Recognize the signs of safety

December 1, 2002 By    

I confess right here that I am old enough to remember seeing Burma Shave signs along the highway from the back of our Rambler station wagon. Boy, that hurt to admit. Every few hundred feet an ironic saying or poem would whiz by, line by line, until the last sign, the closer, would always read: Burma Shave.

Advertisers have long understood the power of repetitious signage.

Marketing gurus say a customer won’t talk to you – let alone buy – until they hear from you at least seven times. More importantly those messages must be aimed straight at their pain, fear or security. They must be clear, concise and motivational in nature. At least, that’s what they tell us at the guru conventions.

How often do you direct safety signage toward your customers and employees?

Let’s be honest here. Sometimes our results are directly related to the fruits of our consistently determined efforts. Sometimes we are just lucky.

In safety it is when we are unlucky that the consistency of our efforts is examined. Why not do it now?

One great example of effective safety signage is Federal Express, where they have green signs at the entrance to their shipping docks and drop-off customer parking lot that say: “On The Job SAFETY Begins Here.” It’s clear, concise and moderately sincere without the trappings of gooey platitudes. It may as well say: “Be Safe, Dude.”

Everyone gets the message. Delivery drivers and customers see that sign every day. By any standard, as they say in basketball, that’s a full-court press. I’m willing to bet they have fewer vehicular accidents than their sign-less neighbors and that the residual safety awareness created extends way beyond that parking lot. My buddy, “Placas the Sign Man,” would call that a great return on investment.

Excess signage can be a bad thing. One only has to recreate the image of an insincere pitch or overexposed message to get permanently turned off to the product or concept. They usually are not clear, concise or motivational. Safety messages have to be from the heart on issues that matter.

So how are your safety messages? Do you send your customers a delivery agreement written by some attorney that mentions safety somewhere hidden in the confusing legalease? Are those messages clear? Are those messages concise? Are those messages motivational?

Do your customers hear from you about safety more than once a year?

Each marketer has his or her own pattern of consistency in the frequency of messages department. After an incident your insurance carrier and plaintiff attorneys will measure that pattern of consistency.

Now is the time to evaluate your messages to reflect your best intentions to communicate with your customers. Temporary customers, such as renters and seasonal users, will require extra attention focused upon their exposures and incident prevention techniques.

I have heard it said that 80 percent of domestic propane incidents are related to customers lighting their own pilots. Your information material should state the customer should call to have a qualified service technician come out and re-light the pilots. Do not – under any circumstances – give your customers instructions, in writing or on the phone, on how to re-light their own pilots. If anything goes wrong, you can bet it will come up in the form of liability allegations.

Hand and body signals have long been a part of our western culture. From the “high five” to the “one-finger salute,” we use sign gestures to communicate in both good and bad ways. My first fistfight was over the meaning of the one-finger salute. My father, when asked, told me it did not mean what they said on the playground at school, where I was ridiculed and picked on because of that untruth. I won the fight, but lost the argument. Who says white lies can’t be painful?

Motorcyclists have long had the universal sign of holding out the left hand when passing another bike. The message is a combination of acknowledgement of common membership in “Risk Takers Anonymous” and “Be Safe.”

I have started my own little club within my client base and specifically those members of the propane industry. I end most conversations and correspondence with the phrase: “Be Safe.” I say it to my kids every time they leave the house to jump in a car, and on the phone when they check in from places unknown.

I often ponder, what hand sign would be a universal sign to say “Be Safe”? One only has to watch a baseball manager sending signals from the dugout to see a staggering array of options. I’ve eliminated the one-finger salute and tugging at the groin. Many others had to be dismissed to avoid sending some obscure gang signal.

I finally settled upon holding the index finger to the side of the nose. My family has long played this game at dinner, where the last one to do it is a pig and having been caught with their nose in their plate. The point being: we pay attention to what people are saying and doing at our table.

In this safety signage sense, it should be recommended not to linger for obvious reasons.

A light touch to the side and a pointing salute will do. Something like the sign they used in the movie, “The Sting.”

I invite you all to join the Safety Club. Use the expression “Be Safe” to all you care about. Use it with those you wish to encourage with a focus on safety or inspire a sense of awareness in this crazy world of complacency and compromise.

In closing, take a look at the safety signs within your company. Make those messages clear, concise and motivational. I just gave you the salute. Last one to do it is a safety pig.

Until next time, be safe.

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