The Art of Safety

SLIDESHOW LONG PLAY: Our remarkable and artistic history of safety

Aramco’s Loss Prevention Department’s ‘Art of Safety’ book provides a rare and visually stunning look back at the company’s safety journey.

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Thank you for your time today so I can share a safety moment with you, one that is 400 pages long, is 80 years in the making, and is presented here as "Saudi Aramco and the Art of Safety."


This image shows a closeup of the cover of the book, and for once, I'd like you to ignore that old addage about judging a book by its cover. 


In this case, it's essential.


Safety is everywhere, but how is this message told in a way that is memorable? This poster, from 1984, shows how Aramco answers that question. There's no obvious message here; it's just an intriguing and colorful composition that shows an Arab family, a mosque, palm tree in the center, and other world landmarks around it such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Statue of Liberty, and Sydney Harbor Bridge, among others.


Yet, when placed in the context of safety, the message is loud and clear.


The Process

"The Art of Safety" is Aramco's story of how we've used artistic tools such as imagery, typography, color, and strategic imagination to create engaging material as the basis for communicating safety. 


It has taken more than a year of research, which included contact with former employees who provided us with some invaluable materials from their time here, and trolling through decades of company publications to piece together the remarkable legacy that was hidden in our archives. And then we made a selection from the 80 years worth of material to produce this book.


1940s: Tales of stickmen

The story begins in the early 1940s when safety engineers used stickmen figures to communicate safety concepts in a way that could be easily understood.


Behind their apparent simplicity, there's an attention to detail and a creativity in these posters that make them quite unique. 


The main reason in using stickmen -- apart from ease of understanding -- is that the designers of these posters were not artists; they were engineers. They could draw machinery, but drawing human figures is another skill entirely. So they overcame this obstacle by using stickmen. 


Another challenge was the translation of the word safety, and here you can see how it evolved from avoid danger to safety first.


Fresh initiatives

At the end of the second World War, there was a renewed effort put into safety initiatives such as  a poster competition, with the winning entry seen here and a photo from the award ceremony of the winner receiving his prize of a trip to Paris.


Joe Cigar's short life

There was also a short-lived character in The Sun and Flare called Joe Cigar whose constant mishaps provided lessons on best safety practice. 


1950s: Printed in Lebanon

In-depth safety publications came into their own in the late 1950s as employee numbers grew and printing, design, and language translation resources were harnessed. 


This 1959 Safety Target cover is a particularly vibrant precedent for how future safety publications would develop and already showed Aramco's belief in safety as a community responsibility, not just a workplace one.


Printing was carried out in Lebanon at this time because mass-printing presses were not yet available in the Kingdom. 


Photographs in use

Different tactics were used to make safety a shared and memorable item. use of photographs to illustrate best working practices was one method. 


Smart and Sorry

And it was also achieved through the use of humor. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the slapstick antics of two characters called Smart and Sorry became regular features, with the tall, suave figure of Smart always taking the safe option while his short, more rotund colleague always managed to get things wrong.


1960s: Function of posters

Posters remained a staple of our safety communications. One tactic that made our posters stand out was use of quite avant garde techniques.  

Some striking imagery seen in the 1960s with use of stark colors and dramatic design to create a stand-out point.


Both posters here use only red and black for color in very different ways. The poster on the left shows a car literally flying along the road, its design and prominent use of red give it

a sense of speed and also imminent danger. 


The poster on the right shows how the story has already ended, but the image takes a little longer to decipher. As the face comes into focus, so does the meaning of the red splash, conveying a painful accompaniment to the message itself.


Staying on target

The striking imagery was not only on posters. 


This Safety Target cover provides an exceptional example of the balance between utility of safety and inspiring artistry. 


1970s: New era

The 1970s marked a new era for safety as the company expanded rapidly.


Part of this expansion was the creation of the Loss Prevention Department in 1975, and one of their early initiatives was the creation of safety letters. 


Facing challenges

Full-color printing also came to be used in the '70s, which opened new design possibilities. 


But some challenges remained, such as using Arabic and English text side-by-side. This might seem a simple problem now, but Arabic and English text don't behave in the same way. And before computer fonts existed, typesetting in Arabic was an art in itself.


This poster, on left, from 1976, shows how skillfully Aramco designers were able to achieve this using typography ahead of its time to allow the English and Arabic fonts to emulate each other rather than one overpowering the other. 


Compare this to the Stay Alive poster on the right where different styles and sizes in English jump out of the page. But the Arabic text is tucked away on the side.


1980s: Industrial art

The messages around safety have not changed much and the challenge faced by the artist and designers is in making a familiar message stand out. 


On this page from the 1980s, we see a clown showing how not to handle electricity and a fresh reminder on the use of personal protective equipment. 


On the right-hand page is an example of how functional industrial information is formed into art. The colors and shapes in this poster about gas bottles once served a purpose related to the workplace, and even though the information has become redundant, the poster retains its value as a work of industrial art.


Beyond posters

The 1980s was a time of exceptional creativity and saw the launch of many new publications such as the Loss Prevention Newsletter shown on this page; Panorama Magazine; the monthly safety packet; and material to support the new GCC Traffic Week.


The LP Newsletter provided more technical content but still used design to send a message that has remained prominent in this company to this day -- that safety starts at the top.


This 1984 newsletter, in yellow, carries a photo of Ali Al-Naimi from the 1970s when he was a supervisor in Abqaiq and it was published in the year he became the first Saudi CEO of the company.


1990s: On the road

Road safety has always been part of our safety messaging but it took on added emphasis in the '80s, '90s as the country's road network expanded rapidly. 


Apart from messaging of wearing seat belts and driving defensively, there's also a reminder of a road hazard particular to this part of the world. 


2000s & 2010s: Always evolving/Focus on children

While you are familiar with posters and materials from recent decades, which again show the balance between community and workplace safety messaging, 

but it is worth mentioning how much has been produced for children as this sets Aramco apart from other large industrial organizations that produce safety material.


Far from being technical, these books must be entertaining as well as instructional. 


Two examples shown here are the Sami Fox storybook on the left (giving road safety lessons) and on the right, an extract on fire safety with Dahna and Dino, one of our more recent and creative innovations.


The Art of Safety is a compendium of imagery, history, innovation, and creativity that has been produced by Saudi Aramco. It has been a pleasure to produce and we hope that you enjoy paging through this history of our artistic endeavors.


Thank you.


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