September 22, 2011 | Mark Paradies

Immunized Against Accidents


We’ve all heard:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

By getting childhood immunizations, kids avoid serious diseases. Even adults know to get flu shots to avoid most of the misery of the flu season. That’s prevention!

Of course, prevention requires effort. You have to get the shot. And sometimes there’s a minor reaction (a sore arm, headache, or mild discomfort). But overall, the effort and pain are worth it. You avoid the disease.

What does this have to do with accidents? The analogy of vaccination to prevent a disease is a proactive improvement program to prevent an accident. So let’s look at ways to become proactive and get immunized against accidents.

Step 1: Define the Disease

Before you develop a vaccine, you need to understand the virus.  In proactive improvement, you need to understand what you are trying to prevent. For example, you can’t just say you want to improve safety. You have to be more specific. Are you trying to prevent fatalities? Are these fatalities caused by industrial hazards or process hazards? That makes a difference in the type of proactive improvement program you develop because industrial accidents and process accidents don’t have the same types of causes.

To define the disease, look at the causes of past serious problems at your facility and at similar plants in your industry. Also, consider experience from other industries. Even though they produce a different product or service, they may have similar hazards or equipment. And every industry shares at least one commonality – people. Thus, major accidents in a large variety of industries can help you learn about the diseases that your plant may face.

Step 2: Develop a Vaccine

Proactive improvement “vaccines” are proactive efforts to spot problems & fix them before accidents happen. They can be “desk-based” exercises (for example, an FMEA or a HAZOP).  Or they can take place in the field (a behavior-based observation or an audit).

I prefer the field-based assessment activities because they tend to be “reality based.” That is, they tend to catch bad practices in the field that desk-based exercises tend to overlook.

Developing a good observation, assessment, or audit program is difficult. People may put on a show. Observers may not know what to look for. To get ideas about setting up a truly effective, proactive improvement program that uses root cause analysis to develop effective improvement ideas (corrective actions for observed problems), read Chapter 4 of the TapRooT® Book. You will learn best practices you can apply.

Step 3: Get Your Shots!

A vaccine can’t work if it isn’t administered. And a proactive improvement program can’t work if the proactive improvement activities aren’t performed.

Corrective actions have to be implemented or they can’t work. I’ve seen major accidents that could have been prevented by corrective actions that had been developed, approved, and were waiting to be implemented. Getting a corrective action added to the list of backlogged corrective actions won’t stop an accident!

Problems won’t solve themselves. Just like parents have to get their kids to the doctor to get their shots, management has to watch over the proactive improvement program to make sure the activities are happening, the tools are being used effectively, and the corrective actions are getting implemented.

Get More Ideas

If you have a proactive improvement program and you are looking for more ideas to strengthen your vaccine, I have two ideas…

1. Attend the Leading Performance Improvement Track at the Global TapRooT® Summit in Las Vegas on February 29 – March 2, 2012. See the track details at:

2. Attend one of the pre-Summit Courses. The three that TapRooT® Users interested in proactive improvement would find most interesting are:

  Risk Management

  How To Find & Fix Culture Problems

  TapRooT® Advanced Trending Techniques

Don’t wait. Register today at:

2012 Summit Medalion

Show Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *