The Box Checkers

You’ve likely experienced them.

You might be dealing with one or more of them right now.

You might even…be one (gasp).

What's a "box checker"?

We've been given an extreme case of ‘box checking’ (and its consequences) through a VERY well-known 2,000-year-old story.

The story is about a guy washing his hands…

He had done what he thought necessary to appease. His obligation was complete; his decision delegated. While he hoped things would ‘work out’, he felt absolved of further responsibility. 

As ensuing days plodded onward, it became obvious he was dramatically mistaken...

In our times, and within our organizations, the consequences of ‘box checking’ are hardly likely to carry such monumental repercussions as the fateful hand washing.

However, consequences can be just as extreme for the 5-year old son of a worker electrocuted because his company “checked the box” on safety, a 62-year old grandmother, terminally infected in a hospital [ultimately] because of short staffing, or an oil rig crew whose senior and mid-level leaders checked the boxes on…lots of things.

Unfortunately, many still seem willing to do the minimum- to have a show of ‘good faith’ when pushed by regulators or clients; to dispatch ‘quick fixes’ to long-term truly important issues.

Check the box, and move on.

The truth?

The short-term and long-term consequences of the choices we make are typically different, and often...opposite

​I'd love to hear your perspectives on 'box checkers'.  Please join the conversation below...

Until next time,

P.S. We’ve just released the HU Academy Professional Development Series, which will be accessible for a few days following the publishing of this Latest Insight. It teaches you how to become a MASTER of INFLUENCE and an ARCHITECT of CULTURE (despite the ‘box checkers’). No travel required. Watch the video.

Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)


  1. Tim Laursen
    6 months ago

    Box checking is a form of compliance. “I did everything the law/procedure required. It should have been safe. What happened?”

    Compliance says they were safe. The issue with compliance is that it is very easy to step below the line and cause an event. If we shoot for compliance we will usually get it. When we don’t failure occurs. Excellence, on the other hand, is rarely achieved but needs to be the mark. Although excellence is usually not achieved, it normally guarantees that we are far enough away from mere compliance that systems function properly and maintain the safety margin required for successful completion of tasks.

    The investigator checks those boxes as well but also ask the question, “What if…” to determine why the systems failed to protect the people and/or property. Our job is to teach the planners, supervisors, and workers to as “What if” at the beginning of the process to ensure that excellence is the goal vice mere compliance.


  2. Howard Sheard
    8 months ago

    Box checkers and big business go hand in hand. Big business has a bottom line and that,s to make a profit. Safety related incidents and those who are affected are casuties of profit. What we as safety professionals have in our tool box is how we use and what weight we put on the boxes we check. If we manage the boxes with the safety of the workers as the priority we will reduce incidents and increase profits for the corporations, that’s a win win for all.

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