Historical Safety, Proactive or Reactive?

May 6, 2011 No Comments

By Allen F. Weitzel

Welcome back – I am looking forward to seeing your comments on our new management topic. I hope you enjoy what you read and gain some insight into this topic. Please post your comments to be shared with all readers. Thanks to the Disney folks for their kind words last month.

What Is Historical Safety?

Historical Safety is the record of safety incidents in a facility. There are times when referring to a historical safety record can be smart, and times when it is not.

When Is It Good and Not So Good?

When a facility has a low incident rate, insurance carriers charge lower premiums. A documented lack of injuries speaks well for the safety of the facility. A safe facility can benefit from strong attendance numbers and prospective employees are more willing to work for you. No one comes to an entertainment venue to get hurt – not guests, vendors or employees.

The downside to a low injury count is that management might believe it is their business skill creating the safety success rate, and they may discount the value of safety programs. We have all heard someone say, “We’ve never had an incident like that before,” or “If it happens, we’ll deal with it then.” The culture of the company relies on a reactive mindset, not a proactive one. When a significant incident occurs, they suddenly realize that they have no idea what to do about it.

What About “Near Misses” and “Trends?”

A “near miss” is an incident that did not result in injury, illness or damage, but could have potential to do so. Only a lucky break in the chain of events prevented it. If your staff feels overworked, following up on near misses is seen as additional work and it might be put on the back burner. Some managers feel relieved when a catastrophe is avoided, but fear that follow up might uncover that they or their staff made a mistake; hence, incident follow up is ignored. Workers may fear being punished, embarrassed or lose credibility so they move on quickly. Follow up to near misses must be looked upon as an improvement tool, even if it takes the staff out of its comfort zone.

“Trends” can also be difficult to manage. A trend is the reoccurrence of the same or closely similar incident, which may or may not have produced the same results or injury. A well-run organization will try to resolve every incident, similar or not, which should eliminate trends. Abating trends can be much easier knowing that the causes, mostly, are from employee blunders, improper training or procedures, mechanical failure or guest errors. Once the cause is established, then a correction can happen by using suggestions from everyone involved.

How To Keep It Good?

The secret to safety success is to pro-actively create programs and procedures that make it simple and rewarding for everyone to be safe. Guests and employees, alike, should be able to easily understand and follow your rules. Monitor and evaluate systems to see how well they are working. When you receive inspections from outside agencies (fire, health, and police departments, insurance carriers, legal counsel or claims administrators, etc.), ask that these parties to candidly assess your programs. When you do change long-standing procedures, you might experience resistance from your veteran employees. Proper training of new workers coupled with the upper management support of the changes will help veteran workers adjust their old habits and embrace new procedures.

Never dismiss suggestions from guests. Every suggestion should be reviewed to see if there is information that can improve your procedures. When you hear that another facility had a significant incident, use that to initiate a review of your own systems.

One essential proactive safety procedure is to have one person tracking incidents, “near misses,” and “trend” data as it occurs, and report it to key personnel. Allow that person to provide reminders when an incident is not properly followed up, or if proposed repairs or changes are not made. Do not let incidents fade away due to lack of attention from the staff.

This is a demanding world and amusement facilities can no longer rest on their history. The safety philosophy is simple, but the effort to improve safety must be never-ending.

Allen F. Weitzel has spent 45 seasons in the recreation field and is safety and training manager at a California amusement park.

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