Report suggests pandemic contributing to workplace ‘sign blindness’
9 Nov 2021
Overexposure to public warnings during the pandemic is likely to lead to employees failing to register the ssafety signs in the workplace, claims a new study.
Health and safety solutions provider Seton’s report reviewed the risk that posed as factories and offices offices reopen following the end of furlough.
Carried out with collaboration from academics Professor Thorsten Chmura and Dr Jennifer Parkin, the publication Sign Blindness: A big risk to health and safety asserts that sign blindness potentially poses one of the biggest risks to workplace health and safety in decades.
Recent research from the Office of National Statistics showed that 60% of adults expect to be back in their normal place of work before the end of autumn.
But say Seton, the abundance of signage, rules and safety warnings during the pandemic could result in returned workers unintentionally ignoring the standard safety signs in front of them.
As Ed Barnes, Product Innovation Manager at Seton explains, sign blindness is such a threat because we are all susceptible to it:
“The human mind has a remarkable ability to interpret abstract symbols, shapes and colours quickly – but we can soon become desensitised to something, even though the hazard remains the same,” warned Seton product innovation manager Ed Barnes.
Over the last 19 months, he said, people’s lives had been saturated by messaging and it was only natural that over time we become desensitised to them. This could cause serious issues with new procedures that need to be communicated and signage relating to old ways of working that is yet to be removed, cautioned Barnes.
“While a handful of people break the rules on purpose, many more do so unintentionally. We expect this number to increase as the pandemic has resulted in safety messages becoming ‘background noise’ to many people, meaning signs could fail to drive the right behaviours,” he added.
Behavioural economist Professor Chmura and director of the Centre for Behavioural Sciences at Nottingham Trent University contribnuted to the report. He advised different forms of communication to help reinforce health and safety policies alongside traditional signage.
“There can be too many signs, which we perceive as overregulation, and this makes us feel confused. A mixture of pictograms, texts and other communication media can break the pattern and lead to positive behaviour enforcement,” stated Chmura.