Put the spotlight on safetyA campaign described in The New York Times last week got me thinking about how writers can contribute to safety awareness.

The article reported that roadway deaths are on the rise, and we need to stop calling the reason accidents. Writer Matt Richtel quotes “safety advocates” as saying that using the word accident “trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error.”

Beyond avoiding words like “accidents,” writers and communicators can contribute to a culture where safety is both visible and important. We can reinforce messages and training by keeping safety in sight no matter where our words go – emails, videos, posters, annual reports and newsletters, to name just a few. Here are six ways to do so:

1. Watch your language
As mentioned, avoid “accident.” Some of my clients use the more neutral “incidents.” If possible, be specific. Was it a crash, a fire, a fall?

2. Put safety first in lists
Let’s say you’re describing a program that will do all kinds of wonderful things, like improve productivity, reduce costs, boost revenue and improve safety. When you list those things, the first one should always be safety.

3. Don’t leave safety out
Did someone you interviewed leave safety out of a conversation? Make a point of asking about it, even if it seems somehow unrelated. The management team (or leadership, to use the current buzzword) sets the tone, and you can bet people notice when they leave safety out.

4. Put safety first in quotes
Did the manager or CEO you quoted in an article talk about safety along with other subjects? Lead with safety when reporting the conversation.

5. Look for the people acting safely
When looking for interesting people to profile, find the ones who are doing the right things. For example, a client recently highlighted someone who stepped in when he saw others who weren’t following established safety rules.

6. Look for safe behaviour in photos that accompany your words
In an industrial setting, employees likely wear protective equipment. Make sure people in photos have the right gear for the setting. Or, show staged or Photoshopped photos where employees aren’t wearing the right gear and ask people to spot the missteps. A client made a contest of this and received enthusiastic (and often funny) responses that she published in the newsletter.

On their own, these steps aren’t significant. However, they are subtle indications that the company is serious about safety, and about building a safety culture.

If you’re a corporate communicator, how do you shine a light on safety? What are the signs that a company is serious about safety?