Safety: Disney's 1st Key to Excellence

Safety: Disney's 1st Key to Excellence

We’re talking Safety today, which is Disney’s 1st Key to Excellence. Courtesy, Show & Efficiency are all important, but Safety is paramount above all of them. You can find the podcast here on Podbean and here at iTunes. You can also type in Disney at Work & Play Podcast on Spotify.

The following are extensive show notes page for this podcast.

Safety is Everywhere

There are so many examples of how safety shows up at Disney. Here are just a few highlights:

  • Disney employs patented “smart” seat belts on attractions like Indiana Jones Adventure that’s linked to a control system. Under normal ride conditions, once the seat belt is locked, and the ride is underway, it cannot be unlocked. 
  • Wonder what goes on late at night at the Tower of Terror? It’s called Mickey After Midnight. Every night, maintenance crews are on hand to inspect vehicles, tracks and facilities and make sure they’re ready for the next day. On scheduled evenings Cast Members are practicing emergency evacuations in the event of an emergency. 
  • ¡Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas!” has become more than a safety spiel asking guests in Spanish to stay away from the doors of the monorail. It’s become part of the culture and brand.
  • Disney’s enormous investment in the wellness and safety of its animal population would surprise any casual park visitor. 
  • Assets that need to be kept safe, to include museums that are in the theme parks.
  • More than 10,000 individual and group safety orientations were provided to construction workers while Pandora: World of Avatar was being built.
  • Tight procedures and protocols are in place for the handling of muskets during the Pocahontas section of Fantasmic, held nightly. It may look like a prop, but these are real and heavy pieces of artillery.
  • Cast Members have access to a free personal wellness app that shares thousands of videos led by experts in fitness, mindfulness, yoga and healthy eating.
  • While safety is everyone’s job, there are several thousand engineers, mechanics and electricians solely dedicated to safety and maintenance issues at Disney resorts.

Principles for Implementing Your Standards

1. Prioritize Your Standards

One example of putting Safety first was in the development of Test Track. Disney had removed the previous World of Motion attraction and had marketed the delivery of a much more ambitious thrill ride which would move guests at speeds up to around 65 mph. But for safety reasons, the attraction wasn’t ready at opening.

An October 16th, 1997 Orlando Sentinel article shared an article called “Epcot Puts the Brakes on Ride”. It included the following: “Kalogridis said the delays and the problems with the ride aren’t evidence of design flaws but rather demonstrate the extremely high standard Disney is holding itself to before opening such a technologically advanced, high-speed ride.”

The original Test Track vehicles. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Kalogridis stated in the article:

“‘There are many new technologies in this attraction, and the only way to make sure it’s safe is to push them to the limit,’ he said. ‘You intentionally create situations so you understand how the ride reacts.'”(Orlando Sentinel, October 16, 1997, by Jill Jorden Spitz).

Simply put, if you put Safety first, it may take time to have things in place. Safety is more important than opening on time.

2. Identify Behaviors Aligned with that Standard

Disney has established service behaviors that suggest across the board an overall expectation of how Cast Members should all act relative to that standard. In Disney’s Service Behaviors, there are three such defined actions:

  • I practice safe behaviors in everything I do.
  • Know and follow all safety policies and procedures.
  • Safely deliver on courtesy, show and efficiency.

It’s critical that you simply don’t say, “Be safe”, but rather outline clearly what is expected from a safety point of view.

3. Train On Those Standards

Thousands of classes are held annually in Disney parks world-wide that focus on Safety. Safety is taught Day 1 in Disney’s Traditions. But it doesn’t stop there. There are formal and informal training that takes place throughout the property. Here is an example of a formal class, entitled Disney’s Culture of Safety and Wellness, offered at the Disney University.

Jungle Skipper receiving 1:1 training. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

“Discover how role modeling safe behaviors creates and supports a culture of safety everywhere. This course provides Leaders, Executives and Imagineers with the essential skills, knowledge, tools and resources necessary to foster a culture of safety and wellness. Through an analysis of safety issues and incidents, along with discussions concerning wellness, participants will acquire the key knowledge they need to recognize risks and formulate plans of action to uphold a culture of safety and wellness.”

There are other examples that suggest how training can be provided in informal ways such as hosting safety fairs at the resorts, where housekeepers, custodial, food & beverage, merchandise, front desk and other personnel gather to share best practices and participate in games that educate and reinforce safety principles.

And then there are certification programs like the lifeguard training we’ll mention later. But did you know, Disney has a K-9 team that began way back in 1971–nearly 50 years? Dogs also must be trained and certified annually with the North American Police Work Dog Association.

4. Provide Ongoing Communication on Those Standards

There are multiple formal and informal vehicles in place to emphasize living up the standards in place. One such tool is Eyes & Ears, Disney’s Cast Member newsletter. Most editions carry a Safety & Wellness section.

Disney also educates its guests on safety. One of the tools used is Wild About Safety, where cards are handed out to the young and young at heart. Here safety concepts are outlined by Timon and Pumba of Disney’s Lion King fame. 

One of the Wild About Safety cards. Image by Disney.

5. Evolve Your Standards

The Disney History Institute podcast, episode 77 interviewed Mickey Aronson, one of two individuals who launched the first fireworks at Disneyland back in 1957. The safety standards by which fireworks were launched are much different than what they are today. Safety evolves.

Another example of what is reasonably safe today may not be safe tomorrow is the park lot tram. It wasn’t so many years ago that there were no doors on the end of each row. Other features have also been added over the years.

The tram at Castaway Cay in an earlier time. They too have evolved and now have a door. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

6. Partner With the Best to Carry Out Your Standards

Across the country there are essentially two major organizations that provide life guard certification: American Red Cross & Jeff Ellis & Associates. Any certification is better than none. Red Cross provides training classes. The cost is quite reasonable. Jeff Ellis is much more expensive, and thus much more thorough. In addition to training, they do ongoing research and innovation as to the best approaches. They also require auditing, and reserve the right to pull the license of any guard, regardless of who they work for, if they don’t do their job adequately.

Ellis trained lifeguard on duty. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This also brings up another point. Create accountability for living up to your standards. For safety, that means Disney meets regulations outlined by such organizations as the American National Standards Institute, the American Society for Testing and Materials, the American Welding Society, the National Fire Protection Association and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

7. Make Sure Employees are Covered by Your Standards

It isn’t enough for your customers to be the recipients of your standards. Employees need to have the same experience.

An example is a front line Cast Member at Disney, Dave Pickford, a greeter at Magic Kingdom. He supports safety by delivering water to Cast Members at their stations. He is also deeply committed to improving the daily functions and safety of his team. He shared the following in Eyes & Ears: “I’m always looking at how we can continue to make safety our number one priority while performing my role,” he said. “I’m always working and coming up with new ideas to help the team focus on safety.”

One such idea of Dave’s, which was successfully implemented, was using mats at the entrance touch points of Magic Kingdom Park to make Cast Members more comfortable standing during their scheduled shifts. It may seem like a minor think compared to other safety measures, but all of it adds up.

8. Be Intentional & Proactive

Heard of Norovirus on cruise ships? These make the new when they happen. In truth you are less likely to get Norovirus from a cruise ship (.18%) than from a school/day-care (6%), a restaurant (22%) or a health care facility (62%). Still, infamously Norovirus is often referred to as the Cruise Ship Disease, because when there is a breakout, it’s often in big numbers resulting in big headlines.

Still, Disney Cruise Lines has to be intentional and proactive to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. Disney’s ships usually rank very high on audits done by the centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Inspections done by the CDC have shown that Disney takes cleanliness seriously. Not that they haven’t had outbreaks like other ships. But they are intentional about preventing it in the first place. Countless measure are put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen. One such example is simply serving tongs. On a buffet line they are completely replaced every 30 minutes to avoid any spread on contamination of germs. It’s just one way they work proactively to prevent any possibility of illness setting in.

9. Create Integrity

You can’t tell your Cast Members that safety is important, providing training & consequences, and then expect them to deliver on that requirement in a workplace that is unsafe. There must be integrity. It’s not just about employees being safe. It’s about the workplace being safe. It’s about processes that ensure safety. It’s about products and services that are safe. Integrity requires that you act across all four delivery systems of People, Place, Process & Product.

Creating integrity is what created these four keys of Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. When Van France, founder of the Disney University came back to Disney in the mid 60’s, he noted that what was being shared on the first day of Disney Traditions, was not the reality in the park. “Bloody Alley” was one such location, a name given to the Autopia during those years. Cast Members who joined that attraction were often told “forget about what you learned in the orientation. Reality is different here.” The implementation of the four Disney keys were the outcome of creating integrity about what was being taught on day 1 and what was happening every day thereafter.

The current Autopia. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

10. Never Be Satisfied–Keep Moving Forward

You can never be completely satisfied that you have done everything possible. That means you are never finished in finding new ways to apply your standard moving forward. Even Disney has to “keep moving forward” in providing a safer experience.

Bob Iger speaks of this in his opening chapter of his new Biography, The Ride of a Lifetime. In the aftermath of 911, improvements were made to park safety. Many of those requirements played a role in part in keeping a gunman from acting on a shooting at Disney Springs. Instead, that gunman ended up across town, and the result was the Pulse Night Club shooting. All of this was happening at the same time Bob Iger was dedicating a 6 billion dollar theme park in Shanghai, China. While he was going through the festivities of this experience, and as he was gathering details about the nightclub shooting, he would also then receive word of a small child, Lane Graves, who would be dragged to his death by an alligator on the shores of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. He speaks candidly of personal calls made as not just the CEO, but as a father and grandfather addressing the child’s parents. He would summarize the experience as follows: 

“As the week described…makes all too clear, there are also, always, crises and failures for which you can never be fully prepared. Few will be as tragic as the events of that week, but something will always come up.

“This is true not just of the Walt Disney Company but of any company or institution. Something will always come up.”

Returning to the festivities of opening up Shanghai Disney Resort, “it was a happy day. It was also the saddest of my career.”

Truth is you can never fully perfect any standard you put in place. You can, however, have peace of mind that you did your best. But only if you are never satisfied, and if you keep moving forward to make improvements.

Application: The Disney Skyliner

Recently, the Skyliner had a collision, which involved no casualties, but did involve what appears to be 3 gondolas crashed into each other. In addition, guests waited up to 3 hours to be able to disembark from the system. It’s only been in formal operation for less than a month. Is it safe? In considering that question, note the following:

  1. The National Ski Areas Association reports 0.138 fatalities per 100 million miles transported compared to 1.23 for cars.
  2. The Skyliner is far superior than the former Skyway when it comes to computer and safety systems, access for guests with mobility challenges, and the physical toll/requirement on Cast Members operating it.
  3. Disney partnered with Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group to create the Skyliner. This company has produced over 15,000 ropeway installations in 96 countries.
  4. Disney not only invested in rescue vehicles, but in a rescue boat for those sections of the Skyliner that go over water.
  5. The Skyliner went through months of testing prior to opening. It tested the system with Cast Members and their families before permitting the general public to board.
  6. Cast Members went through formal training prior to the opening of the Skyliner. 
  7. Skyliner cabins include emergency kits with a glow stick, packs of drinking water, a notebook, and waste disposal bags. 

Will more need to be done to make it safer? Yes. It doesn’t end once the attraction opens, or after the challenges that created the collision are resolved. Safety, and any standard, has to be continually improved on.

Souvenirs for Your Organization

You may not have Safety as one of your standards. It must be individualized to your organization. But regardless of what your standards are, ask yourself the following.

  • What standard in your organization has the highest priority?
  • What behaviors have you identified as universal to that standard?
  • How do you formally and informally train people on the standards you want them to live by?
  • How do you continually communicate the importance of those standards?
  • How are you partnering with the best of the best in delivering that standard at its highest level?
  • How are you going to make sure standards you establish today are higher than the ones you’ve held previously?
  • How are you intentional & proactive about guaranteeing that standard?
  • How do you create integrity among your standards?
  • What actions will you take to demonstrate that you are never satisfied, and never finished living out your standards?

We’ll focus on the other three keys in weeks to come. To know more about the evolution of Disney’s Service Behaviors, visit this article on Disney at Work. For a larger treatise on this topic, be sure to check out The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney, available on Amazon.

2nd Edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service by J. Jeff Kober.
2nd Edition of The Wonderful World of Customer Service by J. Jeff Kober.

J. Jeff Kober

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