Safety videos. Oh dear. Yawn. Bo-o-o-o-ring. ZZZZzzzzzz. On April 17, 2018, an in-flight accident on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 proved that people mostly do not notice, watch or obey safety information. On this flight, debris from an engine failure smashed a window on the plane. A rupture of this kind in the body of an aircraft at cruising speed, an “explosive decompression”, causes the pressurized air inside the passenger cabin to rush out of the plane. It is extremely forceful due to the great difference between the outside and inside air pressure. As a result, one passenger – who was sitting in the seat next to the broken window, died. Standard procedure in the event of decompression is that oxygen masks drop from the ceiling of the aircraft, which is what happened, and people put them on while the pilot did an emergency landing. Unfortunately, many of the passengers put them on wrong. They forgot that thing the flight attendants had said about:

“…in the event of an emergency, an oxygen mask will drop in front of you from the panel above. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, straighten out the strap, and pull the strap to be sure it is tight on your face. After you are wearing it securely, a tug on the hose will start the oxygen flow. Put your own mask on first, before helping others. Breathe normally.”

Photo taken on Flight 1380 during that event. Spot the mistakes.

Mouth AND nose. Not just your mouth. These passengers on flight 1380, photographed in the act on selfies, covered their mouths only. Flight attendants pounced on this image as proof that people do not pay attention to safety information – but that they really ought to, considering that lives are at stake. So, be honest, when last did you actually listen with both ears to the safety briefing on a plane, and read the instruction card in the seat pocket? Long time ago, right? So what can one do to ensure that people stop doing what they’re doing and pay attention to the safety information in the videos shown on an airplane?

To go directly to the section on life and death videos in mine safety training, click on the link.

What kind of safety videos do people pay attention to?

An effective video would be:

  • Something that is presented and demonstrated by an actual human. Actual humans doing the presentation always helps. Animated videos have less impact. That’s why flight attendants demonstrate the oxygen marks and escape routes, during and after the showing of the safety video, and why the attendants will personally speak to the people sitting at the emergency exists.
  • Something that is entertaining. Humour definitely helps. The flight safety videos of Air New Zealand are famously entertaining, since they have made good use of their connection with the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series. This video was shot partly in Hobbiton, the remains of the Hobbit town created for the films. Even though the pretty “elf” in the video sounds like she says “eliminated” signs, rather than “illuminated” signs, it is still pretty neat. Please consider, though, that humour in one culture may be offensive or mystifying to another culture.
Safety instructions overlaid on scenic footage in the Icelandic Air safety video.

In the Icelandic Air safety video, they combine safety instructions with views of scenic spots and tourist attractions in Iceland. The safety graphics are overlaid on similarly-themed shots – like the oxygen mask section, which is superimposed on a shot of a woman on top of a mountain. It is not the clearest of instructions, but it is quite entertaining, which makes one pay attention. An entertaining video engages the viewer, which is what you want. However, too many scenic shots or scenes with pretty people can distract from the core messages of the video.


  • Something that is worded VERY clearly and simply. You would in fact have to run it by a number of user groups to make sure not one word can be misunderstood. People have commented that the “breathe normally” instruction which will come into effect during an in-flight emergency, is very weird. If you need to use an oxygen masks, no doubt something has happened which probably has you panicking, hyperventilating or screaming your head off. Maybe they should just say: “Try not to panic” or “stay calm”.
  • Something that is visually appealing – eye candy, in other words. Safety videos do not have to be ugly, industrial and boring. They can be professional, visually appealing and informative.
  • Something that is easy to remember. A video with a song, jingle or catchy safety phrase works better than one without it. Besides, music transcends languages and cultures.
  • Something new that they haven’t seen a million times before. Obviously.

Public information about rail safety

Probably the most famous memorable and most noticed safety video ever is Dumb Ways to Die, about rail safety – which ticks all the criteria boxes. Dumb Ways to Die is an Australian public service campaign by Metro Trains in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, to promote rail safety. The campaign video went viral through sharing and social media starting in November 2012.

According to Metro Trains, the campaign contributed to a more than 30% reduction in “near-miss” accidents, from 13.29 near-misses per million kilometres in November 2011 – January 2012, to 9.17 near-misses per million kilometres in November 2012 – January 2013. The video – by now a classic – has now been incorporated into an app with games, and there’s even a dedicated Wiki for it. Within two weeks after it first aired, the video had spawned over 85 parodies. Some renditions and parodies have been featured in national and international media, though the creators risk being sued by Metro Trains.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you – that song is completely addictive.

The song “Dumb Ways to Die” from the video was written by John Mescall, with music by Ollie McGill from the Australian band The Cat Empire, who also produced it. It was performed by Emily Lubitz, the lead vocalist of band Tinpan Orange, with McGill providing backing vocals.

Print campaign for rail safety with humour

Though they are not as appealing as videos, pure text media like platform posters and platform “floor chalks” (writing done with chalk or some other medium that will ear off or wash off eventually), if done correctly, can work. One such, a Public Safety Campaign from Translink in Vancouver, Canada, is the West Coast Express “Yellow Line” campaign, which used humour to make people aware that they must stand back from the train tracks, behind the yellow line. Pay-off lines have included: Stand back from the yellow line – As far back as you’d stand from the guy doing the robot with no music playing; …As far back as you’d stand from the guy wearing a speedo; …As far back as you’d stand from the boss before their morning coffee. To read the platform floor chalks, people had to literally step back from the yellow line. Both types of signs (the posters – 2014 – and the writing on the platform floor – 2013) went viral. The posters are still up on the West Coast Express platforms, but the platform floor chalks wore off. Never say Canadians have no sense of humour.

Life and death videos – Mine safety

Probably the most difficult safety videos to produce are mine safety videos, generally used during orientation sessions, or to introduce specific topics during safety sessions at production meetings. These videos, apart from all the criteria listed above, have to address technical subjects of critical importance, such as ventilation, methane, noise, cave-ins/rock falls/ground conditions, explosives, dust control, loading and hauling, accident investigations, fatalities, etc.

The way the technical content is presented is of critical importance, but before starting to produce these materials,  the Health, Safety and Environment (SHE) Manager must first know what languages their workers communicate it, and what their literacy levels are. (No, this is not a given.) The extent of technical information included in the video, the media used, and the delivery method, have to suit the workers’ education and skills levels. And the assumption that you know how and with what they communicate is the mother of all mishaps. In addition to the listed criteria, such a video also has to be:

  • In plain, simple language – Entirely without corporate gobbledygook and abstract terms
  • Practical – hands-on if possible
  • Interactive – in groups if possible
  • Dealing with the real issues, not general principles
  • Combined with other forms of delivery to reinforce the messages – possibly e-learning, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) is one way to make workers feel as if they were underground or in an open pit, and train them to identify hazards and demonstrate safety and emergency response techniques, without exposing them to physical harm. It is also a way to orientate workers into their new, often hazardous, surroundings. Below is a video excerpt from a VR program concept developed by Anglo American Platinum.

VR in mine safety training in Anglo American Platinum. Initiative led by William Taylor, Anglo American Platinum Executive Safety Advisor at Union Mine, South Africa.

Guidelines for making effective safety videos

To summarize: In the case of safety videos, for the public or otherwise, the onus is on the service provider to ensure that the communications are received and understood by the user of the service. Failure to engage the user is failure to communicate. And that’s no excuse in the event of an accident. Remember, a video – even if intended to convey information or educate – should be:

  1. Inclusive of human interaction
  2. Entertaining and engaging
  3. Clear and simply worded
  4. Nice to look at
  5. Easy to remember
  6. Fresh
  7. Concrete, not abstract
  8. Practical
  9. Interactive
  10. Realistic
  11. Reinforced


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