What Makes Safety Posters Invisible?

Invisible safety 

There’s no question that safety posters can remind workers about immediate hazards, reinforce safety training, enhance communication and improve the safety culture. So how is it that something so important can go unnoticed on a daily basis?

Consider a recent study at the University of California which asked participants to recognize the Apple logo among similar-looking drawings or to draw the logo from memory. The participants were all very confident that they would be able to recognize or draw the logo perfectly, but only one of the 85 participants recalled the logo correctly and less than half of them picked the correct logo from a set of alternatives.
 
Some might wonder what this has to do with safety posters, but this experiment provided new evidence in support of attentional saturation. Constantly seeing and doing the same things causes the human brain to only pay attention to the absolutely vital characteristics of the object or action they’re involved in. In effect, seeing is not always the same as noticing. So if you have a poster next to a workstation reminding employees to wear their PPE, what are the chances that they stopped noticing it a long time ago? 
 
This is similar to the common problem of workers becoming complacent in a familiar job—the more they perform a task, the less they think about the risks involved. Unfortunately, the less they think about the risks and the more complacent they are, the greater their chances of making a mistake and getting hurt.
 
So when you consider this human propensity for disregarding the familiar, try to remember that people are also bad at noticing changes in their environment, which makes updating safety posters much more challenging. The good news is that simple reminders and information posters that are not covered by strict regulations come in many different designs and you can use this to your advantage. 
 
It’s easy to think that putting up a poster is a safety box ticked and a job well done. But human behaviour depends on many factors and some safety professionals need to learn to navigate the complexities of perception and habit to achieve meaningful results. People’s inability to truly notice things they see every day is important to address when approaching the subject of safety posters. Regularly changing and updating them, and making them more eye-catching and noticeable is a step in the right direction. 
 
In addition, what we learn from the research mentioned above is that if someone wants to check exactly how well they know or understand something, they need to use that information in a meaningful way. Having regular safety talks or toolbox talks concerning the messages on the posters can help drive home their importance and make workers remember that they’re even there.