Safety and Performance Excellence: Lessons from Harvey



Last updated:
, Safety and Performance Excellence: Lessons from Harvey
Hurricane Harvey flooding

Category 4 doesn’t sink in until you see winds above 130 mph, and widespread flooding is just a concept until the sky dumps 50 inches of water on an area the size of Lake Michigan.

Living on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico always has been both a blessing and a challenge. Hurricane Harvey definitely was on the challenging side. When neighborhoods flood, it is amazing to witness the variety of humankind that comes wading and swimming out. It equally is amazing to see who comes to the rescue when lives are at stake.

I could not help making comparisons between this natural disaster and the practice of safety in the workplace. Below are some of my observations.

When bad events are too far apart, people tend to lose their sense of vulnerability. It only has been nine years since the last hurricane here in the Houston area, but since that time, more houses were constructed in low-lying areas and along the coast. Memories of the last event were growing dim and new residents had moved in who were not here during the previous storm. Everyone knows bad things can happen, but they usually don’t; so, why worry?

In industry, going a long time between events can have the same effect.

Workers begin to forget to take those little steps to keep them safe, and there is an unspoken attitude that everything is alright and everyone is safe. When organizations measure and communicate how long it has been since the last event, it can reinforce the perception that safety is going great. This is why storms and accidents often shock us: not just because they are bad, but because they are relatively unexpected.

Too many people fail to anticipate and prepare. Due to the loss of the sense of vulnerability and the demands of more timely issues, people failed to prepare for Harvey. Very few evacuees had an escape pack or even their important papers in the same place. People along the coast failed to identify their best escape route and alternates. There was a last-minute run on stores, indicating people did not stock up at the beginning of the hurricane season on basic foods, water or batteries. Television stations reported a record low number of people requested their hurricane-survival guides this year even though they also were offered as a very convenient online app.

Many industries have disaster plans and drills, but have a less-planned response to accidents. Any number of companies have been ambushed by their own lack of preparedness when workers get injured in non-traditional ways. Many industries have not played devil’s…