I was fortunate to be in England for five days last week. I saw the “gemba” at five hospitals in three days and attended the Lean Enterprise Academy Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit
One thing I was taking pictures of in my travels were all of the warning signs — the “cautions” and “be carefuls.” I love England and London, so I’m not trying to make fun… but it sure seemed like there were a ton of warning signs everywhere. Is this due to an extremely litigious society (you’d think the U.S. was bad) or general British politeness and helpfulness? One sign at a rail station cautioned “Do not run on stairs.” Good advice.
Some of the warnings do seem to be a bit much, though, including these two different warning signs for hot water taps:
And a second separate faucet:
Signs like these are often an issue in hospitals, where warnings and cautions to the employees and physicians are posted everywhere.
These signs, like the “Warning: Very Hot Water” seem like poor examples of problem solving. If the water is that dangerously hot — why not adjust the plumbing so it is cooler? Isn’t that easier than making and posting a sign? I can’t for the life of me remember a similar sign in a U.S. bathroom. Have you?
I’ve got quite a collection of hospital warning signs, including:
On some pharmacy robotics: “Danger: Do not reach inside machine when running.“
Why is the automation designed that you could even reach inside and hurt yourself? Where is the interlock that prevents the door from opening or shuts the machine down if the door is opened? Is “be careful” right right approach?
A sign on a piece of laboratory equipment read: “Do not spill.”
The sign was warning the technologists to not spill patient specimens into the machine when loading them. Why? Because there was a bare circuit board exposed underneath the loading area. Why rely on people to not spill? Why not design the machine so the board is protected against the inevitable spill?
I think people probably also tune out the warning signs and start ignoring them if there are too many. Visual clutter means people don’t pay attention to what’s posted, I think.
Here’s a common sense warning in a Tube car:
Here’s a door in an Underground station — how many warnings can they pack on that single door?
Does your organization abuse warning and caution signs? When I present about this to healthcare audiences, I typically challenge the audience to keep your eyes open today… how many warnings, cautions, and “be carefuls” can you find? For each, is there an opportunity to use some error proofing methods to prevent the error instead?
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