The Corporate Shuffle by Nick Nicholson


My wife Marian, that wee little lady that some of you know, is a hero. After around ten years working as a hospital psychiatric nurse, she’d become very familiar with the safety training.  She had attended numerous courses learning how to physically manipulate or restrain patients without hurting them, her co-workers or herself. Being tiny, mild-mannered (never threatening) and calm, she seldom had to use force.

The same applied to fire training. An orange pylon would just appear on the Ward and the first to spot it would sound the alarm. Staff followed well-known procedures and eventually an “all clear” and the exercise time would be announced.

Among the elements required during these exercises would be the evacuation of  patients, the checking of rooms with a pillow placed outside the closed door to indicate task completion. Other training involved the proper use of and practice using fire extinguishers and fire hoses. I remember Marian telling me how shocked she was at the force it took to handle a fire hose under pressure for the first time.  She became practiced and efficient and was quite proud of herself.

All good things come to an end and the hospital was divested in a corporate shuffle. Employee’s jobs ceased and were recreated with the new employer of the same facilities. The job itself, continued without a break, the same functions being carried out as they had before and really, nobody noticed much of a difference other than the sign on the front lawn and their benefits package. That is, until something went wrong.

On a cold winter’s day, at the end of the shift, she was putting on her coat to go home. Her job, at the time, was drawing patient’s blood and spinning it for transfer to the lab for analysis. She worked alone in a tiny office space with a couple of chairs and the equipment. Because nobody would replace her, it was her job to close and lock the door. She had just done that when the fire alarm sounded.

Looking back at it later, her actual job description function was done and she should have just gone home. Not our conscientious Marian! As she walked down the hall, she spotted the door to the Chapel that did not yet have a pillow outside to indicate that it had been checked. Opening the door, she looked in and found a table with chairs piled on top on fire, and high flames nearly reaching the ceiling.

Knowing that an extinguisher would be useless, she went back out to the hallway to get a fire hose. Along the way, she saw other staff running by responding to the code.  Yelling at them, she drew their attention to the fire. Together, they wielded the very leaky fire hose, put it on “dispersed spray” and put out the fire.

In conversation, she learned that the code was directed to the wrong place in the hospital. Later, it was learned that the building was coded incorrectly and had it not been for Marian, the whole place would have gone up in flames. There had never been a room code assigned to the Chapel. Further, the Fire Department, although originally on its way, was responding to the wrong location several hundred metres away.

In addition, a child sitting in a waiting room had been playing with a wall fixture. His father thought he had activated the fire alarm.  This, he reported to the switchboard operator who cancelled the fire alarm and the Fire Department.

Eventually, (second trip) the Fire Fighters arrived at the correct place and took over even though the fire had been out for some time. Soaking wet, Marian went out to her cold car and shivered all the way home. The total damage to the hospital was restricted to $5000. Wow! The facility, jobs, and possibly, the lives of around 360 people were saved!

A few days later, Marian was called before a panel of senior management for (what she thought was) an interview.  Interview, my Nick-2015eye! They proceeded to dress her down for fighting the fire with a fire hose. They told her she should have left the building immediately. “Fighting fires was not within her job description and she had no business extracting that hose from its cabinet”. This would be a “mark” against her on her record! Wow!!!

Apparently, the policy of the new employer was that staff were never to use fire hoses. Mind you, the policies were never posted nor administered to the staff. There had been no fire training since the takeover in the year that had passed, as a matter of fact, the new administration didn’t even have fire training. This was in the days of “age” forced retirement and when Marian eventually retired, there had still never been any fire training administered at that hospital and the “black mark” was still on her record.

So what am I getting at here?  So many businesses are being taken over by other entities these days, it’s often difficult to figure out just who owns the company. Both new and old staff are timidly wandering around, afraid of losing their jobs and therefore afraid to “make waves”. Oh yes, they still rely on and bring their past training with them.

If you happen to be the safety practitioner on the job when these changes are being made, make a point to compare the safety policies of the old and the new to see what changes employees are going to be faced with. Make sure you become familiar with them, make special efforts to publicize the differences and ensure all employees sign off on them. If you can, change policy to the “best practice”. Keep your people safe.

The beauty of life is in your hands.

About the Author

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council.

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