Paving Desire Paths

“Empathy for what your customers want is probably the biggest leading indicator of business success.” – Tom Hulme

We write exquisitely edited job hazard analyses which workers never use.

We author recommendations conforming flawlessly to the hierarchy of hazard controls, only to see workers create short-cuts around the control.

These shortcuts are called “desire paths”, and Tom Hulme studied these paths. If you’ve ever seen a college campus, looked at the sidewalks, and then watched as pedestrians wear a path across the grass to get to their next class, you’ve seen a desire path.

In Tom’s TED talk, he suggests paving the desire paths. Instead of designing paths (straight sidewalks) people will not use, build the buildings without sidewalks, then let people use the grass to create paths. Then pave these paths.

In EHS, when we create checklists, hazard controls, and other structure to “keep workers safe and compliant”, we are often building the sidewalks no one uses. It may look good, feel good and pass an audit, but workers are no safer than before.

How could we design EHS more for the worker than the audit?

Tom’s TED talk here.

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