Best practice principles for communicating safety messages in national parks

Document Type


Publication details

Saunders, R, Weiler, B, Scherrer, P & Zeppel, H in 2019, 'Best practice principles for communicating safety messages in national parks', Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, vol. 25, pp. 132-142.

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Peer Reviewed



Effective communication of safety information for visitors to national parks and other protected areas is essential, particularly where the potential consequences of incidents are severe. Signs are often the primary communication tool for safety messages in national parks. Compliance-based approaches to safety signs using standards drawn from occupational safety are common, though empirical research into the effectiveness of safety signs in national parks and protected areas generally remains limited. To encourage a more pro-active approach to visitor safety, this paper offers an alternative by proposing and field-testing best practice principles (BPPs) for safety signs in parks. It first presents a literature review of safety sign research that, together with consideration of the current policy and practice of leading protected area management agencies, underpinned the development of three sets of BPPs for communicating safety messages. The set of BPPs that focused on safety signs in national parks were then field-tested in two Australian states. The results point to the theoretical as well as the practical value of best practice principles. In particular, they help reveal why and how particular signs are effective at communicating safety messages. From a management perspective, the BPPs offer a holistic yet contextually-adaptable approach to benchmarking and evaluation. The three sets of BPPs also draw attention to the importance of both a coordinated interpretation and communication approach and an overarching risk management framework in which the use of safety signage is embedded.

Management implications

●Best practice principles (BPPs) for communicating safety messages offer managers a proactive approach to visitor safety beyond standards compliance.

●BPPs help managers understand why and how on-site safety communication in national parks is or is not effective.
●The checklist of BPPs is easy and effective to use on-site and can underpin the development of a valid and reliable instrument that has wide application within parks.
●Targeting and in some cases separation of messages can be critical, including separating safety from interpretive signage, as well as separating individual safety messages.
●Safety signage will be more effective if embedded in a coordinated communication and interpretation approach and in a risk management system.

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