The Comcast Crash Video – When Blind Safety Compliance is Dangerous

by Dave Collins on December 17, 2016

in Safety Leadership

The Comcast Crash Video – When Blind Safety Compliance Causes Accidents

imageThis is the latest unsafety video (below) to go viral and of course there are the usual ignorant arguments firing up on social media about how stupid everybody is. Some say these Comcast Xfinity Cable Repair Guys should be more aware of and respectful of what is going on around them rather than just saying “I have a job to do” and “I need as much stuff as I can get to keep people out of the way so that I don’t get hit” others say they are in the right  and that drivers should slow down when conditions are like this and I think I would also ignore someone whiny person yelling at me with a camera in their hand!! – whatever the case, the outcome is not ideal and this could have turned really ugly.

As Rob Long once wrote in “Compliance or Defiance”

Rather than actually trying to understand why people make decisions and judgments, the popular response is to label someone as ‘an idiot’. Once a person is labelled as an idiot, they no longer need to be taken seriously nor, treated humanly. The black and white mindset assists the dehumanization of risk too.    

This is exactly what is happening in the video from both sides – empathy and understanding is long gone!!

Although we don’t know anything of the back ground and social issues at play here (ie do these guys have to put up with abuse on a regular basis and are just desensitized to it?)  What concerns me is the mindless and dogmatic application of the safety rule “one cone per 10mph – we have 5 in a 40 zone so it must be safe”. Regardless of what is actually going on outside of whatever safe operating procedure is being strictly adhered to, there is no appreciation of risk, no flexibility and no thinking outside the square is allowed or encouraged. Was there an overriding fear of punishment if the road blocking procedure wasn’t strictly complied with or are these guys just dumbed down by Safety and unable to effectively discern risk beyond the checklist? This is the by-product and unintended consequence of strict compliance that is rarely considered. You can bet that Comcast will now quickly implement a procedure on precisely how to manage similar scenarios – which are unlikely to ever be exactly the same – this is why employees need to be able to think and make smart decisions, in order to deal with the unexpected, regardless of what the golden rules may say!

Rob Sams writes in “Are You Creating an Obeyance Culture”:

When an organisation focuses only on legislation and rules, people are often treated as objects within a system. This is because the focus often becomes about the system and perfection and there is little understanding of how people make decision and judgments. This may actually increase risk in an organisation because people work out of fear rather than understanding, follow process rather than thinking creatively, and are more concerned with perfectionism than learning.

In the article “The Regression of Safety and the Dangers of Hypercompliance”, the authors introduce this same thought:

Does hypercompliance tend to improve or hinder safety performance? This article examines the evolutionary path that led to hypercompliance and why it appears to be a good solution yet has unintended consequences. Those consequences, although unintentional, defeat the established goal of hypercompliance.

Your thoughts?

  • And, right on cue, here come the crusaders:

    The ladies and gents over at OSHA could give more and better info, but based on this document, these guys literally did every thing wrong:
    They didn’t have any warning signs indicating work or a closed lane ahead, which are to be 500 feet or more before the taper.
    They didn’t have anyone directing the lane changes, forcing cars to merge into oncoming traffic on their own.
    They did not use a buffer space (the space between the work zone and the taper zone where traffic merges). According to u/kcorkery45, buffer zones are to be a minimum of 305 feet.
    Their taper zone was far too small (minimum requirement is 50 feet), even if you ignore the weather conditions.
    All distances listed are a minimum under safe driving conditions and good line of sight for drivers, and these distances should be increased as needed due to speed, weather, and condition/geometry of the road.
    Edit: this post is getting some traction, so I’ll just add that I’m not ignoring the fact the many of the drivers shown in the video were driving too fast. They were. However, it is safe to assume that had these guys followed proper protocol, many if not all of the accidents would have been avoided. They acted as the first domino and risked the lives of every person on that road, including themselves.
    Some have accurately pointed out that this is utility work, which can have different regulations. However, appropriate warning signs and flaggers are still required in this situation, as indicated here (pages 14 and 29):

  • Rob Long

    Look at any typical work health and safety training and its all about compliance, rules, legislation, standards, checklists and dumb down thinking. The WHS curriculum is a wasteland. Imagine being called to a incident investigation with one third of training focused on method and NO capability or skills development on pastoral care. Imagine a safety person having done two thirds of their training on legislation and will never be called to act as a lawyer yet has no skill development in critical thinking, culture, social psychology, communications skills, understanding about risk, human decision making etc. the list is huge. Yet claim the word professional as if their education and curriculum is similar to other professions. This is video is a perfect example of what the archetype of safety creates and to boot, the arrogance and superiority because Safety knows best, because Safety saves lives. The power created by such metaphysics is crazy.

    • Thanks Rob – what it is demonstrating for me is how Safety is completely disconnected from reality, life and the unexpected

      • Rob Long

        and safety is miseducated to do so. It doesn’t know what it doesn’t know because its training is so narrow and blind. It will never mature into a profession until its understanding of education and learning is much broader and transdisciplinary in nature.

    • Obviously I am biased, and my bias is towards being critical of the video, so here goes: One thing that stood out for me is the way the person making the video is talking – A high-pitched voice, indignation, self-righteousness. He definitely had some points, but imagine if he approached the workers in a different way, and acted as if they were on the same team? I imagine the outcome may have been very different. The worker appeared (to me) as fed-up and irritated, and I don’t blame him. In the past I made the same mistake, thinking I can use “safety” to force someone to “do as I say”. I was successful in getting him to do what I instructed, but his body language showed the same level of irritation at being told how to do his job. Thinking back, not one of my proudest moments, yet I have been rewarded for this kind of behaviour many times (but not by the “victims”).

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