Promoting Workplace Safety

Poster showing a man missing part of a leg that reads "keep your body whole, heath and happiness depend on it!"

For an insurance company like Employers Mutual, it made sense to try to promote safety in the workplace. Reducing the number of industrial accidents would naturally lead to less money lost to claims. But Employers Mutual was also very adept at translating its expertise into prevention through education, and the company developed an active publishing wing to help distribute safety information to their policyholders’ employees.[1]

Posters

Posters displayed on bulletin boards in the shops and factories of policy-holding companies were a key component of Employers Mutual safety campaigns. These posters ranged from reminders to remember to wear protective goggles and shoes, to gruesome examples of maimed limbs when safety was ignored. Others warned workers not to cut corners in the interest of finishing a job faster or getting home sooner.[2]

Poster showing a messy shop floor in a factory and a clean one, instructing viewers that "good housekeeping" is necessary in the factory as well as the home.
An Employers Mutual safety poster designed to be hung in policyholder workplaces, late 1920s to mid-1940s. Image courtesy of Marathon County Historical Society.

 

Newsletters and Magazines

In addition to these posters, Employers Mutual churned out a variety of newsletters and magazines for distribution to their policyholders. The Foreman was published from 1924 through 1965 (and continued in a scaled down version as “Better Supervision” into the early 1970s). The award-winning magazine included general advice for staying safe in the factory, with articles about safe ladder and automobile use, the virtues of proper safety gear, and the dangers of roughhousing and taking shortcuts.

A portion of a foreman's newsletter
One of Employers Mutual’s many safety newsletters, “The Foreman” was published from 1924-1965, and then continued in scaled-down form as “Better Supervision.” Image courtesy of the Marathon County Historical Society.

 

Other magazines were published for specific types of jobs or fields, such as The Cask Breaker(1966 – 1970) for insurance brokers; both The Industrial Nurse (1938 – 1953) and Occupational Health Nurse (1954—1970) for nurses; and Fleet News (1935 to the mid-1950s) and Better Driving (mid-1950s to 1970) for any workers operating automobiles. Countless one-off “service bulletins,” meanwhile, gave even more specific advice, including “Safety Suggestions for Laundries,” “Street and Road Construction Safety,” and “Crime Prevention Measures.” Regardless of the format, all of these publications were directed at reducing the high cost of accidents and poor safety.

A Household Name in Safety
An advertisment for the Wausau-based Employer's Mutual Insurance showing the roof of the Wausau railroad station at night
The Employers Mutual advertisement that first introduced the iconic Wausau depot. The depot would be associated with the company’s logo for decades. This ad first appeared on page 11 of the Saturday Evening Post’s January 16th, 1954 issue.

By the 1950s, successful national ad campaigns—including a partnership with the television program “60 Minutes” during its early years—had made Employers Mutual a household name. The company would expand to open branch offices across the United States and ensure millions of workers. Eventually, Employers Mutual was renamed Wausau Insurance in 1979 to remind customers that it still retained its “Wausau personality” despite its widespread success.

Although today it might seem as if the success of Employers Mutual was inevitable, it’s important to remember that the company’s early efforts to reduce accidents and prevent hearing loss at work through education enabled it to survive the growing pains of a new industry. When workers compensation insurance was a brand-new idea in the 1910s and 1920s, Employers Mutual succeeded in convincing employers about the utility of both their insurance policies and safety campaigns.


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About the Author

Ben Clark


Notes

  1.  “Historical Outline, Employers Insurance of Wausau, 1911-1960” (Wausau, WI: Wausau Insurance Companies, 1984).
  2.  The Marathon County Historical Society’s collection of Employers Mutual posters came from the Wausau Insurance archives, and although they are not dated, appear to range from the 1910s to the late 1940s

Object story created November, 2016

Featured image: An Employers Mutual safety poster designed to be hung in policyholder workplaces, late 1920s to mid-1940s. Image courtesy of Marathon County Historical Society.