Sep 192009

Safety videos are a stock-in-trade of safety training but do they work? MAC mulled over this after watching a tongue-in-cheek video at WorksafeBC. We’ve melded a couple of frames here to get the point across.

MAC must, naturally, declare an interest. Apart from our own audio and video podcasts much of our business is involved in developing,writing, directing, presenting and narrating maritime safety-related video productions and other multi-media work connected with the industry. The question of whether safety videos do their job is, therefore, close to our heart because it’s our business. We’re not going to say we know the answer but it’s one that’s important, not because it’s our business, but because if they’re not working, or not being used right, then we’re not contributing to saving lives, preventing injuries or reducing the financial cost of accidents, that is, after all the raison d’etre, the root cause, so to speak, of what we do.

Do people remember safety videos? Do they change their behaviour in the medium or long term as a result? The answer, evidently, and uncomfortably, is a qualified ‘no’.

We know, for instance, that the pumpman in The Case of the Silent Assassin had watched videos about safe entry into confined spaces not long before he died in an enclosed space because he didn’t follow the safety measures outlined in the video. More recently, a Chief Officer died on the Ville De Mars, even though he was something of a ‘safety martinet’ and was a regular watcher of safety videos, because he didn’t follow SMS mandated procedures an fell eight metres to his death.

So what’s going wrong? Why aren’t seafarers learning the lessons, or forgetting what they’ve learned?

It is true that there are some badly designed, badly thought through safety videos out there, but there are at least an equal number that are technically pretty good, and MAC has been glad to see significant technical improvements in the field over the past couple of years, but the message doesn’t appear to be getting through.

Nobody seems to know why and there has been very little research in the field.

It seems to be such an impenetrable problem that its easy to fall back on ‘shock tactics’ or what, these days, is called ‘yobbo advertising’ – using all the skill of today’s computers and CGI artists together with makeup specialists and the like to produce startling, even stomach churning images of what happens if safety rules are not adhered to.

It seems self evident that these should have long-lasting effects. Do they?

There is little evidence that they work and some anecdotal, and research data to suggest that they do not. The experience, for instance, in the UK of using shock tactics to persuade people to use safety belts, was that the long term effect, at least, was questionable. A commentator on the Step Change in Safety echoed the experience of many in the offshore field: “Shock tactics work only for a few days at the most.” and another: “I know from our own work that it does because incidents and first aids drop dramatically and then they creep up after about 9 months”.

If an approach that, apparently self-evidentially, should work doesn’t then we have to look a little closer.

No research has been done, for instance, to measure recall in the medium to long term of any safety video approach and it would not be surprising to find that blood, gore and the like produce a limited effect. As exposure to gore desensitises the viewer the retention of its message must inevitably grow shorter. It is a natural, and demonstrable, effect.

Even less has much research been carried out on whether or not watching a particular safety video, or type of safety video, results in behavioural change. That appropriate presentations can have an effect was demonstrated in the case of the Bow Mariner explosion and sinking in which several crewmembers enhanced their chances of survival by delaying their immersion into relatively cold water and exposing themselves to cold shock and hypothermia not because that was what their training had taught them to do so but because they saw it in the Cameron movie Titanic.

Behavioural change is the key and is often not at the forefront of thinking. One website discusses safety problems then goes on to say: “So what is the solution? A safety video, it demonstrates the correct use of equipment and uses visual and audio aids to emphasize the necessity of personal protective equipment.”

In fact, the purpose of any safety training is to instil appropriate behaviour in the first place or change inappropriate behaviour into appropriate behaviour. It is,in fact, to use that much-maligned phenomenon, propaganda.

Safety videos, of whatever flavour, are not a quick fix,something that needs to be understood in an industry which is, sadly, known for addiction to the quick fix and the short-term solution. Safety videos are a valuable tools, but are only effective if used as part of an overall strategy to create a safety culture and instil, reinforce or enhance appropriate behaviour.

At the same time, are safety videos being aimed at the right audience? Anyone regularly ploughing through reams of accident reports soon realises an uncomfortable truth – when a company’s shore-based offices don’t take safety seriously then neither do those on board.

Where are the safety videos aimed at managers whose decisions affect the safety of seafarers? Shouldn’t managers be safety conscious, too?