Picture this. It’s rush hour, it’s dark, and four cars have ploughed into one another on a busy Shropshire road. Four drivers jump out, mobiles in hand, wandering around making calls on the carriageway, with cars and lorries on both sides weaving around at dangerous speed.

Fortunately, no one was hurt. But immediately after the impact it took me a few moments to take stock, sat in one of the crushed middle cars.

I got out, feeling as shellshocked as my fellow accident victims clearly were. In such a stressful situation, it would’ve been easy to yell at them for being inattentive to obvious dangers, and needlessly putting themselves and others in harm’s way. So instead, I called everyone on to the verge where it was safer. We assessed our options as a team, and I encouraged people to speak up about how we could turn the situation around.

We discussed then we got organised

We made sure everyone was OK (a nurse had helpfully pulled over – adding to the melee!), called the police, put hazard lights on (by accessing cars from the verge side), then calmly exchanged details for our insurers.

We also moved the cars out of the carriageway, cleared up larger pieces of debris – leaving the rear car (a Freelander who had rather inconveniently parked in my boot) until last, to protect us from traffic.

So between us we’d took ownership of our safety, and it was our individual efforts that reduced risk for everybody.

By the time the police arrived we were already sorted

It was then that one of the chaps explained what had happened to the officers, and what we had collectively done. All eyes were on me as the immortal words were murmured by one of the police officers “… and what exactly is your occupation madam?”

I immediately felt guilty – that as a health and safety professional of some 20 years plus, I should know better than to become involved in an accident. But then I was glad that my innate drive to improve people’s safety awareness and behaviour in the workplace had not been crushed (unlike my car!).

For those of you who haven’t already spotted it – what got us out of danger was an effective safety discussion, albeit unplanned.

Conversations like these should happen often in healthy workplaces – where individuals help people think about the consequences of something going wrong, how they could be injured, and what changes could be made to improve the situation.

Looking back, none of us had emergency equipment in our cars – which would have been really useful. By that I mean the much maligned high-vis jackets, warning triangles or even a decent torch – the sort of gear that in some countries is mandatory.

In this instance an effective safety conversation would help by getting people to reflect on what a high-risk activity driving is. And how we could mitigate that by giving ample time so we don’t rush, avoid congestion and have time for breaks, for example. With new, increased penalties for mobile phone use, these issues are more important than ever.

Conversations like these needn’t take long

Nor should they be complicated. Yet most importantly, they don’t have to be done by a health and safety professional. Anyone, at any level can do them and see the same benefits that helped me and my fellow accident victims minimise the risk of further injury.

I strongly believe that effective safety discussions like these are one of the basic cornerstones of culture improvement in a business and a real step to a positive change.

Do you agree?