Our latest Safetip is about conducting focus groups to identify safety concerns that workers may have.
Surveys vs. Focus Groups vs. Interviews
Organizations should consult their employees to capture their perceptions of the company’s safety program and to identify concerns.
Many prefer to conduct surveys because they take less time and can reach a greater number of workers. It’s a good idea to run surveys, but you should not limit yourself to a quantitative assessment of employee perceptions.
Valuable input and insight can also be obtained from qualitative assessments. There are two types of qualitative methods: one-on-one interviews and focus groups.
Interviews are good because some employees may be more comfortable sharing feedback in a one-on-one setting, as opposed to a group setting. Also, interviews allow follow-up questions that may result in more detailed feedback.
Focus groups gather feedback from a set of people based on shared characteristics (e.g. they perform the same tasks, face the same hazards and risks, have similar professional or demographic backgrounds, etc.)
Focus groups can provide insights that may not have emerged during one-on-one interviews because there are more people involved, which leads to a wider range of views.
Also, focus groups help to get “on the spot” validation. When someone shares an opinion, other members can express support, which may be an indication of its importance and relevance.
Focus Group Tips
Ideally you want a mix of both a quantitative method, like surveys, and a qualitative method, like focus groups, to get a good idea of employee safety concerns.
There is plenty of guidance on how to run focus groups. For example, a document from NIOSH, “How to Evaluate Safety and Health Changes in the Workplace”, provides the following tips for planning and conducting a focus group:
- Have about 8 to 10 people in each focus group, not more.
- Recruit members with similar characteristics because group discussions get better when they’re about common experiences.
- Hold separate group discussions if you’re seeking opinions from supervisors and the workers they supervise.
- Determine a list of discussion topics ahead of time.
- Set the time to be spent on each topic. According to the NIOSH document, good discussions usually require about 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Write questions in such a way that they encourage discussion. Don’t ask questions that get short answers like “yes” or “true”.
- Use an “ice breaker” to encourage everyone to talk. Members should know that they are expected to contribute.
- Be sure that the discussion is not dominated by the same one or two participants.
- Make sure an experienced notetaker is present.
- Record the session, but only if all participants agree.
- Review the notes, recording or transcript, and create a summary report.
- Be sure that discussions stay confidential.
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