Dumber Ways To Promote Safety

Dumber Ways To Promote Safety

dumb safetyMetro Los Angeles have just released a collection of short videos aimed at improving safety around their rail network. They are being likened to the Victorian Metro’s “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign in the way they are using a combination of comedy and severity to get attention and change behaviour. See Dumb Ways To Measure Safety Effectiveness

Here is an example of the videos and more are shown at the end of the article:


This type of approach has of course a long history in traditional safety. Stories of terrible injuries, graphic images of death and destruction, and ridicule (let’s all laugh at this person being an idiot) have been a core method behind many a pointless training or induction program.

In these videos there is a central storyline:

  1. We are told that it’s a beautiful day in Safetyville.
  2. A character is introduced doing something we all do (on their smartphone, getting a coffee, on their way to a job interview), but there is also a not very subtle hint of being distracted or rushing, which is also something we all do.

  3. Then they die after getting hit by a train, typically losing body parts.

  4. Then there is a witty comment linking back to the activity and their life (they won’t bet getting that dream job now).

  5. An obvious (and therefore meaningless) safety statement like “don’t attempt to cross against the barriers” is provided.

  6. Then we are told “Safety begins with you”.

It may not be a surprise that I’m not a fan of this type of messaging, but to try and put some structure around these concerns, let’s ask some questions. These are questions I’ve learnt to ask through my recent study in social psychology of risk. For me, asking great questions is a pathway towards dialogue, understanding and connections.

My questions are:

  • Where is this going?-
  • What’s the trajectory of this type of message?
  • How might this be taken by a family who have lost someone in a train related incident?
  • How will this changed by others (staff, young people, parodies, media, executives)?
  • What learning (if any) will happen over time?
  • If this doesn’t work, what would the next step be?
  • Does that message lead to blaming or “othering”?
  • What’s not being said?
  • What words come to mind but are not said? For me, it’s things like responsibility, fault, blame, careless, distracted, rushing, complacent, and reckless.
  • What does it mean to set a fatality in a place called “Safetyville”?
  • What isn’t being said in “Safety begins with you”?- If it begins with the person who is killed in the video, who doesn’t it begin? Who does safety end with?
  • Why aren’t real people used in the video?
  • What is the hidden agenda?

Learning is not an automatic process. It’s complex, and involves scaffolding, readiness, thinking and reflection. So I invite you to think and reflect, not only about these videos, but also about other messages at work. Do these videos lead to learning about the wicked nature of incidents? I don’t think so. If anything, I think all they do is reinforce comfortable (if incorrect) beliefs that these types of incidents only occur to complacent, distracted, rushing idiots, and never us. But I’m sure that won’t stop them being declared a success based on “number of hits”.

Dave Whitefield
After 20 years in safety and training, I now focus primarily on the human side of safety. I help clients tackle their wicked problems through seeking to understand how people organise in response to uncertainty, and how they make sense of risk. I do this through consulting, coaching, training and workshop design and delivery, MC'ing events and conferences, and delivery of keynote presentations.

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