WSIL TV News recently reported on an unusual road safety initiative. A 16-year-old local girl, Lacy Hood, had been driving in 2015, barely a month after she passed her driving test. She was distracted as she looked down at her phone to send a text and failed to avoid a collision in which she was killed. Her distraught father, Jim Hood, bought Lacy’s truck back from the insurance company to use it as a message to new drivers. More than 4 years later, 1,500 students saw the wrecked truck as part of a traffic safety program in Lacy’s hometown of Marion, Ohio in the US. State Trooper Greg Miller was reported as saying that he ‘hoped this powerful example would teach drivers just how quickly lives can be changed’.   

The emotional impact of the program will probably lead at least some of these students to make the decision not to pick up their phone and respond when they hear it going off while they are driving. Perhaps preventing their own (and other’s?) serious injury or even death in the process. The initiative will, almost certainly, save future lives.

For me, this is where news media can have a positive and powerful impact. At its best, the press acts as a gratification magnifier, in this case communicating a feeling (fear of injury/death followed by relief that you are not immediately at risk), which can lead to a neural modification making it more likely you will react differently in a similar situation. Other key gratification emotions include anger, joy and lust – emotions which are generated almost instantly. However, when it comes to helping to prompt us to make decisions which will lead to our satisfaction, which is more often engendered by thoughtful, slow burning, culturally unreasonable actions, here the news media is less helpful.

An example of news media’s response to events is Chinese air borne viruses. I imagine everyone reading this article will be aware of the current Coronavirus outbreak which, as of 26/1 had claimed 81 deaths from 2863 cases. This is the most serious such global health threat since SARS in 2002. Looking at the chronology of events since SARS inception is illuminating in terms of news media focus:

Similarly, consider the international media response to one of our industries worst recent Process Safety incidents – the destruction of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010. During the crisis, the international media was (rightly) offered extensive coverage. In the aftermath, the media also covered, but to a much lesser extent, the incident investigation and subsequent report. To my knowledge, BP have implemented all the recommendations emanating from it (including the one which helped me become a HAZOP chair – do more HAZOPs). Since 2010, BP hasn’t suffered a recurrence of the same magnitude as Deepwater Horizon. And the media coverage of this diligence and its effect – little to none.

Collins Online Dictionary defines satisfaction as the pleasure that you feel when you do something that you needed to do. Satisfaction is a sensation linked to conscious processing decision making, usually driven by our ‘free will not’ – the choice we make to endeavour to overcome the strong gravity of gratification (e.g. the buzz we get when we pick up our phones and respond, when hear that we’ve received a text message) . It is a bold decision, usually counter-intuitive with significant anti-gratification risks attached – in the arena of Process Safety, this may mean discomfort of colleagues, irritation of managers, distain of markets, rejection of shareholders etc.

According to Courtney Ackerman, writing in Positive Psychology last year, Instant gratification is a term that refers to the temptation, and resulting tendency, to forego a future benefit (life without injury or premature death) in order to obtain a less significant but more immediate benefit (the buzz from a texting conversation). What about instant satisfaction? I googled ‘instant satisfaction’ and got the following responses:

First return aside from artistic titles -

….supreme support concept to make sure purchaser satisfaction. twenty-four hrs purchaser Service, instant response, best top quality and Value-added….. []

I’d been thoroughly Googlewacked. In 2020, ‘Instant satisfaction’ doesn’t really exist on Google, demonstrating that… doesn’t really exist!

Process Safety work demands a considerable amount of resilience to maintain a thoughtful ‘will not’ demeanour. Quietly taking actions for which there is likely to be indifference at best and perhaps no small level of irritation from peers and beyond. It is perhaps only rewarded with the satisfaction gained once you have persevered in the pursuit of doing the right thing.

Knowing this and knowing how important this work is, lets acknowledge, encourage and even celebrate it – magnifying the satisfaction. It may not be ‘news-worthy’, but it does save future lives.

As State Trooper Greg Miller told WSIL TV News ‘You’ve never seen pain in somebody’s eyes until you have to tell that next of kin that their loved one will not be coming home’