Overcoming EHS Hazards With Help From Clark Griswold

Dec 22, 2021 1:45 PM ET
Blog

As the holiday season approaches once again, it seems appropriate to revisit a timeless classic and all of the surprisingly relevant lessons it has to offer. Of course, we’re talking about none other than “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” We’re taking notes and drawing tips from its beloved protagonist on how to mitigate EHS hazards.

Clark Griswold.

He’s a family man, a hands-on type, and a natural leader. Above all, Clark’s an eternal optimist with an unshakeable positive outlook. No matter what trials come his way (and there are many), he never wavers in his determination.

All these traits shine in “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,” and maybe that’s why the movie remains such a cherished fixture of the holidays, more than 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 serious responsibility. Here’s some inspiration for overcoming any setbacks heading your way in 2022, courtesy of the one and only, Clark Griswold.

And if for some miraculous reason you STILL haven’t seen the movie, be warned – major spoilers ahead.

4 EHS Lessons Courtesy of Clark Griswold

Now, Clark doesn’t always make the best decisions, but his heart is usually in the right place. We’re taking this opportunity to learn from his mistakes. Here are four lessons in mitigating and managing EHS hazards drawn from his missteps.

1. Know Your Environment

For EHS leaders, developing a deep awareness and understanding of the workplace environment is key. 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.

Also, when considering your office environment, remember that not all hazards are clear. 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.

If Clark had a better awareness of his own living room and its dimensions, he might not have brought home a tree that was *comically* too large for the space. On the bright side, that tree did have a lot of sap.

2. Make a List & Check it Twice

Speaking of lighting, who can forget Clark’s epic imported Italian twinkle light display, painstakingly crafted in a manner that would give any safety-focused individual nightmares? After all the work setting up the lights, Clark calls his family out for the big reveal and then… nothing. The power outlet was blown.

And this whole debacle could have been avoided by being a bit more attentive to the wiring of the elaborate setup, which ran through a switch in the garage.

Detail-oriented EHS leaders can avoid 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 level of 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.)

3. 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.

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. Finding the right balance of preparedness and adaptability is key in keeping up with compliance. Prioritize communication, stay nimbly adaptive, enlist knowledgeable partners, and aim to prepare yourself for the strictest levels of regulations. 

4. Engage Your Boss

Getting 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. 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.

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. It also allows employees at all levels to communicate concerns and ideas and actively participate in creating a culture of safety.

Bonus Lesson: People Make the Difference

“It’s people that make the difference,” shared Clark’s (kidnapped) boss. In a script full of amusing nonsense and crude snark, this line 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.

If you only take one lesson away from Clark Griswold and his tireless efforts for the perfect Christmas, let it be this: stay positive and keep a smile on your face.

About Antea Group
Antea®Group is an environment, health, safety, and sustainability consulting firm. By combining strategic thinking and multidisciplinary perspectives with technical expertise, we do more than effectively solve client challenges; we deliver sustainable results for a better future. We work in partnership with and advise many of the world’s most sustainable companies to address ESG-business challenges in a way that fits their pace and unique objectives. Our consultants equip organizations to better understand threats, capture opportunities and find their position of strength. Lastly, we maintain a global perspective on ESG issues through, not only our work with multinational clients, but also through our sister organizations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America and as a founding member of the Inogen Alliance.