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Safety-first attitude should be part of agency culture

By Katherine M. Nohr, JD


An organization’s attitudes toward safety will influence liability loss exposures. Frequency and severity of loss can be influenced favorably if safety precautions are a high priority. The airline industry provides a good example of this. Whenever you fly on an airplane, there is an expectation that safety is the number one priority of the airline, and odds are that the plane will reach its destination safely. The pilot is in charge of safety, and customers are told that the flight attendants are there for the passengers’ safety first. Without fail, safety rules and procedures are explained in great detail by flight attendants or on television monitors. Passengers can read about safety procedures on cards that are placed in each seat pocket. Oxygen masks, flotation devices, and other safety equipment are always present; and passengers can count on being told that their seatbelt has to be buckled, their seats upright, and the window shades open for takeoff and landing. Customers on airplanes tolerate delays so that mechanical repairs can be made, and they endure hearing the same instruction about how to fasten a seatbelt over and over again because they demand safe air travel. It is expected that when passengers get on a plane, they will arrive at their destination safely, and they probably will.

The safety model used in air travel could be applied to sport participation and viewing if athletes, parents, fans, coaches, administrators, and officials demanded and expected safety at the level that the airlines provide. For sport organizations to step up to the plate and provide this kind of safety, a number of things would have to happen with each organization.

Take Charge of Safety

Just like the pilot, someone has to take charge and direct the safety of the sporting activity or event. This could be the coach, athletic director, owner, or manager. The person in charge puts safety first-above winning, above profits, and above discomfort or embarrassment. For example, lightning is imminent, and the baseball game has proceeded through eight innings. The score is tied, and the fans are excited. The ballpark owner has to make a decision to evacuate the outdoor ballpark or to risk playing the ninth inning with the potential of lightning, which has been known to strike the ballpark before. Using the airline example, the decision would be automatic. The owner would suspend play and evacuate the park. Many people in the sport industry would likely be disinclined to evacuate a ballpark in these circumstances. Certainly, the decision of continuing play can be taken. This action simply increases the risk of loss and is not consistent with a safety-first attitude.

Personnel Must Have Safety-First Attitudes

Everyone who is running a sport event or training session, just like the flight attendants, should be there first for the safety of the athletes and others. Second, they are there for all other objectives. This means the personnel’s first priority is safety above all else. For example, during a running race, an assistant to the race director is told there is a problem on the course with traffic direction and at the same time is asked by the timer to help sort out problems with several athletes’ numbers. Which task should he attend to first? Since the traffic direction problem could mean potential deaths or injuries, he must address that first. He is there for the athletes’ safety first. Second, he can try to make sure the correct athletes receive awards and that all participants have a good time at the race.

Adopt Safety Plans, Safety Rules, and Emergency Procedures

To reduce and prevent losses, just like the airlines, every sport facility, organization, and event should have safety plans, safety rules, and emergency procedures. These plans, rules, and procedures should be well thought out, be written down, and address all potential safety concerns.

The content of safety plans, safety rules, and emergency procedures will vary with each sport and recreational pursuit. Before reinventing the wheel, check with the applicable NGB (national governing body) for your sport and with other organizations to see if they have established standards. For example, USA Swimming has safety action plan samples on its Web site: http://usaswimming.org. The Red Cross provides safety plans that can be helpful, such as its "Plan on Lightning Safety," found at www.redcross.org. Local fire departments are helpful to assist with fire safety plans as well.

Communicate and Practice Safety Plans, Safety Rules, and Emergency Procedures

Safety plans, rules, and emergency procedures mean nothing if they are not communicated, understood, and practiced. Sport organizations and events should communicate this information in multiple ways so that safety becomes part of the culture of the event or facility. Some effective means of communication are Web sites, e-mail, fliers, information sheets, DVD presentations, scorecards, prerace meetings, orientation, signs, newsletters, and bulletin boards. Your organization or facility should consider using multiple means of communication. Emergency procedures and plans should be practiced on a regular basis. Without practice, people will not understand the actions to be taken, and problems and weaknesses in the plan cannot be sorted out.

Safety Rules Must Be Enforced

Safety rules have no meaning or value if they are violated without repercussion. For example, if a football player does not wear his shoulder pads to practice, he should not be permitted to play. Enforcement should be consistent.

 

This is an excerpt from Managing Risk in Sport and Recreation: The Essential Guide for Loss Prevention.

 

 




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