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Safety Briefs: Don't be Boring and Use Real Examples

Image of Marines receiving a safety brief. Click to open a larger version of the image. Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit receive a safety brief from the MEU commander while deployed to the Asia-Pacific region. Safety briefs serve as important reminders for all Service members to be mindful while enjoying their time off (Photo by: Army.mil).

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How do you craft an effective safety brief?

It's not easy. But it's a challenge that commanders and enlisted leaders face all the time, as they try to warn troops about potential problems and discourage avoidable accidents and injuries before they happen.

Humor usually helps to keep the attention of young service members. Try to cite real world examples that illustrate risks. And don’t hesitate to invoke the higher calling and military values that drew many young people into military service in the first place.

Those are some tips from two Marines - Capt. Brenden McDaniel and 1st Sgt. Esperanza Fuentes, the leaders of Bravo Company, Headquarters and Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina - who spoke to us recently about effective ways to resonate safety to young service members before they head out for a weekend of partying and recreation.

How does a leader make a safety brief both interesting and engaging

"I try to engage the Marines - not only give them real-world examples of things that have happened to Marines of mine, but I also try to make it funny," Fuentes said.

She said she often cites the example of one of her Marines who was at a barbeque and put too much lighter fluid on the grill and ended up singeing off his eyebrows.

"It keeps it funny and it's relatable," said Fuentes. "These Marines are young. Some of them are in their teens and early 20s. I have to make it relatable to everyone, but also remind them that, realistically, their choices have consequences."

Real-world examples can serve to convince potentially skeptical young service members that these things really do happen and are something they need to be aware of. While burning off ones' eyebrows may seem funny, it's a way of reminding people that failure to take the proper precautions may result in something far more serious, whether that be using too much lighter fluid or consuming too much alcohol.

"When they come back to work on Monday morning, their choices are going to have consequences, whether they're positive or negative," Fuentes said.

McDaniel explained that he tries to invoke some inspiration to make his Marines see the larger purpose of the safety briefs.

"When I'm crafting a safety brief, one of the most important things that I try to do is emphasize the Marine Corps ethos - specifically our core values of honor, courage and commitment. I try to engage the Marines, especially junior Marines, by reminding them that they volunteered because they wanted something better in their lives."

McDaniel said that it's up to them, personally and individually, to live up to that ethos and the high standards set forth by the Marine Corps to get what they want out of life.

"I use that, and then I tie it into our operational and training opportunities, upcoming volunteer, community and recreational events and try to engage them to get excited about doing something with their lives and their time that is in line with the goals we're trying to accomplish in the company and in the Marine Corps," McDaniel said.

Why are periodic safety briefs important?

McDaniel: "It gives us a chance, as leadership, to get our eyes on all of the Marines - their physical appearance, their demeanor - and it gives them a chance to see us. It gives us an opportunity to promote that culture of care."

Fuentes: "The main point, for me, is that the Marines see that their leadership is engaged with their safety and their well-being."

How did you conduct safety briefs in a COVID environment and are things transitioning back to "normal" yet?

McDaniel: "Last year, when COVID was hitting, we did change our tactics. Some sections offered dial-in safety briefs, where we would get accountability over the phone, give our safety brief, and have questions and answers. That way, we knew that all of the Marines were hearing us and had access to us to address any concerns."

McDaniel also said that when using technology wasn't an option, they broke the company down into smaller formations to keep physical contact to a minimum.

Fuentes: "Those formations that we were still having, we were applying COVID mitigation safety rules including making the Marines stand at 'COVID interval,' or two-arms-length distance away from each other, and they had masks on."

What are the main concerns this summer?

McDaniel: "My biggest concerns are water safety - when Marines, sailors, families are getting into the ocean. The other one is safe travel. If they're going over eight hours, we want them to find a hotel and stay somewhere overnight. We want them taking breaks every few hours on long road trips and we want them to put contact plans in place -they're calling and texting their chain of command and letting them know that they arrived safely and that everything's okay."

Fuentes added that her main concerns include alcohol consumption, hydration and COVID safety.

"Safety during the summer doesn't just affect you," she said. "It can come down to affecting your family, your readiness and the whole company's operational tempo. If we lose one Marine - that affects everyone."

McDaniel also added that he encourages his Marines to keep physical fitness in mind.

"Physical fitness is a cornerstone of the Marine Corps. It's essential for the success of our young Marines, but it's also so effective in managing stress," he said. "We're trying to make them turn it into a habit, where it's the norm for them to go to the gym, to get some extra miles in. These healthy habits are going to prove successful for them, not just in their time in the Marine Corps, but throughout their entire life."

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