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To Eliminate Harmful Costs Ask Beneficiaries, Customers, Users How to Avoid Accidents

Feb 11, 2008
Those who have experienced simulated or real accidents can usually give you chapter and verse on what they were thinking, how they were confused, and what misled them into taking a dangerous action. But after a simulated, real, or potential accident most organizations see their job more as calming down the beneficiary, customer, or user rather than learning from their perception of what went or could go wrong. This instinct is partly well intentioned . . . wanting to make the person feel better. But part of the reaction can be inappropriate calculation . . . wanting to avoid lawsuits and bad word-of-mouth comments about the offering.

Naturally, you should be sympathetic and helpful to people who've just had a bad experience. But you shouldn't stop there. Try to sort out what went wrong.

A good model to consider is what happens after a fatal airplane crash. Expert investigators look for the plane's flight recorders to see what the conditions were, what was said, what the pilot and crew did, and how the plane functioned. Like crime scene investigators, these experts also pick up the pieces and examine them for clues as to what failures contributed to the crash.

Investigators will interview eye witnesses and review computer-based maintenance records. From these investigations, patterns emerge that lead to inspections of other planes, reviews of maintenance procedures and reconsiderations of appropriate pilot training.

In some cases, carefully staged and measured simulations may be run to find out what might have gone wrong. Here's another example from the commercial airline industry: When new commercial planes are being certified, tests are run to see how long it takes to evacuate the passengers and crew from the cabin under various less-than-ideal conditions.

These simulations might include having the lights go out and simulating a cabin filled with smoke. Occasionally a plane is so poorly designed for rapid exit that many are injured during the initial simulations. By filming the actions that each participant takes, the airframe manufacturer can see some of what misled people or hindered smooth and rapid safe exits. After an accident, such a simulation can be used to detect the apparent sources of unexpected problems.

But that's not enough. From talking to those who had been in accidents and participated in safety experiments, designers learned that panicky passengers are likely to look to exit towards the door through which they entered the aircraft . . . and overlook a closer safety exit located behind them in the plane. Those who had been involved described how being seated facing towards the flight deck focused their attention on what they could see without turning around. Safety demonstrations now feature showing those in the cabin where the nearest exits are for them. Undoubtedly, these instructions have saved lives following accidents.

Parents will sometimes have to be proxies for explaining what babies do. That necessity is observably true since every year new products are designed and distributed that babies can take apart and swallow. Check the latest reports of recalls and you'll soon see what the problem is. Many offerings are designed by people who don't know very much about babies, and never think to ask parents about what might go wrong.

Pet owners will often be required to translate the psychology and physiology of their animals for offering designers. Many offerings intended for pets are primarily designed to appeal to their owners.

But that appealing design may contain potentially harmful flaws for Fido or Kitty. Pets are inclined to turn any item into little bits and pieces that they may consume, for instance. Although that's not the intended use, that likelihood needs to be taken into account in designing safe offerings for pets.

Sometimes the dangers aren't well understood by the beneficiaries, customers, and users. Such lack of understanding is often the case with plants.

I am constantly astonished to see plants with brightly-colored poisonous berries planted near a home's front door. Presumably, the person who planted the shrub either didn't have any children or was unaware of the danger.

At the same time, we are struck that labels in plant nurseries often fail to describe the poisonous nature of berries, leaves, roots and other seemingly edible parts of plants. In such cases, it makes sense for offering providers to seek advice from experts about how these potentially deadly ornaments can be made safer. One obvious choice is to be sure that Christmas wreathes and other seasonal decorations eliminate such poisonous substances as holly berries, mistletoe and yew branches.

If you use natural items in your offerings, be sure that you check with experts about how those lovely items can lead to harm.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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