How Effective Are Safety Labels and Why?

October is National Safe Work Month. Maybe it’s not such a coincidence that it is also mental health month. Safe Work Australia has aptly themed this year “think safe, work safe be safe.” 

It’s a timely opportunity to remember that a safe and healthy work environment means being free from physical AND psychological harm.

Anyone who has spent time on a construction site can attest that physical safety is a high priority. The psychological dangers are not always obvious, but it’s important to remember they can still exist.

All workers are required to undertake a relative level of safety training before they set foot on a worksite, and when they do, the personal protective equipment (PPE) list can be lengthy. 

Apart from the apparent safety measures, steel-capped boots, gloves, glasses and hi-vis clothing, warning and safety labels also appear all around us.  

You would be hard-pressed to find a piece of equipment or machinery in a workspace that didn’t have some warning on it. So, it begs the question ‘Do safety labels do their job and are they effective?’ and ‘What happens if we remove them?’

We can all agree the purpose of a safety sticker is to warn of danger. These stickers’ design ensures the end-user is aware that a potentially disastrous situation could arise. But do these labels convey sufficient evidence to deter or inform your average worker? 

The law does not require warning labels for every hypothetical danger an activity or product poses, so an element of common sense and user responsibility must come into the equation. People are left to decide for themselves whether an activity or product’s benefits outweigh the risk.


If the decision to undertake the risk is deemed acceptable, the user must consider the appropriate precautions.


Having said this, look around. Everything seems to come with a warning these days. We are alerted to the dangers of eating unhealthy food, taking prescription drugs, using power tools, and performing a multitude of typical and extreme activities.

It seems despite the gross differences in risks, we have systematically created a largely one-style-fits-all approach. If we address the first question about whether these labels do their job, the answer is – that depends.


2006 saw the first graphic health warnings for tobacco products sold in Australia. Research conducted in 2019 concluded that “when tested, Cigarette smokers with a lower level of nicotine dependence, were deterred from purchasing cigarettes with graphic health warning labels compared to packets without a label”. There was little evidence to show any significant effect on those with a heavier dependence on nicotine.


In our current society, and primarily due to a range of government requirements, we have not managed to relay the distinction between large and small risks adequately. Perhaps the proliferation of warnings for more minor risks has provided the breeding ground for scepticism toward all notices. 

More often than not, this means warnings and safety notices get ignored, or people have become so desensitised they don’t even see the sign in the first place.

Now the question remains, do we remove the labels altogether? Would this pose an even higher risk than them not being there in the first place? 

Information on hazardous chemical labels, for example, tell us a range of vital information in the event of an accident, including first aid and emergency procedures relevant to the chemical. This information is not included within the Hazard Statement included with the product.

What’s the solution? 

Perhaps it all falls under the umbrella of adequate education and common sense. We know that if every single product in the market is labelled as bearing a risk when using them, it will lead to more cautious people lumping it in with other products that warrant such a warning. Subsequently, most warnings (if not all) will get ignored moving forward. 

Being clear on the actual level of risk will help people make sensible decisions and help clarify subsequent precautions and safety levels. 

Reviewing and revising signs and labels on-site will decrease the issue of desensitisation. 

Ultimately, empowering individuals through better education will encourage users to make appropriate risk decisions for themselves. 

With advances in technology, almost any innovation brings risks along with benefits. The main objective is to differentiate the significant dangers from the minor ones.

What are the psychological hazards? Again, education plays a critical role in any scenario. When every team member understands and has clarity around what is appropriate and what is not, they can choose to engage in the behaviour. Like heeding a safety label, certain behaviours result in consequences and these need to be followed through by managers and supervisors. Furthermore, staff will view superiors’ actions as leading by example.  

An empowered workforce better supports a safe and harmonious workplace, physically and mentally. 

The safety culture at Globe Group is a pivotal part of what makes us a success. Globe provides comprehensive WHS training and makes it a priority to stay up to date with new regulations. We have also teamed up with Mates in Construction and Beyond Blue as part of our approach to better mental health.

We know that fostering a healthy and safety-conscious work environment will, in turn, create an environment that is dynamic, supportive, and responsible.  

For solutions to your labour hire challenges or to connect with Globe Group, get in touch now.

Would you like more information or speak with someone? call (07) 3625 9999 today.