End Safety Theater

Before anyone gets the wrong idea here, I’m not thinking of any single team, nor would I say that anyone who’s received the safety award at any event wasn’t deserving of it, but I think that the way teams seek out recognition for “safe” needs some re-direction.

I’d like to see an end to the countless flyers reminding us to wear safety glasses, the yelling of “Robot” randomly at volumes that can be heard across the pit, the people holding safety signs urging people to “Be safe” or whatever else that teams do to try to win the safety award that doesn’t really have anything to do with being safe and making others be safe.

Sandrag calls it “Safety Theater”.

Safety should be about how your handle your robot, what procedures you have in place in your pit, how you’ve built safety into your program and so on. Safety should be making sure that you’ve made your robot as safe as possible to be around and your pit as safe as possible to be in. Safety shouldn’t be about signs at the events. Safety should be about what you do in your shop.

There don’t seem to be other awards that promote this kind of grandstanding. You don’t see teams plastering the arena with signs saying “Show your spirit!” or “Be creative in your robot design!” or “Be sure to be innovative in your control!”

There are plenty of ways for teams to be safe and let judges know that they are. Exhibit safe practices, show your safety tests and manuals, put safety features on your robot and in your pit, politely remind people not to run or to put their safety glasses on (but don’t stand in a doorway blocking traffic and yell at the 90% of people who are walking and are already wearing eye protection)… and so on.

Let’s end safety theater.

  • Mr. Van
    Coach, Robodox
1 Like

For safety posters, we don’t put them out to win the safety award. We do them because its fun and we hope other people find humor in them.

Along that point, did anyone do the QR code one at Centerline?

Genuine safety is the result of a culture of striving to achieve high quality, attention to details both small and large, maximizing the efficiency of work and operations, and always looking to improve and iterate. One cannot achieve high quality without safety, as both safety and quality is achieved through the elimination of mistakes.

Posters generally do not contribute to the elimination of mistakes unless there is a high level of uneducation among the target audience, or the sign or visual indicator is alerting a person of a danger that might not be immediately apparent. I do not see any epidemic of people not wearing safety glasses in the pits, so posters saying as much are of marginal value. However a sign along the outside of the fields that warns people that objects may leave the field is valuable for a visitor such as a grandparent who may not be familiar with FRC.

In addition, there are some completely unnecessary things that every now and then a “Safety Advisor” will complain about. Usually it’s something like not having a book of MSDS sheets for normal consumer products (seriously, the safety information for rubbing alcohol is on the label on the product) or not having a battery spill clean up kit for non-spillable batteries (never understood this one) or not wearing gloves to pick up the robot (it’s entirely possible to design robots that can be lifted without cutting or digging into your skin).

I agree with you until this point here. Do your team members know what to do when Loctite spills all over their hands? If not, that MSDS is pretty handy.

And in my personal experience I have seen two incidents where FIRST batteries have cracked and “spilled” (more like leaked a bit) resulting in the need of the super-handy battery spill kit. At Palmetto last weekend a robot tipped over, launched it’s battery onto the floor and resulted in the leads coming loose (yikes). Fortunately all was well but it was a reminder that we put this equipment through a lot, especially in a year when game play is rough. The batteries we use are durable which makes incidents like these uncommon but the possibility for a “spill” or more likely a crack leading to some leakage is always a possibility so why not prepare?

As for gloves, many will attest to the fact that we are already pushing our weight-lifting limit with robots. A 120 lb robot with bumpers and batteries is a pretty heavy thing to be hauled on and off the pit and an on and off the work bench. Pinch points, digs into skin, and the risk of slipping are all real risks. Once again, why risk it?

In the end, posters don’t mean much but these essential PPE are always good to have. IMO, safety has always been about preparing and protecting against potential hazards, whether they are likely or not. Forgive me for the cliche, but better safe than sorry. ::safety::

First you shouldn’t be lifting your robot at a pinch point and it’s only 60lbs unless you can lift the robot by yourself:eek: Second I don’t know who would attest that 60lbs is a high school students lifting limit especially considering teen testorene levels coupled with good form. Its not uncommon for many kids on our team to have lift totals of 1000 and I think most of the girls on our team can even lift the robot without gloves. Gloves are not needed.

Our “practice field” is a bit difficult to reach without a decent bit of robot-carrying. I’ve managed to pinch my fingers on more than one occasion when gravity took a hold of the intake and my hands weren’t positioned right. Gloves may not be needed for lifting heavy objects, but that’s not all they protect you from.

They may not be required, but each team can determine whether they are needed or not.

Emphasis mine… Change this. That is totally within your power to make sure that this never happens. Have a specific protocol in place for carrying your robot.

We generally use lifting straps on our robots to eliminate the pinch points, sharp edges, and anything else that could be an issue. These have been very effective. However, at the Bayou Regional in 2008, we were not allowed to check-in our team at pit admin until we could produce 2 pair of gloves. Luckily another team allowed us to borrow some since we do not use them. I would say in many cases the overly large gloves often used are more of a hazard than a help. They get caught on protrusions and don’t always allow for a firm grip of the robot.

OSHA’s guide on lifting - https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/electricalcontractors/materials/heavy.html

And of course no one intends to lift at a pinch point and I’m sure the kids on your team are the strongest of strong but frankly gloves are needed. I don’t think you’ll find many real world professionals who doubt that.

I wouldn’t completely discount this one. We have had two batteries crack and leak over the past seven years (both during the off-season when no one was in the lab messing with them). Had to find a local retailer willing to dispose of them for us.

Food for thought…

What if the “safety theater” actually helped a team think about and later develop a culture of safety?

My team wasn’t all that safe…No one got seriously hurt, and people were relatively safe around power tools (including the robot), but we did have a few close calls, and way too many “minor” injuries…We were the type of team that “noses goesesed” over who had to be safety captain on any particular year.

A few years ago our safety captain was taken to task over not having a safety binder, knowing where the first aid kit was and the like. The safety inspector sent her over to a team that was putting on quite the safety theater show, who took Mary under her wing. Mary was shown how to create a safety binder, and what goes into it. We all absolutely learned a ton and realized exactly how lucky we had been up to that point.

Now we keep a safety binder and have a dedicated safety team. They train the other kids help out with safety tests, conduct investigations with small injuries to ensure bigger injuries aren’t pending, are CPR/First Aid certified (as are several of our team members now, and help protect my job as a teacher. We actively think about safety now. We have people who make sure the kids aren’t being complacent around the tools or the robot, and are a second opinion when everyone else is all in a rush to get something done.

Now we don’t put on a show at competitions. We have all the right safety stuff and use it, but we did learn something from a team that was sort of putting on a show.

This is all my own personal opinion and teams should do what works for them.


Since one of the goals of FIRST is to prepare students for STEM careers, we should we demonstrating the standard behaviors expected from someone working in industry. Gloves are the standard practice in industry; therefore we should make them the standard practice in FIRST. Safety glasses (true safety glasses, ANSI standard) are the standard practice in industry. MSDS sheets are the standard practice in industry. Whether you think you are generally safe or not isn’t the point; at some point these practices will save someone from harm.

On another note, the biggest hazard in picking up the robot is how most students bend from the waist to pick it up. My back muscles cringe every time I see that. They may not feel the pain from the resultant damage at the age of 16, but when they are older…

Our team’s testing setup for the robot is on the floor above our workshop, so we have to lift our robot up the stairs a lot. We make it a point to place handles on our robot for easy lifting without gloves and without hurting ones fingers, or accidentally dropping the robot with a loose grip.

I was honestly really surprised when at Palmetto, at the drivers meeting they told us that every team was required to bring the robot onto the field with gloves. In my 6 years of FIRST, that was the first time I’ve heard of the field crew requiring students to wear gloves when bringing the robot on the field. We didn’t question the rule, as we brought a pack of gloves, but this and G40 got me thinking that FIRST might be a little bit too paranoid about safety.

Same here. I’m not allowed to lift the robot (already have knee/back/nerve issues), or as a drive coach I’d be saving my students the future injury. It’s the team’s responsibility to teach them how to lift it right. Off the cart is easy, off the floor is much harder.

Original point: I’m against safety theater (especially the totally unnecessary yelling), but there is something to be said for safety awareness done right. I think the guidelines for safety captains and safety advisors both need to be refined to help reflect a smarter approach to safety at events.

For what it’s worth, we push to win the safety award and are very pleased when we do. The reason is that 4 years ago one of our students decided that was something she wanted to take charge of. She’s since left the team and another student has picked up and run with it.

We have occasionally put up a silly safety goggles poster, but our work focuses on ensuring we have our MSDS in order, making first aid kits and fire extinguishers readily available in the pit areas, having all of the students and mentors on our team certified in first aid, etc. We also actively encourage teams that don’t have a safety program in place and are happy to share our materials with them.

Bottom line, we pursue the safety award because we had a couple of students who thought it was important to do so.

And for the record, we lost the safety award at one event last year when one of the safety judges deliberately stepped in front of our drive team who was transporting our robot and was upset when our kids simply said, “excuse us, please” rather than shouting “ROBOT!”.

OSHA doesn’t require gloves for lifting.

From OSHA Safety Guidelines - “Hand protection is required when employee’s hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.”

If you have any of those situations present on your robot, you aren’t competing because you didn’t pass inspection.

If you are cleaning up a split battery, wear chemical gloves. For broken glass, wear puncture resistant gloves. I will not wear gloves when I help load our robot onto the field because they are more of a hazard than they are helpful. Again, establish a specific protocol for loading and unloading your robot. Your protocol may involve gloves. My students are welcome to wear gloves. I will not because I want to be able to feel what I am doing and reduce the risk of a glove catching on something unintended.

This is being safe and sharing your practices. This should be encouraged. It is not what I (and others) mean by “Safety Theater”. Thank you and please continue to do this!

This is clearly part of the problem. I wonder if the safety inspector would have been satisfied if you yelled “Move you idiot!” (which is effectively the same thing).

  • Mr. Van
    Coach, Robodox

Yeah, unfortunately that was happening at a few events in Michigan a couple years ago. The majority of the key volunteers find the shouting of “Robot!” obnoxious though. At MSC last year, I asked the Safety People to kindly ask teams to not shout that and instead say, “Excuse me.” They agreed that that was best, and it wasn’t an issue the rest of the weekend. And, unsurprisingly, no one was run over by a robot. :wink:

I think the OP is awesome for creating this thread!
NO ONE is suggesting that safety isn’t important. Safety is obviously an important topic that all teams need to have policies for. That said, I could do with less Safety Theater.

An example of Safety Theater:
A couple years ago, a team won the Safety Award for how they carried their robot with two poles sticking through their machine, so students wouldn’t hurt their hands by gripping a pinching section in the robot. Sure, the students carrying the robot were safer…but not the people around them who kept getting hit with the poles extended from the robot as they walked by or turned around. Ouch.

Safety: an essential aspect of every FIRST, especially FRC, team.

Safety Theater: doing something JUST to win the Safety Award.

I’ve seen this conversation happen a few times on CD and this hits the nail on the head. I like the idea that we as a community should focus on safety more. I don’t like that it is incentivized with an award. This is just asking for teams to go “above and beyond”.

Make safety a requirement, not an incentive, and the problem will go away.

EDIT: The “problem” in question is people doing things like posting flyers and screaming robot. I’m still not quite sure what do to about overzealous safety advisors.

Totally agree.

FYI, at last year’s championship I saw a safety advisor tell students to yell “ROBOT” and I told him that there are a lot of people who disagree with that practice and briefly explained why. I did it as politely as possible and then thanked him for volunteering as a safety advisor. I felt a little sheepish confronting him about it, but I think it would be a good thing if people tactfully opened up that conversation when they see people encouraging counterproductive and annoying practices.

Another anecdote: once our team attended an event with a team that engaged in a variety of safety theater practices, and as it happened, their drive team caused a dangerous incident in the practice field that was probably the most unsafe thing that happened at the whole event. Then they naturally won the safety award. I think this is an example of why safety theater should not be rewarded, and why the incentive structure that currently exists doesn’t necessarily produce the results that we want it to.