Practitioner viewpoint - February 2020

14 January 2020

When Louise Ward was tasked with arranging an internal health and safety conference, digital engagement showcased the power of technology.

AT THE start of this year the MD asked me to arrange a health and safety conference for our business. The idea of a ‘traditional’ conference event (small percentage of workforce go off to a venue for a day of ‘expert’ presentations, most of which are forgotten before the delegates return to work) seemed entirely at odds with our focus on engagement. So I challenged the team to come up with something a little bit different.

We started with the concept of TED talks* and from there we developed an ambitious plan which we called zero harm conversations week, an 8 day extravaganza which aimed to touch every single person in our business at least 3 times during the event. The whole idea was based around a multi-layered approach featuring livestream broadcast, pre-recorded thought leadership videos, interactive webinars, and local events, all linked by a digital events platform and supported by social media activity. 

If you’re thinking that it sounds like an IT nightmare doomed to highly public and embarrassing failure, then you’re not alone. There were times during the planning phase when I was ready to cut my losses, admit defeat and revert to a more tried and tested model. But I can’t tell you how glad I am that we stuck at it.

The event has just finished and it has been a massive success. We genuinely managed to reach everybody in our 24/7 business, including contractors, some of our customers and supply chain partners too. The variety of media and subject matter allowed everyone to engage in something that was of relevance or interest to them, and some really effective conversations resulted both face to face and on our social media platform. I have never had such positive feedback from a health and safety event, and we have seen some real changes in behaviour and attitudes.

I think the real power of the event was in localisation. Each location curated their own programme based on local ideas and priorities, drawing on the digital media but also featuring local activities ranging from health fairs, first aid training, sporting events, lunchtime walks, charity events, environmental projects, healthy lunches and more. The great thing was that they were posting online throughout the week, sharing ideas and having conversations about zero harm, often with people that they’d never met before. 

While not exactly a technophobe, I do tend to have a healthily scepticism about the claimed impact of digital engagement, but I have to admit that the whole thing worked far better than I could have imagined. It still required a lot of preparation and input, in just the same way as a traditional conference, but the difference is that it reached and positively engaged our whole workforce.

Modern workplaces are becoming much more decentralised, and one of the key concerns from a health and safety point of view is the challenge of engaging and safeguarding a geographically dispersed and increasingly mobile workforce. Suppliers of technology and software applications regularly tell us that digital engagement is the solution, but until last week I’ve tended to dismiss this as advertising and hyperbole.

This experience has definitely changed my view. It’s not made me into a digital evangelist, but I am now convinced that a blended approach, combining digital engagement with face to face events and other media can be highly effective, and it doesn’t have to be expensive either. The continual evolution of smart phone technology means that many people have the capacity to create and view high quality audio and video material quite literally in their hands!

I’m lucky to work with a fantastic team in an open minded, technology focused business, but I honestly believe that this sort of blended approach to engagement could work in most organisations and will become an increasingly important tool for health and safety professionals in the workplace of the future. 

Why not give it a try?

*If you’ve not encountered these before I highly recommend them. They are short punchy thought leadership videos covering a huge range of topics which are freely available online. See

Louise Ward is the health, safety and environment director at Siemens. For more information visit,