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Kiss Your Butt Goodbye

Effective safety training should include memorable videos to allow employees to retain information better.

Safety at work. It's really important. It is so important that we have laws, enforcement agencies, and allocated funds. Every company establishes policies to comply, details procedures to enforce them invests in training, creates clever acronyms or sayings, and pastes warning signs everywhere. Yet, each year, we report nearly 3 million nonfatal injuries.

Recalling Safety Training

I grew up in northwest Ohio, where tornadoes were common. Beginning in kindergarten, we had tornado drills at school every month. For the next twelve years, every month we played out these scenarios. The procedure varied depending on the room we were in, but we knew them like the back of our hand. In the seventh grade, as my history teacher pranced us out to the hallway, he said, "Okay, kids, you know the drill. Put your head between your legs and kiss your butt goodbye."

I was 32 years old when the restaurant I was in was hit by a tornado with zero warning. Windows wrapped the entire dining room and I stood there as the glass shattered and blew in from every direction. The only thing I remember thinking was "Put your head between your legs and kiss your butt goodbye." I moved under the table and did just that. Thirteen YEARS of practice, and I just stood there, stunned...but I remembered one comment out of all of them I heard in THIRTEEN YEARS of practice.

What's my point? Different situations will prompt people to recall the same information with a different memory. There's a tremendous amount of research and psychology that goes into why but Dr. Shahram Heshmat sums it up extremely well in a blog post. Emotion affects all the phases of memory formation and he explains how.

What does any of this have to do with safety? You never know what will stick. The safety procedures that you establish are solid. It's the delivery that needs to change. Speaking of change, it's sounds expensive. It sounds like new posters, a new acronyms, more training and something else I have to fit into my schedule. Allow me to introduce the consistently changing, forever compliant, never unsafe, relentlessly engaging, fully animated, creatively educational and always entertaining digital sign. You know, that tv in the corner of the break room...we can use it (and psychology) to reinforce your safety messages to your employees.

How can a TV reinforce safety?

  • Surprises capture attention. We can use the same message but place it randomly in a loop of various content. You don't know what's coming next, therefore the brain can't predict and disconnect. (Think about that mixed cd in your car. You've listened to it so many times that you have memorized the order of the songs. When you hear one of those songs outside of that cd, you automatically assume the next song to play will be the same one that's on your cd. When it's not, your brain says "Excuse me?") When we place that safety message in a different position in the content loop, your employees notice that it's new and their brains say "this is new" and their eyes return to the digital sign.
  • Emotional attachment. Neutral information rarely makes it into our long term memory but things that make us happy or sad do. (Think about the fact that we all remember where we were on 9/11, our marriage proposal and so on.) We can customize that same safety message to trigger an emotional response. We have a client with digital signage that runs a clip of a man walking into a pole while looking at his cell phone. Whenever an employee is walking through the plant on their cell phone, other employees joke "Hey, don't be that guy!" Their employees have told us that it pops into their heads every time they walk while looking at their phone, regardless of where they are. It was unexpected and funny...so they remember it.
  • Memories. Just like the emotional attachment referenced above, memories will trigger emotion. (Think about the Maya Angelou quote: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”) Of all the ways we accomplish this, the #WhyImSafe integration is my favorite. Employees are encouraged to post pics of their family on social media using a specific hashtag. Those pics then display on the break room digital sign. It reminds your employees that these people in the pic are counting on them be safe at work and come home. That image might be the one that flashes through their mind as they're making a decision to do something, causes them to pause for a moment and evaluate the safety of their situation.
  • Environment. We've been primed for behavior our entire life and our actions in those settings become second nature. What we've been trained immediately retreats from long term memory and steps into working memory. It's the brain making an unconscious suggestion. It's also known as "muscle memory". (Think about the library. You begin to whisper the moment you walk in without having to be told.) Your safety procedures are no different but digital signage can align the environment and prime the response to become second nature. If I touch this raw metal, I have to have cut proof gloves on.
  • Mood. Not only can it be contagious but it can be a reoccurring cycle. When you're in a bad mood, you tend to notice bad things but when you're in a good mood, you tend to notice good things. It can also alter your perception of a situation. (Think about coming home after a great day. You walk into the kitchen to see your children baking cookies. You think "Awe, how sweet!" and you join them. However, if you're coming home after a bad day, you'll walk into the same situation and only see the mess that you're going to have to clean up. Your mood will determine your reaction...which will influence the mood your children will be in the rest of the evening.) Because you can't directly control the mood of your individual employees, you need to actively control the mood of their environment so you'll have an opportunity to prevent cross-contamination. Safety violations or concerns can be shared with employees via break room digital signage in a manner that promotes your concern for their well-being and is meant to educate, not ridicule.
  • Blanking Out. While most think it happens out of boredom, it's actually more common during high stress situations. The phenomenon known as Yerkes-Dodson Law states that under situations of low stimulation, the mind is unfocused. In contrast, under situations of high stimulation, the focus of attention is too narrow, and important information may be lost. (Think about being so nervous during your driving examination that you put the car in reverse instead of drive. Just me? Okay...moving on. Beep Beep.) The optimal situation for both learning and performance is "moderate stimulation". Let's look at the stimulation level of your break room... employees are eating lunch, making casual conversation with other employees, normal activities occurring around them with zero threat of injury or attention to quality required, etc. Compared to training sessions and the production floor, a break room seems to be the perfect place for "moderate stimulation" and, thus, the ideal placement for your messages.
  • Overall Recall. The way we remember something isn't total recall, it's overall recall. Our brains can not individualize every detail of an experience and will instead overemphasize the peak moment of it... the best or the worst moment that was most recent. It's known as the Peak-End Rule. (Think about the summer. Those summer nights had me a blast. It happened so fast, met a boy crazy for me who was cute as can be, he showed off splashin' around, we made out under the dock and stayed out 'til 10 o'clock... However, at the beginning of summer, you wrecked your car and had to move to a new town. Overall, you only recall the best part.) When you're employees recall your safety procedures, you won't get total recall, you'll get the peak and most recent. Break room digital signage can highlight the most important safety information at regular intervals to keep recall highlighted on the primary message.

When I look at the things that contribute to memory formation, I see multiple reasons why one specific tornado drill comment came back to me after all that time. (The comment was slightly taboo for a group of Catholic junior high kids thus completely hilarious. We laughed loudly & were scolded because we were suppose to be quiet. We walked around saying it to anyone who bent over for weeks after.) The act itself was primed and I know that my brain was saying "TORNADO INSTRUCTIONS, you're up." But, had it not been for one memory: an emotionally-charged, mood-triggering, surprise comment made during a time of moderate stimulation that turned out to be the peak of all drills... would I have remained in that blanked-out state and been injured? I'll never know, but I wasn't hurt, and I have Mr. Geuy to thank for that.

You never know what piece of safety information your employees will retain or what piece their brains will retrieve. Using psychological research, tried and true marketing and advertising practices, we can use digital signage to bring them all together to keep employees safe.

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