I don’t believe in silver bullet safety, but this one simple questions seems to spur an incredible amount of discussion and knowledge transmission at just about every single safety meeting I attend. I ask this question to mitigate inter-generational effects in the workplace, or to bridge the generation gap.
No matter what company or industry you work in, you have probably observed that the generations fall into four main groups. First, you’ve got your grizzled veterans, from the days when pipelines and derricks were made of wood, and men were made of steel. Next, the Baby Boomers, followed by Generations X, Y and now the Millennials.
Each generation tends to criticize the other generation. Boomers and Veterans feel that the young kids these days are ill equipped for the workforce, have unreasonable expectations and need too much coddling. There is some truth to this: how do you take a young person who grew up with helicopter parents and place them in a dangerous workplace? How do you give a young person a greater appreciation for the hazards they are dealing with?
Intergenerational hazards exist when we blame a problem on age differences. Since we can’t change the age of a person, it’s a convenient Safety Monster to hang our hat on. Once we blame a workplace issue on age differences, we can now absolve ourselves of implementing any real and effective change.
The key to implementing that change is to literally get everyone on the same page with a common purpose in mind. That tends to occur at the start of the day when your rig crew, your pipeline gang or your construction team is having their morning meeting. You might take attendance and review the day’s upcoming tasks, and you might even pull out a Job Safety Analysis for everyone to review and sign off on.
But over time, you may have noticed that your group is in a rut. Your heavy equipment operator seems distracted, the young guys look like they spent the night face down in a ditch and even the supervisor seems a little flat. Then the Green Worker reads out the JSA in a mumbled voice that’s drowned out by workplace noise. Be careful here, because you are priming everyone’s brains for complacency.
Priming refers to how the language we use impacts how we think about the world and hence, the actions we choose. If you really want to dig into this, check out Rob Long’s post on the subject.
So what’s the secret question you can use to jog people out of the mental ruts brought on by routine work?
Has anyone had a bad experience doing this task?
Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You’ll see that the Veterans and Boomers will have a chance to share some war stories that form the basis of their respect and appreciation for certain workplace hazards. War stories such as these are important events and they should be allowed to run their course, even if the safety meeting takes an extra 5-15 minutes.