Sunday, June 09, 2013

Caution: Use 2 hands to dispose of trash

New readers may not be aware of my fixation on signage.  It turns out that signs are useful indicators of underlying problems in the work environment.  Signs that are designed well and placed well can facilitate the production of a product or the delivery of a service.  On the other hand, signs that are poorly designed or placed can cause confusion.  They are also telltale signals of underlying process flow problems.  This is true in health care and almost every other field.

My regular readers have come to see my occasional reports on signs.  Some are in Boston, but the most interesting ones often turn up in airplanes, like this clever depiction of a changing table.

This week's report comes from Southwest Airlines (one of my favorite carriers), where I noticed the following sign in the lavatory.

Here's another shot to give you a sense of the placement:

For those of you who want to spend a lot of time on the issue of the quotes around open and in, go to the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks.  But that is not my issue today.

For today, we have to ask the question of why Southwest Airlines felt it necessary to offer instructions in the use of the disposal bin, along with the big red CAUTION sign.  Were people's hands getting stuck in the bin because they weren't letting go of the paper they were disposing?  Homer Simpson fans will immediately recall the episode in which Homes got his hands stuck in two vending machines at the same time. When the paramedics tried to get him out, they asked, "Homer, are you still holding onto the can?"

When it comes to hand hygiene, by the way, the instructions are counterproductive.  If I wash both hands and then use one to hold open the lid to the disposal bin, I have just gotten that one dirty again. 

Wouldn't it be interesting to hear from folks at Southwest how it came to pass that they spent thousands of hours and dollars designing, printing, and placing this sign?  What was the chain of command that led to this?  I don't know but I am guessing that the risk management section of the legal department had something to do with it.  I have not seen it on any other airline.  Either Southwest is breaking new ground in avoiding in-air catastrophes, or there is something worrisome about the people who choose this airline.


Neville Sarkari MD, FACP said...

I'll bet a few people got their hand stuck or scraped by the lid when using just one hand.

Anonymous said...

I'd dearly love to hear their explanation but I bet it has something to do with lawyers. Like MacDonalds telling us that coffee is hot.

The question is, is it the lawyers that are the problem or our U.S. culture of wanting everything our way, all the time? Food for thought.


Nancy Thomas said...

Ewww....just ewwww....