5 Things Super Bowl 50 Can Teach EHS Leaders

February 11, 2016 By
Another year, another Super Bowl. Super Bowl 50 took place on February 7, and the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers with a score of 24-10. It was the third Super Bowl for the Broncos following their wins in 1998 and 1999.

Many things happened during the game, and there is plenty of postgame analysis. For this post, we will try something original. We will highlight aspects of the game that can teach something to EHS professionals. The post aims primarily to draw parallels between what happened at Super Bowl 50 and EHS, to show that many similar concepts are reflected in very different fields.

1) EHS Management Fails Without Proper Risk Management

What happened at the Super Bowl: This was a classic matchup between a team with a strong offense and a team with a strong defense. The Broncos had the best defense in the NFL by allowing only 283.1 yards per game (YPG), while the Panthers were the highest-scoring team in the NFL with 500 points (average of 31.3 points per game). At the end, the team with the best defense won, giving more weight to the theory that “Defense wins championships.”

What it teaches EHS: When you think about it, in football, the defense is really responsible for controlling risks. Winning the game by scoring points is the objective, but the risk of an opponent scoring more points is an obstacle to achieving the objective. The defense is there to control the risk by limiting the number of points the opponent scores. In EHS, it is not enough to simply measure your lagging indicators, produce incident and safety reports, comply with regulations, conduct safety meetings and record observations through a BBS program. You must also adopt a risk-based approach and limit the risks of incidents and accidents through leading indicators, audits, Process Safety Management (including Process Hazard Analysis), Management of Change, Job Safety Analysis, etc.

2) Near Misses Can Turn Into Accidents if They Are Not Addressed

What happened at the Super Bowl: The Panthers had a number of miscues in the first half, including two fumbles (one leading to a touchdown), four sacks, and others (e.g. Norwood’s 61-yard punt return after Panthers were confused whether fair catch was called). Yet after the first half, the Panthers were only trailing 13-7 and were going to start with the ball in the second half, so there was no significant damage. But in the second half, the Panthers did not improve and additional miscues were committed. Eventually the Panthers were outscored 11-3 in the second half and lost.

What it teaches EHS: For EHS professionals, and anyone else, eventually luck can run out. If your organization is experiencing a number of near misses but avoiding serious accidents, it is just a matter of time before one of those near misses becomes an accident that can result in a worker injury or fatality. EHS professionals need to analyse near misses and take the necessary steps to bring process improvements that will prevent near misses altogether, thereby preventing any serious accident from occurring.

3) Proper Hazard Assessments Lead to the Right Personal Protective Equipment

What happened at the Super Bowl: In the first half, players from both teams scrambled to switch their cleats to longer spikes. The grass surface at Levi’s Stadium in the San Francisco Bay area had caused problems in the past for other players. Both teams play on grass at home (Bank of America Stadium for the Panthers, Mile High Stadium for the Broncos), so it’s not like they are not familiar with grass turf. But Levi’s Stadium uses a special Tifway II Bermuda Grass / Perennial Ryegrass mixture. In the second half, there didn’t seem to be any problems, which shows that players’ cleats were more to blame than the surface.

What it teaches EHS: Football shoes are not exactly Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but there are parallels regarding their selections. Players knew that the grass at Levi’s Stadium had been problematic, and they experienced slip ups during warmups. Yet they started the game with the wrong cleats, and were forced to change cleats in the first half. Clearly a proper assessment of what cleats to wear was not made. Similarly, EHS professionals must make a thorough hazard assessment of each job step of each job or job category, to make sure that the right PPE is selected to protect workers and prevent injuries or incidents that can impact operations.

4) When in Doubt, Choose the Safest Path

What happened at the Super Bowl: Something strange happened in the 2nd quarter with 9:29 left. Panthers punted on 4th and 12. Jordan Norwood was the punt returner and caught the ball. There were four Panthers near him but none of them tackled him because they thought Norwood had called for a fair catch. Norwood returned the punt for 61 yards, setting a new Super Bowl record for punt returns. To be fair to the Panthers, it’s understandable that they did not tackle Norwood if they thought he had called a fair catch, since there is a 15-yard penalty for tackling a player who signals a fair catch.

What it teaches EHS: When you look at the replay, you can see that Norwood did not call for a fair catch. There was confusion on the Panthers’ side. In hindsight, the Panthers should have tackled Norwood, even if they had a doubt. Taking a 15-yard penalty (if Norwood had called for a fair catch) is better than a potential return exceeding 15 yards (61 yards in this case). The lesson for EHS professionals is to choose safety first when in doubt, even if there may be potential costs. For example, if a specific engineering control would cost $20,000 to implement, but reduce almost to zero the risk of a serious accident, whereas another type of control (administrative control, PPE) would not completely eliminate the risk, it is better to be safe than sorry and incur the $20,000 cost, rather than suffer the financial, legal and reputational consequences of a potential accident later.

5) EHS Leaders Know That EHS Excellence is Not About Them

What happened at the Super Bowl: We can’t write a post on Super Bowl 50 without mentioning Payton Manning, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL’s history. While the Broncos won, the irony is that Manning was not a factor. He was not terrible, but he was not great either. This was not a performance to remember, whereas in 2007 he was the Super Bowl MVP. Clearly the defense, and the turnovers they created, won the game for the Broncos. But Manning tried to inspire his colleagues, including the defense, the night before the big game in an emotional speech. And when the game was over, he was more than willing to let the Broncos defense take the spotlight, despite all the talk about his brilliant career and how this could be his last game.

What it teaches EHS: In any organization, EHS managers are not only coaches to EHS departments, but also quarterbacks. They must possess a unique combination of strategic, tactical and operational skills to carry out their duties. But successful EHS managers know that EHS excellence requires a safety culture to which all workers contribute. More than the leadership skills of the EHS manager, it is the prevalence of a safety culture that leads to EHS excellence. Culture is not about leaders or what they impose. It is about the values shared in common, and the behaviors and actions inspired by those values. Therefore EHS managers should think beyond issuing objectives, assigning tasks and measuring KPIs. They must also foster a safe and healthy working environment where workers are enabled to report observations and near misses, identify process improvement opportunities, and exchange ideas on improving occupational safety and health.

We hope you enjoyed this post and found the parallels between Super Bowl 50 and EHS interesting. If you want to learn more about tips and best practices that lead to EHS and Safety excellence, visit our Safetip series on Enablon Insights.

Categories: EHS


  1. Chloe Reply

    Great topic for a post! Perhaps we can look forward to seeing something this summer with the Euro Cup 2016.

    • Jean-Grégoire Manoukian Reply

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, something similar with Euro 2016 is a good idea.

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