If you’re a fan of The Office, then you know how quickly things can spiral out of control, but season three, brings valid real-life concerns to the faux workplace with episode 20.
The colorful crew from Dunder Mifflin Paper Company is back with their antics and shenanigans, and this time, it’s Safety Training Day. The episode features all of your favorite characters, including Dwight K. Schrute, Assistant [to the] Regional Manager and Michael Scott, Regional Manager, or as he prefers, the World’s Best Boss.
With Michael involved, “Things were bound to be disastrous before they even got started,” says Melanie Musson, a commercial insurance expert.
Although greatly exaggerated comedy, the show demonstrates a real need for proper safety training protocols. As Regional Manager, Michael should be a more proactive, positive influence on these initiatives, but instead, he remains the biggest distraction and deterrent of all.
Safety training is a crucial part of office culture today, so we talked to the experts to see where The Office really gets it wrong.
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The episode opens with the return of Michael which coincides with Safety Training Day in the warehouse. Darryl attempts to make his presentation on warehouse safety but is often interrupted by Michael. It’s especially distressing because Darryl gives the presentation on crutches, the result of a “joke” from Michael that ended in injury.
After Darryl's failed presentation, Michael decides to hold a safety training of his own to prove to Darryl that office work can be dangerous, too.
The path he takes is depression and suicide, where he gets the hare-brained idea to jump from the roof and onto a moonbounce located just outside of sight. There are two faltered monologues from Michael, accompanied by commentary from Dwight, while Jim remarks that Michael is “going to kill himself pretending to kill himself!”
In the end, however, it is Darryl who saves the day, quite literally talking Michael down from the roof as he applauds him for his professional bravery.
What Went Wrong
Though amused by the show, experts are aghast at the thought of such antics playing out in the real world.
“I absolutely love the show,” says Aaron Simmons, an expert health and safety officer and the founder of Test Prep Genie. However, he adds, “it's a great way to showcase a lot of the things that one should NOT do at the office.”
Mockery & bickering
“For this episode regarding safety training, the very first mistake everyone did was, of course, that both Michael and Daryl began mocking each other's safety training,” says Simmons. “This caused a huge distraction that took away from the seriousness and importance of the entire session. Instead of actually going through the necessary steps to keep employees safe both at the office and the warehouse, they resorted to bickering.”
“We need to listen to the speaker, especially during safety training,” Simmons explains. “While we probably already know most of these things, it does not hurt to get a memory refresher. Who knows? Maybe you'll even learn an additional thing or two!”
“The Office Safety Training failed because of an unengaged audience with a disruptive member,” says Hannah Stewart, Communications Manager at Pro-Sapien Software, providers of safety management software.
“Michael and Daryl making a mockery of each other’s safety training sessions took away from the importance of the whole seminar,” Simmons adds. “Employees must pay attention to such sessions to ensure their workplace safety.”
From the beginning, Michael assumed that he knew more than Darryl, so the training crashed before it ever really got off the ground.
“The trouble started at the top,” says Musson. “The ‘training’ started out less about training and more about proving a point, and it continued to be about that through the end.”
Michael's issues and his clear inexperience in this scenario only leads to disaster.
“Michael Scott is not a safety expert, but he took it upon himself to train his employees,” says Musson. “Toby had prepared an office safety training that was relevant to the employees but was not exciting enough for Michael. In Michael’s defense, Toby’s presentation could have been more engaging and interactive, but Michael was not trained or prepared to do a better job.”
“More importantly, Michael's nonchalant and quite ignorant approach to depression as a whole makes it seem like the whole disease is a joke when it should be treated much more seriously,” says Daniel Carter, Founder of ZippyElectrics and HR expert for 13 years.
Inappropriate and offensive
The show's comedy is light-hearted, but in a real-world scenario, Michael’s approach to mental health could come off as condescending and offensive.
“I believe Michael's funny approach to discussing mental health does more damage than good towards the people who are actually suffering from it,” says Carter. “Not only did it prove to be a massive distraction from work but it also became a safety concern that put Michael's life in danger.”
“By pretending to have a crisis, Michael was actually making light of people in an actual crisis,” Musson adds. “Safety training should be about ensuring safety, not proving a point, but The Office safety training was all about conjuring up an imaginary danger to prove to the warehouse just how many things could go wrong in an office setting.”
Poor training methods
To demonstrate depression during safety training, Michael stands above the building and threatens to jump. Suddenly, what begins in jest starts to become all too real.
“When someone who’s not a safety expert tries to teach big safety lessons, it can end up in an extremely unsafe scenario, like the episode played out. Rooftops and bouncy houses are a recipe for disaster,” warns Musson. “As Michael was about to pretend to end his life by jumping off the roof, he unknowingly risked dying because he didn’t understand safety and physics. Jim and Pam were able to save the day after discovering the bouncy house and understanding Michael’s plan.”
Stewart’s eagle eyes also spot another issue. “I notice the warehouse is tracking ‘Days Without an Accident,’” she says. “Safety leaders recognize this can be counterproductive, so I’d recommend instead promoting statistics like hazard observations, inspections, and positive interventions reporting—where the idea is ‘the more, the better!’ This helps remove negative connotations that could deter someone from reporting an incident. In turn, following up on these reports reduces the risk of an incident occurring.”
How to Improve Safety Training for Your Office
“Safety training is important for an office team to participate in,” says Musson. “Not only does the training help ensure a safer working environment, but the training can also help businesses get a discount on their business insurance rates because if employees can work more safely, they present less risk to the insurance company.”
Stewart has some tips. “To combat these inevitable hurdles, trainers must tailor the safety training to their audience,” she suggests. “That could mean using several types of media (not just talking at), or taking the ‘versus’ or ‘betting’ spirit we see in The Office and turning it into something positive, such as ‘Who knows their safety training better?’”
At Pro-Sapien, Stewart has no shortage of exciting initiatives and incentives for her staff. “Rather than Michael’s struggle for attention, you can create quizzes, track results and turn safety training into a fun competition with Learning Management Systems,” she explains, adding that “OSHA and the HSE recommend incentives such as recognition, pizza or charity donations.”
However you choose to handle your training, Dr. Maria Anderson-Long advises you to keep your employees calm. As a self-admitted fan of The Office, she references the also memorable botched random fire drill. She is the Director of Residential Life & Community Standards at Mills College, who oversees health and safety training and previously served on the Campus Safety Committee at Teachers College at Columbia for four years.
When she saw the failed fire drill of the episode “Stress Relief,” her inner professional cringed. "Any safety training that causes an employee such distress as to cause them to toss their cat through the ceiling is not an effective means of educating your staff,” she says firmly. “While surprise safety drills can be used, they should only occur after an announced drill has occurred and been discussed thoroughly with staff.”
The repercussions could be worse than we think. “Some early studies are also demonstrating that real life drills such as active shooter drills are ineffective, and potentially even harm-inducing,” Dr. Anderson-Long explains. “Safety training should have clear learning objectives, focus on reducing stress for real-life occurrences, and be a supportive environment for learning."
We also heard from Bo Mitchell, a former police commissioner and the Founder and President of 911 Consulting. He holds 20 certifications in workplace safety and emergency preparedness. He works with companies, schools and camps, conducting risk assessments, writing site-specific Emergency Action Plans, and training all personnel to their plan. He also does not watch The Office.
He tells us, “Police, fire and ambulance are the official responders. Employees are the first responders. You’re on your own for the first crucial minutes before 911 can arrive and deploy. If you don’t have a plan and if you don't train your people, you’re toast,” he says simply.
The Office may have gotten it right by initiating safety training with its employees. Still, the follow-through was the biggest, albeit funniest, deterrent to the entire exercise as a whole.
The Bottom Line
Experts agree that safety training in the workplace is a must, but it should be handled appropriately and via the correct channels.
“The whole problem with the safety training came down to the boss making the training about himself and not the good of others,” says Musson. “As boring as Toby’s training was, the employees would have been able to take away more helpful information than they could in Michael’s sensational show.
“While real safety concerns should be addressed, sensational safety concerns should not be acted out by people who don’t know what they’re talking about,” Musson adds.
Photo by NBC / Gettyimages