Hotel Room Error Proofing


    This Is Broken – Hotel room warning

    I saw a large ad in the paper Friday that reminded me of this blog posting (link above). Be sure to click on the link to see a picture of what I'm talking about here.

    The newspaper ad, for Wausau Insurance, had a similar photo, but it showed a suit hanging on a hanger on the fire sprinkler, a definite no-no.

    The ad reads:

    “Recently, we received some interesting property claims. Hotel guests, trying to expand their closet space, enlisted the help of sidewall sprinkler heads, using them as makeshift coat racks. The weight of the clothing damaged the fusible element of the sprinklers, setting them off and causing more than $200,000 in water damage.”

    Ouch. The insurance company is playing a role in solving the root cause of the problem, which is good for their clients and good for the insurer. Let's see how they do.

    “…our experts… advised clients to place a warning sign next to sidewall sprinklers to prevent similar damage. Simple, but effective.”

    That might be effective, but warning signs are never the most effective form of error proofing. It's good that their sticker explains “why”, warning the hotel guest that damage could occur (it's better than a sticker that just screams “NOT A COATHOOK!!”.

    All day long we see signs and warnings screaming at us, including “PAPER FOR RECYCLING ONLY!” and “DO NOT THROW OUT TRAYS” and “GLASS ONLY” Not the most effective error proofing. Putting templates on trash cans, for example, that allow you to only throw out glass bottles or that prevent you from throwing out the sub shop tray are much more effective than signs.

    Real error proofing involves systemic changes to prevent the problem from occurring. On one level, hotel guests might not have enough closet space or hangers. Maybe Wausau should have advised them to increase the number of hangers or to add hooks in the bathroom that could be used for hanging a coat.

    Or, Wausau should use its “construction expertise” to advise hotels to never build sidewall sprinklers. I've seen hotels that have those sprinklers on the ceiling, again with a “do not touch” warning. But there's no way you could hang a coat from a ceiling mounted sprinkler.

    Wausau would be better served by going at least one more level deep in the Toyota “5 Whys” analysis.

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Ever consider the possibility that with pre-cast concrete structures that side wall sprinklers are the only option? When it’s not possible to eliminate or engineer out the solution, the next solution is an administrative control.

      The other item to consider is the cost/benefit. Even if it was possible to redesign the sprinkler system, the risk does not justify the expense. Wausau could consult in the building stage, however most property insurance exposures are already built.

      Mark, how would you feel if your insurance company asked you to retrofit your sprinkler system to control a problem of this size?

    2. I never suggested re-designing an existing hotel. That’s not what I said above.

      I made two points:

      1) the insurance company should insist that new hotels be built with ceiling sprinklers, IF POSSIBLE

      2) even with existing hotels, the “why” analysis of why people hang clothes on sprinklers could lead to:

      a) they didn’t know better (put a warning sign)
      b) they didn’t have enough clothes hanging space, so add hooks and more hangers

      If you make it easy for people to NOT use the sprinkler as a hanger, you might have better success than a sign that can be ignored.

    3. You have a good point about the hangers. Clearly this is the ROOT of the problem. However I believe that this was was part a marketing campaign. Are you sure that this was not recommended as well?

      You were pretty quick to criticize other peoples’ level of expertise when it is clear you are not an expert in this subject matter. My point to you is it’s unnecessary to insult others to make your point.

    4. I may be quick to criticize (as you are, also), but where did I insult anybody? I didn’t call anyone idiot. My tone was insulting?

      My point is that “lean thinking” (as an area of expertise) is pretty rare and not found in most industries, including insurance. The problem is they are insurance experts…. what they could also use is a dose of lean thinking.

      And, no, I’m not calling myself an “expert” in lean thinking. Just someone who likes to ask questions, even if that means being critical of others.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.


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