Unraveling the Ripple Effect

Many organizations have utilized the ripple effect in a safety moment to get their workers to visualize what a routine shortcut or a complacent unsafe behavior could mean to the worker and their family.

The ripple effect is commonly modeled as ripples on water after the surface was disturbed by an object. As the ripple go out from the impact point, they represent the layers within a person’s life of how an incident goes beyond the injury and into their hobbies, interests, abilities, friends and their family. Yet, there’s far more to the ripple effect then just the ripples. By understanding the full extent of the ripple effect, we can maximize the potential this safety moment can have.

The Ripple Effect is Deeper

One aspect of the ripple effect that’s always missed is the source of what makes the ripple. There can be no ripple effect without something impacting the surface to cause the ripples. This something is always described as the incident. Yet it’s not! The incident is a moment in time when uncontrolled energy is released. Uncontrolled energy is often released with no negative effect at all. It’s only when that uncontrolled energy, impacts property, equipment, materials, investments, time and in this case people that the ripple effect starts.

The object that breaks the plain of the water is actually the worker. It is their life being changed by an incident which sets the ripples of chaos loose among all they care about and treasure. The incident is the energy that throws the object (the worker) into the water.

To take full advantage of this safety moment assign a fictional life changing injury to the workers. Be specific and assign an injury relatable to the job so navigating through the ripples is meaningful. Also personalize the fictional injury. Assign an injury that would affect a hobby or activity they love. The more relatable the fictional injury is the more meaningful the exercise becomes. This reduces the likelihood of ever having actual ripples to navigate through.

The Ripple Effect is Longer

Another aspect about the ripple effect that is often missed is how far out the ripples go.

When you picture ripples on water do you also picture a shoreline for the ripples to end upon? If so, this is not true with the ripples created from a life changing incident. When a life changing incident occurs the ripples just keep going out, and the further they go out, the more they effect the people in your life. These distance ripples are the long-term effects of PTSD on the worker and their loved ones. It’s the addictions from pain medications managing a never-ending pain or recreational drugs seeking a moment of reprieve. It’s needed nursing assistance early in life and for the rest of life. It’s the dissolving of cherished relationships as the emotional trauma makes real scars in the relationship. It can even be the family members who you have not been born yet as grandma or grandpa is “different”’.

To better engage this part of the ripple effect exercise, have the exercise broken into different sections. First focus on the immediate ripples on how an injury impacts a life in the first 3 days, 3 weeks and 3 months. Expand the ripples then into the first 2 years as the workers compensation insurance switches from a short-term recovery to long term disability. Take the ripples out to 15 years and beyond. Add in new people into their life, children, grandchildren, children in-law, new friends and how their injuries effect those relationships or take away people spouses, partners, friends and let them really see what a future can look like from a moment of complacency or a routine shortcut gone wrong. The further you go out the greater the impact the exercise will have BUT be cautious you do not go to far. Be empathetic to people and what they cherish. Let them introduce loses they are able to speak about and as a facilitator allow them to talk about the loses.

The Ripple effect is Harder

The last aspect of the ripple effect always missed is that the worker which broke the plain of the water and started the ripples sank to the bottom instantaneously. To recover from a severe incident and find happiness again can be as challenging as asking a rock to float to the surface on its own.

When you are drowning in the emotions of your life changing in an instant, with the weight of the drugs, constant doctor’s appointments, multiple surgeries, therapy, pain, addictions, loneliness and the fading light of hope, it’s not easy to rebuild your life again or even want too. It’s actually so hard to find happiness again that just as a rock cannot will itself to float, a severely injured worker cannot will themselves to get better on their own.

They need help! But help is quite often the last thing they want or will accept.

I look at help and relate it too looking at the fingers on your hand. Individually your fingers are quite weak. Combine the fingers into a singular task and they are strong and dexterous. Help is the exact same. If someone is facing a problem on their own you have one person tackling one problem. The moment that person allows help into their life you have multiple people tackling one problem.

The help required from recovering from an incident can be hard to accept when you need help with personal hygiene, or tasks that rob you of independence such as not being able to drive or cut food. Pride also stops people from accepting help as pain, disabilities, open wounds and weakness prevent the enjoyment of life’s basic things like throwing a ball, holding a child or simply going for a walk. Humility also plays in as you feel like your friends and family view you as needy, handicapped and weak instead of strong and independent as we often want to be seen.

For this aspect of the ripple effect have a list of basic daily activities from hygiene to daily tasks like dressing, eating and tying their shoes. Include tasks like holding small devices, swinging bats or golf clubs, to throwing a ball, driving or working. Have the working go through this list to identify, with the previously assigned injury, the amount of help they would require.  Let them experience what it takes for a rock to return to the surface of the water.


The ripple effect is a great exercise for people to truly understand what an incident would mean to them without actually experiencing any incident. By using these suggestions, the worker can fully appreciate all the dynamics involved physically, mentally and socially on the path to recovery. By assigning an incident to them makes the possibility of harm relevant and creates positive discussions. Facilitate the exercise to take the injury to being multigeneration so the worker can experience how an incident could lead to a lifetime of pain, not only for them but for those they love or look forward to loving. Take the ripple effect deeper, longer and harder and you can then prevent the ripple effect completely as your organization journeys to zero.