Personalized signs are a way to make a fundamental shift in the safety culture of a facility, Mitch Fein says.

The Personal Touch

"Companies are populating signs, posters, banners, and scoreboards with the children, and the wives, and the husbands within the facility, with a common theme about safety being a family value."

Editor's note: Customers told Accuform Signs they wanted their safety signs to send a more personal message to employees, says Mitch Fein, vice president of sales for the Brooksville, Fla.-based maker of signs, labels, and identification products of all types. Fein discussed the personalized safety materials the company developed and why they appeal to the employers and employees alike during an Oct. 5 interview with OH&S Editor Jerry Laws. Excerpts from the interview follow:

OH&S: Start by telling me why personalization is so appealing to employers and to employees.

Mitch Fein: I think it's a way to make a fundamental shift in the safety culture in your facility. Rather than the message being, "We want you to work safely because we said so," now the message is, "We want you to work safely so you can get home at the end of the day." It's a more powerful message, and we've seen companies shift some of their investment and tap into a different budget, where companies may look at shifting money away from embroidered jackets, and ball caps, and steak dinners, and bingo cards, and scratch-offs -- the same rewards that they've been using for years.

Companies are populating signs, posters, banners, and scoreboards with the children, and the wives, and the husbands within the facility, with a common theme about safety being a family value, 'Who's depending on you to get home safely?' And they take that consistent theme from front gate to back dock.

Signs, banners, and everything else that's available to be personalized -- are they changeable, or do they have to be replaced?

Fein: After 30 days, it begins to blend into the background anyway. Posters are so inexpensive that you can make a change. You can switch out a poster easily; it's not such an expensive endeavor as a custom banner, for example.

A scoreboard is one of the most popular products we manufacture. It has a bright LED readout, but the number changes every 24 hours, automatically. Somebody doesn't have to go out every day and change it, which a lot of companies don't do.

Rather than seeing the same image every day, every week, every year, we created a new product so the number continues to change, and now you can change the face on it. We provide two different quarterly changeable faces. One is sports-themed, and one is seasonal/family-themed.

Companies have told us they want contests: "I want safety because . . . " We work up the sign with a photo. And every month, as the scoreboard changes, people that work in the facility want to see who's going to be up there next. Down at the bottom, where the digital scoreboard shines through, companies will cut the bottom portion off and then take the upper portion, which has the employee [with his or her] child, and the niece, or nephew, or dog, or whatever -- they'll take the upper portion at the end of the month, frame it, and then present it to the employee to take home and hang in the house.

I was going to ask how personalized these materials can get. The one you've just described is personalized to an individual. And it sounds as though companies want to create something tangible the employee can keep.

Fein: We can do kind of a broad-brush personalization showing a blond, blue-eyed girl that can represent children [for whom] you'd want to get home safe at the end of the day. But we have facilities that show the children of the employees at that specific plant. If you've got a multi-location company, the families in the Dallas plant on the scoreboard can be different than the scoreboard at the Houston plant, which ought to be different than the Philly plant or the Tucson plant.

It can be tailored specifically to that environment. It doesn't matter to us if it's a generic photo or a specific photo. But we can tailor it down to a specific facility to bring that powerful concept home. Somebody from the Philly plant is on your scoreboard here in the Dallas plant, and you're like, "That's great. I don't even know who that guy is."

Are you aware of any research that has been done that explains why this is so powerful and whether it has a greater impact on safety than your average sign?

Fein: I’m sure there are statistics that have been run by companies that talk about humanizing the whole safety program. But it actually came to us as we saw a natural progression over the past year and a half. Companies proactively brought the idea to us. They were the ones that put a logo on their signs, banners, posters, and scoreboards. And they said, "Rather than just seeing our brand, why can't we see our people, as well?"

We saw a fundamental shift in how safety messages were being taken by companies to individual work locations. Also, we saw more companies coming to us through our distributors and saw companies talking in their annual reports about ensuring all workers go home safely. And we decided to be a bit more proactive with the trend that we saw.

I presented it to a West Coast refinery, and he said, "We're going to fundamentally change the safety culture in our company using your program." That was probably six months ago. We've also been speaking with an airline, and they're looking at making these products a bit more personal to a given facility or a given airport.

So you have these personalized signs in some large companies?

Fein: We do. And it's all across the spectrum: food processing, construction, chemical refining. It's all over the board.

This is a very difficult time for employees. The unemployment rate is sky high. Might the concept be even more valuable now? Is that how you see it?

Fein: I do. I've said that right now, it's difficult for employees to keep their mind on the task at hand. They're worried about their jobs, worried about their spouses' jobs, worried about paying bills. Sometimes their mind might wander when they're doing a specific or dangerous task.

Again, by changing the culture from "We want you to work safely because we said so" to "We want you to work safely so you and your co-worker will both be able to get home at the end of the day to see what's most important to you" -- I think that also plays into it.

Should readers visit Accuform's Web site to learn more about it?

Fein: They can do that. Because we only sell through distributors, they can visit their local authorized Accuform distributor to find out more about it.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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