The Game of Jenga and The Importance of Reporting Near Misses

Reporting near misses has long been a hot item for safety departments.  What happens to a company’s safety program when near-misses go unreported is similar to what happens in the game of Jenga.  Before I go any further, I need to clarify what Jenga is.  Jenga is a game that begins with a tower of blocks.  Each player then knocks out a block and places it on top.  The one who knocks the tower over is the loser.  So now that we got the basics of the game out of the way, I can now explain how a company’s safety program is like the game. 

Put yourself in this situation; you are walking a job site and witness something that isn’t right, a negative observation is seen, and work needs to be stopped and the act corrected before proceeding again.  That is similar to pushing a block out of the tower structure in Jenga.  You create a disruption that usually involves having to confront someone who is not happy that you stopped their work.  The corrective action is then discussed, implemented, and work begins back up again.  That is similar to taking that knocked out block and strategically placing it on the top of the tower to help strengthen it. 

Now take the same situation, except when you witness the bad behavior or unsafe act, you do nothing.  What does that do for the safety of everyone in the company?  That is similar to when someone knocks out a block of the tower and haphazardly puts the block on top.  Maybe you don’t knock it over, but what is left is the start to an unstable tower where one wrong move could topple it over.  That is what an ignored unsafe act or bad behavior does to a company’s safety program.  When that action gets repeated over and over again the tower becomes weaker and weaker. 

The person in that situation could be anyone (a safety professional, a foreman, a project manager, a member of senior management, the owner); the situation doesn’t change based on who is witnessing it, and the appropriate actions that need to take place will not wait for someone in safety to arrive and take care of it.  By that time, it could be too late. 

In Jenga, you can only go so high. There are 54 blocks in the game.  So yes, the tower will fall eventually.  However, in safety, there are unlimited blocks.  We get times in safety when something happens that makes the tower teeter; those are called near misses.  We expect near misses; they help us place the block back in a better spot to strengthen the tower; to strengthen the company’s safety program.  What we don’t want is when those teetering moments are ignored, when a near-miss event happens, and everyone looks the other way.  It may not fall the first time or the second time.  But it will fall eventually, and when it does, it all comes crashing down.     

Safety cannot be put on one person, whether in a crew, on a large job site, or within a company.   If you see something, do something for that unsafe action or situation that you ignored and tolerated will become your company’s new standard.    Safety truly is everyone’s responsibility.

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