Houses Decorated with Holiday Lights

Overcoming EHS Hazards with Help from Clark Griswold

December 9th, 2019

Are we going a step too far in suggesting that Clark Griswold is a true American hero?

He’s a family man. A hands-on type and a natural leader. Above all, Clark’s an eternal optimist with an unflappably positive outlook. No matter what trials come his way (mostly self-created), the head of the Griswolds never wavers in his determination.

All these traits were on display in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and maybe that’s why the movie remains such a cherished fixture in our culture, some 30 years after its original release in December of 1989. Not only are Clark’s antics hilarious, but his tenacity and resolve are endlessly endearing.

As environment, health, and safety (EHS) leaders know: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We’re bound to encounter a variety of EHS hazards in the course of our duties, and in these cases, a can-do attitude goes a long way. All joking and lampooning aside, ensuring the well-being of employees is a task to be taken seriously.

As you head into the holidays, here’s some inspiration for overcoming any setbacks heading your way in 2020, courtesy of our hero. Drum roll...

4 EHS Lessons Courtesy of Clark Griswold

He doesn’t always make the best decisions, but Clark’s heart is usually in the right place. Here are four lessons in mitigating and managing EHS hazards drawn from his efforts to put together a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.

Know Your Environment

For EHS leaders, a deep awareness of the workplace environment is critical. Knowing the building(s) layouts, emergency exits, situational resources, and so forth will help you react quickly in the event of an incident. It will also help you better plan new initiatives, and prevent incidents from happening in the first place through proactive risk management.

If Clark had a clearer idea of his living room’s dimensions, he might not have uprooted and brought home a tree that was blatantly too large. On the bright side, that tree did have a lot of sap.

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Also, when considering your office environment, remember that not all hazards are easily seen with the naked eye. Expand your scope beyond traditional ergonomics to account for factors such as climate, noise, and lighting. Research shows that an employee’s comfort has a significant effect on their productivity and happiness.

Leave No Stone Unturned

Speaking of lighting, who can forget Clark’s epic imported Italian twinkle light display, painstakingly crafted in a manner that would make any safety-focused individual cringe?

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After all that work, Clark calls his family out for the big reveal and then… nothing. As it turns out, he could’ve avoided this letdown by being a bit more attentive to the wiring of his elaborate setup, which ran through a switch in the garage.

Detail-oriented EHS leaders can steer clear of unexpected mishaps through vigilant awareness and rigorous oversight. Stay on top of EHS risks, and anything that might eventually contribute to them, so you won’t be caught off-guard. Maintaining this oversight is typically more than a one-person job, so don’t feel obliged to go it alone: building relationships with the right EHS partners and stakeholders is essential.

In Clark’s case, asking someone to hold the ladder would be a good start. Meanwhile, his overloaded electrical outlet brings to mind that exposed or frayed electrical cords are among the most overlooked hazards in the workplace. (Clark’s nickname “Sparky” felt oh-so fitting during this scene.)

Be Thoughtful with Waste Disposal

Christmas Vacation serves as a good reminder that waste materials can be dangerous and volatile. This is true of human waste, as Cousin Eddie and his ill-fated RV sewage dumping illustrate, as well as industrial waste.

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EHS leaders who deal with hazardous waste of any kind must step carefully, and not because there are pieces of exploded ornaments all over the ground. The changing regulatory landscape can create plenty of compliance concerns. Under-planning and over-planning can both be problematic when it comes to compliance, so your best bet is to strike a balance. Prioritize communication, stay nimbly adaptive, enlist knowledgeable partners, and aim to prepare yourself for the strictest levels of regulations. 

Engage Your Boss

Getting vocal buy-in from company leaders and executives is essential to a successful EHS program. This helps set an example from the top-down, creating continual visibility for your initiatives. As such, it’s important to keep your boss in the loop and, ideally, actively involved in day-to-day EHS matters.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend kidnapping your boss, as Cousin Eddie did in a misguided act of support for frustrated ol’ Clark. That seems a little extreme. But then again, if he or she swapped out your Christmas bonus for a membership to the “Jelly of the Month” club, it’d be somewhat understandable.

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Keeping an open communication loop can help you avoid such disconnects and friction, while enabling you and upper-level management to align around incentives that actually motivate the team.

Make the Difference

“It’s people that make the difference.” In a script full of amusing nonsense and crude snark, this utterance from Clark’s (kidnapped) boss rings genuinely true. Both at the Griswold’s holiday gathering, and in any workplace setting where EHS is a focus, people are the biggest difference-makers.

EHS leaders can mitigate hazards and risks by knowing their environments, accounting for every detail, carefully managing waste, and turning company leaders into program champions.

Above all, stay positive and keep a smile on your face. No lesson from Clark Griswold is more important than that one.

Looking for more holiday-themed guidance for EHS leaders? We encourage you to merrily click through to our rundown of What 6 Classic Christmas Films Can Teach Us About Managing Holiday EHS Hazards, as well as these Festive EHS Recommendations.

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