​​Here's Your Sign

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I was walking down a hallway at the conference center/hotel where I'm staying when I noticed an open door. It was the entrance to that inner sanctum which allows employees their backstage access to the meeting rooms. On the inside of the door was posted a sign reading "Think Safety First."

I must say, I felt a greater sense of serenity as I completed my ambulation, secure in the knowledge that the placement of that sign would keep employees from being unsafe around me. I knew that, but for that sign, the building would be filled with bands of employees roaming the halls flagrantly disregarding the basic tenets of good safety protocols.

The horrors of what might be occurring, but for the protection provided by that sign, can only be imagined. Employees might be tripping or spilling or walking into walls or operating heavy machinery or pouring cleaning fluid into pitchers of drinking water or burning themselves on overheated light bulbs or spreading shards of broken glass across the floor or dumping lit candles into piles of recyclable newsprint or inadvertently contacting Doctor Horrible and providing him with the security codes to all the rooms which would allow him to complete his nefarious scheme whereby he will take over the minds of all the conference attendees who will then go back to their offices and transfer all their calls to the 800-number set up to brainwash everyone who calls in so they start sending their annual association dues to a PO Box affiliated with a Swiss bank account established for Doctor Horrible to raise money to take over the world.

But for that sign, it could have been the end of times. 

As I walked by I thought, "Really. Whose bright idea was it to hang that sign? Who thought that the act of hanging that one sign (or maybe even a sign on every door) would have an impact on safety?" And then I had a bone-chilling thought. What if it was the auditors' idea to put up that sign? What if, in response to a finding that the department was not appropriately responding to an increase in accidents within the building, the auditors got together and said "We've got a great idea. The root cause is lack of communication, so let's tell them to put up signs." And the signs were put up. And the auditee agreed. And the report was issued. And the audit and corrective action were closed. And the auditors declared victory and proclaimed they had added value. And the auditee, with the auditors no longer bugging them, put up the sign, breathed a sigh of relief, and went on their merry way with no real change. And people did not think about safety first. And accidents kept happening.

How often have you accepted a solution to an issue that was the equivalent of posting a sign that says "Think Safety First"? Even worse, how many times have you been the one to suggest it as a potential corrective action? Obvious and easy solutions are few and far between. Even something as mundane as improper segregation of duties may be the result of bigger issues. Everyone wants quality root cause analysis. That means continuing to dig in an attempt to get at what is really occurring.

​And for the audit departments that think the solution is giving them a sign, you can only wonder, "Where's your sign."

​The opinions expressed by Internal Auditor's bloggers may differ from policies and official statements of The Institute of Internal Auditors and its committees and from opinions endorsed by the bloggers' employers or the editors of Internal Auditor. The magazine is pleased to provide you an opportunity to share your thoughts about these blog posts. Some comments may be reprinted elsewhere, online or offline.



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