Case study from mining: Image-driven safety campaign removes communication barriers

Posted on 27 August 2014

By Joanne Liou, Associate Editor

Marlane Kayfes of Shea Writing and Training Solutions presented lessons learned from a safety campaign in the mining industry at the 2014 IADC Asset Integrity and Reliability Conference on 20 August in Houston.

Marlane Kayfes of Shea Writing and Training Solutions presented lessons learned from a safety campaign in the mining industry at the 2014 IADC Asset Integrity and Reliability Conference on 20 August in Houston.

In the world of process safety, people, equipment, the environment and reputation are some of industry’s greatest assets, Marlane Kayfes, Senior Technical Writer for Shea Writing and Training Solutions, stated. Not to be overlooked, documentation and training should be considered assets, as well. “We put a lot of time, effort and money into (documentation and training),” she said at the 2014 IADC Asset Integrity and Reliability Conference in Houston on 20 August. “If you have an incident and the regulator determines them to be subpar, you’re going to spend a lot more time, money and effort in revising them to make them better. So why not set out to make them the best from the start?”

Ms Kayfes presented a case study from another high-hazard industry where a company was able to significantly reduce its high-potential incidents (HIPOs) by sidestepping barriers to effective communication – illiteracy and audience understanding. “Illiteracy is all around you,” Ms Kayfes said. “All of us are at different levels of literacy, so you have to take that into account” in any company’s training and documentation processes.

From 2007 to 2011, the Anglo American mining company recorded 31 fatalities. A 2009 safety audit determined the major risks were related to transportation. Most contractors did not understand the hazards that they were dealing with every day. The company set out to train 15,000 contractors who operated more than 2,000 vehicles. However, the company was challenged by low literacy rates and having a workforce scattered across 120 remote locations along a 326-mile pipeline in Brazil. “They wanted to do face-to-face delivery,” Ms Kayfes explained, “but they couldn’t shut down and bring everyone in for training. So they created a bus to be their training room.”

First, the company created training materials to withstand Brazil’s hot and humid environment. “Their plan was to create an image-driven campaign so that their message could reach the widest audience given the low literacy levels,” she explained. Visual aids, such as flash cards, pictures, posters and T-shirts, were portable.

The company also produced five videos based on real-life worker injuries or fatalities in transportation-related accidents. These were often considered “the most powerful part of their presentation. Many of these construction workers burst out crying when they saw the stories of their lost colleagues.” In only five months, Anglo American reduced its HIPOs by 70%.

One of the keys to this safety campaign was the overall design of documentation. “In design for understanding, your documentation doesn’t have to be a work of art, but every element of it should have a purpose and relate to your message,” Ms Kayfes said. “Design includes both the looks and how your piece is organized.”

She likened the importance of a purposeful design to sushi. While sushi ingredients could be scattered on a plate, those same ingredients would have greater value as a sushi roll. “The idea is that sushi is clean. It looks like someone took care presenting it, and the same idea goes for your documentation and training.” Design elements, such as white space, font size and graphics, help the audience focus on the message. “Anglo American recognized that they needed to have a photo-driven campaign. Why use a whole page of text when one picture can do (the job)?”

Using language purposefully is another key element of a successful safety campaign, and consistency of terminology increases credibility, Ms Kayfes said. Terminology ranges from names of equipment to people’s job titles. For example, a senior manager in charge of a site with multiple units is a plant manager in US terms; however, a plant manager in the UK is a first-level manager usually in charge of one unit. “It’s easy to incorporate misunderstandings in your messages,” she cautioned.

Furthermore, the levels of audience understanding varies, and it cannot be assumed that each person already knows the meanings of certain things, whether it be “techno-babble” or different words used for the same piece of equipment. “The more (lingo) you use, the more you’re limiting your reach,” Ms Kayfes said. “You’re talking only to the people who understand your language.”

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