Communicating safety (through film)

One interesting theme which emerged from our time at the British Safety Council archives in October was the various ways in which safety messages are communicated to workers through promotional material – one popular method being the medium of the safety film. Our search unearthed a safety film catalogue from Federation Films, a production company formed jointly between the National Federation of Building Trades Employers and the Construction Industry Training Board.

Films in the catalogue included Where’s Danny?, No Questions Asked and Eyes Down. These productions (made between 1987 and 1990) use brutal scenes and emotive subjects to communicate their safety messages and to raise questions about worker and employer responsibility.

Where’s Danny? was produced for the painting industry, and follows a painting contractor working in an engineering factory. The film takes place 35 feet above ground, where Danny unclips his safety harness in order to clip it to a ladder (the correct procedure) but falls to his death due to the movement of the platform, which was badly set up. The film, described in the promotional material as ‘highly emotive’, highlights neglect on the part of management, in terms of their failure to order the correct equipment and cutting of corners to meet a deadline.

No Questions Asked is described as a dramatic, step by step portrayal of how an accident really does happen on a building site, and follows a series of incidents, all interlinked, which culminate in eventual disaster involving an unsafe trench. The procedure followed when investigating an accident is also shown, and all persons involved are found guilty – the foreman, general foreman, site agent and ganger. The message here is clear: everyone on the site bears a responsibility for safety.

 

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Still from No Questions Asked

 

Eyes Down stresses the importance of hand, eye and foot protection in the construction industry. The promotional material sums up the crux of the film:

“Frank Waller was doing a routine sort of job – using a breaker on a kerbstone. So simple that maybe he wasn’t paying it much heed. The breaker slipped…they had to amputate what was left of Frank’s foot.”

 

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Stills from Eyes Down

 

These films are relatively short (between 10-20 minutes) and tend to deliver their points concisely, and although they are instructional they draw more upon shock tactics and brutal imagery to gain the attention of employees and managers. Promotional materials like these aim at hammering home the cost of accidents and the issue of employee-employer responsibility, and such materials are extremely interesting to study in terms of the ways in which they attempt to engage with workers and communicate safety messages.