Some thirty-five years ago when I had the title Employee Communications Officer for a railroad in Michigan I discovered that Safety Rules were B-O-R-I-N-G. I was asked to create audio visual presentations that would present each of the safety rules in an interesting manner. I figured that if I could inject a bit of humor often enough that it just might keep people awake and if I could do it in a manner that illustrated a specific rule all the better. After many days and nights of struggling with this problem in my head, I came up with a character I called Joe No No. I felt we might hire a local actor to play the role and we could shoot reams of photos of him breaking the rules and then suffering the painful consequences. When I checked my budget I decided I had no money to hire an actor for the role. Instead I bought a wig and a false mustache, a red and white hat and my wife cut out round circles with diagonal lines such as the signs that say “Do Not Enter” and other Do Not warnings and she sewed them on one of my old sweat shirts and on the new hat. I went down to my office in my new outfit and thus Joe No No was born.
My fantastic associate, Roger Thurgaland and I wasted no time getting Joe out into the railroad yard going through his paces. We started out with the rule covering stepping over rails. Joe No No first started out breaking the rule and then he came very close to breaking something else.
The only talking Joe No No did in our productions was to let out a loud line of undecipherable cuss words whenever things went wrong and they were usually followed by a lot of crying out and screaming in pain. We would often put in sound effects of arriving ambulances and some scenes of Joe No No being carried over to the waiting ambulance.
We made up a series of posters stating “Don’t be a Joe No No!” and on special occasions Joe No No would appear at various locations with his arm in a sling or his body covered with bandages.
Sure it was low comedy, corn-ball stuff. Sure we brought on a lot of groans and yet, for the first time ever people started paying attention to the safety rules. We managed to get rid of some of those antiquated rules which made no sense at all and the company started enforcing the rules. We got the backing of top management and managers were made responsible for their department’s injury records. What was the result?
In the ten years that Joe No No was around, our railroad won three Harriman Awards for our safety results. The number of employee on-duty injuries dropped dramatically and we even won an Abbey for one of our audio visual presentations. Of course there were a dozen other things that made this improvement possible but I like to think that Joe No No was the first one out there with a safety message.
How far do you have to go to get that safety message out there to the troops? “Whatever it takes.” was our motto, and if I had to do a few pratfalls and get a little mud on my boots and sometimes on my face too, well, so be it.