In this paper, we study the effects of mechanical compliance on safety in physical human–robot interaction (pHRI). More specifically, we compare the effect of joint compliance and link compliance on the impact force assuming a contact occurred between a robot and a human head. We first establish pHRI system models that are composed of robot dynamics, an impact contact model, and head dynamics. These models are validated by Simscape simulation. By comparing impact results with a robotic arm made of a compliant link (CL) and compliant joint (CJ), we conclude that the CL design produces a smaller maximum impact force given the same lateral stiffness as well as other physical and geometric parameters. Furthermore, we compare the variable stiffness joint (VSJ) with the variable stiffness link (VSL) for various actuation parameters and design parameters. While decreasing stiffness of CJs cannot effectively reduce the maximum impact force, CL design is more effective in reducing impact force by varying the link stiffness. We conclude that the CL design potentially outperforms the CJ design in addressing safety in pHRI and can be used as a promising alternative solution to address the safety constraints in pHRI.