Life Preservers

Considering safety from everyone’s perspective

By Allen F. Weitzel

hat images does the word "safety" inspire for you? What is safety, and what does it mean for your facility?

Webster's defines safety as "the condition of being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury or loss."

For employees, park visitors, managers and administrators, the word takes on different dynamics. Every person who works for or visits your facility has a unique perspective on safety. Let's look at these various perspectives, mixed with insight from several recreation industry professionals.

Safety philosophies

From waterparks and playgrounds to fitness clubs and sports complexes, every facility takes a slightly different approach to safety. Historical safety is practiced by facilities that believe that because a serious incident has not happened before, it never will happen. Reactionary safety appears in organizations that believe safety prevention is not necessary. If and when an event occurs, they handle it and then move on. The "ostrich" safety philosophy is exemplified by facilities that bury their heads in the sand and never even worry about what incidents could occur. Legal safety is practiced by those organizations that only implement safety standards when a regulation requires compliance, under threat of penalty. Preventive safety happens when an organization regularly self-audits the facility, analyzes its strengths and weaknesses, makes corrections before an incident can occur, and implements disaster-response procedures.

To help establish a safety philosophy for your facility, ask some key questions: What areas need the most safety-improvement attention? Are guest-incident trends an issue? Are employee injuries on the rise? Is there a lackluster employee attitude toward safety? Does the safety program have weak support from executives and other management? Are you behind on complying with regulatory programs? Are there obvious safety concerns, such as not enough fire extinguishers, bad lighting, poor housekeeping that has created fire hazards, chemicals incorrectly stored, etc.?

Seek opinions from all staff members when establishing a safety objective. Observe, dissect and analyze the facility, and then establish a safety action plan. Hire an outside consultant if help is needed with the evaluation.

The view from the top

Any executive leader wants to satisfy the organization's needs without sacrificing safety.

At the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a 99-year-old seaside amusement park featuring a variety of rides, including two National Historic Landmarks and a wooden roller coaster built in 1924, Vice President of Operations Tom Canfield believes that safety means never having to stand in front of the media to explain why an accident happened.

It starts with observation skills. When managers are in the park, they should look for hazards. Many guests come through your facilities every day, and that constant wear and tear can change the safety situation. Staff should watch for loose trash on which people can slip, kids playing on queue rails, uneven pavement and so on.

Of course, management also should observe employees to be sure that they are following proper procedures. A facility may have excellent procedures, but if employees are not properly trained, safety suffers.

Don't forget to observe the guests, too. Management should be able to predict whether a problem might be brewing due to such factors as alcohol, gangs or people acting too rowdy.

Safety must be a top priority. If someone were to get seriously hurt, the media would likely jump on the story. With that kind of publicity, attendance will drop, regardless of who is to blame. No one wants that to happen.

Management responsibility

For managers, safety can be a scary, all-encompassing task that cannot be ignored, but never seems to end. It carries a big responsibility and terrible consequences if not properly handled.

"Middle management knows the importance of safety, but it is difficult to get employees motivated or involved," said Donna Raphael, a veteran resale director. "Safety meetings are often boring. Employees already believe they are being safe. It's important to train the staff to bring issues to the forefront. Management must not downplay safety systems, meetings or procedures. Management must always support the implementation of safety in their department and the organization."

Managers must be reminded of their obligation to do the right and legal thing. Otherwise, they should know that they could be held accountable for safety mishaps.

The weight of success for safety rests with middle management, who must train employees to incorporate safety into all that they do.

For example, at an amusement park, one key to safety is training ride operators and others who come into contact with guests, according to Joseph Zukin Jr., a former park owner and industry expert. "After that, there is a lot of common sense in assuring and stressing safety in an amusement park," he added.

Effective maintenance

One of the biggest influences on facility safety is a strong maintenance program. Maintenance managers know that attention to detail, documentation of actions, solid job knowledge and a prevention program are the primary elements of a safe operation. Safety and maintenance are one and the same. Each task must be approached and completed with safety in mind.

From the very first day, training each employee on safety procedures should be a primary priority. If one employee is willing to circumvent his or her own personal safety, then that employee also will likely take shortcuts that compromise the safety of your patrons.

A non-threatening environment that allows information to flow up and down the chain of command is vital to safety success. Maintenance managers should share inspection results from outside agencies with all departments, and abate as many safety recommendations as possible. Maintenance should review and approve all training manuals before publication, adding relevant maintenance or safety information. Maintenance staff also must be included in the creation of emergency procedures. Records of abated hazards can provide the foundation for the preventive maintenance program.

Preventive maintenance is the primary tool to reduce failures, malfunctions and questionable conditions. As allies, agencies such as insurance carriers, the local fire department, attraction manufacturers and safety consultants should be asked to audit the maintenance program annually.

Initial, refresher and new technology training are also important elements of a safe maintenance department.

Take It Slow
Safety takes time at Bonfante Gardens in Gilroy, Calif.

Cory Roebuck, manager of operations and maintenance at Bonfante Gardens, is a seven-year amusement park veteran.

Located in Gilroy, Calif., the park combines the beauty of magnificent gardens with the flavor of a traditional family theme park. The park features 19 rides, 22 attractions and four gardens. It employs approximately 550 seasonal associates.

The Bonfante Gardens philosophy is that it is important that associates take the time to do the job right. Associates should never be rushed. The mindset should be that all injuries are preventable.

All associates receive a park orientation when they are hired, which provides basic safety information. Following orientation, associates are directed to their specific department where they receive detailed job training. Each job function at the park is associated with a more specific code of safe practices.

All training is documented, and all ride operators are retrained annually, a requirement established by California's Permanent Amusement Ride Safety Inspection Program.

Supervisors must attend an annual training academy that includes eight hours of instruction. Safety protocols are a significant topic covered during this training.

If an associate is injured, the incident is investigated. The investigation and the results are presented to and signed off by the department manager, safety manager and department vice president. A similar system is practiced for guest-related incidents, in addition to any investigation conducted by the State of California.

To encourage a continuation of safety practices, a proactive safety reward system is in place.

Roebuck indicated that the practice of safety must never be rushed. The most important thing Bonfante Gardens does is to provide a safe experience for guests and employees.

Marketing & operations

A general awareness of safety needs to be reinforced through daily activities and actions. The general understanding of safety is important, as facilities communicate with guests directly and through the media. At an amusement park, for example, patrons want only the illusion of danger, not real danger. No one wants to visit a site that is considered unsafe.

The responsibility of the marketing department is to communicate to the public what the company does about safety. When all facilities are safe, the entire recreation industry benefits. Marketing departments may compete for customers, but recreational facilities should never compete on safety.

Operational departments often believe that safety procedures can occasionally get in the way of the day-to-day task of running the facility. Operational departments will be more responsive to requests from other departments, including the safety department, if the procedures they are asked to follow are simple and necessary.

If a safety department wants to implement changes within operations, it is best to get department buy-in during the off-season, when operational staff have time to give their undivided attention to a new program. The most effective way to gain operational department support is to implement safety techniques into daily tasks as the procedures are created.

Safety in the trenches

There should be one person employees can talk to about safety or go to when they want something fixed. Employees want to know that they will be protected if they verbalize their safety concerns, and they want to believe that the facility is safe for them and the customers they serve. It is not difficult to keep conscientious employees on the positive path using occasional reminders.

The main path for improving safety will be through motivating undisciplined employees who give the least possible effort.

Most employees will always believe that they are acting safely, even when they may not be. But even the underachievers want the facility to be safe—they merely do not believe, or are not aware, that it is their responsibility to implement safety. They need to be influenced to support safety.

Each employee is inspired by different motivation factors: morality, ethics, money, success, fear of discipline, popularity, sweat (how hard it is to accomplish a task), etc. Therefore, different motivation techniques must be practiced with different staff members.

Work to improve the credibility of the safety department so employees will listen, believe and follow the procedures. Impress upon employees that practicing safety is the ethical, popular and moral thing to do. Reward exceptional safety performance.

Many employees shirk a responsibility because they do not know how to do it, or because they think it will require enormous effort. Explain to employees the additional work they may have to do if they do not follow safety procedures. Let the employees know the downsides, to them and the facility, should a significant incident occur.

Employees who consistently fail to follow safety procedures should be purged from the company. Spend your valuable time with those who can improve the company safety record. Don't waste it on those who don't care about putting safety first. A single employee working outside of established safety procedures can shut down any operation.

Workers' compensation

There are many ways to counter or prevent employee injuries. Set salary levels to attract the cream-of-the-crop applicants. Match candidates to the job description, and hire the best-qualified applicant. Be honest with applicants about the actual job requirements. Require pre-employment medical exams for all candidates for the same job position.

When employees do get injured, you should be fair and fast with legitimate injury payoffs. Follow up on each and every employee injury. Investigate employee injury sites, because if an employee is injured at a certain location, another employee (or guest) could also get injured at that site. Provide additional training for those employees who seem to be injured more often than others.

Be sure to have the company legal counsel annually review the employment program to ensure all regulations are being followed.

Customer safety

Patrons expect your facilities to be safe, and they don't expect to be an integral part of ensuring your safety program is working properly. However, there are some things your customers can do to enhance safety.

Encouraging guests to follow the facility's safety rules is the primary factor to help reduce incidents and injuries. Signs, reminders from employees and even special promotions can help focus your customers on cooperating with safety requirements.

But the facility must make it easy for guests to help out. For example, at an amusement park, you can provide ample lockers where guests can store loose items that might fall on other guests from elevated attractions. Make sure that guests do not have access to restricted areas where hazards may be waiting. Ask guests to complete a safety survey in exchange for tickets for another visit.

Don't be afraid to fire a customer who acts in an unsafe manner or endangers other guests or employees. A safe facility will bring patrons back again and again.

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.

The safety department

Safety is a vital, but not necessarily a fun, topic. Safety is not a good-news department. Employees will run away when they see the safety manager coming, believing that safety procedures bring more work for them to do, or bring news that they don't want to hear. Therefore, the safety manager must be pleasant toward the workers. Every safety manager must be a little bit of a worrywart, watching out for the unimaginable and trying to improve procedures.

A safety manager needs to know if the safety department is advisory- or enforcement-focused. Can the safety department close an attraction without consulting anyone? If the answer is yes, the department is enforcement-focused. If the safety staff researches incidents and submits that data to others who then implement changes, then the department acts on an advisory basis. An enforcement department requires a significant-sized staff to plan projects, inspect work in progress, regulate safety infractions and maintain an enforcement posture. An advisory department is smaller, advises on issues and allows the executive management to make the final decisions. The executive management should agree on the safety department's realm of authority, and should meet with the safety department regularly.

The safety department should be proactive. Safety employees should walk the talk and set examples.

The safety staff should make it comfortable for other employees to chat about safety, and they should take suggestions with grace. The safety department must set up systems that allow employees to easily report hazards. Once people feel comfortable with the safety department, they will be more likely to open up about their safety concerns. Listen carefully to each concern and address each objectively, culling out the real problem. Never "blow off" an employee or guest who has a safety concern. Never burn a source, or the employees will cease to report unadulterated information.

The safety department should keep accurate records, should never skew statistics and must make sure that recommendations for change are based upon facts, experience and regulations. If there is a safety concern, educate the department about the concern and offer possible solutions, but let the department decide the best action to take to resolve the issue.

What happens if a concern is presented for which there appears to be no concrete solution? Cultivate a nucleus of safety colleagues who can be contacted to brainstorm solutions to the problem.

The safety department must not be the sole judge, jury and executioner on safety concerns. There should be an associate who can review safety issues and provide problem-solving guidance.

Always document the reasons why specific safety decisions were made. If management becomes complacent about safety, begin an educational campaign to educate them on how the safety programs have kept the company risk-free. In most situations, executive management is not opposed to safety, but is concerned about running a well-balanced ship, where all divisions receive equal attention. Therefore, the risk manager must accomplish safety goals by solving day-to-day issues using savvy, popularity, kindness and sweat. The trick is patience and small wins. The driving philosophies of an efficient safety department are professionalism, cooperation and communication. A long-term commitment to safety will bring success.

What can you do about safety?

The primary path to safety that you can take is to continue those programs that work and tweak the ones that don't.

All safety ideas, suggestions or practices deserve attention. Improve overall safety by understanding the lessons learned from incidents at other facilities.

One excellent learning tool is to swap training programs with similar facilities. The local fire department is also an often-overlooked wealth of information on life safety, employee safety and fire safety. Build a rapport with the fire inspector and local police department. Both agencies will most likely provide specific training for key employees.

Improve procedures by asking the insurance and workers' compensation carriers to review written training materials, as well as getting input from the police and fire departments on programs that affect them. Most states have a chamber of commerce that can provide educational material on safety regulations.

When something does go wrong, share information with department heads about injuries and other information related to the incident. Let department heads know what happened and what the safety staff recommends as solutions to prevent further incidents.

No safety program can be successful if it is not used. Employee involvement is critical. Each new employee should receive orientation, on-the-job training and fire-extinguisher training. Safety information should be provided in all training, and those training experiences must be documented. Guides should be updated continually.

Businesses must have safety programs that not only look good on paper, but also are functional on a day-to-day basis. The safety program should have a safety committee, be it educational or enforcement-focused, and each department should have an action plan outlining their goals to reduce injuries and improve employee safety. Many training businesses sell generic safety programs that can act as a starting point to get the company programs established. A facility can be made as safe as possible through planning, training, frequent inspections and solid incident-response procedures.

Final watchwords

Judge the results of your safety programs as a whole, and look for improvement every year. Require that the staff maintain safety awareness, and that they never deviate from established procedures.

Safety starts from the top. Effective communication must exist between management and employees. Companies must appreciate the value of employee safety both in reducing lost work time and in improving guest safety. Get feedback on programs from employees, as well as guests and management. Hidden problems do not get solved. Share the data with the staff so they can see the scope of the problem and their need to help with the solution.

Whether safety programs are developed to maintain good public relations, improve employee productivity, reduce costs or because of legislation concerns, the lasting benefit will provide continuing rewards. Without safety as a benchmark, no recreational facility can survive.

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