WorkSafe NZ's new campaign based on meerkats' ability to 'sense danger' divides internet

A new campaign by WorkSafe - featuring meerkats, house music and a questionable moment between two co-workers - is receiving mixed reviews online, with one social media user branding the advertisement as "totally bizarre".

The 'you can sense it, you can stop it' campaign, which went live over the weekend, was shared to WorkSafe's YouTube channel on Saturday.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, WorkSafe explained its message had been inspired by meerkats ability to "protect one another" and is premised on the idea that like a meerkat, everyone has the instinct to sense danger. The critters are known for their collective approach to daily tasks, such as collecting food and patrolling to ensure the safety of their mob. Meerkats are also highly efficient at communication, and will emit varying noises to alert their cohort to different risks.

In the advertisement, factory workers - accompanied by meerkats - come to the rescue of a co-worker in headphones, oblivious to the danger of precariously stacked boxes. 

A female colleague, who had been monitoring the factory via surveillance cameras, rushes at the man and pushes him to the safety of a styrofoam-filled box - before stroking his face and whispering, "Ssh, you're safe now".

The meerkats suddenly screech, alerting the colleagues to a toppling box that scatters debris across the floor.

"Too often following an incident, someone recounts that they had seen it coming, or that it was an accident waiting to happen. Our message to all people in a workplace - if you are concerned about something going wrong, then you should feel empowered to do something about it," said WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes.

"It's embedded in Kiwi culture to have one another's backs and we wanted to reflect this in our campaign. We want to empower workplaces to address health and safety concerns and celebrate those in the workplace who sense it, and stop it."

Yet the campaign, which was picked up by Reddit, has received mixed reviews from viewers over its "weird" but "fun" approach.

"It's weird but I like it! Can't tell you why, but it's fun," one Reddit user commented.

"I like it rather a lot. Anyone know the tune?" said another.

Others were left cold by the concept, with many saying they failed to see the point.

"Yeah I had no idea what it was for and still don't get the point?" one wrote.

"Oh good, I'm not the only one who found it totally bizarre," another user shared.

Others pointed out the campaign should be promoting preventative measures rather than a "reactive" response, and the ad placed the responsibility for the worker's safety on his colleagues.

"It annoys me that this ad places the entire responsibility for workplace safety on the workers, as if it's not up to the companies to keep their workers safe-- as if the solution is to have people have to be 100% vigilant the entire time, like meerkats, because you know if they weren't so lazy all the time then they wouldn't be dying," they explained.

"This whole ad goes against the entire health and safety framework we have in this country. This shouldn't be a reactive effort, this should have been preventative," another pitched in.

One also opined that the scene where the female rescuer lies on top of her colleague is suggestive of sexual harassment in the workplace, noting that if the genders of the actors had been reserved, it would have caused an uproar. 

"It's supposed to be funny because a woman is doing it and women sexually harassing people is apparently funny because we assume it doesn't happen/isn't that bad/that men or anyone victimised by a woman is 'asking for it'?" they wrote.

"It's disappointing because sexual harassment doesn't make a workplace safer and it's not funny regardless of who does it."

In the last five years, WorkSafe has recorded 363 workplace deaths and more than 120,000 workplace injuries resulting in a week away from work.

The new campaign will roll out over the next six months and will feature on television, billboards, social media, cinema and online.