Pictures are worth a thousand words

When Morrison Utility Services wants to get important health and safety messages across to its workforce, humorous cartoons can prove a quick and effective method.

We all come across situations everyday where images communicate information to us quickly and effectively. Road signs are a case in point – everyone including most non-drivers understands the iconic UK road sign designs.

This principle of developing visual images to communicate essential safety information was first used by Morrison Utility Services (Morrison US) around ten years ago.

Employing nearly 3,200 people, the company’s workforce reaches across the UK and into the Republic of Ireland. Comprehensively briefing important safety information is essential to a team of this size – ensuring that the information is taken on board, and acted upon, is trickier.

Paul Kerridge, the company’s director of Safety, Health, Environment and Quality, explains: “As we provide support services to the major utility companies we have numerous depots, offices and temporary sites. This presents us with a challenge in communicating essential health and safety information effectively.

“We are duty bound to ensure that this information is not only made available but that it is read and acted upon, and it is part of our commitment to the phrase ‘nothing we do is so important we cannot take time to do it safely’.

“Having said that, we know that teams are under pressure to deliver to deadlines so we need to use a format for information which is eye-catching and memorable.”


Morrison US delivers safety briefings to its operational teams via a series of Toolbox Talks. Just as the name suggests, these are delivered to teams on a regular basis as they report to depots to prepare for the day ahead.

This busy, informal setting means that an eye-catching graphic can help to get the message across quickly and more effectively.

Glen Tymon, skills development manager at Morrison US, comments: “With such a large, diverse workforce we have to be mindful of factors which might prevent people from taking away the key piece of information we want to communicate. We have a few teams where English is not their first language, and we also have to take into account varying levels of literacy.

“Even if literacy is not an issue, it is unrealistic to expect someone to be handed a detailed briefing and to read it, digest it, memorise it and act on it in a short space of time.”

In order to bring the Toolbox Talk briefings to life, Morrison US began working with Century 21 Projects. It produced the briefings as storyboards using the skills of an illustrator who had previously worked for Viz magazine. The distinctive illustrations soon developed into a family of characters and Morris and Son were born.

Tymon continues: “The Viz-inspired characters were a real hit when they were introduced. Given that there were probably many Viz readers among our teams they were intrigued to see such a light-hearted cartoon being used to get across serious work-related messages.

“I think that helped to engage people initially. Now the style is generally accepted as our own so teams know when they see a storyboard that it will be reminding them of a site safety issue.”


The Toolbox Talk storyboards typically communicate in images what could otherwise be a very lengthy policy document or safety guidance note and this principle has now been applied to other scenarios.

Kerridge continues: “The success of the storyboards has made us review how other sometimes comprehensive pieces of information are communicated. One example is a site safety induction. Typically those receiving the induction will be briefed verbally and depending on the complexity of the site it may take some time.

“Distractions on a busy site during this process are always going to detract from the information being given. To combat this we have developed a visual induction using many of the illustrations already available to us.

“This provides the site manager or person responsible for site safety with visual cues which carries the whole process along and hopefully provides a memorable and interesting briefing for the visitor.”

In a further extension of the eye-catching visual principle, Morrison US’s SHEQ team is now also producing pictorial method statements involving a mix of illustrations and photography. Text-based method statements by their nature are very comprehensive, as they need to be sure to include important risk assessment information.

Kerridge says: “What we have tried to do by using more images is to ensure that these, like all of our briefing documents, are thoroughly read and understood.

“If by developing this visual approach to communicating important information we

will have prevented one single incident from occurring, our strategy will have been endorsed.”

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