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9th January 2019

Health & Safety – Plane common sense – Pay attention to safety briefings, it could save your life

During a recent flight I was interested to note (briefly) how many of my fellow passengers around me were actually paying attention to the pre-flight safety briefing being delivered by the crew; almost all were otherwise absorbed in something much more interesting to them be that their phone or other device or they were obliviously chatting with their neighbour (on a flight on a very small aircraft to Shetland last year I observed the flight attendant telling a passenger off for this – twice!). What might be the reasons for this apparent nonchalance or complacency: is it that we have heard it all before or that we are so comfortable travelling by air that the possibility of an event where we may have to recall and act on the information delivered in the safety briefing just doesn’t enter our consciousness?

While flying is statistically the safest form of travel accidents do still happen. In August 2016 an Emirates flight with 300 people onboard crash landed at Dubai airport. Video taken on passengers’ phones from inside the downed aircraft showed passengers giving priority to retrieving their carry-on luggage from the overhead bins which significantly delayed the evacuation. In April 2018 a Southwest Airlines flight en route from New York to Dallas experienced a major engine failure which damaged the fuselage and depressurised the cabin. Photographs of the event shared on social media afterwards showed a great many of the passengers wearing their oxygen masks incorrectly.

In both these cases (forgetting for a moment that some passengers found the time to retrieve their phones and to then film the chaos ensuing around them…) all passengers would have been requested to pay close attention to the safety briefing at the beginning of the flight yet passengers either hadn’t listened, only partially listened, forgot the instructions (although shock would play a part in this) or chose to ignore it when it counted all of which put lives at risk

The University of New South Wales conducted research into the effectiveness of airline safety briefings and how passengers having been exposed to them react in an emergency. A range of safety briefings were tested, one used humour, one was a ‘standard’ briefing using no humour and one used a celebrity to convey the safety message. Soon after being exposed to these briefings it was found that of the people tested 50% recalled the key safety messages in the briefing with the celebrity, 45% from the humorous briefing (think of British Airways current safety briefing which uses both humour and celebrity) and only 32% from the briefing featuring either no celebrity or humour.

How then does this compare in conveying effective and memorable safety messages in our factories, offices, schools etc. are our employees paying attention and could be counted on to act in an appropriate manner when required?

Most of us will work for organisations with budgets that don’t stretch to having a celebrity to deliver our health and safety briefings and training but what about using humour to increase engagement? I’m not suggesting turning safety training into a stand-up routine but by injecting a little humour, when appropriate, to get a point across, can help in what is, to many, a relatively ‘dry’ subject.

Leaving humour completely aside, graphic examples used correctly can make a lasting impression on an audience, for instance I’ve seen footage of the Bradford City fire of 1985 used during fire safety training with delegates being reminded before viewing that 56 people lost their lives in this tragic event. Applying this influencing approach in the context of the airline safety briefing in showing footage of air accidents could potentially lead to some very anxious flyers, but it does make you wonder if this would sufficiently influence all passengers in giving it their full and undivided attention to a message they may not forget it in a hurry.

These are only a couple of examples of where altering the approach to delivering a safety message can help. Essentially, it’s about delivering a message which not only conveys relevant and clear information to the target audience but does so in a way which makes a lasting impression, counteracts complacency and alters attitudes.

The next time you are on a flight please give the hardworking crew the courtesy of listening to the safety briefing (like the safety information provided in your workplace) it may save your life and the lives of those around you, isn’t that something worth paying attention to?

9th January 2019