Full plates lead to stop and go safety

May 1, 2005 By    

While attending the Southeastern Trade Show, I had dinner with some safety friends at a unique, all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue restaurant.

  Jay Johnston
Jay Johnston

This place was Atkins diet heaven. They serve 15 different kinds of barbequed meat on skewers and customers control the food flow with a chip that is green on one side and red on the other. If you leave the green side up, the meat keeps coming. When your plate or stomach is full, you flip the chip to red to stop. It’s sort of like an epicurean semaphore.

When it comes to safety, do you flip the chip to red because your plate is full?

It often comes to a manager’s attention that too many things are coming to his attention. Compliance with regulatory standards and the challenge of commerce together can seem like a 48-hour job in a 24-hour day. The feasibility plate is full and the red chip is out.

These managers are not tuned out, but held hostage to an ever-burdenous process.

According to one manager, “I am aware of what I’m not getting done. It’s just overwhelming, stressful and distracting. I need help and it bothers me.”

Distractions can include the rising cost of product, customer retention, accounts receivable, problem employees and evil competitors. Not to mention DOT, OSHA or insurance safety audits, future fines, liability claims, auto accidents, work place injuries and insurance costs.

No wonder some managers’ look like a deer caught in headlights at the mention of things like 100 percent Gas Check compliance and leak checks on Out of Gas. Their real world includes interpreting and acting upon safety situations every day, while still attempting to manage employees and make a profit.

Solutions to these problems begin with awareness. When you are distracted, it’s hard to visualize liability exposures. They dance like shadows in some else’s back yard. Too often managers accept a near miss or semi-incident as just part of being in the business. They are blind to exposures and exposed to the hilt.

Any propane related accident involving customer injury or death will disrupt your life and could devastate your company. It may only tag your insurance company, but when it comes to insurance, there is no such thing as a free lunch. It is only after an incident most managers begin to appreciate how cheaply they have been eating.

If you just try to be aware of that nagging voice that tells you what you already know about the weak spots in your safety process, your sub-conscious mind will come open to alternatives and solutions.

Every two weeks I have to clear off my piles and sort them into priorities. I resent having to do it and yet I know I can’t function at full speed when my plate is too full. Sometimes I miss opportunities because I have been focused on lower priorities. It always amazes me that once I clear my plate and flip my chip to green solutions and opportunities become achievable.

Too often in life, we justify leaving the red chip out when it comes to safety because our plate is loaded with other priorities and the perfectionist in each of us just shuts down to possibilities and solutions. Don’t try to be perfect all at once; just focus on being aware.

For safety’s sake, it’s time to flip the chip. As the sod foreman says, “Green side up.”

Jay Johnston (www.TheSafetyLeader.com) is President of Jay Johnston & Associates, Inc., specializes in helping propane marketers protect the golden goose by achieving safe growth. He can be reached at 888-725-2705 or

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