Hands Face Space slogan fares better than 'vague and stressful' predecessor

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The government’s new campaign to help stop the spread of coronavirus has finally got the safety message across, say spokespeople from the health and safety community.

Its strapline “Hands. Face. Space” requires people to remember to wash their hands, cover their face and make space to reduce infections.

It was launched by the Department of Health and Social Care on 9 September to avoid a second wave of the virus as winter approaches.

The new strapline on government campaign material (Department of Health and Social Care)

The slogan supersedes "Stay Alert. Control the virus. Save lives". Although it has been broadly welcomed, many point out that government’s public health messaging up until this point has been poor.

Rhian Greaves, Associate Partner at law firm Pannone Corporate LLP said the “stay alert” message was too vague and long. “As an individual how do I control the virus?  How do I protect the NHS? The reality is I do this by good hand hygiene, wearing a face covering as required and keeping a social distance. The new messaging is (finally) clearer.”

An engineer at Airbus, agreed: “In psychological terms, it's a welcome transition from a stressful non-directional "alert" to a direct call for (three) actions.”

This image is made by Mike Buckley, who argues the previous government slogan based around "staying alert" was "deliberately opaque and left best judgement to the individual."

Rory O’Neil, editor, Hazards magazine, says however the message still downplays the main risks and transmission routes of the virus in order to get people back to work.

“This latest move – if it has not been superseded – gets it back to front. ‘Space’ should come first, because airborne risk in most workplaces is likely to be the primary transmission route. ‘Hands’ are important, but in many workplace fomite risk – transmission via contaminated surfaces – is the least of your worries.

“Getting to work and sharing the same air for an entire working day is an experience far more likely to burst your bubble. You can’t fast-track a return to work, while a vaccine-less virus is really calling the shots.”

Dr RS Bridger, Consultant in Human Factors and Ergonomics says it's the objective of the campaign he's most interested in: "As a piece of safety propaganda, it's neat and I think the high risk groups will get it. The message has changed from protecting the NHS to protecting yourself and those around you (daily deaths and hospitalisations have fallen by an order of magnitude since April, so that makes sense, I suppose).

"Whether low risk groups will take any notice at all and whether it matters if they do, remains to be seen. What's the intention behind the safety message, who is the target audience and what would a 'good' outcome look like?"

‘Hands. Face. Space’ will run across TV, radio, print, social media and billboards.

As part of the campaign a new video will also show how coronavirus spreads indoors. Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “As we approach winter and inevitably spend more time indoors, we need the public to keep following this important advice to control the spread of the virus.

‘Hands. Face. Space’ emphasises important elements of the guidance we want everybody to remember: wash your hands regularly, use a face covering when social distancing is not possible and try to keep your distance from those not in your household.

“Following these simple steps could make a significant difference in reducing the transmission of Covid-19 and help protect you and your friends, colleagues and family from the virus.”

 Hands Face Space campaign and materials here


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