Coloring Outside the Lines - Creative or Risky?

July 24, 2018
Risk Management

The other day I walked into my home office and found my 5-year-old at my desk. I looked over her shoulder to see what she was working on. It was a fairly surreal, yet beautiful rendition of a famous mouse who resides here in Orlando, Florida. 

She looked at me and said, “I don’t stay in the lines because it looks better that way”. I was impressed by her independence and her creative spirit. 

Later in the day, I was at the same desk on a conference call with a client. We were discussing the Department of Transportation (DOT) Hours of Service (HOS) regulations for short haul commercial operations. For those not familiar, it allows hauling companies to classify themselves as short haul operators if they do the following: 

   1. Begin and end work from the same location, 

   2. Track time worked from that location, including: start time,
        end time and total hours worked per week, and 

   3. Stay within 100 air miles of that location. 

If a hauler can execute work in this manner, they are exempt from keeping daily logs (which can be a real challenge for anyone required to use them). It’s not that keeping a daily log is overly complex, it’s just one of those things that, if it not executed correctlyit’s not good (…as in investigatio ns, fines, etc.). 

As I listened to my client explain the method their company uses to justify the hours worked beyond the short haul provisions, it dawned on me that my client was coloring outside the lines. They were creatively connecting numbers from multiple sections of code to justify their hours worked.  

Individually, all the numbers were a Picasso, but collectively they were more surreal than the creatively-colored mouse staring up at me from my desk. I was not impressed with their creative spirit or their independence. Instead, I did my best to impress upon them that this was not a freedom of expression activity, and that serious human and financial consequences could result from scribbling over the lines.  

As I sat and thought about what my next comments should be, something occurred to me. Another area where people employ the same tactic of crossing code lines to create the best scenario for themselves - is taxes. I asked my client to explain how they did their corporate taxes.  

It was silent for a moment before someone asked what this had to do with hours of service.  

I then asked them, “Do you agree that your company files under a section of the tax code - and follows the regulations until the documents are complete?” 

“Yes, I guess that sounds about right.” they replied.  

I asked, “Why then is it ok to not follow the code and regulations in regard to hours of service?” 

Again, a short silence and then, “I guess it’s not.” Sometimes coloring outside the lines is not creative, it just creates a mess. 

In this case, a very risky mess.  Later that night, I hung the picture of the mouse on the fridge and thanked my daughter for the assist. 

Josh Densberger

Josh began his career as a Firefighter for the Orange County Fire Rescue Department in Florida. He taught the principles of fire science and safety at Seminole State College. He held the position of Corporate Safety Director at Waste Pro, and is currently Corporate Safety Manager at MSE Group. Josh earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from The University of Wyoming and a Master’s degree in Fire and Emergency Management from Oklahoma State University.

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