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Safety Checks, The Van Halen Way

- December 11, 2019 by Guest Bloggers (View all posts by Guest)

In the late 70s and through the 80s, while the mega rock ensemble Van Halen was touring, an unusual request began to appear on their backstage riders. The rider, which is a list of items a performer requests to have backstage, included M&Ms candy with the stipulation “absolutely no brown ones.” The strange request appeared to most as an arrogant and eccentric request from picky rock stars, but in actuality, it was an efficient way to do essential safety checks.

The massive amount of lights, pyrotechnics, and staging that Van Halen brought with them on tour meant that older and less equipped venues couldn’t handle the load without extra precautions. The entire crew would run rigorous safety checks before each show to ensure that all line items were met to guarantee the safety of the band, its crew, and the fans that were to attend. If all items were not to their standards, they couldn’t risk playing on the hazardous stage. Of course, the crew would make sure that all parameters of their safety requirements were made, but one item would be a tell-tale clue to dangerous conditions or disregard for their safety. Diamond David Lee Roth would often march directly to the green room of the venue and check the M&Ms. If the candy bowl contained the forbidden color, Roth could quickly determine that the venue had not followed every line item and other serious inconsistencies may exist.

In the same way, when I walk a job site for a safety audit, I have certain “brown M&Ms” that I look for in addition to our safety checklist. The primary one is hardhat and other Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) compliance. Even if the project is moving smoothly, workers without hardhats indicate that they are lax on one or more items, putting themselves, other workers and possibly pedestrians at risk. I know that an in-depth examination is in order once I observe a lack of PPE and often suggest to site supervisors to double-check their work and reiterate our standards under penalty of removal from the site.

When a clear indicator like PPE is missing it prompts me to examine all parameters of a subcontractor’s work, not just what appears to be happening onsite. Often, subcontracted companies that exhibit correct safety compliance tend to practice full compliance across the board, and those who do not usually have many other issues.

So, the next time you are on a job site, check the M&Ms.