Safety at work. It's really important. So important that we have laws, enforcement agencies and allocated funds. Every company establishes policies to comply, details procedures to enforce them, invests in training, creates clever acronyms or sayings and pastes warning signs everywhere. Yet, each year, we report nearly 3 million nonfatal injuries.
I grew up in northwest Ohio and tornadoes were common. Beginning in kindergarten, we had tornado drills at school every month. For the next twelve years, every month we played out these scenarios. The procedure varied depending on the room we were in but we knew them like the back of our hand. In the seventh grade, as my history teacher pranced us out to the hallway he said "Okay kids, you know the drill. Put your head between your legs and kiss your butt goodbye."
I was 32 years old when the restaurant I was in was hit by a tornado, with zero warning. Windows wrapped the entire dining room and I stood there as the glass shattered and blew in from every direction. The only thing I remember thinking was "Put your head between your legs and kiss your butt goodbye." I moved under the table and did just that. Thirteen YEARS of practice and I just stood there, stunned...but I remembered one comment, out of all them I heard in THIRTEEN YEARS of practice.
What's my point? Different situations will prompt people to recall the same information with a different memory. There's a tremendous amount of research and psychology that goes into why but Dr. Shahram Heshmat sums it up extremely well in a blog post. Emotion affects all the phases of memory formation and he explains how.
What does any of this have to do with safety? You never know what will stick. The safety procedures that you establish are solid. It's the delivery that needs to change. Speaking of change, it's sounds expensive. It sounds like new posters, a new acronyms, more training and something else I have to fit into my schedule. Allow me to introduce the consistently changing, forever compliant, never unsafe, relentlessly engaging, fully animated, creatively educational and always entertaining digital sign. You know, that tv in the corner of the break room...we can use it (and psychology) to reinforce your safety messages to your employees.
When I look at the things that contribute to memory formation, I see multiple reasons why one specific tornado drill comment came back to me after all that time. (The comment was slightly taboo for a group of Catholic junior high kids thus completely hilarious. We laughed loudly & were scolded because we were suppose to be quiet. We walked around saying it to anyone who bent over for weeks after.) The act itself was primed and I know that my brain was saying "TORNADO INSTRUCTIONS, you're up." But, had it not been for one memory: emotionally-charged, mood-triggering, surprise comment, made during a time of moderate stimulation, that turned out to be the peak of all drills... would I have remained in that blanked-out state and been injured? I'll never know but I wasn't hurt and I have Mr Geuy to thank for that.