safety handouts. Both handouts delivered the same message, but the first one included full text on the front and back of the card, and required the worker to read the full handout to understand the safety materials. The second card was colorful and illustrated. It outlined the safety topics in bold, with additional information underneath, so that even if a worker only read the bold words, he or she would still get the message.

After the study, the results showed that readers of the second card were three times more likely to know what the safety materials said. This showed that the colorful, better laid out card was more effective.

Sinyai highlighted the four main questions to ask when writing safety materials, so they can effectively reach workers.

  1. Who is the primary audience?
    It is hard to write effectively for every single reader. Sinyai says to only focus on the primary audience. This would be the majority of readers.
  2. What are the primary audience’s reading skills and background knowledge?
    Can they all read? If some workers have a hard time understanding English, be sure to include illustrations.
  3. What should workers be doing?
    Should they remember to drink more water, take breaks, wear light clothing, etc.?
  4. What is the main message statement?
    This should appear prominently at the beginning and end of the handout. If subheaders are included, they should reiterate the message.

Sinyai suggests figuring out these four items before writing the safety materials. Once the writer is ready to begin, Sinyai suggests starting with a summary. This way if a worker only reads the summary, he or she will still receive the basic message. When the materials are written, always test it out in a readability calculator. This will ensure that the materials will be easily comprehended. Lastly, test the materials out on the target audience if possible. Since they will be the ones using the material, it will be useful to get their feedback.

For more information visit the CPWR website.

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