Picture this: new, no-cost downloadable pictograms and training material

May 15, 2012

A pictogram project led by Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) promises to provide new training resources — at no cost to workplaces — that can help them address key health and safety issues while bridging literacy and educational differences among workers. Pictograms are visual representations of an action, thing, or idea, and deliver a message to viewers. They are typically used as warning labels or for directional purposes.

The project, a collaboration among the Institute for Work & Health, Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and WSPS, involves developing pictograms and companion training for identifying and controlling hazards.

A test situation involving pictograms and training developed by WSPS and IWH for kitchen prep work shows that participating workers used fewer risky work practices, and had greater hazard- and pictogram-related knowledge. The hazards in this instance involved musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Test results are being applied to pictograms and companion training in three other different sectors:

  • retail environments, i.e., front of store clerks (MSDs)
  • flower greenhouses (MSDs)
  • warehouses (slips, trips and falls)

The pictograms and training will soon be available for downloading at no cost on the Health & Safety Ontario website. Watch for more information in upcoming issues of HSO Network News or HSO Network Magazine.

Kim Grant, a member of the project team and WSPS’s manager, innovation and knowledge solutions, describes the project as a success story with significant potential for helping workplaces prevent injuries. Learn more about the project below.

How the project began

The pictogram project started taking shape in 2008, when Ontario Service Safety Alliance, one of three health and safety associations that have since amalgamated to form WSPS, received WSIB funding to lead a system-wide project on visual learning. The project scope and deliverables included:

  • conducting a literature review on visual learning and pictogram development
  • developing guidelines for a standard process to develop, assess and implement pictograms that all system partners can use to build a pictogram library
  • developing  pictograms for use in Ontario workplaces
  • evaluating comprehension with workers from Ontario workplaces
  • sharing the new knowledge with system partners

The literature review was conducted by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH), explains Grant. “Their analysis told us that little research has been done on the effectiveness of pictograms, so IWH helped us build an evaluation component into the project. This changed it from a product development project into a research and development project.

“We also learned from the literature review that while pictograms are a key resource, they’re not a solution on their own. To maximize their effectiveness, you have to combine the pictograms with training so that workers understand what the pictograms mean and know how to apply it in their everyday environment.”

Two goals

When it came time to develop sample pictograms, starting with kitchen prep work, the team set two goals:

  • increase awareness and adoption of health and safety behaviours. The team addressed this with paired pictograms containing hazard identification and control information, believed to be the first time this approach has been used
  • produce hazard identification and control information that can be used by workers with limited language/literacy. Consequently, the team’s pictograms contain no words (see “Sample kitchen prep pictograms,” below)

The training component

To complement the pictograms, WSPS and IWH created training resources for both workers and managers/supervisors. The 1-hour worker training is intended to help workers

  • identify specific MSD hazards in prep kitchens
  • explain what they can do to reduce the risk of being hurt
  • talk about where they can get help at work
  • talk about what they will do to avoid injury at work

The 1.5-hour manager/supervisor training has the same objectives, as well as to help them

  • learn where and how to place pictograms
  • understand how to provide coaching and support to staff after training and after the pictograms had been posted

Evaluating effectiveness

WSPS and IWH created a set of tools for evaluating the kitchen prep program’s effectiveness. Conducted in factual prep kitchens across Ontario, the tools were intended to measure changes in knowledge, work practices, and pain and discomfort.

“After one or two months, depending on the risk practice,” says Grant, “we saw a statistically significant decrease in practices for chopping, general food handling, general handling (hot and cold prep), and storing prepared food.” However, the team did not find any change in pain and discomfort. They attribute this in part to the pain and discomfort evaluation tools. “Even though these tools were written for a Grade 6 comprehension level,” says Grant, “some workers had trouble grasping the body scan concepts that we were using. They had difficulty with the measurement scale and the pictures of the body, on which we were asking them to indicate where they were feeling pain or discomfort.”

Next steps

“We’re improving the kitchen prep training component and assessment tools, and taking what we’ve learned about pictogram effectiveness and applying it to other sectors,” says Grant.

“In the near future, pictograms and supporting material will appear in a pictogram resource library on the HSO website. For each series of pictograms in the works — restaurant, retail, greenhouse, warehouse — we’ll have a set of pictograms and training modules that workplaces will be able to download and print. The pictograms can be as large or small as they want. All at no cost.”

Sample kitchen prep pictograms