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High-flying Vigilance: A Lesson from the Window Guys

Although most of us live in a digitally connected world, on some occasions the input of an actual human is important. I discovered some irregularities in a bank account, so I swallowed my pride and made an appointment to visit with a trusted adviser at the bank.


But you know this post is not about the bank. Read on.


As I entered the downtown bank building, I noted a small group of individuals looking skyward at three workers perilously balanced on a metal platform about the size of a sofa. The platform was attached by cables to the roof of the tall building (okay, it’s Rochester, Minnesota, not skyscrapers). And the platform was gently swaying from the wind and almost looked like a small ship on a rolling sea. Scary, to say the least.


The workers were caulking and cleaning windows hundreds of feet above the pavement. I stared for a moment on what almost looked like a ballet as they attended to their perilous responsibilities. Not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights.


A Break in Time


Ninety minutes later, after my appointment, I exited the building and saw that the three men had taken a lunch break. The metal platform had been lowered to the ground, and the workers had opened their lunch buckets and obviously were attending to the routine stuff of life on their cell phones.


But I was curious and stuck around. I watched them go back up onto the side of the building. With almost military precision, each worker, one after the other, reviewed the status of the anchoring cables, the tightness of their harnesses, the pulleys to hoist them into the sky, and a final check to be certain that the platform was free of debris, loose tools, or other obstacles that could threaten their lives. Each coworker independently went through a very organized ritual.


No one spoke but from a nod of the head and a glance of seriousness, they got onto the platform and went back up to work.


Lessons from the Window Guys


Certainly the rest of us with two feet on the ground can learn some powerful lessons. So here goes:


  • The world belongs to the fit and the focused. If we are distracted, if we are interrupted, for most of us, the result might be embarrassing or frustrating. But for others dangling hundreds of feet in the air on the side of a building, the results could be catastrophic.

  • Let us learn from the airline industry. The “sterile cockpit” is a federally mandated regulation that all conversations below 10,000 feet, the most perilous time in flight, must focus only on the details of flying the aircraft. Any other discussions are strictly forbidden and have serious consequences for that person’s career. And could imperil the lives of the passengers.

  • We are well advised in whatever job we pursue to slow down, pause, and assess the potential risks and hazards of what we do each day. Check the rigging. Review the procedures. Tighten your harness.

  • In healthcare, we deliberately “pause” before all invasive procedures on a patient such as a biopsy or an incision. The patient is clearly identified by name, and other factors such as date of birth or a clinic number, the name of the procedure is clearly articulated, and this specific body part is identified. Even with this attentiveness to patient safety, there are still circumstances of surgery being performed on the wrong body part.

  • At the start of the day and throughout the day, we need to be vigilant, we need to be alert because our lives as well as the lives of our colleagues can be at risk. For many of us, there are no second chances, especially if your workplace is a small platform on the side of a building or if your office is inside that building

Image from Shutterstock.



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