Before I started a workshop recently, I checked both of the Fire Exit doors to make sure they were not locked (believe me, it happens). I also roamed around outside the workshop room to find the fire extinguisher, which I knew was there somewhere (under a table – in plain sight if you are 1 meter tall or less). I also checked with the building maintenance team to see where the rally points were in case of evacuation.

These are things I do regularly now when I work in a new venue, and check again in familiar ones. Then I’ll start my facilitation work with a group by reminding them of these safety features, often before we get to the objectives of our day. Sometimes I format this information as quiz questions, to keep it light yet still draw their attention to it – it’s amazing how many people don’t remember these features in their own buildings. (I’ll admit that I didn’t either!)

This practice is drawn directly from my work with companies. In the past few years I’ve worked more and more with large private sector groups, many representing heavy industry, in and around their own buildings. Many businesses will start their meetings with a reminder of this information. In some cases they might do something more substantial called “Safety Shares”, or “Health and Safety Shares.” I even worked in one company HQ that asked visitors to watch a video about building safety in the reception area before they were able to enter the work space for our meeting (where they then still got the Health and Safety Share).

The Health and Safety Shares that I saw were interesting in that they provided opportunities to show statistics about some aspect of safety in the company or in the country/region where it is located. For example, in one workshop a company participant lead the Health and Safety Share with statistics on how many people have accidents from falling down staircases (one UK report stated that 28,602 people were hospitalised for falling down stairs in 2007-2008). This statistic supported the company’s stringent rule (signs everywhere) for holding handrails on the staircases in all the buildings and installations – an earnest rule that sometimes made visitors smile.

In that particular workshop, which was cross-sectoral and focused on sustainability, we brought in the “E” of “HS&E” which is now what many companies have renamed their Health and Safety departments (Health, Safety & Environment). After the staircase information another participant added some statistics about how many plastic bottles are being used, to sensitise people people about waste (15 million plastics bottles are used each day in the UK!) This was presented by one of the NGO participants as the “Environment” part of the “HS&E Share” and framed as a way to help society “hold the earth’s handrail.” It was both clever and profound as a way to interpret HS&E in today’s corporate social responsibility environment.

These Shares might also be complemented by inputs from the participants on things that they see on their way to work – safety infractions or good practice – as a way to bring the messages into their daily life, rather than just norms that are followed at work. All in all, this kind of HS&E share took about 10 minutes before the workshop (we even started a little early to take this into account), and was an interesting and thoughtful way to bring both the practical personal safety aspect into the room (including how to get out of it, fast!), as well as to position the workshop discussion in a much wider social context.

If you look around you right now, do you know where the emergency exit is? A fire extinguisher? Your local recycling station?

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