CHICAGO - These days, sex is used to sell everything, from wristwatches to sports cars to hair conditioner to ... worksite safety? Yes, sometimes in today's entertainment-oriented society, a serious concept needs an injection of Madison Avenue excitement to get people's attention. The Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) of Chicago is using mildly suggestive imagery and humor as part of a "top-of-mind awareness" Safety Stuffer campaign to reach construction workers. The stuffers work in conjunction with the association's many other safety education measures.

"Safety has always been a top concern of the MCA," said Dan Bulley, senior vice president of MCA Chicago. "We're always working to educate workers about safety, on a long-term basis and also with regular worksite reminders. The tongue-in-cheek Safety Stuffers have been getting a great response, since they catch people's attention."

The Safety Stuffers are small fliers dispersed with weekly paychecks to workers employed by contractor members of MCA Chicago. The stuffers are sponsored by United Association Pipe Fitters' Local Union 597/MCA Joint Safety Committee. Messages on the stuffers include these helpful tips, which are accompanied by playful but tasteful illustrations:

Front of Safety Stuffer: Pucker up those lips and...
Back: ...learn CPR. It could save a life.

Front: Burning? Tingling? Quivering?
Back: It could be frostbite. Avoid it by wearing layers and heavy gloves when it's cold.

Front: It's easier to return a wink when your eyes are in your head.
Back: Wear your safety glasses.

Anchoring The Concept In The Subconscious

The Safety Stuffers are based on the concept of top-of-mind awareness (TOMA). The term top-of-mind awareness was coined by Ellis Verdi, once president of the National Retail Advertisers Council, to describe a particularly effective form of marketing. The concept is to anchor a product in the subconscious minds of potential customers so they always select it first. To achieve this, one must consistently market the product to keep it at the top of buyers' minds. Customers will automatically pick the product with the highest TOMA off a shelf, even when distracted by competing products.

The same concept also applies to workplace safety: companies need to generate safety TOMA to help protect the longevity of their businesses - and employees. On the worksite, the "customer" is the worker and the "product" being promoted is safety. The worker is surrounded by constant distractions and must make decisions on the spot. A careless decision can lead to an unfortunate accident. Safety TOMA helps workers to remember to make the right choice at all times.

Another safety step used by MCA Chicago, Toolbox Talks, is equally effective. At the beginning of the workday, the workers gather to hear the foreman share prepared safety advice. A listing is kept of all the workers who attended each talk. These talks also develop a sense of camaraderie among the workers, by starting the day with a brief discussion for everyone's mutual benefit.

Not only do the Safety Stuffers and Toolbox Talks help to increase safety awareness, but they also show the employer is striving to educate workers about safety. "If employers can show they keep employees informed about safety issues, that can count in their favor in the event of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection," said Bulley. "Plus, insurance companies like to know these companies have safety awareness measures in place." Toolbox Talks topics have included ladder safety, fall protection, and personal protective equipment.

The Safety Stuffers and Toolbox Talks are a regular part of the safety awareness program at Ideal Heating Company, Brookfield, Ill., a member contractor of MCA Chicago. Andy Usher, Ideal's safety coordinator and vice president, said, "It's good to remind the workers of safety basics, since it's easy to forget some of those things during a hectic workday. A single accident can lead to years of healthcare expenses - a work injury can weaken that part of the body and make it susceptible to future injuries. The best defense is to help workers remember to do things the right way ... the safe way ... every day."

Ongoing Safety Measures

The information given through MCA Chicago's Safety Stuffers and Toolbox Talks is supplemented by material from the Chicagoland Construction Safety Council and the MCA's national parent association, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA).

The MCAA provides a resource catalog featuring a variety of kits with information on numerous safety concerns. Kits listed in the catalog include Hazard Communication Safety Training, Welding and Cutting Safety Training, and Working Safely around Heavy Equipment. All of these safety education measures, including many others, augment the regular training received by the workers. "Our contractor members require each worker to have 10 hours of OSHA training certification. Over $100 million is spent annually on training nationwide for the union workforce employed by MCA contractors," said Bulley.

In addition to the OSHA training, each worker receives, during their apprenticeship, 1,100 hours of classroom and practical instruction, and at least 5,000 hours of on-the-job training. Most take additional courses after their apprenticeships. "Even with all that training, workers can still use helpful reminders to guide them through their duties," Bulley noted.

When one considers that construction labor costs account for close to 25 percent of project costs - the single largest non-material component of a project - it is easy to see the benefits of excellence in safety among MCA workers. That greater degree of safety awareness leads to reduced workers' compensation expenditures and significantly increased productivity.

To find out more about MCA Chicago, visit

Publication date: 04/25/2005