It’s not weird – It’s a psychological safety initiative! Well not really but it sounds good
UPDATE: The Yellow men have been removed form the poles – Mmmmm?????
For months now, motorists driving south along Brisbane’s Gateway Motorway have been somewhat perplexed, if not dangerously distracted, by a growing number of yellow figures on poles dotted around the road widening construction site. Last weekend my son, thinking I should know, asked me what they were for, I had no idea but my first response was “Dunno, some new Safety Spud initiative?”
Since I first saw them I was thinking a shooting range, totem poles, Calvary, crucifixion, Vlad Dracula or tribal rituals to ward off enemies and evil. Or, perhaps some silly attempt to remind the guys on site that safety big brother is watching over them? Or marking the spot where someone had made a choice to get inured? Yeah, a modern day safety ritual!
An article today on www.abc.net.au reveals all – It’s a safety initiative! Or so it seems……… See Brisbane’s bright yellow men keep road workers safe.
Unfortunately, despite all the usual platitudes in the article like: “Safety is the number one priority of all our projects” and new paradigm statements like: “This really is the next phase of psychology of keeping people safe”, the second paragraph of the article reveals the truth: “the large yellow ‘men’ are being used as markers to protect sensitive underground testing equipment”.
Anyone with a boat license knows to stay away from a pole with a yellow cross on it (or to tie up to it and fish 🙂 ) – what is wrong with something subtle like that? How long will it take for people to desensitize to this and for real people at ground level to become invisible? How many people take their eyes off the road to try and figure out what’s going on at this site?
I know what it’s like to be misquoted in a news report so I am not having a go at the person quoted in the article but there are a number of other statements made about this initiative which I just don’t get:
- “When the trucks see a skeleton-shaped person rather than a reflective strip on safety vest, it is easy for them to avoid the area.” (Don’t people drive those trucks and why is it so hard otherwise to avoid these areas – the intuitive way the Engineers designed it?)
- “If people think and want to keep safe there is a good chance they will be” (Really, so its a choice to get injured?)
- “the figurines would ensure the road was built correctly.” (Wow, how powerful are these totems?)
- “Unlike regular witches hats, the new markers attempted to tap into the psychology of workers to help them connect the markers to people onsite”. (yeah they are so realistic and life like, how cool to be able to tap into people’s minds?)
I applaud creative ideas, and I get the basic thinking behind it but I don’t like the way it has been veiled as some new breakthrough in psychology of safety, setting the standard for things to come. This is not about people at all, this is about objects, linking it to worker safety simply increases the current disdain for safety and its over zealous crusaders. See: Making Objects Safe or People Safe
One of our Awesome Authors, Rob Sams, had this to say on Facebook:
Quote – “If people think and want to be safe, there is a good chance they will be”. Maybe all this psychology stuff just needs to focus on people ‘thinking and wanting to be safe? Could it be that easy? I reckon the sooner we (risk and safety) as an industry let go of the idea that dealing with risk is simple, the better we will be. I’m not meaning to stifle people coming up with ideas, I think we need more creativity and imagination, but I don’t think it’s useful when the ideas pretend to be about psychology when they are really about assets (which I reckon is the discourse of what is being said in this article).
What do you think?
What kind of unconscious message could this initiative send?
What are the by-products and trade-offs from simple “safety” solutions like this?