Incident Prevention Magazine

Steve Willis

Avoiding the Silent Danger: Three Skills for Improving Your Safety Culture

The other day my oldest son cooked himself a batch of steaming hot Rice-A-Roni. He didn't even wait until he’d found a place to sit before the first spoonful hit his mouth. And I’m guessing the deliciousness overpowered his cognitive abilities because he then staggered into the TV room and plopped down on one of the couches – a definite “no Rice-A-Roni zone.” Now here’s where things get interesting.

First of all, my son knows the rule. His mother and I explained it, we demonstrated it, we had a group discussion about why it’s important to obey it, we practiced taking food to acceptable eating areas within the house, we posted warning signs – you get the idea. In other words, he definitely should have known better.

So, here’s the crucial moment: I walked into the TV room that day to find son, bowl and rice exactly where they shouldn’t be. What made this a crucial moment was that I knew what happened next would set the tone for either success or failure in the future. Recognizing that opportunity, my brain kicked into gear with five possible responses:

  1. Get upset and yell.
  2. Give my son the “You know you shouldn’t be doing this” look and wait for him to take corrective action.
  3. Remind him of the rule and ask him to come back into compliance.
  4. None of the above – he’s almost done, no rice has spilled and confronting him won’t make a big difference anyway. In fact, it might even make things worse.
  5. Some of all of the above in just the right combination to come off as passive-aggressive.

When it comes to a situation like this, and you’re removed from the actual event, it’s easy to see the right answer. But in the moment, we often choose poorly and set ourselves up for “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same exact scene over and over again. In other words, what you permit is what you promote.

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