Some veteran safety professionals have run more campaigns than lifelong politicos in Washington.
Workplace campaigns centered around safety themes have long been a staple of industrial safety programs. They pre-date OSHA’s founding in 1970 by decades. Pioneering safety programs in steel mills and the railroads in the first half of the 1900s used banners, slogans, posters, training, and safety committee meetings to reinforce year-long themes with slogans like “Stay Alive in ’35” and “Keeping Score in ’24.”
It’s an old idea, but it stuck around because it really works. So, how do you make sure your safety campaign really does the job?
The Scope of Campaigns
Safety campaigns can be broad in scope and even reach beyond a single workplace. OSHA, for example, is currently conducting a nationwide Fall Prevention campaign that applies across a number of industries.
In Europe, the European Union-OSHA (EU-OSHA) has run the Healthy Workplaces Campaigns since 2000. These safety campaigns, each two years in duration, are the largest in the world today. They involve hundreds of organizations from all of the EU Member States, the countries of the European Economic Area, European Union candidates, and potential candidate countries.
The annual “European Week for Safety and Health at Work” (in October every year) is a particular focus for these campaigns. The week includes training sessions, conferences and workshops, posters, film and photo competitions, quizzes, suggestion schemes, advertising campaigns, and press conferences heavily promoted throughout Europe.
Other highlights: the “Healthy Workplaces Good Practice Awards” competition, which recognizes organizations that have found innovative ways of promoting safety and health, and the “Healthy Workplaces Closing Summits,” which bring health and safety professionals, policymakers, and employers’ and employees’ representatives together to share best practice.
Components of the DOT’s Distracted Driving Campaign
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) fight against distracted driving is one of the most prominent national safety campaigns in the United States. The DOT’s initiative has many elements that can be adopted or used for inspiration in your own workplace campaign:
- A theme or motto: “One text or call could wreck it all!”
- A powerfully persuasive bottom line statistic: “In 2010 alone, over 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes.”
- An educational website
- A mission statement: “Get the facts, get involved, and help us keep America’s roadways safe.”
- A definition of the targeted hazard, including examples: texting, using a smartphone, eating and drinking, talking to a passenger, adjusting the radio
- Summit meetings involving senior leadership
- A litany of awareness-raising facts: “Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted,” “Drivers who use hand-held devices are 4 times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves,” “40% of American teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger”
- Educational Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Before You Roll Out Your Safety Campaign
Preparation and careful study are absolutely essential for your successful safety campaign. Before you roll it out, you need to make a number of decisions.
What Is Your Campaign’s Budget?
Campaigns don’t need to be lengthy, costly, or complicated. Here are some simple ways your business can get involved in “Safe Work Week” campaigns:
- Place posters in workplaces to raise awareness of safety
- Update work health and safety procedures
- Provide refresher safety training
- Hold a safety themed BBQ or wellness fair and distribute relevant information
What Is Your Campaign’s Specific Focus?
What hazards, injury types, or practices are you targeting? Simply saying you want to raise general safety awareness is too vague, unless your workplace is in the early stage of developing its first safety program.
Give the Entire Organization a Sense of Mission
“We must put an end to this carnage. We must get to Zero.” is the campaign mission statement of the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
Your mission statement should be short and pithy for promotion on banners, signs, posters, and placards. But be ready to elaborate to really get your workers engaged. The WSIB’s slogan is easy to remember, but it’s far more effective when you know more about the thinking behind it: “We need to eliminate workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities by building a culture of health and safety in every Ontario workplace. We need to eliminate the belief that accidents just happen.”
Having workers sign a safety pledge or safety agreement at a public event is another popular way to get them engaged. For instance, a parent-teen driving agreement outlines the teen’s behavioral dos and don’ts, responsibilities, restrictions, and penalties for agreement violations. Parents sign off on promising to be excellent driving role models. Workers and supervisors can draft their own similar pledge.
What Are the Desired Outcomes of the Campaign?
The results you aim at should be measurable to gauge success or failure. Wanting to be a “leader in health and safety” sounds great, but how would you measure it? How will you know when you’ve hit that target or when you’ve fallen short? These kinds of goals are more rhetorical than evidence-based.
Choose a Title or a Name
Think about it. Every presidential campaign has a title:
- “Tip a canoe and Tyler too”
- “It’s time for a change”
- “Sweep ’em out”
Make sure your title is relevant and not too generic. When the WSIB titled theirs “The Road to Zero,” it was clear what kind of goal they had in mind.
How Long Will the Campaign Last?
It’s tempting to be really ambitious, but remember that attention only lasts so long. Even the EU-OSHA’s multi-decade initiative is broken down into shorter campaigns. There’s no exact science to this, but your campaign should be long enough to build continuing, but not so long that it just fades into the background.
What Tone Do You Want for the Campaign?
Do you want a hard-hitting campaign with provocative videos and visuals that are graphic, disturbing, perhaps even shocking, and difficult to watch? The WSIB used this approach with a series of shocking commercial spots as part of its “Prevent It” campaign. They had this to say about it: “We’re not afraid to be controversial. This is not a feel-good campaign. We’ll feel good when the number of injuries and fatalities go down.”
For those who prefer a different approach, alternatives abound:
- Simulate a workplace safety game show
- Fun runs, relay races, trivia contests, scavenger hunts, role-playing skits, and debates built around the campaign’s theme
- Display safety posters drawn by workers’ children
- Hold safety themed art exhibitions
- Hold “town hall” meetings where your executives listen to workers’ safety concerns and answer questions
Determine Your Campaign Content
Of course, every campaign has a beginning and an end, a kick-off event and a close ceremony. In between, you can keep the momentum going with any number of activities:
- Fire drills
- Food handling courses
- Handwashing demonstrations
- Breakfasts and barbecues
- Health screenings
- Guest speakers
- Employee suggestion schemes
- Community awareness events
Choose Your Campaign Partners
Collaboration with outside experts adds credibility to your campaign. Expose your workforce to talks and demonstrations by:
- The local fire department
- Police officers
- Emergency medical technicians
- Hospital nurses and physicians
- Civil defense and disaster planners
- Emergency management teams and responders
- Safety and health subject matter experts
Other potential partners include:
- Community civic organizations
- Local trade associations and business and labor councils
- Grassroots groups
- Schools (to involve children of workers)
- Local YMCAs (for wellness and health promotion activities)
- Your PPE vendors or other safety equipment vendors, trainers, and consultants.
Choose Your Media Platforms
Company newsletters are a staple. You might want to customize newsletters for your campaign topic.
Post safety bulletins in high-visibility areas. Break rooms, lobbies, and dining facilities are high-traffic places to display safety messages.
Choose bright, eye-catching posters to spark discussions .
Sponsoring an annual safety poster design and caption contest will ensure ongoing access to creative material. Send out company-wide emails. Track open rates to help measure interest.
Create a micro website especially for the campaign, or dedicate part of your company’s intranet site to the campaign.
Social media is an increasingly popular promotional tool. Podcasts and webinars are good educational tools, and you can track and measure downloads and attendance.
Think About the Timing of Your Campaign
Make sure your safety campaign does not conflict with other organizational volunteer drives or initiatives. You don’t want your campaign launched while workers are distracted by building renovations, department relocations, major ergonomic installations, or safety consulting implementations. Make sure you have the best available window of opportunity.
Prep Those Involved in Advance
Be sure to prep your organization for the campaign to come – get people thinking about it in advance. Workers will be caught off-guard and less likely to buy into a campaign that is suddenly announced over the PA system one morning.
Once you’ve done all your research and everything’s been prepared, it’s time to launch your campaign. This is the point where every politician will go out and drum up some votes. You’ll do the same. It’s time to get your workers to vote yes for safety.
Don’t Be a One-Person Campaign
Have you ever heard of a politician running their election campaign entirely by themselves? Understaffed campaigns are almost always surefire losers.
You need “boots on the ground.” Volunteers to spread the message, model the vision, talk one on one and in small groups, tailgate meetings, in the cafeteria.
During safety campaigns, you are in effect lobbying and advocating for safety and health. You are looking to enlist energetic, outgoing, extroverts who can be what author Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point calls salespeople, mavens (experts in safety and health), and connectors (good networkers).
Your Boss Must Be an Active Campaigner
Imagine how dull a presidential campaign would be if the candidate never left their headquarters. The candidate is the figurehead that can get everyone energized, and your boss is the same. Nothing sends a strong message like the boss showing that they are truly on board and getting everyone to join in with them (need help getting their support? Try to Get Your CEO to Support Safety with the Curve Approach.)
Build the Business Case for Your Campaign
This might be necessary in order to get your senior leaders actively involved. We know workplace injuries are not only regrettable; they’re downright expensive. Make sure management never forgets that.
The cost is even higher if we factor in all of the associated costs, including:
- Lost productivity
- Surcharges and lost revenues
- Regulatory fines
Be ready to document these indirect costs. Many senior level executives are skeptical, but they won’t be able to deny the numbers.
There are also emotional and financial costs to the worker:
- Pain and suffering
- Income reduction and an uncertain financial future
- Impact on their families, friends and the community.
Use the Power of Recognition
Recognition is a powerful motivator to get your workforce to buy into the campaign. Use awards, contests, and competitions focusing on things like safety suggestions, safety solutions, close call reporting, and hazardous conditions reporting (find out How Using Recognition Programs Reinforces Good HSE Behavior).
Scoreboards placed throughout your workplace are powerful reminders and motivators to keep your safety campaign top of mind. Show the statistics and let workers see where things are getting better and where there’s room for improvement.
Keys to a Successful Campaign
Just like any political election campaign, your safety campaign needs:
- A central command staff to coordinate events
- Sponsors: your senior leaders must buy in and provide budget support
- A campaign director: one voice of ultimate authority for planning and execution decisions, usually a senior EHS pro
- Monitoring and discipline: everyone must be on the same page, touting the same message, reading from the same script. Stay on message. Undisciplined campaigns lose elections
- Go digital: make use of emails to workers, campaign calendar of events, and other info on your intranet. Create a YouTube video and encourage workers to follow the company or the campaign on Twitter for relevant information and reminders
- A communications director: to approve graphics, videos, web sites, signage, newsletters, payroll stuffers, and banners
- Volunteers going door to door, or department to department, or shift to shift. They are, so to speak, ringing doorbells, handing out lit, meeting face to face and in small groups with enthusiasm and conviction
- Tactics and strategies of advocacy and lobbying: your safety champions, your volunteers, are in a sense lobbying for safety. As advocates for safety, they need to be responsive, imaginative, flexible, empathetic, and hard working. This is the stuff of all successful public opinion, political, and commercial campaigns. Safety campaigning is no different.
Case Study: Tamdown Group
Here is one example of how the components of a safety campaign can come together to positively change the culture of an organization. The Tamdown Group began trading in 1977. Following a management buyout in 1999, it has become one of the United Kingdom’s leading regional civil engineering contractors, providing ground work preparation and infrastructure construction (roads, drainage, foundations, and concrete frames) on some of the country’s largest brownfield development sites. The company has nearly 500 employees working on around 45 sites across the country.
As the scale of clients and work developed, Tamdown’s health and safety culture had to keep pace. The company decided to establish competitive advantage when competing for contracts. Senior leadership realized they needed a new safety strategy.
The mission: The group health and safety manager was given the marching orders to introduce a new safety regime.
The objective: give responsibility to the workforce and create a safer environment through knowledge and empowerment.
The title: “Worksmart, a worker involvement initiative. Worksmart includes safety training for supervisors and operatives, safe maintenance of the plant, and new risk-free systems of work.
The latest phase: a daily WiSE (Worksmart Engagement) briefing. All operatives ask themselves a crucial question: “What difference can I make to ensure that this site is a safer place to work?” Wherever a site is operational, then WiSE is operational too, supplemented by a site safety forum which oversees and reviews the program on site.
With all of these elements in place, Worksmart is poised to become a successful safety campaign, one that resonates with workers and produces real results.
Your safety theme campaign is an integral part of your company’s overall safety program. If you don’t have one yet, follow the steps we outlined in this article and get started today. If you already have one in full swing, it’s not too late to pivot slightly and implement some of these best practices.
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