The Safety "Time Out"

Sometimes I believe the measure of successfully growing old is determined by the number of original body parts you can retain--or possibly how many you can live without.

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By Bill Dampf, C.S.P.Danger Icon Or Dangerous Sign 52712194

Sometimes I believe the measure of successfully growing old is determined by the number of original body parts you can retain--or possibly how many you can live without.

Recently, the doctors determined my gall bladder was an excess part that needed to be removed. The procedure went well and while visiting my surgeon for a follow-up, he provided me with a copy of the notes taken before, during and after the procedure.

This made for interesting reading and something caught my eye right away. At one point, just before the procedure was to begin, the surgical team took a "time out" to review who I was, why I was there, and to outline their roles and responsibilities. I didn't realize this time out is now standard procedure within the healthcare industry for surgeries and is mandated by healthcare's national accreditation body.

We're pretty familiar with the use of the time out in sports. They're used by coaches to outline strategies during critical points of a game. In football, a time out is a quarterback's best friend. He can use them to change a play or ensure the right personnel is on the field. It's used to stop the clock to preserve valuable time or to simply stop play to overt a penalty.

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Many of us who promote safety incorporate the time out into our error prevention processes--and those who don't, should. The safety time out has been called many things. Some refer to it as the "pre-job briefing," "stop when unsure," or "stop and take two minutes." It's simply a time to gain or regain our focus to the task at hand. It serves to outline what our roles are and helps identify the hazards our work presents. Most importantly, it's to give us time to put protective measures in place to manage our risk.

I think the most important aspect of a safety time out is the acknowledgement by all involved that it's perfectly acceptable to call one. Everyone should feel comfortable stopping a job when something doesn't feel right or when something changes in the work we are doing. Many have experienced that gut feeling that something isn't right but didn't say anything, and as a result something bad happened.

If you don't emphasize the importance of the safety time out with your people, I encourage you to incorporate it into your safety process. If you do use it, I also encourage you to review its use and ensure everyone knows it's not only alright to stop a job when there is a concern, but it is encouraged.

The time out is used in the surgical field because the stakes are high and mistakes simply cannot be made. Every procedure needs to be completed without errors to protect the life of the patient.

Is the work we perform any different?

Bill Dampf is the retired Director of Corporate Safety and Health for a Midwest electric and natural gas utility. He has been in the safety profession for 36 years and an international speaker for 15. He has acquired both his BS degree and Masters degree in Industrial Safety, is a Certified Safety Professional and published author. To contact Bill, call 573-230-3910, email him at or visit his website at

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