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Treading Gingerly: Safety is Boring

Treading Gingerly: Safety is Boring

"Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing." –Willy Wonka

There I said it. Safety is boring.

By all accounts, it shouldn't be. Safety is – in countless cases – the difference between life and death.

Yet, those in the industry struggle to find ways to interest and engage workers in safety programs and initiatives, to find ways to get workers to care before tragedy strikes.

That's because, for many, safety just isn't interesting. Safety programs are full of rules, and preventive measures create barriers between us and experience. Safety mangers jobs are to keep dangerous – and arguably exciting – things from happening.

No one goes to an action film to see Hugh Jackman slide a pair of cut-resistant gloves over his adamantium claws. Or follows Willy Wonka through his OSHA-compliant chocolate factory to see scrumdidilyumptious safety protocol.

We are drawn to danger – and absurdity.

In fact, when safety measures enter entertainment professions, fans cry afoul. When the NFL in 2010 implemented new rules to reduce the number of concussions sustained by players, some players and fans alike reacted critically, claiming the contact sport was losing its edge.

Really, I think fans were outraged by what felt like the invasion of safety into the fantasy world of professional sports, forgetting the need to protect athletes as we should want to protect ourselves, our families and our friends, on the job.

We're not all actors or athletes. Most of us aren't part of the escapist entertainment world; we're grounded in reality and play by different rules.

We do our jobs best when they don't end in explosions or bloodshed, when there are no close calls on the field. And yes, that may be boring.

But boring means we get to keep doing our jobs and making the world a better place; we get to keep living and breathing and learning.

The trick then is in making safety real and exciting and to move it from the realm of sacrificing freedom into the realm of challenge.

There's a reason wellness programs and employee recognition programs that hinge on competition work so well. I think most of us are always striving to be better. Nothing motivates me more than a new challenge – an opportunity to learn new skills and improve myself.

We can say safety is about protecting your coworkers and making sure everyone goes home safely at the end of the day, and tap into our intrinsic good. But I think we miss something important in that: we forget the fun.

Here's an example, and bear with me, we're going way back for this one: safety town. For the uninitiated, safety town is a safety program typically held in the summer for incoming kindergarteners.

Rather than using instructional videos to teach kids about safely crossing the street, getting on the bus or riding their bikes, safety town plops kids into a miniature village that they navigate on tricycles.

Safety town was so much fun that I volunteered to help run it as an older student. I even know the safety songs and dances. And today, 25 years after I was enrolled in the program, I still remember cruising through that make-believe – yet oh-so-real – village on my Big Wheel when I ride my bicycle around the city now.

Safety town was riddled with rules, but the rules – the safety rules – became part of the fun. They were part of the challenge. That same potential exists for all safety programs in all of our workplaces: to create a meaningful and challenging safety experience.

Get out those tricycles and create your own action movies. Let's make safety fun.

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