October 23 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway
When you land at the Newark airport and head south on the turnpike, if you are doing the speed limit, ten minutes later you will see a tank farm with the words "Drive Safely" on it. I appreciate the effort to raise community awareness, but what does 'drive safely' mean? This is akin to telling workers to "work safe today." This could be perceived as a caring prompt and could also mean nothing. Without specificity, it does little to promote desired safety behaviors. What precisely does 'drive safe' or 'work safe' mean? What about "think safety?"
I witnessed another example of this while beginning a safari of the Grand Teton National Park. Under the screen on the van was a sign stating, "THINK OF THE HEIGHT OF THE VEHICLE YOU'RE IN!" Nowhere in the vehicle did it offer the actual height to consider. Humans make mistakes, and the driver might incorrectly remember the height as eight feet. Depending on the model of the Ford Transit, a search on the internet yields a height of either eight feet two inches or eight feet eight inches. Why not just round up and say, "This vehicle is eight feet eight inches, consider this height while driving?"
When you teach someone to drive, do you put them behind the wheel the first time and tell them to "drive safely?" Hopefully not. Similarly, telling people to think isn't as effective as telling them precisely what to think about. Specificity matters if you want desired behaviors and performance. And, by the way, have a safe day today.
The more specific we are, the more universal something can become. Life is in the details. If you generalize, it doesn't resonate. The specificity of it is what resonates." — Jacqueline Woodson
"It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen." — John Wooden
"Beware of the person who can't be bothered by details." — William Feather
Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.