PoW: When Looking “Silly” Reduces errors By 85%, Is It Really Silly? | Vol. 4 / No. 23.3

Shisa Kanko: don’t just look at the signs, point at them. | Photo: Jeroen Komen, CC BY-SA 2.0

In which our own Prudence explains that if a few people wearing bunny suits saved lives, Americans probably still wouldn’t.


Japan is, well, just darn cool. I have friends that live there, relating stories of simple human kindnesses that are mind-blowing to us here in the US, sharing the quirks of a small country, with big history, vibrant schools full of active kids, and tense cooperation between a US base and the local populace. Plus a people that are thoroughly schooled in basic science, and apply that scientific outlook to everyday life. Case in point: the “point-and-call” system, shisa kanko.

Japan’s rail system is noted as one of the best in the world, while managing to safely move approximately 12 BILLION passengers a year. That would be every single person in the US (324,118,787 at 2016 count, or let’s round that to 324, 119,000 for easier maths) taking a train ride 37 times a year.*[BIG IMPORTANT FOOTNOTE (y’all should totally read this to see how nuts things are in comparison.)]

The long story made short is, when employees are doing safety checks during normal, boring, everyday train operations, they point and call out the information they are checking. Speed check as you come into a station? Point to the speed gauge, and call out the current speed shown. Checking the track is clear before the train starts out? Sweep an arm down the track, follow it with your eyes, and verbally confirm “All Clear.” It’s patting your pockets for “keys, phone, wallet” that we all do before leaving the house, but featured prominently at work, with pride for a job well done. Add in the crisp white gloves and uniforms of the transit employees, and it’s a blast from the past, when employees in the US took pride in their work in the service industries. Pride in Service that everyone bitches about the lack of today.

Why hasn’t the US adopted this method? Probable because our egos are too fragile. Because Americans fear “looking silly.” Which makes ZERO sense. We watch TV shows about idiots ALL. THE. TIME. If it keeps us safe, I don’t care if you have to sing a little song and wear a fuzzy bunny ear hat. And yet this is so simple. Give yourself a physical and audible prompt. Point and call out.

Funnily enough, there IS one place in the US that adopted the (watered down, because fragile egos, yo) point-and-call system—NYC’s MTA. JUST POINTING ALONE reduced the misalignment of subway trains at the stations by 57%. Meaning passengers didn’t have to waste time waiting for the subway trains to back up or adjust forward, nor did they have to hop a gap to the platform. I’m not a rabbit, if you ask me to hop over a gap to reach the platform, even a small one, on my sleepy way to work, I’d break a leg. Or fall flat on my face.

Now THAT would be looking silly.


BIF: With so few injuries to passengers that I’m having difficulty finding any significant stats—though I did find an article about a derailment, with no injuries in May 2016, and another that made international news from this past December noting one death and 27 minor injuries which was the first death since the previous major collision after a derailment with deaths in the preceding March. The US, however, not being fond of rail travel (I swear I would take the trains everywhere, but they don’t offer passenger service in Cheyenne, The Town BUILT by the Friggin Railroads, nor anywhere in Ohio or Kentucky that we have family!) had 2,025 COLLISIONS, 256 DEATHS, and 798 INJURIES in JUST 2016. In one year. Our safety record, frankly, sucks butt. Maybe that science applied to everyday life thing is something to consider, America?


Prudence Wyoming is an irregular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow.


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