Category: Health

Complacency can be a Killer


I recently saw an e-mail on the OD List that I want to share verbatim with my readers and I have the writer’s permission to do so. The e-mail is written by Allon Shevat, an OD Consultant from Israel.

My comments straight after this e-mail.

4 years ago, the train station where I board was bombed at 0700 am. (I was to have been on the 0900 am train.) The station was torn apart, the security guard died, and many people waiting in line were maimed.

Ever since then, there is far more security…….but like many things in my country, it is sloppy and undisciplined.

An airport scanner was installed and now, everything goes on the scanner and passengers must personally walk thru a detector after first emptying one’s pockets.

People wait in the sweltering heat to be checked, and at peak hours it is more or less like JKF in peak hours.

The person who mans the scanner is on her cell phone all the time. She yaks and yaks and yaks, and, like many Israelis (and Indians), she has more than one phone; as she yaks, she send text messages on the other phone.

A few weeks ago, I yelled out “what good is this check point when she is not looking at the screen”? She pulled me aside and told me “I will make sure you take the bus”. I showed her my card with my military reserve rank, and she almost passed out. Within two days, I had a written apology and she was given 2 weeks suspension.

Now she is back again, and…..on her phones.

I was faced with a real dilemma. Since our society is VERY VERY tolerant of bad discipline, (life is hard so we all deserve breaks), I know that I have no chance with getting her off her phone or dismissed.

Yesterday I made my decision and filmed her on her phones and sent the clip to the head to the train hq.

Last night I got a call that “she really needs her salary but you are right; we will have a good talk to her and ensure corrective action is taken……in other words……there is to be no change.

Some societies and cultures are sadly more resistant to random acts of responsibility.

My response.

Until the next bombing……

For the past 16 years I have been an independent consultant focusing on Corporate Reputation. Yet, there is another side to me. I am also a trainer and consultant in Occupational Health & Safety – and it is a passion of mine.

For the past 16 years I used to perform Health & Safety training and consulting a few days a month on behalf of an ISO registered OSHA Compliance consultancy.

What I find so enticing is to raise people’s awareness of health & safety issues (dangers) in the workplace. After these workshops delegates cannot express enough gratitude and the statements are always universally the same:

“Thank you for raising my awareness”!

How do we make people more aware about potential crises in the workplace?

This question should interest all managers.

I believe that it is necessary to expose managers to that type of thinking, that we educate and train them, and we share knowledge. The South African Occupational Health & Safety Act has a number of conditions and issues that has made it one of the most benchmarked Acts in the world. One of the interesting requirements and questions that arise from it:

Have you given the employee adequate information, education, and training in his task considering the task, the hazards, potential outcomes and consequences of non-compliance?

jpg_00004473A few years ago I had the opportunity of standing at the top of the Empire State Building in New York. Standing there with the wind blowing me nearly off my feet, I could not help but visualize friends jumping of the burning World Trade Centre.

911 has come and gone. Yet for many organisations the impact, reality and lessons from it does not remain. How many organisations have not slipped back into the normal mode of doing things? Assuming that an incident like 911 will never happen to them?

Recently I was in a building in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, South Africa when I decided to use the fire escape instead of the lift, but between the 3rd and 4th floor was a locked gate. When I called the Facilities manager he said the following words to me: “Deon, you worry too much. If a fire breaks out, someone will come and unlock this gate!” No way, in my experience most people look out for number one in any crisis – themselves.

Standing at the 911 site, the thought arose in my mind as to what should an organization do if you are faced with a situation that is beyond an organisation’s normal scope to act? Health & Safety experts teach that 2% of accidents are “Acts of God”, 10% caused by unsafe conditions but that 88% of accidents are caused by unsafe behavior.

How does a company deal with the hand of fate and at the same time protect its reputation and integrity? How can a company come out “smelling like roses”.

One simple lesson is that stakeholders will forgive you for mistakes, but they will not forgive a company for not caring. Therefore in line with industry experience a company who aims to be a good corporate citizen should prepare for any eventual crisis.

But for what and how? Since 9/11, nearly every emergency preparedness and business continuity regulation and industry best practice in the USA has been strengthened, several even mentioning the threat of terrorism as a prime motivation for their enhancements. In South Africa, interest seems to be only to cope with the demands of the latest sporting events.

Considering the following points will help you prepare your organization for the worst.

1. Remember that the very things you believe cannot happen to your organisation can. Professor Ian Mitroff, who for more than 20 years headed up the Institute for Crisis Management ran a crisis management workshop in New York about two weeks before 911 happened. Most of the executives present, represented multi-national companies. In compiling likely risks, car bombs featured at the top of the list. However no one mentioned “flying bombs”. Mitroff goes on to say that something is lacking, and that “That something is our ability to think comprehensively about crisis”. Are you thinking comprehensively about crisis?

2. Equip yourself with knowledge so that you can help your organization be better prepared. One of the most frequent comments I hear from clients is not that they do not know the answers, but that they don’t know the right questions to get started in their planning or to persuade management to allocate resources for this planning. You can read the various good books out there in bookshops or you could equip yourself in the short term by attending training workshops such as my Crisis Management & Communication workshops.

3. Talk to the specialists (consultants, local authorities and emergency management service providers) in your area. If possible, contact your suppliers and find out who has done this type of planning before so that you can reduce your organisation’s learning curve.

4. Revisit the basics of crisis management. I walk into many organisations to do OSHA Compliance workshops only to find out that the organisation have not recently conducted any fire drills, if any. To assume that everyone will be able to escape the building and be accounted for is dangerous. One large firm affected by 9/11 took more than three days to account for its personnel because they lost their primary means to track and contact employees.

5. Appoint one person who is responsible for crisis preparedness across the organization and communicate his or her identity to managers at all levels.

Ensure each crisis planning team (strategic crisis management, business continuity, crisis communications, disaster recovery, emergency response, employee impact, etc.) knows the relationship between their plan(s) and the overall organization’s crisis management goals and objectives. (I provide a two day training course that enables managers to create one integrated crisis management action plan that can assist you. Or, you can purchase my Crisis Toolkit).

6. Audit your organisation’s crisis plans. The audit should cover evacuation/egress planning, personnel accountability, emergency system shutdown procedures, correct names/numbers on emergency phone lists, media and other stakeholder communications guidelines, family communications guidelines, expectations for employee communications and support.

6. Consider holding a table top exercise or discussion around a likely event.

Brainstorm likely crises; determine the roles each team member is expected to play while responding to an incident will help identify strengths and weaknesses in your organization’s ability to respond, especially for teams requiring interaction during the response. Scenario planning is a helpful tool leading to overall preparedness. No organization does everything well, and exercises are a terrific way to highlight improvement needs for multiple areas at one time.

(I work together with organisations to design, develop and facilitate likely scenarios unique to that organisation. I assisted ATNS with that before the World Cup Soccer event, and assisted the Department of Statistics during the Census 2011)

7. Nearly every survey taken after 9/11 has shown that the most overlooked area of crisis preparedness is the human and communication side. When Saambou, the South African bank closed down one employee committed suicide.

Work closely with EAP (Employee Assistance) experts, psychologists, the church and other specialists to determine modes of action prior to problems happening. Communication is integral to making any plan work and should be factored in from the outset.

8. It isn’t enough to know that your organization is better prepared. The impact of a crisis may become an industry issue and affect your business.

The Marikana shooting incidents and riots have placed an unnecessary burden on the Mining Industry in South Africa and has the potential to negatively impact investment in South Africa, and this at a time, just as we are getting things right.

Build alliances with suppliers and industry experts before a crisis breaks, so that you can make use of this expertise when the time comes.

There is lots can be done, but the biggest danger is that of Complacency. Complacency to the extent that people tell me they attended a first aid workshop 8 years ago.

Is your capability/competency still current? If not, you may just hurt the other person.

How sharp is your axe? How current are your Crisis Management & Crisis Communication plans and Capability?

Let me share with you a story written by the late Stephen Covey.

Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job to a timber merchant, and he got it. The pay was good and so were the working conditions. For that reason, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he was supposed to work. The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees “Congratulations,” the boss said. “Carry on that way!”.


Very motivated with the boss’s words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could bring only 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but could bring 10 trees only. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees. “I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought.
He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on. “When was the last time you sharpened your Axe?” the boss asked.

“Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my Axe. I have been very busy trying to cut more trees for you.”

Complacency is akin to not sharpening your axe.

Light Me A Roach – One Thing Leads To Another


This story was shared with me many years ago but I think it is still relevant for today. It comes to me from the lovely city of Tel AVIV.

An encounter with a cockroach has resulted in burns, two broken ribs and a broken pelvis for a Givatayim resident .

The incident occurred after the man’s wife found a cockroach in the living room. The frightened woman stepped on the Insect and threw it in the toilet.

But the roach refused to die- So the woman sprayed It with a whole can of insecticide.

Some minutes later her husband came home from work and went to the toilet, where he lit a cigarette. When he threw the butt into the bowl, it ignited the Insecticide fumes seriously burning his sensitive parts.

An ambulance was rushed to the apartment on Rehov Hahistadrut. As paramedics carried the injured man on a stretcher down the stairs, they asked him what had happened.

When he told them, they began to laugh uncontrollably and dropped the stretcher, causing the man further injuries.

He was taken to Sheba Hospital In Tel Hashomer.

When last did you inspect your Company’s Bathrooms?


When last did you inspect your Company’s Bathrooms?

Oh, it is not my function!

Isn’t it? Do you think that something as important as that can really be outsourced to a cleaning company?

Reputation Risk is not something you can outsource, and the visual images that visitors see, can influence their impression of the company.

Very often next to the Reception area, the bathroom facilities is the first thing a visitor will go to. And, let me tell you, not all bathrooms are a place where you even want to take a child to. A Few weeks ago I made the mistake (or did the right thing) by going to the wrong bathroom facility. I went to the shop floor bathroom instead, and what I saw there was shocking.

No toilet seats, a blocked toilet, toilets in need of a desperate deep clean, broken window panes. Plan & simple, it was disgusting!

What do you think my opinion was of the management team? What do you think, I think about the company’s reputation?

In the Bible, there is a verse that basically says :’’If God cannot trust you in the small things, how on earth can he trust you in the big things’’

If reputation is about what you see, hear, feel and experience, then you’ve got it! I do not think much of them. How can I trust them in the big things, if I cannot even trust them not to violate a basic human right, i.e. The Right to Safety?

The other day I took two old-age pensioners to a Public Hospital in Roodepoort. They asked me to stop on the way at a Quick shop, because they had to buy their own toilet paper. I mean , here is two old-age pensioners, going to see the Doctor and the medical facility cannot even provide toilet paper. Is that what they think of their customers?

Worldwide companies are instituting hand washing campaigns as an initial protection measure against the spreading of swine flu (South Africa has just had its first confirmed case). How on earth is companies going to influence this, when they cannot even provide a clean and hygienic bathroom facility for employees and visitors.

Take a look at the worst example I had ever seen in my life. This is from a factory floor.

tea_for_2

PriceWaterHouseCoopers found in one of their studies that Compliance failure is one of the leading causes of Reputation Risk. In South Africa, companies are not paying enough attention to complying with the Occupational Health & Safety Act , which contains a detailed section on Health & Hygiene.

So what can you do about this:

1. Be kind. Use your mobile phone, take pictures and send it to management and not the Media or The Department of Labour.

2. Call your Health & Safety representative and point out the conditions, so that they can report it to the Health & Safety Committee.

3. Take a good look next time when you go to the loo. Ask yourself, is this a place where a visitor can take his kid to?

To those in management, it is a time to realise that the responsibility for basic cleanliness and hygiene cannot be outsourced. Today staff and customers have camera equipped mobile phones, with which they can do damage.

After all, who wants their reputation ruined, because of a shabby loo.