WorkSafe Victoria has released a video of an experiment that shows that people will undertake unsafe acts if asked to do so. This video is part of the OHS regulator’s campaign to increase focus on the OHS obligations of supervisors but it has generated serious complaints from safety professionals and advocates.
WorkSafe Victoria has been advised that the video sends “mixed messages” about electrical safety. Safety professionals have decried that the video is meant to be funny with its jaunty whistling soundtrack yet it shows an apprentice pretending to receive a shock. One participant giggles when she realises it is a joke, in the same way people are relieved after being “punk’d” or laugh after seeing the “candid camera” even though their participation was alarming. The video has been described as a “stunt” that fails to illustrate the serious consequences of the action of handling live electric cables.
The intention of this video, the application of Stanley Milgram‘s experiments from the 1960s, may be worthy but the presentation and message is questionable.
WorkSafe advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that participants were advised, after the event and off-screen, that the scenario was fake and that their actions could have been potentially harmful in a real workplace. Participants needed to sign a waiver or a permission form for their images to be used and couselling was available.
“We wanted to draw attention to the fact that WorkSafe’s public awareness campaign is founded on real psychological insights. We are all susceptible to doing dangerous tasks, if asked to do so by our bosses. For anyone who supervises others the message is simple – don’t ask people to do dangerous things, as they just might do them”
This “truth” underpins WorkSafe’s campaign about supervisor responsibilities that it has refreshed over the last few weeks. That campaign also has some flaws. It tries to change supervisors’ actions and perceptions of danger through the actions of the, often young, worker yet the lasting image of these ads is not of the supervisor’s demand being questioned but of a worker looking bemused. The slogan, “Would you do what you ask your workers to do?” is more effective but has its best impacts on billboards.
Also, there is considerable irony on the WorkSafe News page at the moment where the “experiment” is listed directly above a media statement entitled “Company fined $50,000 over electric shock incident”.
WorkSafe has provided SafetyAtWorkBlog with the following points about the experiment video:
- “Our objective is to get a message to the community, particularly employers and supervisors, who are faced with a range of competing demands.
- While employers have the principal responsibility for health and safety, supervisors also have an important role to ensure safe work practices are being followed.
- We know that workers’ attitudes to safety are heavily influenced by their immediate supervisor. If they don’t take safety seriously and if their employers don’t take safety seriously, the consequences can be horrific.
- The experiment is designed to draw attention to this issue and remind people of the importance of staying focused on workplace safety, albeit this is a different approach to our broadcast campaigns. We want people to stop and think before they do something that could put them in danger.
- It’s important that this part of the campaign isn’t looked at in isolation, but as a segment of a much broader project which includes advertising on billboards, radio, tv and the web.”
There is no doubt that WorkSafe is trying new and different strategies, such as The Skeleton Project. They are feeling their way in the Web 2.0 climate of social media by establishing Twitter, YouTube and Facebook presences. But this video is a misstep with potential longer term consequences. The internet is loaded with funny safety videos of very dubious merit. OHS regulators should not add to it.