The things that don’t work don’t get used

Why are Safety programs tolerated not embraced. Shouldn’t it be the other way around shouldn’t our employees be so happy to participate in safety training and programs because they know that it will keep the well, whole and intact in a very dangerous occupation. Why does any facility have to enforce a safety policy?

How many deep sea divers don’t check the tanks before they go in the water, or skydivers who don’t check their parachute before going up in the plane? I’m sure there are but I’m just as sure they don’t last long

Would any of us use a car that didn’t work to commute to work? I think not

The things that don’t work don’t get used

What does this mean for us? Simple if you have to enforce any part of your safety policy then that part doesn’t work. It’s not rocket science it’s common sense, to be specific it’s Common Sense Safety™

THE POINT: Safety programs at their best cost money time and effort at their worst lives. Beyond this what about a safety program the increase’s your plants profits and safety performance at the same time. I can hear you now “Oh yeah and while you’re at it throw in a few Unicorns, an Abominable Snowman, three pixies and just to wrap it up a dozen genies in the bottle, have Santa drop it off”  but I assure you it can be done, I’ve done it.  

THE STORY: I was working for a company that had a very extensive safety program. We had meetings and meetings and meetings, we forms to fill out, books to audit, surprise compliance inspections, OSHA VVP status, safety; committees, work orders and incentives. We had near miss forms, tail gate talks, Job hazard forms and root cause analysis. It was all very impressive and we (well not me, I was always so confused) spent all sorts of time, effort and I’m sure a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t even know about on safety.

We had to have management safety meetings with all the managers. Then the managers where supposed to have meetings with their supervisors and then the supervisors were to meet with their direct reports. We were supposed to do this every month…eeeegads.

One managers meeting someone had left a blow up beach ball in the boardroom. I immediately started playing with it bouncing it on the table, wall, chairs and other people in the room. The guy running the meeting, let’s call him Mr. Uptight was getting more and more frustrated with me and my ball. He asked me to stop it, deflate the ball and pay attention, being the mature manager that I was I said “NO!” and continued to play.

While playing with my ball, I wasn’t falling asleep, doodling or trying to mentally transport myself to anywhere else, really anywhere … I was actively listening. As I started playing a game of conference table volleyball with the manager on the other side of the table, I actually started to comment about what we were talking about (Strange I never commented).I actually starting to get engaged, as I started to talk again (still batting the ball around) Mr. Uptight turned and saw that I was passing the ball around and got so pissed he stabbed the ball with his pen….meeting over.

The next month we all shuffled into the boardroom ready to endure yet another dull, tiresome, tedious safety meeting, I missed my beach ball, silently I shouted WILSON!!! Front and center stood Mr. Uptight, with a strange gleam in his eye. I sat, girded my loins (at least I like to think I did) and started to identify with Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest and Mr. Uptight was my own personnel Nurse Ratched.

When we were all seated Mr. Uptight, with a flourish, pulled from behind him a large shopping bag and began to walk around the room. Our instructions were to close our eyes and reach it the bag grab something. The first of us reached into the bag, a hush fell over the room, would he have his hand? It was very tense in the room. His hand came out of the bag clutching a can of……Playdough. We were all stunned, what kind of new torture was this? Surely Mr. Uptight was just retaliating from last month, there must be a piranha or something equally harmful in the bag the first guy must have just gotten lucky. The next hand came out of the bag with a fist full of balloons.

Mr. Uptight had lost it, time to call the Happy Farm and tell them they would be receiving another gleeful participant. He didn’t say a word until he got back to the front of the room. We all sat dumbfounded and confused. A room full of managers all with a toy in our hands, a Yo-Yo, Silly Putty, Playdough, A Pinky,  a Paper Airplane, etc. etc. 

Mr. Uptight laughed at all of our expressions, he then explained and apologized. He went on to explain that he couldn’t stand the way the meetings were either and the most productive he had ever felt during one of these meetings was when we were playing with the beach ball. He researched the phenomenon and decided to give it a try.

The theory was that, if you were at play then you were more creative.

It worked; we wound up playing with toys during our safety meetings and at the same time designing a safety program called “Common Sense Safety™”. This program did the following

  • Was OSHA’s VVP program, benchmark for employee accountability for years
  • Helped a waste to energy facility go for 14 months without a recordable injury, best in company history
  • Through VVP we trained other plants and facilities on this program
  • The year we developed the “Common Sense Program™” the plant also broke all the production records of the plant, there are no accidents
  • Was one of the building blocks of the plants “worst to first” run in just one year

3 thoughts on “The things that don’t work don’t get used

  1. Rebecca Early

    You have always hit the nail on the head! This brought back great memories of your personal commitment towards safety during outages when you was, in my book, the best outage coordinator ever!
    I have been a self employeed safety consultant for 14 years now. I have witnessed the after effect at many facilities here in the US due to having a safety program in “writing” and actually enforcing one.
    I now see, due to the economy, the cutbacks being made in companies. Guess what gets cut first?? You got it, SAFETY!!! The trend will then show the after effects of those decisions! Sometimes, sadly enough, it will take a fatality to wake them up.

  2. Bobby C

    This is excellent. This should be made into an evidenced based practice. I had implemented a VPP in a federal agency region 1, that had the most dismal safety record of any agency. After the first year it became apparent to me that the employees were committed to safety however the supervisors and managers were putting budget and schedule priorities ahead of the safety. I received an employee incident report that supervisors were sending employees into confined spaces alone. They denied any such thing. After gathering the facts and monitoring the situation we met with the agency director at OSHA headquarters along with responsible managers. The director was blindsided when presented with the details.The managers were suspended immediately and new managers who could walk, talk and breath safety along with the employees were brought in. I am certain that if there was one lead manager who was “teachable” through your example this would not have happened and employees would not have been put at risk. It is pretty bad when you have people who are so fixed in their ways that all of the meetings and trainings can not change the system until a significant event occurs. Unless you have the ability to take managment to the “wood shed” then the blame inherently falls on
    the safety officer. Fortunately there was an employee who was willing to file a report in this case because he understood the consequences and risk involved. A year later the VPP program was on track and the agency was in the top five on the totem pole.


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