Safety songs? Oh, yes. Workplace safety songs abound, and they can be an effective tool to strengthen your workplace safety culture.
Safety is a serious subject; no one debates that. It can also be mind-numbingly dull. Why not liven it up through the power of song, a medium long used to spread serious messages? Politics, war, social unrest, civil rights abuses—these are all subjects regularly addressed in song. And now, there’s safety.
Mainstream songs touching on serious subjects—be those politics or civil rights—tend to sound serious. However, homegrown workplace safety songs are typically lighthearted and funny and still manage to get across useful information.
The entertainment value is one of the very reasons they are effective. Conveniently, they’re also short, so they’re great for a safety moment or to spice up a daily toolbox talk.
Songs: Infusing Fun for Effective Safety Messaging
“Lack of interest and boredom during certain [safety] teaching methods, such as lecture-only or reading-intensive training sessions, can cause some workers to have difficulty retaining the information they need to know,” says Irene A. Blake in the Houston Chronicle story “How to Make Safety Training Fun.”
“Making safety training fun,” continues Blake, “can help you increase worker engagement and improve overall workplace safety and emergency responses.”
Jeffrey Dalto of Convergence Training explored combining safety training and fun by asking safety professionals in several LinkedIn groups, “What do you do to make your safety training more fun and engaging for your employees?” He then grouped responses into categories, several of which songs can address: games, competitions, rewards, humor, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, storytelling.
“It has been my experience,” states Laurie Bell of St John’s Ambulance, whom Dalto quotes under the humor category, “that training should not be conducted in a somber atmosphere. If you can get people to laugh you will be able to get them to learn.” If that is the case, the safety song might be your best bet.
Journalist Peter Bacqué drives home the effectiveness of livening up safety training with song in his article “Being Safe Is Cool” for the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Nothing can bore a worker like a safety briefing—right up till someone dies. Or until Dennis McDade starts rapping.”
McDade is a lineman for Dominion—this profession being one of the top ten most dangerous jobs in the United States. His song, “Safety Rap,”—which has over 400,000 YouTube views to date—fed into a greater company push to improve safety culture at Dominion. His efforts did not go unnoticed.
“[McDade] helped us through a critical period in our safety culture performance,” says Rodney Blevins, senior vice president and CIO at Dominion, in Bacqué’s story. “‘Safety Rap’ demonstrated that safety had become cool. We had made a shift in our safety culture.”
The company has invited McDade and his crew to perform the safety song at industry events. It ought be noted that as of 2014, Dominion had reduced reportable safety incidents by 27 percent since 2010 and had not experienced a fatality in over a decade.
Safety Songs: Many Genres, Many Flavors
Songs about safety aren’t a particularly new phenomena. Back in 1980, machinery giant Caterpillar put out a safety video featuring the catchy country-western tune “Shake Hands with Danger.” Lyrics include such memorable lines as “Meet a guy who ought to know. I used to laugh at safety, now they call me Three-Finger Joe.”
Some safety videos are parodies of popular songs:
“Work this Way” is a play on Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” and addresses slips, trips, and falls:
“Safe Safe Safety” is a play on Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” and covers the importance of wearing PPE:
“Don’t Walk On By” is a play on “Walk on By,” popularized by Dionne Warwick, and emphasizes the importance of attending to safety hazards or circumstances when co-workers may need help: don’t just walk by safety issues that you can fix:
“Please Slow Your Car” is a play on Jose Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad done as a carpool karaoke–style music video; it was created by the men and women (and a dog) of the New Zealand police, fire, and ambulance services to remind people to drive slower and drive sober over the holidays.
Other songs for work safety, like McDade’s rap, are originals. Perhaps the single greatest contributor to the world of original safety songs for work is Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), formerly the largest privately owned shipyard in the country (it is now part of Huntington Ingalls Industries).
For several years NNS held a safety song contest, complete with a $1,000 prize for the winner and a music video created with the help of the company’s video training and communications department.
“Safety is a top priority at Newport News Shipbuilding,” says Matt Mulherin, corporate vice president and NNS president. “The safety song contest encourages ownership and creativity among our 20,000 shipbuilders and promotes safety awareness across the shipyard in a fun and memorable way.”
The company has received submissions in numerous genres—gospel, rock, country—but it’s been the rap songs that we find particularly excellent. Check out the 2014 winning song by Derek Wilson “I Wanna Be Safe.” Or, in the words of a staff writer for themusic.com.au, “Kick back and enjoy what is quite possibly the greatest rap about workplace safety you'll ever encounter.”
We’re also quite fond of "Safety First" by Alfred Flythe, the 2012 winner:
Starting ’Em Young
Songs about staying safe aren’t just for the workplace. Many are aimed at kids. You’ll find them the world round. The Republic of Ireland has hosted a contest for grade-school children to come up with a song-and-dance routine to the tune of “Safe Cross Code.”
Safe street crossing is also addressed in Spain by an odd little character called Seguriño. And in the United States, Sesame Street features the “safety school chickens” singing a song about safety and being respectful to others.
Your Work Safety Songs?
Now that you’re pumped up to infuse your safety culture with the delightful fun of songs about safety for work, we’d love to know: When are you launching your contest for safety songs?