Column: Sticky Stories are Safety SavvySource: ProAct Safety | 21 July 2014
On a cold and windy day, a worker was crossing a street at his plant and was struck and killed by a truck. The driver said he was backing the truck because an exit was blocked and he never saw the worker. It looked as if the worker had been holding his coat up to block the cold wind and did not see the truck. It was speculated that the worker was used to traffic coming from the other direction and may have looked that direction and not toward the backing truck. No one witnessed the event.
Safety professionals and the supervisor conducted an investigation and concluded that certain corrective actions were warranted. They unblocked the exit and changed the design of the gate to ensure that trucks would not need to back out of the street. They also concluded that workers should wear reflective vests while working at sites where vehicles and pedestrians were both present. The use of the vest became a new rule.
Safety managers announced the new policy of wearing reflective vests at other sites and were met with stiff resistance. Workers did not want to wear the vests and resented being ordered to do so. They did not see the need for the vests and thought they would be uncomfortable and unattractive. Safety managers related the story of the accident to justify the new rule, but workers took exception and said that it was an overreaction and would not improve safety.
However, at one site, the safety manager held a meeting and simply told the story of the accident to the workers. He showed photos of the worker and his wife and children. He expressed his sympathy and his desire that no such tragedy would ever happen to any worker at his site. He asked the workers what they could do to make sure they never had such an accident. The workers suggested wearing reflective vests as one possibility and welcomed the new rule as a sensible precaution.
When asked about the reason for the rule on reflective vests a year later, only a few workers at the resistant sites could remember the story of the accident. The workers from the site that began with the story could almost recite the story in great detail.
There are several reasons for the difference in both the acceptance and remembering of the information from the accident report. For one thing, stories are sticky; they are more memorable and stick in our minds better than other types of information, such as conclusions and corrective measures.