More Lessons from the Boy Scouts

April 8, 2008
A few month ago, in the article "What the Boy Scouts Teach us About Safety Training," I advocated employee safety training based on the Boy Scout model that requires a demonstration of proficiency rather than passive attendance in a training class.

Recently, I was reviewing some Boy Scout merit bade requirements and was struck by something many of them had in common. The first requirement for most merit badges is to explain the hazards relative to the subject of the merit badge and the precautions that should be taken and first aid procedures that should be followed to address those hazards.

For example, the first requirement of the Snow Sports merit badge is: “ Discuss winter sports safety and show that you know first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur while skiing or riding, including hypothermia, frostbite, shock, dehydration, sunburn fractures, bruises, sprains and strains.” Similarly, the first requirement of the Cooking merit badge stipulates that candidates ”review with your counselor the injuries that might arise from cooking, including burns and scalds, and the proper treatment.” The Electronics merit badge requires that the candidate “describe the safety precautions you must exercise when using, building, altering or repairing electronic devices.”

The Scouts really have kept up with the times and there is even a Composite Materials merit badge. The first two requirements of the badge are: “Explain the precautions that must be taken when handling, storing and disposing of resins, reinforcements and other materials used in composites. Include in your discussion the importance of health, safety and environmental responsibility and awareness.” and “Describe what a material safety data sheet (MSDS) is and tell why it is used.”

These requirements place technically sophisticated demands on youngsters, and it struck me as interesting that the safety component of the merit badges were among the first requirements, not buried some where at the bottom of the requirements.

I saw a lesson here. Shouldn’t we too be incorporating a similar approach when it comes to employee protection? Shouldn’t we ensure that as the first step of each task they undertake, employees identify the potential hazards to which they might be exposed and implement the necessary precautions to protect themselves from those hazards.

If the Boy Scouts can do it, why can’t all American employers make safety tops on the list of job tasks?

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