Safety Lessons From Star Wars

Introduction

Ever since first seeing Star Wars as a child, I was hooked. Like so many others, I used to pretend to be a Jedi, jumping off of objects whilst brandishing a toy Light Sabre. As my Mother would tell you today, many thousands of dollars’ worth of damage was done, and many neighbours traumatised, whilst I was in ‘Jedi Training’.

As I’ve grown older, I have not had time to continue my Jedi training, much to the delight of my Mother and the Neighbourhood. Instead I have opted to settle for a job as a National Health, Safety Environment and Quality Manager for Alliance Power and Data, based in East Perth, Western Australia. My love of Star Wars however, is as strong as the day as I first saw it.

After recently re-watching the entire Star Wars series, I have seen it in a completely new light. It occurred to me that even though the Jedi’s were vastly smaller in number, they were still able to compete against a much larger army, by only implementing and applying a few aspects which are now considered to be the fundamentals of an Occupational Health and Safety System.

Lesson One: Incident Investigations

It’s a sad point in your life when you realise that only yourself and a select handful of friends and family can be trusted. Remember when Obi-Wan Kenobi used the ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ on the incident investigating Storm troopers? Even though they’re Jedi’s, the portrayed ‘good-guys’, the act itself does provide a strong case that individuals trying to avoid prosecution, no matter inherently good or bad, will use any means at their disposal to be found not guilty.

Many times whilst on site, I found myself caught in the middle of an Incident Investigation resembling a sandstorm. Almost every Occupational Health and Safety Professional can relate to this. Why do I call it a sandstorm? Well it’s just like a normal sandstorm in the desert; unprepared, you know that you’re going to get belted from every direction for an undefined and prolonged period of time. You also know that it’s going to inflict ranging levels of pain; both mental and physical, resulting in you doubting and questioning your own abilities and beliefs in your position. Add to this the fact that you simply can’t see what to do or where to go until after the sandstorm settles and ultimately clears.

Like most others, my general incident investigation sandstorm included;

Several differing versions of the unfolded events,
Several differing sequences of events,
Several differing fingers of blame being pointed, and
An abundance of select words of the English language being used either towards myself or others.

I won’t lie, during these times I wanted nothing more than my own fully functioning light sabre.

So how do we plan the simple fact that we are going to be misled?

The Jedi’s had a Council that discussed matters, with a little green man that could see into the future. From my experience, companies have had several degrees of Council’s and Committees, but lack the ability of the use of said little green man at their disposal.

With this in mind, implementing a strong Incident Investigation Procedure is a good start. This can include the documentation of; Preliminary Reports, Witness Statements, Accident and ICAM/Taproot findings and implementation of required actions. The truth is between the lines of all these hand written statements combined. It’s up to the Safety Professional to ensure they are not treated like a Stormtrooper, and are the victim of another’s ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ whilst investigating.

Lesson Two: Leading From the Front

I’ve been there, you’ve been there, we’ve all been there. Everyone has at some point in their life, had a boss who walked around believing they’re either Genghis Khan or Adolf Hitler. Both influential individuals used fear within their organisation to obtain what they desired. Ok, so maybe a bit overdramatic with the general stereotype of a boss, but keep in mind that Khan fell off his horse due to fatigue and Hitler poisoned himself. Either way both left their organisation early due to the culture they implemented and nurtured.

Moving away from the brief history lesson of historical Dictatorial lunatics, in Star Wars, Queen Amidala ruled Naboo. Besides from the fact that I personally would do anything for Natalie Portman, her subjects in her rule also adore her. She uses; forward thinking, fairness and fights for the rights of her people whilst maintaining a Diplomatic mindset whilst ruling over her constituents. She has the respect of her organisation and leads from the front when required. So am I wrong in stating that this is a good example of a CEO and General Manager when initiating change with safety?

Seeing Miss Portman running around with her subjects, defending her ‘office’ with several handguns, turned a 6ft tall, 105kg male into a love-struck drooling pre-teen. Like her servants, I would join her cause and follow without ever questioning her decisions.

Now my current boss is in his thirties and married. If suddenly he copied Queen Amidala’s example and ran around the office with a handgun, it would be a cause for concern that would more than likely involve the services of the West Australian Police. The underlying principle however is there that if an organization is serious about bringing around change in safety, it must be led by a figurehead of a company who can walk and talk safety.

This figurehead required to drive this change, is an individual or group that has not only the respect, but the trust of the workforce, throughout all levels of the organisation.

Lesson Three: Use the Resources Available

Han Solo was hired by Luke Skywalker to aid him to travel to Alderaan. His short term goal was to rescue the Princess Leia. Luke did not have the necessary equipment or skills to perform such a task by himself alone, so required the outside assistance of Han Solo and Chewbacca to achieve his short-term goal. The same can be said for Jabba the Hutt in hiring Jango and eventually Boba Fett to perform bounty hunting work on his behalf.

Without the hiring of subcontractors both Luke and Jabba would not of been able to achieve their short term goals.

In safety, organising and approving the selected Sub-Contractors can be the difference between short term goals being achieved, or failing miserably. Checks for Pre-Qualification for selection need to be performed. Information on; insurances, available scopes of work and examples of contractor abilities to perform said tasks are vital in ensuring that the outsourced work does not impact on the name of the business. Measures to ensure the contractor has means at their disposal to perform the task both safely and within a scope of time, have to be included in an organisations safety system. This leads us nicely into the next lesson.

Lesson Four: Always Do Your Research

Luke, mate, seriously, she is your twin sister. I can turn the blind eye to the fact that at the time he didn’t know, but unfortunately the same logic cannot be applied to mistakes with safety.

Background checking potential personnel has now become an industry standard. Applying with the same principle as ‘Lesson One: Always Plan to be Misled’, an employer or PCBU needs to check the validity and integrity of the persons involved in their undertakings, to protect the business.

So if Luke had waited, and performed all the industry standard checks before embarking to enlist Princess Leia into his company, would avoided tarnishing his name?

A Safety Professional must include in their Occupational Health and Safety System;
Character References Checks,
Previous Work History Checks,
Validity of Licences and
Qualification/Education Received Validity.

Working closely with a Human Resources Department is always beneficial as in recent years, Occupational Health and Safety has moved in on territory previously owned and dominated by a HR Department.

Lesson Five: Don’t Market to Children

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace would have been an amazing movie, if Jar-Jar Binks was merely a background character. The backlash experienced from the introduction of Jar-Jar into the movie franchise, caused George Lucas to rethink and re-write the remaining movies, allocating him as minimal lines as possible. Lucas himself admits that the character was placed and targeted to attract children to the franchise. The character was basically removed from all future movies, as it was damaging the reputation of Mr Lucas’ business.

So why the uproar? Simply put, he was an idiot, cracking unfunny jokes, requiring constant babysitting and generally not listening to anything that any person in authority would instruct him to do. In short, not a model employee to have in any organisation, no mind preaching safety to.

With workplace fatalities in Australia for the financial year 2010 at 124, and the same period in 2009 at 177, Safety Professionals can simply not afford to have any personnel exhibiting traits of Jar-Jar Binks within their organisation. Safety Systems are designed and implemented to protect the workforce, but like the old saying goes, ‘you can lead a horse to water’. Unfortunately, individuals exhibiting Jar-Jar like characteristics can only be dealt with by following the example of Mr Lucas; to remove them from the organisation before they cause damage to the reputation of the business.

Lesson Six: Train Your Workforce

The ‘Imperial Army’ is of impressive size, majority consisting of Stormtroopers. Never in the Star Wars series, do you see any form of training being administered to the Sith Army. None, whatsoever. No long montage footage of them in training at all. The result of which, has caused an entire army of individuals who do not know how to shoot their blaster at their target in a straight line. Sure, every now and again one gets lucky, but for the sheer amount of numbers, the statistics for ‘hit to miss’ ratio would be appalling.

This begs the question that if the Dark Lords established a HSEQ Department to monitor and review some Key Performance Indicators, and hired a Trainer/Assessor for their training programs, could they of changed the eventual outcome of the battle?

The Jedi’s were greatly smaller in number, but administered a widely regarded and respected training program, known throughout the Universe. It was specifically designed to build skills and knowledge of an individuals use of the ‘the force’. This training program held a certain level of respect throughout general society and the Universe as a whole. Every Jedi knew the; process, training requirements and information required to be obtained, to progress to the next level. A stronger Jedi, meant a stronger Jedi organisation.

OK I admit that the Jedi’s had some hiccups on the way, but I don’t think I’m going to spoil the movie for anyone by saying that eventually, the Jedi’s won.

The same can be said for training of a business workforce. Companies are realising that by raising the level of the standard of their general worker through education and training, they raise the quality of work being produced by their company. Pretty simple in theory really, application however is where it becomes tricky.

Qualified Trainer/Assessors are more in demand than ever. Finding one with experience, no mind one at all is near impossible. Similar to when a young Luke Skywalker was searching to be trained, only two Jedi’s were rumoured to be in existence. These two Jedi’s were Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Obi-Wan was in found in the desert and Yoda had retired, refusing to train anyone and living near a swamp.

Much like Trainer/Assessors today, most are either following Obi-Wans example, and are in the desert with a Mine Site, or retired and refusing to train anyone, like Yoda.

Ensuring a fully competent workforce also aids in reducing the risks associated with workplace incidents and fatalities. If you ignore Star Wars III: Clone Wars, where every Jedi, bar a handful are brutally slaughtered, the Jedi’s had a pretty low Loss Time Injury Rate.

So if we as Safety Professionals want to reduce the amount of LTI’s and incidents as a whole, we require a training program worthy of a Jedi. This training program however has to ensure you do not employ anyone named Anakin Skywalker.

Lesson Seven: Expand the Culture – The Indigenous Are Allies

In Star Wars I-III, allegiances were chosen and an Alliance was formed to defend the greater good of the Council. This Alliance consisted of many differing races, from all varying reaches of the Universe. A workforce was built, with each individual race having a specific skill set which strengthened the organisation.

OK readers, here’s a revelation which many of us seem to forget, Australia is ‘terra nullius’: land that belongs to no one. It doesn’t matter if you’re seventh generation Australian, it’s not yours. After the landmark Mabo case decision in 1992, and the subsequent Native Title Act of 1993, the law now states in black and white that it is no longer ‘terra nullius’. The Native Title Act of 1993 paved the way for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders to legally reclaim the land which was forcefully removed from them, since the arrival of the First Fleet on Australian shores in 1788.

So in Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, we met the Ewoks, the Indigenous land owners of Endor. Presumably residing there for many generations, the Ewoks had established their own; colonies, customs, culture and beliefs. Now the Jedi’s and the Rebel Alliance required the assistance of the Ewoks to achieve their desired intentions. Instead of invading their land and enslaving the indigenous owners, like the First Fleet, the Jedi’s worked with and alongside them. With the use of technology, namely a robot named C-3P0, they were able to build the bridge required to create a relationship between the two differing established organisations and work together towards a common goal.

Now whatever this common goal is in our society, I’ll leave up to the two disputing parties to decide.

Whilst on the Ewoks native land, the Rebel Alliance trained the indigenous population, increasing their ability to perform in their natural environment. It aided their common goal. So if this worked for them, why can’t it work for us?

Many companies now have Indigenous and Multi-Cultural Employment Opportunities. Australia is blessed with being a multi-cultural nation. Personally, I have had the privilege of working alongside individuals not only of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, but from various differing nations, with widely contrasting cultures, customs and beliefs. Between the two of us, we shared information which furthered both our knowledge and understanding to perform our working duties better.

So what are the lessons to take from here?

Firstly, for two vastly different societies, a common goal must be found.

The goal, both short and long term, must be beneficial for everyone involved. Like with most meetings between two parties that are vastly different, there’s always going to be times which are frustrating and stressful. The Ewoks nearly cooked and devoured their future work colleagues upon their first meeting! However they established a common goal and implemented a plan. The entire time they were surrounded by individuals who didn’t want their plan to thrive into fruition however, by working together, both parties achieved their common goal.

Another lesson to learn, relates to using the same theory and application of the Jedi’s training of the Ewoks.

A goal of a Safety Professional should be to ensure that the information contained in training programs and safety documentation is easily understandable to anyone and everyone. I have always based my systems on the ‘KISS’ method, ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’. This is my own way of ensuring that personnel with limited skill and use of the English language can still receive a Duty of Care. This application of the Duty of Care pertains that they receive the same assessment level and outcomes of a safety training package, as the personnel who are fluent with the English language. This aids in reducing the risk of incidents caused by cultural and language barriers.

Lesson Eight: Personal Protective Equipment

So in the opening scenes of Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is patrolling a baron sub-zero environment, whilst wearing layer after layer of clothing, designed to create and retain body heat in the cold environment.

After being held captive by a native Wampa, Luke is able to remain alive in the environment, thanks to the clothes that were issued to him. The PPE used in the environment was practicable and relevant to his working duties.

Compare this to the Sith. The Sith Army wears uniform armour, with the common knowledge that it is simply no match for the Jedi’s Light Sabre or Blaster. So with that in mind, why continue wearing it?

Using the example of the Sith’s non-practical use of the armour, organisations must ensure that their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is practicable and relevant for use within the workforce.

Like the Stormtroopers, it is an impressive image for all personnel of an organisation to be uniform, but the reality is, differing parts of the organisation require differing items of Personal Protective Equipment to ensure they stay alive whilst performing various working duties.

Lesson Nine: Women in the Workforce

The Rebel Alliance seemed to be the only party in a galaxy far, far away to hear of Equal Opportunity Employment. Given that the two women in question were in fact royalty, they still were the only prominent females in the franchise.

The Sith on the other hand, had none. What would Germaine Greer have to say about that I wonder? They failed to change their system to include females, in what could be considered a male dominated industry. Similar to many Mine Site’s a decade ago, women were stereotyped by the Sith, and not included in their plans for domination of the Universe.

Thankfully times have changed in recent years, where females are now performing tasks previously owned only by men.

With this in mind, a safety system needs to include the changes to the male: female ratio of the workforce. It’s a scientific fact that with manual handling, a 120kg male miner would be able to lift a heavier object with ease, compared to a female miner that weighed half that. So with the changes to society to what was previously thought of as a ‘male role’, does your safety system provide an environment that reduces the risk to females in a male dominated area?

Implementing provisions for female workers can be as simple as purchasing PPE designed for women, or providing additional training in areas such as manual handling. The inclusion of Work Plans for during and post pregnancy are also beneficial to ensure your organisation increases the number of Jedi’s for years to come.

Conclusion

So as you can see, I’m still in love with Star Wars after all these years. I’m a self-confessed nerd when it comes to the franchise. As usual, I’ve thought way too much into the movies and used it as a platform for writing about another love of mine, Occupational Health and Safety. But I like to think that I have a valid point.

So if a Safety Professional follows the Jedi’s example and ensure that they; establish, implement, monitor and review the above ‘lessons’, will the system prevent the organisation from ending up like the Imperial Empire? Like previously stated in ‘Lesson Six: Train Your Workforce’, in theory it would, but application is where it becomes hard.

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” -Master Yoda

Fear of not knowing or understanding how to safely performing a task, can turn into hate. This hate either becomes targeted towards a workers disregard for either: their own company, their co-workers health and safety, or their own health and safety. From this hate, it can turn into suffering, as one of the previously mentioned three parties, are exposed to varying kinds of potential suffering, ranging from medical or financial.

Using the above lesson from Master Yoda, is the primary common goal of all Safety Professionals to ensure that your workforce is fully competent and has a complete understanding of how to safely perform tasks involved in their daily working duties. Only by applying the previously stated lessons will aid in your organisation and workplace repelling the ‘Dark Side’.