THE RISK OF COMPLACENCY
Addressing the enemy of excellence and the most significant threat to any business
Checklists … ensure that the
essential tasks get done. Even if a step is very
simple, it can still be forgotten.
By Randy Boss, CRM, MWCA, SHRM-SCP
“Complacency is the last hurdle standing between
any team and its potential greatness.”
—Pat Riley former NBA Coach and Player
Complacency can be defined as feeling satisfied with how things are and not wanting to try to make them better. Complacency causes a sense of aloofness that can result in hazards and is extremely dangerous in the workplace. When you begin to work in an automated mode and stop thinking about what you are doing, you can make mistakes and take unnecessary risks.
As risk advisors, it’s easy to allow business owners to get complacent, especially those with few claims and lower-than-average work comp experience mods. Let’s face it, most small to medium-sized companies don’t have enough individual claims experience data to make informed risk decisions. They rely on us to provide information from our knowledge and experience to make informed decisions.
It’s been my experience that companies that have just suffered a bad loss are “all ears” about how to avoid another. But by then it’s often too late, as someone has likely already been injured or killed. Sadly, it’s a bell that can’t be unrung.
One of the tools I use to fight complacency is a checklist system called Compliance Check. It’s an audit tool that helps the user quickly determine the potential level of risk to both people and property in a business, delivering a report that points out the gaps.
Checklists also ensure that the essential tasks get done. Even if a step is very simple, it can still be forgotten.
Pilots use aircraft checklists to prevent complacency by following every step to ensure their aircraft is configured correctly for every phase of flight. Typically, the checklists in normal operations are:
- External walkaround and preflight
- Before start
- Before taxi
- Before takeoff
- After takeoff
Missed steps and incorrectly remembered actions have contributed to many aircraft accidents. On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed shortly after takeoff from Detroit Metro, resulting in the deaths of all six crew members and 148 passengers, along with two people on the ground.
The captain was 57-year-old John R. Maus, an experienced pilot who had worked for the airline for 31 years. Maus had logged 20,859 flight hours during his career. Other pilots who had flown with Maus described him as a “competent and capable pilot” who had a reputation for operating “by the book.” But on this day, sadly, he and his copilot missed a critical step on their “before taxi” checklist by not extending the wing flaps.
According to the accident investigation, the plane lifted off the runway and began to roll from side to side, just under 50 feet above the ground. The climb rate was reduced significantly due to the flaps not being extended, and about 2,760 feet past the end of the runway, the plane’s left wing struck a light pole in an airport car lot. The impact caused the left wing to start disintegrating and catch fire. The aircraft rolled 90 degrees to the left, striking the roof of a car rental building. The plane (now uncontrolled) crashed onto a roadway and struck vehicles, killing two people in a car. It then broke apart, with the fuselage skidding across the road, disintegrating, and bursting into flames as it hit a highway overpass.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the accident was the flight crew’s failure to use the “before taxi” checklist to ensure that the flaps and slats were extended for takeoff.
While most companies we work with are not flying airplanes, they need to be aware of and avoid plenty of hazards.
In 2012, a worker at Bumble Bee Foods neglected to follow the lockout/tagout checklist procedures and assumed his coworker was in the bathroom when he loaded an oven with 12,000 pounds of tuna fish, closed the door, and turned on the 270-degree pressure cooker. Unfortunately, his coworker was not in the bathroom but working inside the oven, likely performing maintenance. Jose Melena, 62, died a horrific death because someone neglected to follow a checklist.
Bumble Bee Foods had to pay $6 million, which was one of California’s largest fines for a safety violation, and their safety manager was hit with three years’ probation and $19,000 in fines.
After the trial, Mr. Melena’s daughter said, “Certainly, nothing will bring back our dad, and our mom will not have her husband back, but much can be done to ensure this terrible accident does not happen again.”
Using a checklist for lockout/tagout would have saved Jose Melena’s life. He’d likely be enjoying his retirement and spending time with his grandchildren today.
One of the lessons I learned early in my career is that no amount of insurance can replace an employee’s ability to earn a living and return home the same as they showed up for work nor can it restore a company’s reputation. To do this, we need to focus on prevention first. Then, we need to remind business leaders to consistently follow through with the day-in-day-out responsibilities required to keep risks in check.
Complacency—that sense of quiet pleasure or security, usually accompanied by a lack of awareness of potential dangers or deficiencies—is the enemy of excellence and can be the single most significant threat to any business.
Randy Boss is a Certified Risk Manager at Ottawa Kent in Jenison, Michigan. As a Risk Manager, he designs, builds, and implements risk management and insurance plans for middle market companies in the areas of safety, work comp, human resources, property/casualty and benefits. He has over 40 years’ experience and has been at Ottawa Kent for 39 years. He is the co-founder of emergeapps.com, web apps for insurance agents to share with employers. Randy can be reached at email@example.com.