How a Safety Tool Aids Psychological Safety: Exploring the 3-2-1 Safety Pyramid

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 036

Jul 19, 2023

How a simple Safety Tool can Enhance the Learning Experience

[Listen at approximately 00:12]

In this week's episode, we want to share how a simple safety tool can create a great learning experience and introduce:  The 3-2-1 Safety Pyramid.

As we embarked on this episode, we asked ourselves: How did we come across this pyramid? Honestly, we're not sure. But we know we love it, and it works incredibly well.

So, let's start by understanding what this safety tool is all about.

It's called the 3-2-1 safety pyramid and aims to help you think more deeply about your actions.

Whether it's a routine task that you perform regularly and want to check in with your team, or maybe it's a task you haven't done in a while or a process that needs updating—this pyramid will guide you. It encourages you to consider the safety aspects and the unchanging facts surrounding the task or process.

But what we find most valuable is the final point of the pyramid: The one question you should ask to seek clarification or gain a better understanding.

This is where the true power of this safety tool lies, as it facilitates a fantastic learning experience for the entire team. Through these questions, everyone can learn and grow together.

Now, let's visualize the pyramid. Imagine a piece of paper with a pyramid shape. At the bottom are three safety considerations, progressing to two in the middle, and finally, at the top, there's one crucial question. (See the resources section below for a downloadable version to help you)

Ultimately, this safety tool aims to bring out your existing knowledge and understanding while fostering collective learning by addressing the unknown and uncertain to ensure you have all the answers you need before you embark on any task, preventing confusion or misunderstandings.

An Example - The Rig Tour

[Listen at approximately 02:40]

Here is a great example demonstrating the safety tool's practical application:


We had a scenario where office personnel visited the worksite, which presented a valuable opportunity to use the 3-2-1 Pyramid safety tool effectively.

This particular instance involved a client we had been collaborating with. Office staff rarely see firsthand the impact of their decisions on the worksite. However, on this occasion, we organised a rig tour while the rig was docked, and over 20 office staff members participated.

It was fascinating for them to witness how their decisions made behind desks manifested in reality. They could grasp the actual impact, whether related to ordering, dealing with delays, or any other aspect.

Before the tour commenced, we introduced the 3-2-1 pyramid to add value to the experience.

We asked them to think of three things they already knew or considered important about the subject, whether it was related to safety or any other aspect of their work. (I cannot recall if we framed the subsequent part as two facts or two intriguing aspects they found interesting.)

During the walkabout, we wanted to enhance the learning experience further.

We asked each participant to think of one specific question they would like to have answered before they returned to the office. We encouraged them to engage in pairs, answering their questions individually and then sharing their thoughts with their partner.

This allowed them to discuss their questions and insights with a colleague, friend, or whoever accompanied them during the visit.

Sharing Across the Team

[Listen at approximately 04:39]

Moving on to the larger group, we adopted a different approach. 

Given the group size, it was impractical to address every question individually. Instead, we encouraged participants to share their burning questions that:

    • still needed to be answered or 
    • could provide valuable insights for the entire team. 

This led to engaging discussions where various opinions and perspectives emerged.

Witnessing how these conversations unveiled hidden curiosities and uncertainties within the group was fascinating. Participants would ask themselves, "Why is it like this?" or question the accuracy of their knowledge and assumptions. 

These discussions became a priceless learning experience. 

As the session concluded, participants from different departments and those on the ground had experienced meaningful knowledge sharing. They gained a deeper understanding of their collective impact and developed a newfound appreciation for their involvement in the process. 

It was truly eye-opening for everyone involved, allowing them to return to their daily routines with a heightened awareness and enriched perspectives.

Creating a Safe Space for Curiosity

[Listen at approximately 06:13]

It is clear that this approach sparks curiosity and gives people a chance to jot down their thoughts.

Imagine everyone carrying a piece of paper and a pen during the vessel tour to capture their ideas and what they're learning so that their valuable insights won't slip away or be forgotten. It creates a fantastic space for curiosity, especially in a group setting and helps people walk away with real, concrete learning experiences.

  • It is a great way to ignite curiosity in those unfamiliar with the environment while giving them a safe place to explore and ask questions.
  • It's equally valuable for areas where we're so used to our surroundings that we stop truly seeing them.
  • It can be an excellent tool for safety walks or any other activity.

Here's a fun example: Picture yourself sitting around a dining room table with a bunch of friends, having a blast. You could turn this into a dinner game! How about asking everyone to share three cities they've visited, two favourite memories from those cities, and one place they'd love to see next?

Take it back to the workplace, too, like reflecting on three things you've just observed or witnessed, two points you want to clarify or remember, and that one burning question still on your mind.

It's all about making learning engaging and satisfying that curiosity we all have inside.

How to Use the 3-2-1 Pyramid Safety Tool

[Listen at approximately 07:44]

When do you use this approach? 

Well, it's not meant to replace toolbox talks or be used daily. Instead, it can be applied in specific situations; for instance, it can be used when introducing a new process or system. 

We've used it as a facilitated group learning experience.

In this case,

  • Everyone in the room receives a 3-2-1 Pyramid sheet and writes critical tasks related to their roles on post-it notes.
  • These notes are then placed on posters, and participants are paired up.
  • Each pair selects the post-it notes they are most interested in or want to learn more about.
  • They then individually work through the 3-2-1 pyramid and discuss it within their pair.

The group discussions that follow often lead to fantastic learning outcomes.


A Practical Example: Lifting & Rigging

~ What are three safety considerations?

Participants might mention:

  • the importance of using the right lifting gear for the job, 
  • ensuring colour coding is followed, and 
  • inspecting equipment for any damage before starting. 

~ What are two facts?

They might mention

  • that soft slings are not allowed on board without a permit to work and 
  • the significance of using the correct block on the crane. 

[Listen at approximately 10:14]

~ Finally, what is your one question? 

One participant asked about a recent colour coding change and why it had occurred - which sparked a meaningful discussion.

It made us realize that many new individuals in the industry needed to familiarise themselves with colour code changes and their purpose. We explained that the purpose is to ensure that all critical lifting gear is inspected every six months for safety and given a new colour code.

Equipment that has yet to be inspected is placed in quarantine until inspectors return. 

This conversation and learning experience extended beyond the initial group, as we encouraged other departments to ensure their new team members understood the reasons behind specific procedures. 

It highlighted the importance of understanding the "why" behind safety measures to avoid potential consequences.

The 3-2-1 pyramid aims to make the invisible visible and create a safe space for questions, whether they have been burning or not even considered - this is also crucial for supervisors. 

They can use the pyramid to ensure everyone understands critical points before starting a job. It's not about doubting someone's competence but ensuring shared understanding to prevent critical failures. What's great is that it doesn't require accessing a system or procedure. 

It allows for knowledge sharing, helps identify gaps, even for the most experienced individuals in the room, and brings to light critical aspects that may have been forgotten or overlooked. 

These crucial points may not have come to the forefront without someone asking the question. 

[Listen at approximately 12:14]

This tool is truly remarkable in its simplicity. You can adapt it to be as straightforward or intricate as you like. 

It's like a little gift from us to you, meant to enhance your learning experience. 

Even more delightful is that we discovered more during our research into its origins. Interestingly, it's widely used in two areas that promote critical thinking, reflective processes, strategic thinking, and learning. So it's versatile and can be applied in various contexts. 

Speaking of reflective processes, it's a fantastic tool for learning something new. You can remove the word "safety" from the conversation and use it purely for reflective learning. 

That's essentially what it is—a tool for reflection and growth

It can be used in countless ways, so don't limit yourself to thinking it's only suitable for specific situations. Embrace its flexibility and use it as an opportunity to get to know your teams better. It has tremendous potential.

In Summary

[Listen at approximately 13:58]

Example questions you can ask to get to know each other as a team:

👉🏼 Think about three things that bring you happiness at home.

👉🏼 Consider two challenges you're currently facing that the team can offer support with.

👉🏼 Reflect on one thing you'd like to share, something unique about you that nobody else knows.

This simple yet powerful approach is known as the 3-2-1 Pyramid.

This tool creates a wonderful way to unite a team and foster an inclusive environment where everyone can contribute. It's incredible how such a straightforward tool can break down complex barriers and encourage discussions, even on sensitive topics.

You could even apply it to performance management by asking:

  • What are three areas where you excel?
  • What are two areas that you need to work on?
  • What is one thing you'd like to learn in the next six months?

The possibilities are endless.

While we introduced it to you as the 3-2-1 Pyramid, feel free to adapt and use it in any way that suits your needs. We primarily use it in our work, but we hope you enjoy it and the other tools we've shared. We certainly have a fondness for our tools, and at least this one breaks the mould by being a pyramid instead of a quadrant.

Reach Out

We encourage you to reach out and let us know how you're using the tool.

If you have additional ideas or ways in which we can add value, we'd love to hear from you. This learning experience is a two-way street, where we share our knowledge with you and learn from you as well.

🔎 You can easily find us on LinkedIn—Nuala Gage or Karin Ovari to connect with us.

🫧 Alternatively, please share your thoughts with us here via the chat bubble (ChatBot)

And, of course, help us spread the word by following us on your favourite podcast platforms and sharing with others, as knowledge always brings value.

People In Action

E036_Safety Tool 3-2-1 Pyramid - People in Action


About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety. 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.

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