Injecting humour into safety messages can increase effectiveness

Safety may be a serious topic, but that doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from a bit of humour from time to time, according to keynote speaker Michael Kerr at the Safety Services Nova Scotia Workplace Health and Safety Conference in Halifax.
“To help us create a safer workplace, we need to tap into what experts truly believe to be our most human characteristic of all, our sense of humour,” he said at the conference on March 24.

It’s not just what we say that matters, but how we say it when it comes to building a great, safe culture, said Kerr. Humour makes people more approachable; it helps build connections and relationships and break down walls.

Humour not only helps messages stand out, relevant humour reduces the “counter-argument part of the brain” — that part of people’s brains where they immediately start building arguments about why they are not going to do something — so people are more accepting of a message, said Kerr.

“If you deliver a message, a rule, a regulation, a safety policy with a little bit of humour, studies show people are five times more likely to go along with you if you do it in a funny way,” he said.

Some ways to do this are by using a top 10 list, opening with a funny story, using humour in safety videos — just doing something to add a little bit of humour into the mix.

“We need to make sure we are coming up with creative opportunities to share our messages in more fun ways so we are truly effective and not just being efficient.”

Another way to bring humour into the workplace is by starting a “humour file.” Keep track of daily items that strike you as comical, such as a redundant warning label (“Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover”) or a ridiculous question from a customer. It’s just about choosing to have a sense of humour at work and finding humour in every day things, said Kerr.

“I’m not talking about telling jokes, or being a standup comedian or being the office clown; I’m talking about taking ourselves lightly in order to take our work seriously,” said Kerr. “I’m talking about lightening up on ourselves and finding the humour in our day-to-day lives.”


When it comes to culture — the organization’s DNA, the combination of its written and unwritten rules and the traditions and behaviours that make a workplace unique — safety is an integral component, Kerr said.

“A safe workplace just doesn’t happen and we know there’s a relationship between safety and a great culture. It’s a chicken-and-egg relationship in fact because it’s hard to call yourself an inspiring workplace if people don’t feel safe; if you don’t have a great safety record — that’s got to be a non-negotiable baseline, if we’re going to call ourselves a great workplace.”

And many studies have found organizations with great cultures tend to have better safety records and fewer accidents.

“It makes sense. If people are communicating better, if there are higher levels of trust, if people are working better together as a team, if you’ve got each other’s back, then of course it’s going to be a safer workplace,” Kerr said.

And organizations that are the best places to work, according to Kerr, are not only very intentional about heir culture, but they “put humour to work to drive results.”

Also from SSNS 2015 conference:

Nova Scotia seeing improvements in workplace safety