Mastering the Message: Transform Your Safety Communication

Mastering the Message: Transform Your Safety Communication

Effective safety promotion is an essential part of a Safety Management System (SMS) and a critical tool to influence an organisation’s safety culture.  However safety promotion is an often neglected and misunderstood skill.

Your Safety Communication: How to Craft Targeted and Inspiring Safety Messages for a Productive Workplace

Australian communications and marketing specialist Marie-Claire Ross aims to correct that with her book Transform Your Safety Communication: How to Craft Targeted and Inspiring Safety Messages for a Productive Workplace.  Ross wrote this book  “to help all the passionate safety professionals who realise how important it is to influence and engage on safety and risk”.   Transform your Safety Communication: How to Craft Targeted and Inspiring Safety Messages for a Productive Workplace In the preface, Ross, drawing on her experience working with a public health department on a health promotion campaign, observes that advertisers extensively market test their campaigns to determine their effect.  In contrast she observes, workplace communication is often delivered with a blind assumption of effectiveness, with effective marketing techniques being ignored as ‘manipulative’ rather than a positive way to create a persuasive message.  The failure to apply these techniques perhaps explains why so much safety communication is overly-complex, legalistic and patronising. Chapter 1 emphasises the “Four Commandments of Safety Campaigns”:

  1. Promote the message in multiple places, multiple times to break through the general noise of other messages
  2. Understand and actually focus on your target audience
  3. Deliver a consistent core message
  4. Stick to a recognisable look and feel (one example used is the Yarra Trams Beware the Rhino campaign)

Chapter 2 focuses on capturing the audience’s attention by using surprise, fear (but only when you offer a way to avoid the danger), being interesting (sad that needs to be said!) and being trustworthy. Chapter 3 give tips on making your message memorable through mnemonics, promoting the ‘lead’ of your message (as in a good newspaper story), using comparisons and metaphors and posing questions. Chapter 4 focuses on persuasion and the 8 element SELLSAFE formula to change safety behaviour. Chapters 5 and 6 look at compelling graphics and engaging copywriting respectively. Chapter 7 introduces some supporting online templates. This book is valuable whether you are communicating on a small scale locally with self-created material or you plan to commission a large global safety campaign across a multi-national.  In the former case you will pick up practical skills to apply and develop.  In the later case, you will become an intelligent customer, with a clearer idea of your requirements and what good safety communication looks like.  Either way this book is an excellent investment. Buy the book: or

Other Recommended Reading for Safety Promotion

Readers who want to further delve into this subject are recommended to consider these two books:

  1. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck by Chip & Dan Heath.  Referenced in Chapter 3 of Ross’ book, Made to Stick explores what makes some ideas and messages ‘stick’. Buy the book: or
  2. Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear  by Frank Luntz.  Luntz, a pollster, describes how careful choice of words can enhance the  audience’s reception. Buy the book: or

Plus, Marie-Claire Ross publishes the Workplace Communicator Blog.

UPDATE 3 May 2016: Also see our article: 5000-1 Safety Lesson: Communication

UPDATE 11 May 2016:  Who do we trust in times of change?

UPDATE 3 August 2016: We also recommend this article on the importance of dialogue:

People value dialogue and conversation. It takes much longer…but is infinitely more effective. It is through dialogue, as opposed to monologue, that leaders and managers can understand what people are thinking and feeling about change so that they are in a better position to gain their commitment to it and address their concerns. Three factors drive successful dialogue during organizational change:

Firstly: an organization must encourage dialogue early, frequently and consistently. There must be an ongoing strategic approach to dialogue before, during and after any organizational transformation. Dialogue is, and must be, a constant.

Secondly: the greater the value an organization has for its dialogue, the greater the likelihood for success.

Thirdly: leaders and managers need to encourage dialogue with care. Dialogue with care means choosing the channels for dialogue strategically, tailoring the approach to the aims of the change initiative, authentically engaging in conversation and being sensitive to the pace and timing of dialogue. This means bringing together the right people to offer meaningful input and support.

So successful dialogue allows more people to contribute, generating not only wisdom and a wealth of ideas but also commitment and engagement to change.

UPDATE 19 September 2016: Disruptive HR discuss: Engagement – Adult. Customer. Human Being.

We can really over-engineer things in HR and Internal Comms can’t we? The jargon, the models of engagement, the diagnostics …. Do you ever worry that we are creating a veneer of complexity to make ourselves believe we are actually changing things? Maybe it’s the cynicism of my advancing years or the frustrations of 20 years in corporate leadership roles, but I do. Plus all the research I come across would seem to warrant some concern at least, telling us that even with billions being spent on employee engagement in its various forms, levels remain depressingly low and stagnant.

They say:

  • We need to treat our people like adults.
  • We need to think of them as customers.
  • We need to engage with them as human beings.

UPDATE 3 October 2016: We also like: Three Lessons Change Professionals Can Learn from Marketers:

  1. Create and build the brand (“Your culture is your brand.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO,
  2. Treat employees like marketers treat customers
  3.  Segment your stakeholders

UPDATE 19 December 2016: Ahead of his time – the superhero of safety looks at the life of James Tye who formed the British Safety Council (BSC) in 1957 when..

…creative and impactful campaigning around safety was most certainly needed as fatality rates were in the thousands – around 15 times the level they are now. James served in the RAF in World War 2…His work in advertising after the war certainly shaped his approach to running safety campaigns as he knew how to generate a column inch or two. …perhaps his most famous stunt though was to lead an Elephant to the Houses of Parliament, to make the point that we should never forget accidents.

UPDATE 16 February 2017: In an article to discuss fighting fake new and extremism Danny Brooke-Taylor, founder of the ad agency Lucky Generals said:

…says strategic targeting is one of the main skills the ad industry can bring to politics. …once the audience is identified, the creative techniques of traditional advertising could still have a role to play. “The obvious strategy is to correct false news using the true facts. And no doubt that should be part of the approach,” he says. “But simply trading statistics in tit-for-tat style doesn’t actually get you very far. There’s loads of evidence that human beings make most of their decisions based on emotions. So, contrary to what politicians often say, the facts won’t speak for themselves. They will need to be wrapped up in powerful images, memorable turns of phrase, striking metaphors, shareable infographics, and so on.”

The highlighted text is relevant to safety campaigns too.  To illustrate those points, Lucky Generals were asked how it would tackle online extremism:

It came up with the concept of BULLSH!TMAN ‘who can swoop on to any website or social media platform in the blink of an eye. He doesn’t care about left or right, he simply cares about true or false.’

bullsh!tman We think being wary of BS is something that applies in the safety domain too!

UPDATE 14 March 2017: 9 strategies for becoming a super-communicator

UPDATE 12 April 2017: Leadership and Trust

Aerossurance has been involved in the creation and deployment of award winning safety campaigns and safety culture development projects internationally.  For practical advice and support you can trust, contact us at: