March 2, 2015 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 3Comment

The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) published a book last month featuring a collection of 50 workplace safety and health posters. They were designed for or developed by agencies and advocates between 1925 and 2004.

The book’s author, Alfredo Menendez-Navarro, MD PhD, organized the selections into three time periods: the years between WWI and WWII, after WWII, and the post 1960’s. Menendez-Navarro is a professor of the history of science at the University of Granada and an expert in the history of occupational health.

This poster from Poland was one that really caught my eye. No matter how much the agricultural industry wants to romanticize farm work, too many hazards are not controlled and it is dangerous.

Central Institute for Labour Protection, Poland Designer/Artist: Golonka, Jerzy (2004)


I’m going to have to keep in mind this one from Denmark. It will come in handy when business interests object to designing out the hazards of a job and instead just want to require that workers wear personal protective equipment.

PPE overload
How much should we put up with? Ask your safety reps, Danish Metalworkers’ Union, Denmark (1950-1974)


ETUI’s General Director Philippe Pochet wrote the forward to The art of preventive health and safety in Europe. He comments on the posters’ common themes:

“Some of the posters convey messages referring to the responsibility and, potentially, the culpability of workers. They urge workers to comply with the rules and to be careful, meticulous and tidy. Others, by contrast, highlight the dangers lurking in the workplace. They allude to the figure of death hiding in the shadows of machine gears or they point to the presence of toxic substances. Others know and call on workers to heed their advice. Two images reject this often patronising approach to prevention. A trade union poster from the early 1980s soberly announces ‘Our health is not for sale.’”

This one from Paris in 1968 could be used today by Steelworkers, some of whom have been on strike since February 1.

Down with hellish production schedules, Atelier Populaire, Paris (1968)


Among the USW’s chief concerns are excessive work hours. “Down with hellish production schedules.”

The American Petroleum Institute issued recommendations for petrochemical plants to address the hazard of worker fatigue, but they are voluntary and full of loopholes. The USW reports that it’s not unusual for some workers to be required to work a month of consecutive 12-hour workdays. This poster with the stopwatch was used during general strikes in Paris during May and June of 1968. Those protesters were also looking beyond higher wages, explains Menendez-Navarro, and demanding changes in their abusive work schedules.

Check out The art of preventive health and safety in Europe and leave a comment about your favorite poster in the collection.



3 thoughts on “History, art and prevention: European workplace safety posters

  1. #35 (homo computerus) must be good because it made me sit up properly!
    #39 is obnoxious: it’s the worker’s fault he got hurt and can’t be on vacation (and that sick time and vacation are the same thing).

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