EHSQ Lessons from Springfield

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In 27 seasons and one movie, The Simpsons have taught us a lot about the importance of safety. Jebediah Springfield showed us the importance of data collection; Leonard Nimoy and a monorail showed us the importance of Swiss cheese risk assessments; and Mr. Burns, the autocratic owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, showed us exactly how not to create a thriving safety culture.

“A noble data collection system embiggens the smallest company”

The City of Springfield was founded by beloved folk hero Jebediah Springfield. Lisa discovers Jebediah wasn’t a hero, but a notorious criminal. Proof in hand, Lisa interrupts bicentennial a town parade celebrating Jebediah to deliver the news but has a change of heart at the last minute when she sees how the myth of Jebediah brought the town together.

Lisa allowed everyone to believe what they had been taught since they were children because it created community spirit. These same gut feelings, applied to safety, often have the very opposite effect. Too many companies have safety procedures that don’t take change or new information into account and that remain static because “that’s the way they’ve always done it.” Safety managers often struggle against this apathy. Data can change this.

As a safety manager, it’s your duty to track data and present the facts as they are. This type of change isn’t easy to foster, but is more than worth it. The most innovative companies are beginning to collect and leverage data that not only allows them to analyse past injuries, but prevent future ones. As the spirit of Springfield was maintained by keeping the myth of Jebediah alive, so too is the morale of your workforce maintained by busting every myth about safety that exists in your company.

“Swiss Cheese…Is there anything it can’t do?”

After a windfall of $3 million, smooth talking con-man Lyle Lanley convinces the town that a monorail is the best use of their money. Lanley takes every shortcut in building the monorail and in hiring employees and the train uncontrollably accelerates on its maiden run. It’s only through the efforts of Marge, a rogue scientist, and special guest Leonard Nimoy that disaster is averted.

The monorail was shoddily built and was bound to go off the tracks sooner or later, but the processes for the train’s conductor could have been couched in the Swiss cheese model of risk assessment.  The Swiss cheese method involves analyzing what process, person, or plant barriers are necessary to prevent an incident at each stage of progression. The Swiss cheese model illustrates that if “holes” adjacent layers align, then an accident is far more likely.

In the case of the out-of-control monorail, Homer tried the brakes, which immediately stopped working. Those in the central base of operations, who were likely the second (and last) line of defense, tried shutting the power off but discovered that the train ran on solar energy—there wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day and they couldn’t cut power. The “hole” of the brakes malfunctioning, combined with the “hole” of being unable to cut power, meant that there was no other system in place to stop the runaway train.

This near miss could’ve been completely avoided. Had Springfield done its due diligence, they could have trained employees to proactively recognize hazardous activities. Properly implemented and followed, this habit would’ve ensured employees take the construction and roll-out processes much more seriously, resulting in a monorail system that would still be operating to do this day.

Pink Shirts and Workplace Fairness

Homer Simpson would be the first to tell you: “I’m not popular enough to be different.” This quote comes to us from the episode “Stark Raving Dad.” Bart mixes his red hat in with Homer’s load of white shirts, causing all of them to turn pink and forcing him to wear one to work and Mr. Burns, the tyrannical plant owner, identifies Homer as some sort of “free-thinking anarchist.”

This is not the first time Mr. Burns responded unfairly to one of his workers. His style of management unintentionally recognizes a large problem with safety culture: until employees feel that they will be respected and treated fairly, and that safety mistakes will be seen as learning experiences while deliberate neglect will be punished, employees will not participate in the company’s safety culture. Mr. Burns’ reactions hit every dimension of the spectrum of unfairness.

Creating a workplace that prizes fairness is essential to creating behavioral change. According to safety thought leader Blaine Donais, “…unless reporting is truly encouraged and promoted as a positive reflection on one’s competence and ability to be a ‘team player’,” safety issues will be ignored. Behavioral change begins with workplace fairness and mutual respect—it begins when being popular has no bearing on having a different opinion.

“Do It For Her”

One of the things Homer has almost always been excellent at is putting his family first. Mr. Burns once hung a plaque in Homer’s office that said “DON’T FORGET: YOU’RE HERE FOREVER,” Homer covers up different parts of the sign with his daughter’s baby pictures so that it reads “DO IT FOR HER.”

The day-to-day life of a safety manager isn’t usually glorious. There’s reporting, visits with frontline employees, training sessions, and, in all likelihood, more reporting. Whatever their daily responsibilities, safety managers do it for the health of their workers. Worker health can always be improved. Part of that means focusing on workplace fairness, but if that foundation is established, then it’s well worth going even further. To learn more, download our whitepaper, “Key Aspects You Should Consider When Implementing a Behavior based Safety System.”

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