Coronavirus & Building a Safety Culture

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We exist to make the world a safer place.  We focus on ground transportation and help our clients reduce the frequency of vehicular collisions.  Over the years, our efforts have helped reduce pain and suffering. We’ve eliminated costly losses and saved dozens of people from premature death. Of course, our impact, while significant, is limited.  We don’t have solutions for many common risks including the one that’s on your mind today: the Coronavirus, AKA the COVID-9 pandemic.

Although we don’t have any tools for confronting this new menace, we can look at it as an opportunity to learn.  Even in the darkest times, there are opportunities to learn and grow stronger. Now’s your chance.

Information Overload

For several weeks, we’ve been bombarded with competing messages regarding the level of risk COVID-9 poses.  These have ranged from, “it’s under control” to, “the sky is falling, and the end is near.”  Ignore any political overtones.  None of the noise you heard was intentionally wrong.  It was just misguided.  Humans suck when it comes to understanding risk.  And, our incompetence swings both ways, but we are almost always wrong.

We fear tornadoes, house fires and terrorist attacks.  We worry about sharks and spiders.  These risks are so ridiculously low that don’t deserve the ink I used to mention them.  Conversely, we think nothing of jumping in our SUV and taking off for the grocery store.  We don’t consider that to be dangerous.  In every case, we are flat-out wrong.

So, what happens when we suddenly confront a highly virulent novel virus?  Simple, we panic.  Experts tell us to wash our hands and don’t touch our face.  What do we do?  We rush out and buy all of toilet paper we can get our grubby little hands on.  Does it make sense?  Nope.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Humans rarely make sense.  We think of ourselves as smart, logical, thoughtful and objective.  We look in the mirror and see Mr. Spock.  In reality, we’re looking at a hot bowlful of emotions.  Every decision you’ve ever made, regardless of how much analysis you put into it, was the result of your six core emotions: fear, anger, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise.

And sometimes these emotions team up to create utter chaos.  That’s what we have right now.  Leave out happiness and the other five take over. So, where’s our silver lining?  What can we learn from this insanity?  How can we build a more effective safety culture?

Every expert and, eventually most of our political leaders have implemented what appear to be radical steps to slowing the spread of this disease.  For the first time in history, America is just about completely shut down.  Why?  Because the experts know that the pandemic continues to grow every time two or more people get together.  Stay in your house, little risk.  Go to the bar, lots of risk.  That’s why everything has come to a halt.

The Power of Norms

Most of these measures began as a decree (rules), but within a few days, they’ve evolved into norms.  Norms are the accepted way of behaving in a social setting.  Norms are the most powerful tool you have for creating a safety culture.  Humans want to be accepted by others and we’ll do just about anything to fit in.  That’s why we adhere to norms.  The powerful new norm for dealing with Coronavirus is social isolation or social distancing.  This norm came about almost overnight.

If you want to build a safety culture, you need to focus on norms.  Forget your rules.  Establish a zero-tolerance norm for unsafe behaviors.  Make unsafe behaviors so socially unacceptable that no one would ever consider taking too much risk.

Let’s Learn From This Pandemic

Watch how powerful norms are against such a formidable foe.  Social isolation will slow it down.  Social isolation with bring it to an end.

Now, while you’re washing your hands, look at your own business.  Give some thought to building a true safety culture.  Forget the rules.  Establish a norm for zero tolerance.  No unsafe behaviors, ever.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly your safety results will improve. Want help?  Give us a call.  We’ll be right over after we wash our hands.