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By: Thomas Carson

Top Gun: Safety Maverick

Tom Cruise has a lot to teach us about how safety and operations can work together to foster effective engagement to drive safe, productive outcomes.  In this episode, the Safety Maverick is called out of semi-retirement by the current CEO of the region, his former colleague Iceman, to design and implement safe procedures for a new high-risk venture.  Unfortunately, the Safety Maverick must operate in an environment of hostility as the local manager, Beau Cyclone Simpson doesn’t see value in bringing in an outsider.

The Safety Maverick sets about working to establish a rapport with the workers.  He has developed a thorough Job Hazard Analysis, a key driver of which is to ensure that they all come home alive – a point that he makes often.  He conducts daily tailgate talks, training and skills development exercises, even participating in their training to both share expertise and demonstrate that his concern for their success is real.

Even as the work crews become more comfortable with each other and the new procedures, tensions mount between Safety Maverick and local management.  The situation comes to a head when Iceman passes away from a terminal condition.  Within days, without the former CEO to override him, local manager Cyclone fires Safety Maverick and assumes control over the new program himself.  His first order of business is to focus on production results without regard for worker safety.  He changes the procedures in such a way that the steps are simpler to execute but it puts the work crews at high risk of serious injury or fatality.  When challenged by workers, he signals indifference, suggesting successful mission completion is the most important result.

At this point, in spite of having been fired, Safety Maverick exercises stop work authority, although in somewhat unorthodox fashion: he steals company equipment to demonstrate that procedures can be implemented that achieve the organization’s goals while allowing workers to be as safe as possible (a low threshold in this case, but nevertheless…)

Presented with a credible approach that both achieves organization goals while addressing safety concerns, Cyclone relents and actually puts Safety Maverick in operational control of the project.  Safety Maverick continues to coach and train the work teams, and soon they go live.  During operations, a number of situations arise, some planned for and some unexpected, that create new risks for the workers.  Happily, their collaborative culture is now one of looking out for each other, identifying hazards and resolving as a group.  By working together they successfully complete the project while ensuring that all workers come home safe at the end of the day.

All-in-all, a great story about how a professional can implement safe, effective procedures, even when not initially supported by everyone in the environment and move from reactive to collaborative culture attributes.  Nicely done Tom Cruise – I can’t wait to see his next film: Mission: Safely Possible!

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