Are you ready for visual literacy?

This is a take on a common question that I get asked.  Am I ready to consider Visual Literacy as part of my safety programs?

Like most questions, there is an easy answer and at the same time a more difficult answer.  Let me take the easy answer first.  

If seeing is required to execute your safety processes and tasks, then you are ready for Visual Literacy!  That is the easy answer because it is difficult to think of a safety process that we execute or tasks that we must complete that doesn’t require seeing.  It then follows that if we can improve our ability to really see the things that are in front of us, we will do a better job in the execution of our safety processes and tasks that we do.  Under that definition, who would not benefit by learning more about Visual Literacy and improving their ability to See the Whole PICTURE®?

The more difficult answer relates to how you embrace lessons from disciplines outside of the normal safety processes to find improvement opportunities.  It isn’t common for companies who are trying to improve their hazard identification process, for example, to naturally think of art education as a source of tools and techniques that can help them do that.  But the reality is recognizing detail, drawing interpretation and deciding how that impacts you is actually what hazard recognition is all about. Seeing the hazard, drawing interpretation in the form of a risk assessment, and deciding what action to take is exactly what we do in our risk management work.  If you are willing to embrace and be open to new and innovative ideas applied to safety, then you are ready for Visual Literacy.

The second part of the more difficult answer is, how do you engage your people and build their skills and capabilities?  Visual literacy is focused on individual skill development so that each of us can be more effective in the work that we do.  Investing in our team members can be engaging and not only helpful in the workplace but at home as well. If you are focused on investing in your people to provide tools that help them do their jobs and live their lives better then you are ready for Visual Literacy.

The last part of the more difficult answer is, are you committed to creating a safe working environment by proactively identifying hazards in advance of incidents?  There is no doubt that improving our ability to see what is in front of us, we will increase the number of items that will need addressed. We will no longer simply walk by what has become so familiar to us that we no longer see if for what it is.  While this will result in more things to take care (prioritized by their relative risk), it will result in sustainable improvement in the safety of our workplace and eliminate the incident itself as the method for finding the hazard that has been right in front of us all along.

So if you are committed to creating a safe workplace, investing in your people’s skills and capabilities, and seeing is a component of getting your work done then you are ready for Visual Literacy. If you are ready to begin this journey a great first step is learning more about the tools and techniques we teach at a 2 Day Foundations of Visual Literacy workshop held at the Toledo Museum of Art. To learn more or register, follow this link.

Doug Pontsler

Doug is Chairman and Managing Director for COVE, the Center of Visual Expertise. Launched in 2018 by the Toledo Museum of Art, COVE is dedicated to the application of visual literacy for industrial and service applications with an emphasis on safety. In this leadership role he is responsible for all aspects of the enterprise including thought leadership, product development and client satisfaction. Prior to his current role, Doug was the former vice president of operations sustainability and EHS for Owens Corning. He joined Owens Corning in 2002 and held leadership positions including director of corporate services and vice president of global sourcing. Doug also served as a member of the National Safety Council Board of Directors and as the Chairman of the Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council. He is a recipient of NSC’s 2019 Distinguished Service to Safety Award. Follow Doug on LinkedIn


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