Safety: An Outsider’s Perspective

Brian D. Avery

Brian D. Avery is a speaker, professor, expert witness, and author with a career that spans more than 25 years in the events, tourism, and attractions industry. His background is comprised of 3 areas of expertise: risk and safety management, event design and execution, and education. He can be reached at

June 1, 2018

I recently met with NIA members to discuss safety, drawing on my experience with amusement park and ride safety. It became clear the insulation and construction industries shared similar safety concerns. In the amusement industry, we obviously have the unique perspective of not only managing workplace safety, but also patron safety. Both staff and guests should be protected using the same processes and, in some cases, the same standards.

Safety in the amusement industry has been a slow evolutionary process, as it is for nearly every industry. From the 1900s until the early 1970s, the United States took little action in regard to amusement rides and devices. Since the advent of the OSHAct in 1971, there has been a steady progression in a positive direction, both in terms of amusement park safety and for other industries. People have a very low threshold for accepting injuries or death in the workplace or while having fun. As a result, organizations are held to a higher standard.

Now, when it comes to workplace safety, a theme begins to emerge for most industries. Safety professionals and organizations alike believe they have done everything possible to identify and protect against hazards. They have completed all the proper check sheets, submitted inspection records, all the known codes have been followed, outside inspectors have been consulted, there have been safety meetings with applicable staff, incentive program options were offered, employees were trained, and the workplace has been papered safety posters—and yet, accidents still occur. Most professionals in these case haves followed the game plan to the letter of the law. So, what’s wrong? And what does it take to get it right?

First off, I am not a fan of the term “accidents.” I prefer the term incident. An accident, according to Webster’s Dictionary, states that an unforeseen, unplanned event or circumstance occurs and that this event transpires from a lack of intention or necessity. Accidents, in spite of the saying, don’t just happen; they are caused. Generally, accidents have multiple contributing factors—the majority of which are preventable.

 An Example: Slip and Fall

If we break down a common slip and fall into segments, we can better understand this principle. Consider the following example: A floor in a kitchen has grease spilled on it from a fryer. The spill is neglected due to a deadline that needs to be met for a function. Meanwhile, an assistant in the washroom is cleaning a group of sheet trays needed to complete deserts for this event. The assistant is wearing a pair of worn-out tennis shoes with balding soles.

The kitchen chef calls for the trays and the assistant accommodates the request by making his way to the prep area. Unfortunately, the assistant is unaware of the grease spill and cannot see in front of the trays. The assistant steps in the grease with his balding shoes and slips and falls. No single event led to the accidents, but rather a chain of events. This chain can be broken with a better understanding of what caused this accident. If we can remove just one of the hazards mentioned above, we can alter the outcome.

Safety takes more than having and following a plan. In the same vein, being a safety professional is more than credentials, perfectly hung fire extinguishers, safe lifting programs, and passing insurance underwriter inspections. Safety is a constant that must be omnipresent for you and your workforce. It requires forward thinking and the ability to address known and foreseeable hazards before disaster strikes. It requires buy-in from you and your organization—from upper management to the most junior entry-level position. It requires leadership, communication, and most importantly, policies and procedures that are an integral part of your core work process. My experience with many organizations has been that safety, and the requirements to comply, have been a separate function—many times conflicting with operational policies. This conflict must be resolved if you want to have effective safety policies.

One of the takeaways from NIA’s Annual Convention was that standards and standard development play a vital role in having a successful safety program. Like many industries, numerous associations and standards writing groups publish materials that address many known and foreseeable hazards. However, not all concepts are covered. Standards reflect the minimum requirements to protect the safety and welfare of employees—they do not guarantee that anything is safe and that people will not be hurt. If your operation solely relies on standards as the foundation for your safety program, then it might be “standing” on soft ground. I cannot count the number of times after a major incident that I have learned the equipment and operational situation complied with all standards and codes.

Standards are the starting point on which a safety program should be built. History and daily practice teach us much about use and misuse of products and processes. A great example is the use of a new sidewalk.  Sidewalks are laid out and poured where people are believed to or encouraged to walk. Give it some time, however, and you will learn where people really walk. The bushes will be trampled, foot trails will appear in the grass, and pedestrians will learn and create the shortest and most direct route to their destination—the path of least resistance. For safety programs, the problem emerges when an established pattern is allowed to continue, and no adjustments are made based on what has been learned. The pattern becomes learned and the behavior goes unchecked, allowing people to do as they see fit. These are the times when potential hazards become real-world dangers, causing an incident.

Bad habits, however, are not always the culprit. If accidents were that predictable, safety problems would not exist. When you know emphatically that an unsafe behavior will definitely lead to an injury or fatality, the odds are good that the majority of people will comply with safe practices to avoid the risk. Our very nature is to be protective of ourselves against pain and suffering, and above all, death. In the amusement park and ride industry, patrons are barraged with information and their senses are overwhelmed by the environment—sometimes leading to incidents. It’s quite the opposite in the workplace where, usually, complacency is the problem.

The key to the evolution of safety in any industry is to continuously communicate what is known in order to identify what should be foreseeable—much like the slip and fall story I shared. If one element of the hazard was identified and removed, the incident would not have occurred. The great thing about conferences such as NIA’s Convention is that industry professionals come together and share their stories and lessons learned. The objective is to capture that information and translate it into policies and procedures that address the various hazards impacting the insulation industry. Incidents can be avoided through understanding, design, policies and procedures, and effective identification and communication.

I abide by 3 basic principles when it comes to safety: engineering, education, and enforcement. Once a hazard has been identified, the optimal solution is to eliminate the hazard using engineering practices. The thought process is simple when a hazard has been eliminated: staff, vendors, and patrons are no longer exposed to dangers and can no longer be injured as a result. When known and foreseeable hazards cannot be eliminated through engineering practices, we need to shift focus to the education of staff, vendors, and patrons. Establishing policies and procedures based on manufacturer materials, standards, regulations, and common practices is the best place to start. When all else fails, we should resort to enforcement, which takes a watchful eye and very exacting consequences.

Safety never stops! Safety is an ongoing process that evolves from past experiences, education, seminars, consulting with other safety professionals, standards, and your gut. If it smells like a problem, looks like a problem, or you think it could be a problem in the future, the odds are that is probably is a situation requiring attention. Being proactive is the best way to prevent incidents before they occur.

Copyright Statement

This article was published in the June 2018 issue of Insulation Outlook magazine. Copyright © 2018 National Insulation Association. All rights reserved. The contents of this website and Insulation Outlook magazine may not be reproduced in any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of the publisher and NIA. Any unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited and would violate NIA’s copyright and may violate other copyright agreements that NIA has with authors and partners. Contact to reprint or reproduce this content.


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