CD-ROM warns staffers on hazardous material

Brush Wellman scraps stodgy print advisories for a high-tech tool that teaches employees about the dangers of beryllium.

Brush Wellman scraps stodgy print advisories for a high-tech tool that teaches employees about the dangers of beryllium.

For most of us, employee communication is rarely a life-or-death situation.

For some it is, and they work damn hard to make sure they’re on top of their game.

Communicators at Brush Wellman are in that group. Their employer produces beryllium, a material that, if handled improperly, can have adverse health effects on workers — “adverse” being little things like lung damage and cancer.

Like most of its competitors, Brush Wellman had for years relied on lengthy printed documents or PowerPoint presentations to educate employees, vendors, and customers about the dangers of occupational exposure to beryllium. Laden with scientific, legal, and medical jargon, these tools were far from engaging.

So last year, communicators there “challenged ourselves to find new and more innovative ways to engage our audiences,” says Pat Carpenter, vice president of corporate communication for Brush Engineered Materials, the parent company of Brush Wellman.

Working with Axcept Media, they settled on an interactive CD-ROM, which in addition to being more contemporary, accomplished two key goals: First, it was compact, and second, it could ultimately be hosted on the Web.

Axcept helped the company to transform its “Worker Protection Model” into an interactive CD that blends high-definition Flash digital video, audio, tabbed navigation tools, text references, hyperlinks, and printable information. It’s also available online:

“By hearing, seeing, and doing, as opposed to simply watching a presentation, employees retain more information longer and become better educated,” says Korey Erb, Axcept’s CEO. “Traditional communications are not working as effectively as they once did. Employees and customers are overwhelmed with information, and only engaging and interactive media will stand out against the sea of paper, e-mail, and other static communications.”

Employees can’t just ‘sit back and watch’

The guide’s structured, interactive approach invites detailed exploration of multiple variables (i.e., whether you’re an employee or employer, what job function you perform, whether you’re interested in keeping beryllium off your clothing or skin, and so on).

To let users jump around, every page includes a menu of six sections: Why this interactive guide; How to use this interactive guide; Worker protection model; Worker protection model and you; About beryllium-containing material; and a Glossary.

The guide requires the employee to control the pace and delivery of information “so the viewer can’t just sit back and watch,” Carpenter says. “Plus the two actors [who serve as guides throughout the CD] are a delight, on and off the screen.”

Through video and animation, the actors illustrate exactly how to avoid hazards.

No matter what type of user, it takes about 30 minutes to complete the entire guide: “We had to be cognizant of attention spans and not be daunting in what we required of the user,” Carpenter says.

Brush spent about a year working with Axcept. “That’s not to say it was a full year’s labor,” Carpenter says. “We worked on it at different levels of intensity when we both had the time between other priorities. Brush also significantly expanded the scope of the project as we realized, midstream, just how powerful the tool would be. That added to our timeline and the cost, which we are not disclosing.”

According to Erb, such customized projects communication tools range anywhere from $15,000 to more than $100,000 per project—depending on total amount of content and the number of media elements.

For instance, one client (not Brush Wellman) had Axcept create 75,000 CD-ROMs in 2006. The cost—which covered design, replication, printing, and shipping to employees—was $154,000. Another company did it all online (no CDs), and the price for same number of workers was $75,000.

“This price tag may sound high, but it can actually save money over traditional communication methods—especially if a Web-based solution is selected,” Erb says, “and help companies further their sustainability initiatives. Printing, replication, fulfillment, and shipping costs can easily add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and leave a huge carbon footprint.”

Informing employees—and competitors

Brush Wellman’s overarching goal was not just to educate its own employees, but to encourage adoption or adaptation of its safety model industrywide. “With that in mind, [we] decided not to brand or restrict access to the tool,” Carpenter says, explaining why it’s available for anyone to view online.

To get the CDs into the hands of people it believes would benefit, Brush Wellman:

  • mailed it to all active customers (about 8,000), plus vendors and fabrication partners;
  • mailed it to the homes of all active Brush Wellman employees;
  • mailed to federal, state, and regional officials active in the regulatory and environmental health and safety professions;
  • made it available from field sales personnel, through the Brush Wellman Web site, and by request (telephone, e-mail, etc.);
  • demonstrated and distributed it at trade shows and industry meetings (such as those of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health).

“The results of this effort have been incredible,” Carpenter says. In addition to winning a variety of communications and safety awards—the CD just snagged IABC’s Gold Quill award in the audiovisual category—numerous companies have used the guide to generate action plans and create successful control programs, he says.

“The guide was also used in a federal court case as an example of the ‘right way’ to train your employees,” Carpenter adds.

A nice side benefit, he says, is that the tool has contributed to “greater interest and buy-in, not to mention good will, for Brush Wellman.”

That includes with employees, he says: “We’ve had many positive comments … it has been very helpful in our internal efforts to increase understanding and awareness of our beryllium safety model.”

Interactive safety CD wins multiple awards

“In the interactive awards, we have competed against huge consumer products companies that undoubtedly had much larger budgets,” says Pat Carpenter. “To take top honors is very gratifying to a relatively small company like Brush Wellman and its Minneapolis-based partner, Axcept Media.”

Here are some of the accolades the CD has won:

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