Humor in safety communication
Humor in safety communication

Why safety communication should be funny, seriously

Safety Series: Many organizations are afraid of using humor when communicating about safety. But humor can be a great way of humanizing a serious topic and  a powerful way of catching attention.

By: Signe Raskmark, Communication Advisor (27 April 2017)

Is it okay to use humor in safety communication? This is a question that often polarizes safety and communication professionals.

Some think it’s a complete no-go because safety is such a serious topic, and you don’t want to downplay or make fun of the devastating consequences of workplace accidents. Others argue that humor is a powerful communication tool and that the dilemma isn’t if you should use it, but how to use it right (spoiler: we belong in the last category).

Don’t be afraid of playing it unsafe
Granted, using humor in employee communication is extremely tricky, especially if your organization is spread out all over the world and diverse in its operations. Humor is both individual, contextual and linked to culture, traditions and social relationships. What’s funny in the US isn’t necessarily funny in India or Spain.

So, understandably, many organizations choose a more serious and less risky approach to safety communication. They don’t want to cause misunderstandings, to seem insensitive, not serious enough – or not funny enough.

But … having the courage to play it a little unsafe when it comes to safety communication, can have a much bigger impact (ironically) than the safe approach. And so what if someone doesn’t think it’s funny? No size fits all, and what matters is that you reach the right people (in a respectful way, of course).

Humor just works
As humans, we tend to remember experiences better than information. We are drawn to stories and we react on emotions. A well-told joke or a funny story offers an immediate experience that activates the mind as well as the body; it makes you think, feel, smile, laugh, maybe even cry – and that makes the communication captivating and memorable.

Also, humor can be a great way of taking the tension out of a difficult situation, cool down a potential hot potato and make a serious or complicated topic relatable and easy to talk about.

Using a humoristic twist in safety communication can therefore be a powerful way of grabbing employees’ attention. It can help them remember the safety messages, encourage them to talk about safety, reflect on their own behavior – and maybe even change it.

Let’s look at some examples
Sadly, there is no recipe for fun, and we won’t attempt the impossible mission of theorizing what good humor is. Instead, we will end this little opinion piece by showing you some examples of campaigns that, in our opinion, nail it:

Consent is everything
Although not safety-related, this video made by Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess is a prime example of finding just the right balance between humor and seriousness on a tough subject. Through a simple and surprising metaphor, the video explains the concept of sexual consent in a captivating and relatable way. At the same time, the tone of voice perfectly balances that shaky line between being humoristic and informal, yet staying serious about the topic.

Dumb ways to die
Another example is the much talked about ‘Dumb ways to die campaign’ developed by McCann Melbourne for Metro Train’s to promote rail safety. Inspired by the popular app game with the same name, this campaign is a little more to the quirky side, featuring a catchy song with morbidly ‘funny’ cartoon characters dying in ridiculous ways.

Of course, there are many other examples – and probably newer ones that we either haven’t seen or have forgotten about. So please don’t hold back, if you know a funny safety video, case, photo or something else. We’re on most SoMe platforms, and we love to laugh and get inspired.

To celebrate the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on Friday (April 28th 2017), we will share some thoughts and inspiration on the topic each day this week. Hopefully it will kick-start reflections and discussions – and help break with the bad reputation of safety communication once and for all.