A Home Run for Safety Bob

When an Aluminium factory wanted to imbue a safety culture that went beyond the workplace, it turned to a comic-strip hero.

Belgium has a long and prestigious association with cartoons. Herge’s boy detective Tintin is famous around the world, as are the squeaky-voiced Smurfs. But there are thousands of other characters that everyone knows locally. Comic books are part of the culture here.

Phew! That was close. A Safety Bob poster campaign encouraging people to report near misses.

Now there is a new comic-strip hero. Safety Bob. This cartoon character is the idea of Claudia Eickhoff, the HSE Coordinator at Hydro Aluminium Raeren in south-east Belgium.

“Safety is the most serious subject,” she explains, “but we wanted a way of getting the message across that was not, itself, too serious.”

And the approach is working because Hydro Aluminium Raeren has, at the time of writing, gone 230 days without an accident. It has one of the best safety records of any Hydro plants around the world.

“We have a vision that safety is not only something you do in the workplace”

Safety Bob was designed by Dirk Vandriessche of Talking Circles and he has used the character to create lapel badges and t-shirts. There are Safety Bob safety posters and a big Safety Bob cut-out in reception. It’s all a lot of fun. But every time people see Bob, they are reminded of the serious message: look out for yourself and for those around you.

The idea for Safety Bob came to Claudia while she was watching Lattitude’s training film All For One — The Meerkat Way. Meerkats are adept at looking out for one another. They stay safe because they naturally work as a team and we humans do well to learn from them. Safety Bob is a Meerkat, so he reminds people that safety is about co-operation.

But this story isn’t a plug for Lattitude’s films — that’s not why we wanted  to tell it. What is inspiring is how Claudia and the team at Hydro have used Safety Bob to create a safety culture with the widest possible impact.

“This cartoon meerkat is a symbol of safety,” says Claudia. “He is approachable and interesting. Why? Because we have a vision that safety is not only something you do in the workplace.”

Claudia admits that if someone has an accident at home, it affects their ability to work. But there is more to it than that. People are safest when thinking about safety becomes part of their whole lives. It shouldn’t be something they turn on and off at the factory gates.

“Now the children are pushing mum or dad to take care when they go to work”

One day, Hydro’s MD had an idea. He gave every employee a copy of the meerkats film for Christmas so they could show it to their families. Now when the children see a Safety Bob t-shirt or lapel pin they understand what it means.

Larger than life Safety Bob (made in the plant from aluminium) welcomes people at the factory’s reception and proudly displays its safety record.

“Now the whole family has a safe way of thinking,” says Claudia. “And the children are pushing mum or dad to take care when they go to work.”

Claudia knows the message is getting through at home. In a recent art competition for employees’ children at Hydro, there were several meerkat pictures.

And Safety Bob is helping the adults at work too. Each month there is a new safety theme and a poster to go with it. And because the posters are fun, people actually stop and read them.

In a recent employee safety questionnaire, responses on communication, learning and trust achieved close to a perfect score. It turns out that Safety Bob is doing a pretty good job.

The cartoon meerkat has made safety interesting and fun. That has spread the idea of a safety culture (where we all look out for one another) from the factory and out into the wider community. Thanks to Safety Bob, the comic-loving Belgians are thinking about safety at work with their colleagues, at home with their families, and everywhere in between.

Hydro is a Norwegian aluminium company which employs 23,000 people in more than 40 countries. Hydro Aluminium Raeren in Belgium make extrusions for vehicles, shop fronts, light fittings, concert stages, window frames, greenhouses, and all sorts of other things. www.hydro.com/en/subsites/raeren/

Talking Circles which created the Safety Bob illustration is based in Eupen, Belgium: www.talking-circles.eu

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