Feature Article - February 2007
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Life Preservers

Considering safety from everyone’s perspective

By Allen F. Weitzel

Keep Your Cool
A skilled staff stays calm under pressure

Safety for a tourist attraction takes on a slightly different perspective from what one might find in a park or playground venue.

Shozo Kagoshima, a 30-year recreation industry professional, is general manger of the world-famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif.

The Winchester Mystery House is a 160-room Victorian mansion that was designed and built by Sarah L. Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune. The mansion is open 364 days a year and offers tours of the home and estate.

Kagoshima believes that safety encompasses two primary elements. The first is to protect the assets of the Winchester organization. The second is to provide a safe environment for guests and employees, which makes the facility a fun place to visit and an enjoyable place to work.

Visitors to the Winchester Mystery House may experience an occasional slip or fall, but as a low-impact attraction with a well-trained staff, incident numbers remain minimal.

Tourists on vacation comprise the bulk of the visitors. When travelers on-the-go skip a meal or otherwise forget to take care of themselves, they can end up feeling faint during the house tour, which covers all four floors of the mansion. Employees are schooled on how to properly handle such incidents. With attention to detail during training, employees automatically respond accordingly when an incident occurs.

In 1989, when the 7.1-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay area, employees did not panic. The staff quickly and efficiently evacuated the mansion and gardens. The same procedures were practiced on Aug. 19, 2002 when a $50-million, 11-alarm fire occurred at the Santana Row complex directly across the street from the Winchester Mansion. The employees not only effectively evacuated all guests from the facility, but they also assumed traffic control, showing guests how to drive their cars safely away from the area of this extreme fire, using their knowledge of local side streets to direct the guests to safety. During these emergencies, the staff was able to evacuate all of the visitors without any injuries or facility damage.

As an attraction where the key activity is an hour-long tour of this beautiful but bizarre house of mystery, the staff can control the pace of the activity, and tour guides are able to keep a close eye on their 25-person groups, advising visitors to watch their step or be careful of low ceilings.

On the employee side of safety, preventing staff injuries will always keep insurance costs down. Employees must be trained to understand how an injury creates lost work time. Workers do not always comprehend the negative impact of an injury. They believe they will not get injured.

In the mid-1980s, when insurance costs began to soar and more safety regulations were enacted, the Winchester Mystery House reacted with improved training programs, classes, meetings and manuals, stepping up safety awareness. The savings realized from reduced employee injuries and guest claims offset the costs of conducting additional training classes.

As a hands-on general manager, Kagoshima can abate hazards quickly, without outside influences to cancel or delay the maintenance of a safe environment.

With its ongoing safety programs, Winchester Mystery House has been very consistent in maintaining low claims numbers, both in employee and guest injuries.