Why Routines are Safer

And sometimes they smell better…

This morning my car smelled faintly like feet and a wet dog dipped in cheese. It was more weird than gross, so I didn’t investigate (I keep a protective layer of dirt on my car year round, so it will never win a cleanliness award anyway). When my daughter reminded me that I had agreed to take her and her brother to the pool today I remembered what I had done. Thankfully she’s old enough to deal with my mistakes for me. I don’t handle smells very well.

On Friday, my wife and I had an awards dinner to attend. I was able to leave work early to give her some extra time to get ready. So, unlike most days, I picked up the kids from their summer program. My wife works closer to the facility, so she gets them most days.

They’d spent the day swimming and came out toting bags full of sopping wet swim suits and accessories. Along with their unfinished lunches. I opened the trunk and they plopped them inside. Then I forgot about all of it as I got ready for the dinner. My wife knows better.

What kind of stink do you have hidden?

Our work sites are just as prone to the type of mistake I made with the swimsuits. Some of the worst incidents I’ve investigated have been one-offs or infrequent operations. How your crews approach those tasks will mean the difference between success and failure.

In my book (pre-order it HERE), I talk extensively about the concept of making safety “muscle memory.” It’s simply the idea that we create usable processes, train relentlessly on their use, and then plan our work. When talking about non-routine tasks, the planning aspect is paramount. Even the most experienced technicians will make oversights and forget steps when the work isn’t familiar.

I’ve seen organizations that perform non-routine tasks in spectacular fashion, and I’ve also seen some that spectacularly fail at them. From my experience, the ones who do well are those that recognize the difference between a robust routine or just complacently going through some motions. And there is a BIG difference.

Think of it like working out

No matter what your favorite sport might be, this example works. Whether you like football, MMA, or table tennis, elite athletes in any of these arenas have at least one similarity: they practice like they play. Every training session is deliberate and outcome-based. Industry could learn a lot from them.

If you read THIS ARTICLE, you’ll get my take on what it means to train like that. It’s amazing to me that there are so many dedicated gym rats who find true success through their commitment to routine (diet and exercise) and yet, industry professionals rarely draw the parallel. We would rather complicate than dedicate.

Figure out what to do with the stuff in your trunk… before it becomes cheese

I’m not going to try and elevate what I’m saying here to some philosophical level it doesn’t deserve. As with most things I discuss in this blog, my point is simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy. Does your organization have a process that addresses the non-routine? If so, how effective is it?

Do your people know how to put a plan together that will guide them toward success? Or do you just stick things in your trunk and hope someone remembers to take them out before they grow hair?