We Get So Much ‘No!’ In Our Daily Lives, Your Crews Might Just Appreciate A Different Perspective.
By Randy K. Logsdon
In today’s society, we are inundated with symbolism in a variety of forms. As one approaches the restroom at Wal-Mart, you are greeted with a choice of entering the room posted with the strait-legged figure, or a similar sign depicting a skirted figure. Without the proper credentials, don’t dare park in the parking lot space labeled with a wheelchair figure.
The directional sign to the library depicts a face looking at a book (this is for individuals who cannot read the word “LIBRARY”). Road signs depict school crossings with figures – no words. But, perhaps the most common sign is the red circle with the slash, demanding that you DO NOT do whatever pictogram is underneath.
We are in this manner instructed regarding no swimming, no smoking, no running, no parking, no U-turn, no dogs, no cell phones, no whatever. Just stick whatever pictogram applies under the circle and slash. Prohibitive style rulemaking dates back centuries – check out the Ten Commandments. Public hangings, floggings and the stocks were all devices intended to warn us against doing something – or at least the potential consequences of non-compliance. We have programmed over generations to think and instruct in the negative.
A man is consulting his doctor. “It hurts when I do this, doctor.” “Don’t do that!” said the doctor.
When our teenager takes the car out for the evening, we might warn him or her: “Don’t drive fast and don’t get in a wreck!”
Psychologists tell us that working to achieve is a much more powerful motivator than working to avoid. So why are so many of our rules and instructions (not just signs) negative in nature.
Actually, many of our rules (even signs) are positive in nature. “Use hearing protection in this area.” So, when safety rules, SOPs or policies are written, it may be beneficial to focus more on what to do to perform safely rather than what not to do to avoid an injury. For example:
- You’ve observed occurrences of employees running up or down stairways in the plant. Perhaps someone slipped and was injured because of that action. One approach is to formalize a rule that prohibits running on stairs in the plant. Another approach is to formalize an instruction to approach stairways with caution. Use the handrail and maintain three points of contact when ascending or descending.
- Perhaps there have been cases where cargo has shifted on a supply truck while in transport – perhaps the cargo even fell off the truck bed. “Secure and test the stability of your load before proceeding” may command better compliance than “Don’t drive with an unsecured load.”
In each example, the positive and logical instruction not only accomplishes the goal, but also identifies specific actions that will lead to preventing an unexpected mishap. These specific actions can often be used as leading indicators – indicators that may observed and documented. Such documentation can prove helpful in evaluating the health of your safety culture.
Many of MSHA’s regulations are written from a positive perspective. Still, we see phrases like: shall not, is prohibited, must not, and more. 56/57.14205 states that “Machinery, equipment, and tools shall not be used beyond the design capacity intended by the manufacturer were such use may create a hazard to persons.” (Emphasis added.)
That standard could have been drafted to say: “Use machinery, tools and equipment within the design capacity intended by the manufacturer to prevent potential hazards to persons.” MSHA officials are fond of saying that the MSHA regulations represent a minimum standard. Most of us agree. Carefully scripting in-house rules that emphasize what to do is a way that we, as operators, can improve upon the “minimum” standards.
It sometimes takes a bit more thought and effort to focus your in-house rulemaking on positive actions rather than just adding another prohibition. But we get so much “No!” in our daily lives, your crews might just appreciate a different perspective.