My wife works some pretty anti-social hours. Every third or fourth day of her working week, she gets up at 4 a.m. and drives about 20 miles to work. For some reason, I am sucked into this reduced sleep program and those early mornings tend to find me shuffling around, making coffee and pretending that I’m not going back to bed the second after she is off the driveway.
In the winter, my other function during these times is to clear the frost off her car before she leaves. I do this not because she can’t, but because I know she won’t. Because it’s too cold for her to stand and scrape the glass - even with the all-in-one scraper-mitten combo that I bought her last year. And it’s too time-consuming for her; that extra five minutes making sure she can see might make her late because, she reasons, the ice will make for poor driving conditions and traffic will be heavier and slower. So I do it for fear that if I don’t she will set off down the road peering through a miniature porthole through the ice where her windshield should be.
Do you have a picture in your head? Perhaps you’re thinking that driving 20 miles "port-holing" is likely to end badly. But even if you think that, maybe you have also been guilty of driving into the chilly black night hoping that the combination of de-mister and windscreen wipers will enable you to see properly in just a few minutes.
It's a familiar tale of short-cuts and hurry-ups. Take a trip to your local emergency room on any weekday afternoon and you’ll hear a familiar tale: "I just needed to do this thing and my [eye protection/gloves/face mask] was all the way over there ..." A good friend of mine who has worked construction for most of his life is 80 percent deaf as a direct result of this exact behavior; he just kept working while the noise reverberated around him. Meanwhile, his ear defenders were safely tucked away in his truck.
So how do we stop this ever-present human frailty that just wants to take the faster, easier and, frankly, lazier, shortcut rather than do the job safely?
This is where the safety moment comes in. The safety moment allows us to focus on those exact things; allows us to highlight to everyone in our team that we want to finish our day in the same healthy state in which we arrived.
What is a safety moment?A safety moment is five minutes out of your day or at the start of your meeting where you and your team can think about something that promotes safe behaviors. This article began with one - a short description of a routinely encountered unsafe practice followed by a solution that ensures the safety of the people involved.
A good safety moment is timely, topical and to the point. By timely, we mean that it must be delivered at an appropriate time. In most cases, that will be just before we begin the relevant activity. So, we will discuss ladder safety the morning before we start changing light-bulbs. Discussing frost free windshields in mid-summer? Not so much.
Safety moments also need to be topical; the subject matter needs to be relevant to the tasks and environment at hand. In a recent and ill-advised safety moment, I witnessed a team leader discussing the dangers posed by gangs in downtown Houston to a group of people who were about to begin a series of office moves. The dangers of over-loading crates and good lifting techniques would have been a far better choice for those people at that time.
Finally, safety moments need to get to the point. All too often the safety moment becomes the safety three-quarters of an hour. What we’re trying to achieve is to direct attention to a key message or process. Having our team glaze over at the 17th demonstration of "how to tie a shoe-lace in a double-bow" is distinctly counterproductive.
The story I began with also focuses on another important element about safety moments. In addition to aiming to reduce the number of safety related incidents around us, a safety moment is a demonstration of the fact that we care about our people, that they are valued and valuable and we wish them to be protected. A good safety moment lets your group know that you are interested in keeping them safe, not merely nagging them to ensure they don’t break the rules.
How should a safety moment be delivered?As a long-term deliverer of safety moments, I can assure you that for the first seven to 10 days in your environment, you will be full of inspiration. Coffee balanced on the photocopier, walking and texting, speeding in the parking lot - all of these and more will spring to mind as you make your daily effort to encourage safe practices. By the third week, ideas may be more difficult to come by. But don’t worry - you’re not in this alone. Your local accident book is always a good source of material. Set yourself a target of trying to reduce the most common incidents within your group. Further afield, try the resources section below. From working with display equipment to heavy engineering, there are topics that can be tailored and tweaked to help you keep your people safe. But remember to keep it topical. Just because you’re interested in oil rigs and drilling equipment doesn’t mean your office-based colleagues need to know how to behave around them.
The emergency room is full of people who wanted to be a bit quicker than the safe process allowed. A timely, topical and to-the-point safety moment influences good safety behavior, prevents incidents and reassures your people that you value them. If you’re not taking a moment, why not?