There is an office complex over 100 years old just outside of Chicago. Still occupied, it is an office complex for a leadership team that manages an old steel mill. This building has original wooden risers and granite treads that promulgate the beauty of a wrapping staircase going up multiple floors. Historically, there were probably a hundred people working at its peak. However, in the last century, hundreds of thousands have ascended and descended the stairs to occupy their offices or attend meetings in conference rooms. As you glare at the stately architecture from the first floor, you will notice variability in the staircase’s treads, indicative of the flow that has transpired up and down the steps for more than a century.
This erosion is not uniform from one edge to the other on the treads. Instead, it is a distinct erosion a shoulders width apart, appears on each step, and is an arms reach from the handrails. It is somewhat a form of a petroglyph etched into the stone that symbolizes the act of ascending and descending the steps with a hand on the handrail. If the handrails were not routinely used, the horizontal signature on the stones would be more uniform. But instead, the characteristics are indicative of lapidary individuals carving a safety culture into the stones.
If you attend an old European church, you will most likely see the same condition on the steps leading into its narthex. What may first appear as a natural erosion from rain, the pattern will instead correlate with a statistical mean of the church's congregation. As each individual takes a step, a minor abrasion occurs between their shoe and the stone. A hand-grinder may take an eighth inch off with each pass on a piece of stone, whereas a person’s step might take a 10,000th of that. But over time, the intended and non-intended route will reveal the path most taken.
There are sayings like the grass won’t grow on a busy street or a rolling stone won’t gather any moss. Similar to the examples of steps, demarcations are symptomatic of the behaviors of a path over an extended period. These markings are not those of one-offs, like a broken tread due to something falling on it. These types of markings are not from an individual 100-year rain storm. It is instead a gradual interference, engagement, and interaction that gradually occurs. They could be a reflection of good practices, like the example of wear adjacent to the handrail. They could also be unintended behaviors of individuals taking an easier path. It could be leadership not managing to an optimum behavior. Regardless, they are our markings indicating our route.
If you walk through an urban community, perpendicular and square-turn markings exist to indicate the safest thoroughfare to get individuals from point A to point B. These types of markings may be replicated inside your facilities to guide individuals on a route designed to minimize interference with mobile equipment, overhead cranes, and potential hazards around your assets. What would you see if you look closely at your designated walkways? Would you see wear within shortcuts or would you see wear within the engineered intentions?
This may be more evident if you work in a dirty or dusty environment. Your investigation may reveal the indentations of work-boots that take the route of the hypotenuse versus walking and making a 90-degree turn. If you have a designated walkway from the locker room to individual operating units, you may witness depressions through a grassy area that stray from your neatly designed concreted routes. Well-intended efforts may be in place to counter jaywalking inside a facility, but the markings will reveal the behaving actuals.
So what is the path that your organization takes? Are you leading by example, with others following your good habits? Or are you following the shortcuts that others have trekked? Do you have grass growing on your designated walkways, indicating that they are seldom used? Do you see foot traffic in a non-designated walkway from point A to point B, because its benefit is only that it is the shortest distance? Becoming more aware of the path that is being followed, is an insight into the behaviors that are being demonstrated. These behaviors are an example of leading indicators of an organization's commitment to safety.