Parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff

I came across this at a recent training session at a client’s training room.

Yes, these two pens are different as the distinction is written on the markers in the fine print, permanent / whiteboard.

A distinction I only realized when attempting to erase some of the work on the whiteboard.

How would you go choosing the correct one of these off the whiteboard tray in your training room?

‘No big deal’ I was told, as they had the whiteboard cleaner and rag on hand for when this happens.

But surely this is like ‘parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’.

So I cleaned off the whiteboard and continued this time using the whiteboard marker as one of the staff members returned the permanent marker to the tray holding all the other markers.

All set for the next unsuspecting presenter, but remember the whiteboard cleaner and rag is on hand when it does happen again.

This is a simple, yet ‘tongue in cheek’, example of when considering controls for workplace hazards that the Elimination, Substitution or Engineering controls are far better than the Administrative process of using signs, training and/or procedures.

Would a sign on the wall stating ‘please don’t use permanent markers’, have really helped?

But why leave the permanent marker there, ‘why not get rid of the permanent markers and only purchase the whiteboard type, or at least make a clear distinction between the two types’.

A simple question but it appeared easier to have the whiteboard cleaner available for when the mistake occurred because sometimes the wrong markers were either purchased or brought into the room from other areas of the business.

Then came the clincher but ‘this is how we have always done this.’


Change the words ‘whiteboard/permanent marker’ in this situation to just about any item of plant that has a particular hazard when you put a control into place.

Then ask the question ‘are you parking an ambulance at the base of the cliff?’, are you allowing the hazard to eventuate and then dealing with it using a lower level control.