The Safety of Work

Ep.54 Do safety communication campaigns reduce injuries?

Episode Summary

Welcome back to the Safety of Work podcast. Today, we discuss whether safety communication campaigns reduce injuries.

Episode Notes

We dig into how safety promotion is used and its effectiveness within an organization. Often, safety communication is about large-scale behaviors and societal problems. So, we found a paper that focused on workplace safety, which was hard to find. The Effects of an Informational Safety Campaign in the Shipbuilding Industry helps us frame our conversation about the efficacy of safety communication and injury reduction.


Tune in to join the conversation!





“It doesn’t have to be a poster, it could be broadcast communications, video clips, stuff on a website, even a podcast. But it’s a verbal or written message from the organization…” 

“Most of this research is conducted on very large scale behaviors, which are things that people generally agree are bad behaviors. So, many of the campaigns that are most effective and are being studied are to do with things like drink driving or cigarette smoking.”

“There could well be some more diffuse, more long-term effect here on the climate that our measurements just aren’t capturing…”



The Effects of an Informational Safety Campaign in the Shipbuilding Industry.

Episode Transcription

David: You’re listening to the Safety of Work podcast episode 54. Today, we’re asking the question, do safety communication campaigns reduce injuries? Let’s get started.

Hey, everybody. My name’s David Provan. I’m here with Drew Rae, and we’re from the Safety Science Innovation Lab at Griffith University. In each episode, we ask an important question in relation to the safety of work or the work of safety, and we examine the evidence surrounding it. Drew, what’s today’s question?

Drew: David, a lot of safety activity is geared around changing the way people behave. We talked in a few different episodes, most notably on episode 22, about changing attitudes in order to change behavior. I think it might even have been episode 1 when we talked generally about behavior change campaigns.

In this episode, we’re going to come back to that, looking at it another way that we try to change people’s behavior at work, which is specifically about safety communication campaigns. That’s really where our question is about. How we use, sometimes they’re called safety promotion, and what effect that has within an organization.

David: We have these campaigns in all of our organizations. I think all of our listeners would have had various forms of safety communication campaigns daily, weekly in all organizations, safety months, safety days. Let’s define a little bit more about what we mean and what we don’t mean when we talk about safety communication campaigns.

Drew: The most typical example I can think of is you’re visiting a company, you go into the bathroom, and up on the wall, there is a poster of some sort or it’s on the door of a cubicle reminding you about safety. It’s very clearly just about communication. It doesn’t have to be a poster, it could be broadcast communications, video clips, stuff on a website, even a podcast, but it’s a verbal or written message from the organization to people. It doesn’t have other factors built into it.

David: And some of these other factors could be, we’re not talking about communicating requirements for specific tasks like JSA, procedures, risk assessments. We’re not talking about an implementation of a broader program, and we’re not talking about reporting or sharing incidents in safety about things like that. We’re talking about, as you said, just either general or specific safety messaging that is just about the communication.

Drew: Yes, this could range anything from just reminding people that safety is important or it could be asking them to do something specific—remember to wear a helmet, remember to wear your shoes, don’t fall over, don’t stick your hands into machinery at work.

I may be a little bit glued. These things really do vary a lot in both their messaging and in their effectiveness. Some of the fairly strong examples people might be familiar with is using broadcast TV to talk about drunk driving. The important thing here is that very often drunk driving TV ads are combined with an enforcement campaign. It’s not just that we're running a TV ad, but we’re also reminding you that we are currently hiding our enforcement activity or we’ve doubled the fines this weekend. What we’re looking at in this episode is the communication alone detached from other things. How much can we change safety just by communicating rather than by communicating and enforcing?

David: Safety communication campaigns (I think) appeal to managers and safety professionals because they’re sort of relatively easy to implement. You can reach a high number of people with a consistent message, you can demonstrate some visible action from the organization, it gives you a sense of doing something, and I think organizations feel really good about their safety communication campaigns.

There’s this sentence from the paper that we're going to introduce shortly for today, and a quote is that “before any positive change can be expected in the number or the seriousness of accidents, the campaign material has to be seen, and be understood, and be acted upon.” 

I really like this example because this is an older paper we talk about, but we talk a lot on this podcast about how far removed the safety work might be from the safety of work. How many steps are there in between? This relationship is really important, and I just like the way that actually stepped out this relationship between the communication campaign itself and then through to whether or not the seriousness or frequency of injuries were going to change.

Drew: I think this is one of those areas where it’s really important to spell out those steps. We can fall into the trap of assuming that something is effective because it’s accomplished one of those steps. A number of times I’ve been involved in the periphery of campaigns around some really important issues like workplace violence and people are measuring the effectiveness of their campaign by the number of likes that the page has got on Facebook or on LinkedIn.

Now, that is a valid measure, but it’s a measure of how many people have seen the campaign material. Sometimes, you might see people go a step further and they do a survey or something like that, so that’s checking that the campaign material has been understood. But none of that really tells you whether the thing that you’re trying to change has changed. 

That’s why you need to spell out the steps—how people have seen it, how many people understood it, and how many people have acted upon it. You have to assume that it goes down each of those steps, that there is only a certain portion of people who’ve seen it, understand it, and listened, people who understand it act upon it.

David: Yeah, and our regular listeners would probably sound a little bit like a broken record, but sometimes we just don’t think about this enough in our organizations. Here’s a great communication campaign. It’s good to do for safety, which is an automatic assumption or expectation that it’s going to have an impact on the safety of work, and so on.

We’re going to get into that today which is going to be really good. There were a few background studies that were in the paper that we’re going to talk about. I think it’s fair to say that workplace safety campaigns have been around probably forever that we’ve been interested in safety, but there is very little research on the impact and their effectiveness. 

There are important stuff that we’ll talk about, but most of the specific studies that were mentioned were outside the workplace I just want to talk briefly about, too, if that’s okay because I think it just helps set the context.

Drew: Go for it, David. And yeah, these things are really old. I found stickers from safety campaigns dating back to 1910. Apart from the poor production value, it really looks like they could’ve been produced today.

David: There’s a lot of communication stuff that littered through Heinrich’s work, through the stuff I was reading when we had a podcast a while ago. These things have been around forever. In the early seventies when mandatory seat belts came in in some parts of the world, there’s a lot of mass media just trying to establish this safe behavior change. 

A large study that was done in and around that time in 1974 sort of found that the percentage of drivers who’d seen the advertising campaign on TV basically wore their seat belt just as much as people who had never seen the campaign. Like you said earlier, sometimes these things join up with enforcement, but just with the campaign alone really had no impact at all. There’s this thing between I might see it, but I might not do anything about the fact that I’ve seen it.

There’s another study in the eighties that looked at the prevalence of accidents of children in homes. They had these two groups of families. They gave one group just saw the advertisements on TV, and another group that saw the advertisements and they got someone specifically visiting their home and pointing out to them about what could be done to reduce incidents in the home. 

Maybe unsurprisingly, in 60% of the cases where someone physically attended the home and talked through with the family about their situation, things were changed in the house to reduce the risk of incidents. Without that visit, it was something like 9% of people changed something in the house. 

We got a situation where it’s probably fair to say that this body of research around communication campaign says that the results got to be somewhere between 0% and 10% of people who actually do something differently. Is this consistent with how you see the literature?

Drew: Yeah. If the answer really was 9% or 10%, we shouldn’t underestimate that that is a genuinely real amount of change. If we could pick fatalities in our organization and say we’re going to reduce the chance of those fatalities by 10%, that would definitely be something that is worth doing. The trouble is that there’s fairly weak evidence for these effects, and when you’re talking about weak evidence for a change that could be as low as 0% or as high as 10%, you’ve got to assume that any given campaign could be down at that zero end without good evidence otherwise.

It’s also worth pointing out that most of this research is conducted on very large-scale behaviors, which are things that people generally agree are bad behaviors. Many of the campaigns that are most affected and that are being studied have to do with things like drink driving or cigarette smoking were the behaviors that people probably searched.

I guess in the case of drink driving, a lot of papers the campaign was to change the social acceptability of the behavior. They were quite effective in doing that, but we don’t have that level of evidence when it comes to single workplace level interventions.

David: Before we get into the study then—we picked this one because it was workplace-based—the broader communication literature, I suppose safety communication, which is suggest a set of criteria that might make an effective campaign. Maybe you could just introduce that now because it’s what we use as the basis for the design of the study that we’re going to talk about today. Before we talk about the paper, what should people have in their mind about one of the things that might make a communication campaign more successful?

Drew: This is a fantastic list because it comes out of some of that same literature that says the campaign generally isn't effective. You see a number of these different papers that say the campaign’s probably not going to work, but this is what will give its best chance of working. Each one of these things have multiple studies that points directly to the particular factor.

The first one is that it needs to have a clear objective. You can’t just have safety first, or safety is your responsibility, or please care. Communication campaigns work best when they’re asking for something specific. 

The second one is the specific thing you ask for has to be something that is positive and that people believe that they can do. It’s really easy for people to understand and take action. That’s sometimes phrased as the campaign should directly tell people what you are asking them to do. You don’t put it negatively. You don’t say, here’s a picture of somebody putting their hand in the machine. Don’t be like them. You say, I would like you to ensure that your hands are on the surface away from the machine, or put your gloves on before using the machine. A positive action you would like people to follow.

The third one is attract attention. The material should actually draw your eye to it and get people to look at it. Along with that is sometimes the idea that there are optimal rates at which you should change the material. It won’t attract attention if it is put too long with exactly the same stuff. It is worth keeping the same message but changing the presentation.

It should be placed at the crucial point of action. I particularly love that one. Every time I go into an organization and I see this one at the bathroom, I think what is the crucial point of safety that you want me to do while I’m here? Because unless it’s washing my hands, I’m really not sure why you’re telling me at this particular point in my life.

The final one is message reinforcement. Particularly in this paper they point to feedback of results, so tell people how it is working. It helps people to move that behavior change. All of those are things that they looked at and followed in the study we’re going to look at today. 

David: Let’s introduce the study now. The title of the paper is The Effects of an Informational Safety Campaign in the Shipbuilding Industry. It was published in the Journal of Occupational Accidents in 1989. This might be one of the oldest research papers that we’ve looked at on the podcast, being from 30 years ago.

Originally, when I was looking around the communications slogans piece because a regular listener (Adam) reached out and said, hey, you’ve got anything on slogans? I had a bit of a look and I thought, let’s go for the road safety campaign research about traffic accidents because there are lots of it, there are lots of large meta analytic studies, there are lots of recent studies, and flipped it across to you, Drew, and said, not a bad idea, but how about this paper? I just want to know why you want to push to the side all of that well-funded current research and make me run through a 1989 paper?

Drew: David, it was because this is one of my favorite papers, and I wanted a chance to talk about it. There are some things I really love about it. The first one is we’re not talking analogies here. Too often, when we talk about behavior change we’ve had to resort to things outside workplace safety where the high-quality research has been done.

I just wanted to demonstrate to our listeners that this can happen in the workplace. It doesn’t have to be we see this big study done in road safety, so we’re going to use the results of that and interpret it for hand injuries at work. This is specifically about safety in a single workplace. This something that any of our listeners could do if they wanted to do the study.

The second thing is I love the simple design that is still really quite robust in terms of having multiple intervention groups, having controls, having really sound measurement that they were building into it.

The third one is I just love the honesty. They set out doing this, sincerely believing that they’re going to prove that it would work. To a large extent, they did prove a number of the things that they were hoping for, but they missed out on that one final measure. They didn’t try to hide it at all. They just frankly reported all results as they went along. That clarity and honesty is (I think) what we need to be able to genuinely improve safety.

The final one is not a 1989 paper, no one else has done something better since. I think that is an important takeaway message as well. If I could do it back then, don’t tell us you can’t do workplace experiments to improve safety. Don’t go putting up those damn posters in the bathroom unless you’re willing to go through this sort of work.

David: I think this a good litmus test for people when they look at what was involved in this sort of a study. It would be good if we had more research like this that would help us point every source in our organization.

The authors were Kaija Saarela, Jorma Saari, and Markku Aaltonen. At the time, they’re all part of the Institute of Occupational Health and Safety just outside Helsinki in Finland. There’s a fair bit of methods and we’ll go into as much detail as it helps, because like you, I actually hadn’t read this paper before. When I went through it, I was like, Jesus, this is a really interesting and good piece of work.

They conducted their research in the shipbuilding industry because it had a high and average number of accidents than the general industry, but it also offered them some interesting opportunities to control for other potential variables in the study. What they took is they took a whole bunch of workers and supervisors who worked for this one, large ship-building company that employed 3500 people. They had these contracts to build multiple ships. If people are familiar with, like it might be a production run of cars. They were building multiple tankers and multiple ferries.

What I would do is actually get a specific construction process or period of time on one tanker and run an intervention, and then when they build tanker number two, they can use that as a control. So, similar work activity, similar environment, similar capability of people, similar numbers of people, similar time frames, and that just limit those other confounding variables when you’re actually trying to isolate out some changes. 

In total, 1900 people or so were involved in this study. There were 300 workers on each of the tankers, let’s call them tanker one and tanker two, and 658 on each of the ferries, ferry one and two. 

I think this was a somewhat unique opportunity to have these almost identical working environments between the intervention and the control group. The study duration was between five and eight months for each of these construction periods. There was a lot of data in it, and even that was in one organization, there’s quite a lot that went into it.

Drew: They also did some thinking about what were the factors that could confound the study. They thought about pretty much most of the things you might think about. You might think, okay this length of time the weather’s going to change, but when you do it over a long-enough period like this, you get to see all types of weather during the study. 

You might think, well okay, the work is getting more experience. They’re getting better as they go along. That’s what the control groups help with. And actually, even checked historically when they were building three ships where the people had fewer injuries building the third ship. It seems to be that, no, there isn’t any sort of panel like that that we need to worry about. So, some simple basic checks just to see that they are doing a fair test of the ideas, then the rest of it is just about what the idea was.

They wanted to follow those criteria we set out for effective communication campaigns. They got a group of people within the organization together, generated 35 slogans. Each of these slogans was a specific instruction. Things like only only carry away as much materials you need today, or find out where the exits are. A couple of the slogans are a little bit more vague, like you can affect everybody’s safety, but most of them follow that rule of giving people specific instruction to follow.

David: They have these 35 slogans which they come up with the internal people just to try to direct specific action at specific parts of the ship or during specific processes like work sites and gangways, or specific slogans to identify and eliminate certain common hazards, a slogan to make sure that work started safely, and these slogans around removing risk.

All these things that you’d think if this message is getting through, then things are going to change, risks are going to be reduced, work’s only going to start when it’s safe. What you said, Drew, they set this up thinking—I assume that the research is thinking—this is going to be great. We’re going to really make a big impact here.

What they did, basically, on the tanker, the slogans were hand-written on some plain yellow cardboard about a half a meter by a half a meter in size. This is how simple, I suppose, today like you talked about production value earlier, running an experiment by the safety person, just writing in pen on a piece of cardboard and hanging it up, but this is because this was sort of similar to the way that other signage was actually put up during the construction period. It was signage that the work groups were familiar and are used to seeing. The same on the ferry. They printed signs because that was similar to what was done there.

How they ran this study is in the tanker, in the first week they basically put up 101 slogan signboards with the 35 different slogans. They hung them all over the tanker, in the areas where they wanted that message to be actually seen and acted on by the people. They put them up and then they took them down after the week. They took them down for a week. After two weeks, they put them back up, and then they took them down.

They’re cycling these slogans. They’d be in the workplace for one week, and then they wouldn’t be there the next week. They just kept cycling it. Then, they had some longer periods of duration with the signs up, and some smaller periods. They put 56 up and 57 up. So, trying to make the (I suppose) environment a little bit dynamic, but in the end, basically the slogans were up for about 10% of the total time. It wasn’t there all the time, but it was there for about 10%. 

There was a slightly different design for the ferries where they shortened down the number of the slogans and came up with a few extra ones, and then they put them up for much longer periods of time. They put them up for three or four weeks with only four or five slogans. They were trying to get longer duration, much more targeted messaging, into the ferries. Again, that could also give you the opportunity to look at some variability between what might be different strategies for communicating in the workplace, not just whether the communication makes a difference.

Drew: Let’s talk a little bit about what the outcome is from the study. Ultimately of course, what they’re interested in is changing the incident rates of injuries as they’re constructing the ships. There’s a lot of stuff until we get to that point.

The first one is that they interviewed a lot of people about what they noticed about the signs, what they thought about the signs, whether they thought the signs had been effective. We’re talking 87 out of 300 people interviewed on the tanker, 57 out of 650 on the ferry. Quite a large proportion, but also quite large numbers. Some of these people had worked on both, because this is the same continuous workforce. 

They asked them questions like how many of the slogans could they remember, and your typical respondents could remember three to four of the slogans. That’s really quite, I thought, David, a low number, particularly since they didn’t have to get it right word for word, they just had to basically remember the message.

David: I think over 5 or 8 months and cycling all of these things, having 100 sign boards up around 35 different slogans and then asking people which of these things can you recall, and just like you said not word for word but just a general vibe of the slogans. The average being 3 or 4 means that, again, it’s an average so I might assume there’s people who might have been able to list 15 or 20 of these things, which means there’s also a lot of people on averages who could list 0 or 1. Even that 3 or 4, I don’t think the study reported the range there, but I think that would be fascinating.

Drew: Yeah, and it’s interesting that some of them—I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the TV show Pointless—try to guess which slogans have given the most and you get a prize, if you spot the slogan that no one remembered. The Pointless answers here were you can affect everybody’s safety, no one remembered that one. Know the rules, refresh your memory, read your manual. No one remembered that one.

Even though they had this sort of low recall rate, people were very positive about the program. If you ask people did you like it, did you think it was effective, people said yes. There was a strong perception that this was good for safety.

David: Drew, one of the things they also did in the method, which we haven’t mentioned yet, is they did these housekeeping reviews. They had health and safety representatives go around the workplace and in the tanker for example give a score on a scale of 4 to 10 about what the rating of the housekeeping was, do these routinely, all the way to the study. This was also again this death before injuries because they’re also interested to go hey look, even if injuries move around a lot and we’ve talked a lot about the usefulness of injury rates and the randomness of injury rates… But housekeeping, a lot of the specific instructions were like don’t leave hoses and things lying around, do this, do this, do this. 

I think they were hoping that they could see a housekeeping change, and really in terms of those housekeeping reviews, people walking around all the time, only very modest changes were identified in the interventions. In the tanker, basically the score went from 6 to an 8 during the first 4 weeks, then basically decreased back to the starting point during the intervention period like with the signs still up. Then in the ferry, scores changed even less in two areas, and was totally unchanged in a third area of that particular construction vessel.

You’re saying even with hundreds of signs around the place telling people specifically what you wanted them to do, regardless of what the injury rate shows when we get to it, the claim that you could make that it changed behavior is almost gone, I suppose.

Drew: Let’s get to the bottom line on what effect this had on incident rates. I feel a little bit hypocritical, David, because you and I are both being fairly critical of incident rates. In the coming weeks, we got a couple studies that we’re going to look at that talk specifically about some of the reasons why. We’ve got to use what the studies, and lots of safety studies use incident rates as their final measure. That’s the case in this study.

It’s good that they didn’t just use incident rates, we’ve got this pattern that we can see. First, they measure how people saw the message, how much they recall the message, which is a good test of understanding. How much it’s changed the basic behavior tested by the housekeeping observations. Then, the final step, whether that changes the injuries.

If we saw a consistent pattern across those things, that would give us confidence if they found that there was an improvement in the injury rate. David, what did the injury rate show?

David: I think in the end, the injury rate was nothing to see here. They did lots of work with injury rates. They went back in time, years, they looked at all these different variations in sequencing of the vessel construction, of where they were, all these things we spoke about. They only looked at injuries where there was three days of work because this is what the workers compensation system [...]. They feared, I suppose, the inconsistency in reporting of minor incidents would confirm the data. Basically, they found nothing, no impact, no change.

In the tanker, the intervention that was in the tanker with all of the signage, there was a slightly higher number of injuries than in the tanker without the signage. But the tanker without the signage has slightly more severe, but nothing statistically significant, in any of those numbers. In the ferry, the situation was actually the opposite. There were fewer accidents in the intervention ferry, but they were more severe. There was no statistical significance in any direction of the communication campaigns, and the injuries that occured.

I think, Drew, if I summarized  the findings of this study before we get onto practical takeaways, we’d say the campaign was received well, people weren’t upset with signs being hung up in their workplace saying that safety is important, specific slogans are recalled best. But at the end of the day, people could recall very few slogans through the interviews. It made a minor to no improvement to working conditions, only one very minor improvement in one part of the study. The campaign appeared to have no impact in preventing injuries.

Again, Drew, they’re talking about more than two years of study, with months, and months, and months of intervention in the workplace.

Drew: David, I should point out here that this is one of several similar studies that were conducted around the same time in the same part of the world in the shipbuilding industry. I’m aware of another study that involved specifically a behavior around the use of cranes, and another study that was also fairly similar to this one but had a slightly positive result, did find some behavior change. 

I don’t want people to take away the message that communication campaigns flat out don’t work. The general trend of evidence is that they have a small, positive effect, but that the evidence for that effect is also fairly weak. The closer you look at it, the more likely it is to evaporate.You discover that what you’re seeing is people responding positively to the campaign without that positive response leading onto changes in action, changes in safety.

David: Drew, I think I tried to also think about where I sat personally on this, or what my initial assumptions were. I was thinking even if we think about the safety of work model in social safety, about safety being important, I was wondering if this fact that safety, the campaign was being received well on these vessels, and people might have been talking a little bit more about safety, it might have given permission for people to ask for more things to do with safety or do stuff. But then at the end, I was also going yeah, but then over an eight-month period, we probably might have seen some of those in direct effect start to show up.

I sort of walked away now still wondering I suppose I wouldn’t tell an organization to stop communicating about safety, but I think I personally need to give quite a lot of thought into how I feel about safety communication and what I think it does, and what role it does play. Again, I don’t think the answer is no communication, but I think it sends me back to the drawing board anyway.

Drew: So David, a couple of thoughts there. The first one is I think that the initial response you had is the same response a lot of people will have. If you challenge the effectiveness of safety communication, they’ll say fine, we couldn’t measure a direct effect on injuries, but injuries are a terrible measure anyway. There could well be some more diffused, more long term effect here on the climate that our measurements just aren’t capturing and that is more than just a simple, blunt change in behavior leading to safety. I think that is a perfectly valid argument to make. I think it is a perfectly reasonable supposition. I think it is entirely, theoretically sound. 

The second thought is that if that’s the way you think it works, then do a study that measures that instead. Don’t use that as an argument for why we’re doing a study that’s supposed to be changing behavior and hasn’t changed behavior. If we think that the way to improve safety isn’t just changing specific behaviors, it’s to improve climate and thereby make things safer, then do a study that measures that and show that effect. You can do the same designer study, just put slightly different measurements, and find that effect. 

It’s very frustrating when people get a negative result. I want to explain that away with an alternate hypothesis about how safety works. If you’ve got that alternate hypothesis, then design a study around the alternate hypothesis, instead. In terms of evidence base, we just can talk about what we’ve got evidence for. This one was testing that direct one that we can change people’s front line behavior with reminders right at the point of action, which really is a plausible theory, it does make sense that you remind people just before they do something, maybe they’ll do the right thing. We just didn’t see that in this study.

David: I think we’re still waiting to do an episode on… we will do an episode on fires once the publishing process is finished for a paper. But I think that’s exactly what we’re still doing now; what we’re doing now is not much different to these posters in 1989. Whether it’s asking someone to go through a set of critical controls on a tabloid before they start a job, we’re giving them a specific piece of information sort of just prior or in the point of action. I think that whether it’s a poster in 1989 in a ship construction or whether it’s a piece of information on a tabloid at the start of a job, I still think we’re seeing the same effects when it comes to things that we’re measuring.

Drew: I find personally disappointing and frustrating, not from a criticizing safety point of view, but because I think this is something that organizations genuinely struggle really hard with, is that we know that there are some things that are within our control as management, and some things that are not in our control. 

We can change the environment where work happens sometimes, we can change the tools and equipment people have, we’ve changed the training that they have, we definitely can and should spend time on that. But then sometimes, we find that work is happening in places where it’s reliant on that front line, risk related behavior. It is so frustrating that all the tools we have available to us, none of them seem to be able to work. 

I fully understand the incentive to try to do anything, no matter how the evidence stacks up. It makes so much sense that the person’s about to pick up stuff. Can’t we just tell them don’t pick up so much stuff? The person’s about to walk away from the workplace leaving the hose out, can’t we just tell them to put the damn hose away? Why does that not work?

I can’t fully explain why it doesn’t, but the evidence says it doesn’t

David: We know the way we all make decisions and all the different heuristics and experiences that we have and hold that go into our decision making. If it was that simple, then we wouldn’t have a safety problem–well, we wouldn’t have that many problems in our organization at all I think if humans were that simple. 

Drew, practical takeaways, what should we practically takeaway from this episode? Communication has come a long way since 1989. We’ve got internet, we’ve got the intranet, we’ve got email, social media, we’ve got screens up in our offices cycling safety messages, stickers inside cars, screensavers on laptops, and all this stuff in our organization that’s just broadcasting that communication and lots of safety communication all the time. What should we practically be doing?

Drew: I think number one is we should remember that working on production values doesn’t take away from the basic problem that we’re trying to solve here which is that this is not about getting people to like the communication, it’s not about being able to draw people’s eyes, it’s not about management saying yeah, that’s really cool, that’s really funny, that’s really attention grabbing. It’s about a simple chain that people need to see the communication, they need to understand what it’s asking them to do, they need to do the things that it’s asking them to do, and that needs to have a positive effect on safety. 

Most of the production value stuff just goes into that first one, it doesn’t go into any of the rest of the chain. 

David: My practical takeaway would be I’d be almost taking inventory of all of this communication that’s going on in the safety space and assessing it against the criteria that’s in these papers that we’ve talked about. Is it specific, is it at the point of action, and some of the important things. Is feedback being provided, are we evaluating what impact are we trying to have with that specific piece of communication and how we’re evaluating and understanding if it’s having that impact. 

I think there will be a lot of communication in our organization around safety that would be a candidate for safety clutter. Communication around safety and organization may be one of those things that less is more. I don’t necessarily mean less volume, but just sort of less volume of messages but getting really cleaner, crisper, and targeted with the messages that are going out.

Drew: Let’s make that our second takeaway, that in this study they had 50 different messages and they thought all of those 50 were important. But your typical person could only recall three or four of them. This is something that I encounter in my teaching and I have to keep reminding myself, I’ve got 100 things I want the students to know, 100 things I have to remember to say, and sometimes I just got to whack myself over the head and say they’re only going to remember three things from this course: the fact that I remembered to fill up the gap between 48 and 50 doesn’t help with what people have learned at all. It’s much more important that they take away a couple of messages than that they get everything I’m trying to tell them.

David: Yeah, some of our listeners might know that I’ve been spending my lockdown time building a safety professional 12-week development course, and it’s got 24 different modules in it. At the end of each one, I’ve gone to write these three things down on a post-it note and stick it on your computer for the duration of this module. If you read all the stuff, watch all the lectures, do all this stuff, that’s all fine and that’s all good and helpful, but here’s three things. I think as it all boils down to, like you say, it’s just so much messaging and so much information that people have at their fingertips now. It’s almost impossible to break all that down into what’s actually the most important.

Drew: The third one is the practicality and cost effectiveness of simple testing. This organization saw an opportunity where they had the same task repeated. The moment you see a task repeated, you should think of an opportunity to test out what works and doesn’t work. In this case, they weren’t spending a lot on safety communication, these were handwritten signs. But organizations spend tens of thousands of dollars on getting ads produced, or getting posters drawn, or getting videos made nicely, and spending a little bit of that money on the comparative trial is money well spent.

David: Yeah, and I think even just to extend that take away there, Drew, is that this research is involved but this is something that could be done internally as well. It was the internal people who sat down and came up with the slogans that were going to be relevant for their workplace. It was the internal people that were doing the housekeeping inspections and collecting that data and feeding that data back to the workforce, and it could have easily been internal people that did the structured interviews which was what slogans can you recall. You don’t have to be a fantastic interviewer to do a structured interview with a set of questions. 

There’s a real challenge out there to our listeners in organizations. The next thing you’re doing for safety, finding a way for you to actually know whether it’s working or not. You shouldn’t be there thinking I don’t need to go and test, I think if you’re doing anything in your organization, you need to be thinking about how am I going to know whether it’s making a difference.

Drew: David, invitations to our listeners, I’d like to start off here taking advantage of the fact that we have listeners who talk to us on social media so we don’t need to rely on text. Send us a photo of your favorite safety communication, or your most inappropriately positioned safety communication. I wish I could go back to a particular work site where there was this wonderful cardboard cutout of someone slipping over because they had worn the wrong shoes. I’d just imagine someone walking into the cafeteria at lunch time, seeing this cardboard cutout, and well six hours ago I could have made a different decisions about what shoes I wore to work. Too late now, I’m doomed to slip over.

David: I might have mentioned it before, Drew, but there was a stairwell at a place that I worked at for a very long time that had signs up in every single stairwell about always maintaining three points of contact. One hand rail down the side of the stairwell and you realize that to be able to do that, you need to either not move your feet and hold onto the handrail with one hand, or make sure that you’ve got two hands on the handrail every time you lift your foot to take a step.

I just let that sign sit there for years and years and never got mentioned, but there was literally these signs on every floor, on every level, inside every single stairwell because someone had gone oh, this is what you do when you climb ladders so we’ll just put all these signs up in the stairwells. 

Drew: At least the sign had a clear, positive message, and was at the point of action, David.

David: Absolutely right, very good. I don’t know if I got any injuries on those stairwells, so maybe it worked. Drew, I’d also like to know, other than a bit of a picture competition, do you do any evaluation of your safety communication campaigns? Every single one of our listeners is going to have some form of safety communication campaign in the business. I'd love to know how many of our listeners have got something that they’re doing to evaluate it and sharing with us how you’re going about doing that.

Drew: David, you’re fond of sending people on your safety leadership course on weekly assignments. Can we send an assignment for our listeners to pick a campaign and just go and ask their marketing department, whoever produces it, what matrix they collect? I’m going to take a bet that a lot of those are likes, clicks, and views rather than about the effectiveness of the campaign. 

David: Or just go and ask someone who’s in the audience of the campaign, ask them what they think of it, or whether they’ve even seen it, or whether it does anything for them will be good too. I think we’re giving people too much homework now, so we might have to answer the question for this week, Drew. The question for this week was do safety communication campaigns reduce injuries? The answer?

Drew: You’ve gone a bit on the note no, I’m going to weaken that slightly to a probably not.

David: I was wondering how you’re going to answer that because every time I’d answer that question when I was preparing the episode, I said no, but, no, but. Every time I came up with a but, I couldn’t justify what I was going to put next. I just left it as no. But that’s it for this week. We hope you found this episode thought provoking and ultimately useful in shaping the safety of work in your own organization. Send any comments, questions, or ideas for future episodes or the results of your homework to us at