Safety On Deck

crewcall-lg-1015Well, once again January has come around. Time to close out 2016, to send out all those final invoices that you forgot about and to make some dynamic resolutions for improving your organization in 2017. With my personal resolutions, I tend to set myself easy goals so that I will not be disappointed by my failure to achieve them. This year, for instance, I am giving up eating lima beans. I never liked them anyway, so I already feel a certain sense of accomplishment knowing that I will complete this resolution.

But I had lunch with another friend in the business recently, and we came up with an interesting idea for improving our companies in 2017. We asked ourselves what characteristic of another organization we would most like to see our companies adopt. This took a lot of thought, as both of us deal with a lot of client companies. This left me wondering if I wanted to adopt the careful financial planning of my banking clients or the altruistic, positive outlook of the charities that I deal with.

Then I thought about the companies and organizations that we worked with, rather than for, and I decided to pattern some new habits after an organization that a small company like mine would normally not emulate. I decided that, in one way, it would be great if my small, independent company could act more like a union.

Now, to those of you who run small rental and staging companies, I understand why this thought would be unusual. Normally, many of the characteristics of a large union are things that we in the AV industry complain about. I believe, and many of my colleagues in other small organizations believe, in management by culture, rather than via rules. If you establish the right culture, in which everybody understands and supports the goals of the organization, very few rules are necessary. The right decisions will normally be made on the spot if the goals are clear enough.

However, there is one place where I feel that more than culture is necessary, and the place in which I would like to adopt some of the practices of the unions. I was asked recently what I thought unionized organizations did better then nonunion organizations, and the first thing that came to mind was safety practice.

Unfortunately, in our industry, we can (and occasionally do) kill ourselves, our coworkers and even bystanders. As was pointed out to me early in my career in rental and staging, because of the temporary nature of what we do, many of the safety organizations and laws don’t pay a lot of attention to our industry or are not enforced. Therefore, safety practice is largely something that must be self enforced on-site.

Lots of times, we forget that our industry can be dangerous. But when you think about it, we often work in the dark, on ladders and lifts high above the floor, with equipment that is hot, sharp or that runs on fairly large amounts of electricity.

One of the things that makes me think about this issue is that my organization has not had an injury accident in quite a long time. This is because we are a small team that works together constantly and are used to looking out for each other’s safety. Usually, on site, we are well aware of what the other guys are doing and how to stay out of their way.

But truthfully, this is not a real substitute for the way that large unions or corporations establish safety culture. Safety is something for which there are rules, and even more importantly, is something for which there are drills. There is simply no substitute for safety procedures being deeply ingrained in the worker’s head. Simple things, such as the way you inform the rest of the crew that a flown load is moving, or that an electrical circuit is hot, can be all it takes to avoid a disaster.

Should we all go out and purchase all 37 volumes of the OSHA manuals (if that is the number — I have never been sure)? No, because as I mentioned earlier, many of the rules do not apply to the temporary nature of our industry.  And, on top of that, each of our companies does different types of work in different types of venues. So it would be very difficult to come up with a safety manual that applied to everything that we did in the audiovisual industry, especially in rental and staging.

So where am I going to start? I’m going to start by pulling the crew together over a pizza (because this is often the only way I can get them to sit down for more than five minutes). I want to discuss the work that we are doing, and ask people to think about any additional safety procedures we should have in place. Then we can begin to find ways to make them automatic, to develop checklists and procedures that make sure they are taken care of. There are plenty of resources in the market to help develop procedures and to point out safety concerns. Among them are:

Now,  the last thing I want to do is introduce any time-consuming procedures in a small business struggling to make a profit as it is. What I want to do is establish safety consciousness among the group of young employees that I work with. I want safety to become something that they think about while getting the work done. And I want them around for next year’s safety meeting.

Take care out there.