Safely or Not at All

The train from my home in New Jersey to NYC runs through many different neighborhoods and landscapes. Some provide beautiful natural vistas, while others can be best described as an industrial wasteland. At one point on the route, the train passes by a huge metal scrapyard. Each pile of metal is organized by some vaguely visible yet unclear criteria. Crushed automobiles, train cabins, twisted beams, brown metal, chrome metal, dull metal, shining metal — all are represented and categorized. Yet across these various groupings, one trait is shared, and I don’t mean that they’re all metal. I mean that they’re all dangerous.

Gleaming, 30-foot-high mountains of jagged, sharp metal loom beside equally massive piles of rusted, splintered iron. A wrong move with a piece of machinery could mean a landslide of razors or a crushing stampede of rolling tire hubs. The hazards are many and varied, and while it is clear that great care has been taken in the proper setup of the environment and system, it seems clear that accidents are nonetheless likely.

Affixed to a huge steel overhang, standing above the whole yard, there is a giant sign. The top and bottom of the sign is bordered with diagonal yellow and black construction lines and in the center set in huge, all-caps, bold Helvetica type are 5 words:

Suddenly, everything about this place makes much more sense. Of all the many policies that any establishment can and likely does have; always wear your hardhat, don’t operate a crane without a partner on the ground, etc.; this is the one that hangs over the heads of all. It is a line drawn in the sand, an irrefutable standard of conduct. I’m sure that there is plenty of training for the workers here to educated them about what actually is safe and what is not, but at its core, this statement “Safely or Not at All” represents a trust in the judgment of the workers. Regardless of any of the other benefits that may come from performing a task in a certain way; you can do it faster, easier, with less people; if it’s not the safest method, don’t do it. Period.

This sign reminded me of a conversation I had recently had with some of my team about how we handle rush job requests. Although we don’t deal with large, hazardous metal objects (iMacs are getting lighter and lighter) we are sometimes asked to perform a task in a timeframe that would mean that we need to use some kind of non-standard, rush process. While there are often valid ways to accomplish this, such as breaking the task into chunks and allocating more staff to work on it at the same time, or simply putting in overtime, there are also some methods that involve cutting corners in the work itself. In the latter case, while on the surface you may end up with a product that looks complete, there could be a lot of messy stuff beneath the surface, or opportunities that were not explored.

What is the meaning of this?

At Do Good Design Co., we made the decision to replace an all-too-common acronym with a new one. ASAP (As Soon As Possible) is not ASAR (As Soon As Right). We can find ways to shorten the time it takes to perform a task, but we won’t do it at the expense of quality. We feel that this would expose our client’s investment and our own reputation to an unacceptable risk.

We feel that drawing lines in the sand like this, especially for purpose-driven organizations is critical. The more clearly you can define your standards of conduct and closely align them with your purpose, the stronger and safer you will be.

What “lines in the sand” have you drawn at your organization? Hit reply and let us know!

John Natoli and the Do Good Design Co. team