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Safety Can Be an Optical Illusion

Is that crosswalk floating? The photo was taken in the town of Ísafjörður, Iceland, which painted an optical illusion on its street to slow down motorists. This 3D crosswalk gives the appearance of pedestrians walking along elevated steps, which is certain to get the attention of oncoming drivers.

If you were driving along and saw a floating crosswalk in front of you, would you slow down or stop? I sure would. Imagine a similar illusion painted at school bus stops and in school zones.

It’s shocking to me that something so simple hasn’t been thought of before. Granted, this is something cities and states would need to adopt, but the behavioral changes required to make drivers slow down might make people think long and hard about simple, creative solutions like this one. This unique paint job might prevent a crash that causes injuries, fatalities and property damage.

I don’t ever plan to have an accident, but they happen. The other day I was rushing and dropped my cell phone. Luckily, it didn’t shatter and break, which would have majorly disrupted my day. But in the end, it’s only a phone.

So, why do people have accidents? According to a recent safety study, there are three major reasons: People don’t pay attention, people exceed their capabilities and people develop patterns of unsafe behaviors. In my case, I was rushing and not paying attention, while trying to do too many things at once.

The work of Herbert William Heinrich is the basis for the theory of behavior-based safety, which holds that as many as 95 percent of all workplace accidents are caused by unsafe acts. Heinrich came to this conclusion after reviewing thousands of accident reports that were completed by supervisors, who generally blamed workers for causing accidents, without conducting detailed investigations into the root causes.

Heinrich’s Law states that for every workplace accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries, and 300 accidents that result in no injuries. Because many accidents share common root causes, addressing more common-place accidents that cause no injuries can prevent accidents that do cause injuries.

What’s the most common type of school bus accident you have experienced? School bus safety expert Jeff Cassell says there are 16 most common types of accidents that could occur on the road: Hitting a fixed object; backing up; sideswipe collisions; head-on collisions; rear-ending another vehicle; being struck by another vehicle while parked; striking another parked vehicle; striking a stopped vehicle; running another vehicle off the road; overturn/rollover; hitting a pedestrian; right- or left-turn collision; T-bone at an intersection; striking debris in the road; striking an animal; and railroad crossing collision.

Have any of these types of accidents happened to you or your school bus drivers in the last year? Did you identify why the accident happened and what the behavioral cause was?

Accidents most often occur because we assume risk in our daily lives, like getting into a car, boarding a school bus or simply walking across the street. It sounds like a basic concept, but it’s true that we all take risks every day.

Risk will always exist when transporting children on school buses. The key is establishing norms that can help you eliminate unsafe behaviors and unsafe conditions that cause accidents. When observing a team member who is engaging in safe or unsafe behaviors, leaders can choose to either reward or correct them, to help create a norm of acceptable behavior.

Accidents will happen, but it’s how you respond as a leader that will make all the difference in learning from those mistakes and preventing future ones. Show your staff members the value of safety and build a culture around it. Get buy-in from them. Building norms are far more powerful than rules, regulations, policies and procedures. Make sure safety isn’t an optical illusion in your school transportation operation.

Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the March 2019 Publisher’s Corner. 

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