I know, I know. There’s no such thing as common sense. I can already hear the trolls taking a deep breath to strike me down with their intellectual superiority at the mere mention of something so banal. (Pretty sure most of them just had to look up that last word as well)
Well, guess what? I don’t believe in common sense either. Save your breath ye dwellers of bridge underbellies… I’m not here to debate either side of that argument. I’m here to ask higher questions. For example, why is it that commonly known unacceptable risks are still common practice?
That thought has weighed on my mind today as I sit at home with my daughter who was sent home from school with a fever. There are several active construction sites near the school, so I glance at the conditions every time I go. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t noticed several workers standing on roofs with no protection.
Before I get too far with that, peruse the LinkedIn post from my friend Nathan. It’s the perfect setup for the question:
Who are the lucky ones?
The video in the post above appears to be from another country (as in not the US), but the workers seem to have some sense about safety considering their attire. Or maybe orange reflective clothing was the only thing left at the department store after the winter rush. Who knows? Origin doesn’t really matter though. As I mentioned earlier, I saw the same thing happening today in my town at four separate construction sites. So, it happens. Americans aren’t any more inherently “good” at safety than anyone else from what I can gather. Perhaps those of us who are tempted to think otherwise are just lucky to work for organizations that value and implement better practices….
Or is it the worker who climbs unprotected who is lucky?
However you look at it, the question remains. Why is it so common for people to take unacceptable risks? I’m not going to jump down the rabbit hole (for now) and try to answer that. But I will offer some possibilities and things do need to change.
Maybe we need more education.
Maybe we need better equipment.
Maybe the potential consequences don’t seem real (because they don’t happen to everyone and/or often).
Maybe companies focus more on profit than people.
The answer is undoubtedly multi-faceted. But that fact brings another question.
What are we doing to make it better?
Curious to know your answer to that one. Join the conversation on LinkedIn and use the hashtag #relentlesssafety. Let’s learn from each other.
A few years ago I was reading through some training slide decks for R&D (rip-off and duplicate) purposes. A HUGE, bold statement caught my eye and dropped my jaw. The statement was beyond asinine at first blush, but I wanted to test my opinion. So, I texted my friend Rich (who you may recall is much taller and MUCH older than I am). I saved the texts because I knew I would want to retell the story some day.
Me: Have you ever cut yourself shaving?
Rich: Of course.
Me: Did you CHOOSE to?
Rich: No, but I learned not to shave while drinking.
The texts went on for much longer and devolved into comments that I probably shouldn’t ever publish. I don’t need people knowing how twisted I am in real life. Suffice it to say that our friendship is partly predicated on an unspoken challenge to see who can say something so vile that the other can no longer reply. For the record, Rich is the only person who can beat me at that game.
The statement was… well… something
The slide that had caught my attention proudly (and boldly) read: If you believe all accidents are preventable, then you have to believe ALL accidents are a choice!
While I’m fully aware there are many who think things like that, I’m still amazed when people try to sell their non sequitur arguments to others as fact. The part that bothered me wasn’t the touting of the tired “all accidents are preventable” mantra (let me pause there while the pious among us stop reading). What bothered me was the second statement. I can’t wrap my head around any reason why it would be helpful to tell people that. It certainly won’t do anything to stop people from getting hurt. But it will offend those who have been.
No one goes to work to get hurt, right?
In my post titled The Dark Place I alluded to injuries I experienced while serving in the Air Force. That post described the resulting pain and my struggle with the medication. The first of those injuries began as a muscle strain and snowballed into nerve damage I still deal with daily. I can tell you categorically that I didn’t choose to injure myself. I absolutely made a mistake and put my body in a weak position, but not with the intent of causing harm. I did it because I thought my actions would accomplish the task without undue risk. I was wrong.
We are imperfect creatures who make decisions based on the information and experience we have at a any one moment in time. As I described in THIS POST, we don’t always have enough (or correct) information to avoid disaster. To label someone’s misfortune as a choice is not just offensive, it is outright dismissive of reality.
The razor is the key
When dealing with risk you have two basic choices: Remove it or Compensate for it. Removal is always preferable, but not always practical. So, we compensate. Compensation always comes with a chance of failure. When the failure results in injury, it doesn’t mean someone wanted to get hurt, it means their compensation wasn’t adequate. Our goal should be to learn that lesson and do better next time.
The only way to ensure you never cut yourself while shaving is to stop using a razor to shave. Switching to an electric may help, but as I see it, only growing a beard or electrolysis can guarantee no cuts. If you choose to grow a beard, get some Christmas lights to hang in it. ‘Tis the season:
Get out your pitchforks. This post is full of heresy…
Recently I taught a leadership class for supervisors. Knowing that most safety training is awful, or at the very least received poorly, I do my best to facilitate instead of talk. Some groups are harder to warm up than others, but people generally appreciate when you include them in the process. This class in particular is fun for me, because I get to teach leadership from a safety perspective. If you contrast that idea with the currently hip trend of teaching safety leadership (I’m not really sure what that even means), some pretty incredible conversations take place.
Years ago I designed a “safety leadership” course that I thought was provocative and engaging. It tanked. Spectacularly. No one participated and my material certainly didn’t elicit the paradigm changing discussions I just knew it would.
Fortunately I learned my lesson. My mistake was assuming I knew what the answers would be. So, my questions were all shaded with my opinions and point of view. I didn’t give anyone the opportunity to question or challenge or even add a new perspective. When you couple that with the fact that no one really wants to go to a mandatory safety training, it was a recipe for a torturous few hours (just as much for me as them).
What are we really after?
These days when I facilitate leadership training, it’s just that. Of course I speak from my experience as a safety and health professional, but leadership is leadership. There’s no reason to pull safety out of any process and make it something different or additional to the core of the business. With that thought in mind, the first thing I ask is this: What is the definition of safety?
Of course it is. But that’s how discourse happens. Inevitably someone in the group hurriedly answers: No injuries!
I mix things up now and again, but my response to that answer is always a challenge: “If I drive to work speeding, run two stop signs, and text the whole way, but I make it to work on time without getting in a wreck was I driving safe?”
It’s time we get real
The next thing I do in my leadership courses is show the following clip by the one and only Dr. Todd Conklin. Invest five minutes in it, you can thank me later:
In my most recent class, one supervisor was furiously writing notes throughout the clip. When it finished I asked what everyone thought. Almost everyone was silent, but I could see wheels turning.
“What are you thinking Leann?” I asked.
“I guess… I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around what he said,” she replied. “Safety isn’t the absence of an accident.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Right,” I said. “Real safety is about what we do, not what didn’t happen.” She thought for a minute before responding.
“So, are you saying that we shouldn’t do accident reviews?” she asked.
“Not as often as you do,” I grinned. I had done my homework on the organization and knew something no one else in the room did about their accidents. On average, without taking event severity into consideration, this particular facility experienced injuries about 6% of the days in a given year (averaged over several years). Despite that relatively low rate of occurence, the only “safety” communications that were ever shared were those accidents.
No one celebrated the little wins when a hazard was removed, no one advertised the big capital projects that improved safety conditions, no one had anything to say about safety unless it was in the negative light of an injury. Obviously those lessons needed to be learned, but excellence can never be achieved from 6%.
Investment requires guarantee on return
No investor would put their money down on a product that only guaranteed a 6% return. They would bet on the 94%. Why is it then, that we bank all of our safety on the smallest minority of what happens in our organizations? No one wants accidents or injuries, but waiting for them to happen and then trying to prevent all future occurrences is just plain lazy. It’s time we get out into the field, get dirty, and start finding places to invest that will actually move the dial in a positive direction. Don’t take my word for it though. If you don’t believe proactive investment in fixing weak systems is worth the time and effort, go spend a weekend in Vegas and bet your life savings on black. Let me know how that turns out for you.
I type all of these blog posts (and my entire BOOK) with my tiny little Samsung laptop perched on my knees while I sit in my recliner. That may sound like I’m a typical American, but as an Ergonomist (a CPE no less) told me not long ago, “you’re way too broad to be typing on a tiny little keyboard.” Since she alerted me to that fact my body has been screaming at me to do better. It’s amazing what a little knowledge will do for body awareness (and shoulder pain).
At work, I was able to solve the problem pretty simply. I bought a nifty little split keyboard and purchased an Ergotron attachment for my desk without batting an eyelash. BUT…
At home, I still sit in my recliner every night with my laptop. I’ll be honest, that probably won’t change. So, tonight, I decided to fix what I could. Mainly because I can’t figure out how to put a split keyboard on my lap.
The dongle cuts into my leg
OK, so picture this. Some nights when I get sick of looking down at my screen, I put my knees up and squeeze my laptop (gently) between my legs. This raises the computer up just slightly. When I do it, the USB receiver I have plugged into my laptop to connect my mouse digs into my left leg right above my knee.
Since I have a high tolerance for pain, I endure the hardship (I know, cry me a river). That is to say, I did endure the hardship. Until tonight… when I finally decided to connect the mouse via Bluetooth (which is why I bought the damn thing in the first place).
So, I unplugged the dongle and went to the Bluetooth menu using my touch pad. Inadvertently, I grabbed the (unplugged) mouse and began clicking through the connection process. It took me a second to realize the stupid thing was already f^(#!%@ connected!. Apparently I had done the setup when I first got it, but had connected the receiver out of habit.
Habits are hard to break
I might be old school, but this mouse is the first Bluetooth mouse I’ve ever had. I don’t know when or what prompted me to plug in the receiver, but I have a suspicion (as in I kinda remember doing it) that I did it after the wireless function was in operation.
There are so many ways to learn from this instance, but I want to hone in on one in particular. It occurred to me that my dongle habit (that makes me chuckle) is learned behavior. Since the olden days when corded equipment became obsolete, every wireless device I’ve owned had one. Unfortunately, so did my Bluetooth model, so the habit took precedence.
For me the lesson drifted from there into the workplace (because I love the constant anxiety of critical thinking…). There is a ton of innovation every day made in just about every field. We work to engineer out a problem, only to leave the old “solution” readily available. Look at it like this, if the dongle had been a safety hazard that needed to be done away with (it’s not, but you get my point), why would the manufacturer keep including them with units that use better technology? But we do that all the time with other problems.
If there hadn’t been a receiver with my mouse, I would have spent at least one less year of my life with a frequent divot in my leg just above my knee. That’s something to think about next time you set out to solve a problem.
Call me a terrible parent if you want, but I nicknamed my daughter “Lil Stabby” when she was two years old. She hates it. Though she’s got maniacal laughter down to a science, the name actually came from a specific event. It’s not necessarily indicative of her personality (although the jury’s still out).
Though I don’t usually do disclaimers, let me just say she’s actually one of the most kind-hearted humans I’ve been graced to know. The only one who might edge her out in that regard is her older brother. But only because he would sell the dog (and not ask permission first) if it meant donating the money to help someone out. The girl wouldn’t part that easily with her puppy.
She was a very early walker. I attribute that to her intense competitive nature. Since her brother was three years old when she came along, she knew nothing other than the reality that big people stand and use their feet to move around. As an infant, her eyes glowed with rage every time she watched someone do it while she rolled around on the floor. In retaliation she would scream, red-faced and vibrate back and forth in an effort to will herself onto her feet. The result was that she never even crawled. She could just walk one day.
The tenacity continued
Despite the walking, she wasn’t much of a talker. In fact some of my early memories of her first sentences were moments like the time she couldn’t find all of the parts to her favorite cup. She came running out of our small, townhouse kitchen and gawked at me with half of a pink water vessel.
“SHIT,” she exclaimed. “My wid [lid] is gone!” I rolled in laughter at that one because I knew it wasn’t my fault. My favorite swear word starts with “F.”
Then came the nickname
Back then our kitchen was completely cut off from the living room. Since she was the second child, we had relaxed the parental oversight (admit it, you did too if you have more than one). We had taken a page from my mom’s playbook and allowed both of the kids to get into a few unlocked bottom cabinets and play with the Tupperware as they saw fit. It’s a noisy proposition, but if you turn up the volume of the TV, you can usually drown it out and squeak in an episode of Game of Thrones while they’re occupied.
Due to that fact, the noise coming from the kitchen one particular Saturday wasn’t alarming (all parents know that silence is what is actually alarming). I heard some things slam, some others hit the floor, and then I heard… nothing. My ears perked but there were no sounds of pain.
“Daddy!” My eyes slowly drifted from whatever super-important cable show had captured my attention. I turned my head to witness a live-version, female Chucky doll with a 10″ chef’s knife in her hand. She raised it up like Norman Bates in Psycho.
“Heee heeeh ehehehehh,” she cackled. Then it was my turn to say SHIT. I rushed over, grabbed the knife, and then saw her marvelous feat of engineering.
The two year old built FREAKING stairs!
Our knife block had been carefully placed at the furthest corner of the kitchen counter. It was nearly out of reach of my wife (she’s even shorter than me), let alone the kids. But my daughter had desired the shiny, pointy thing so much that she had pulled three drawers out into a pyramid, climbed said pyramid, and retrieved the murder weapon.
How often do you imagine that completing work is the “shiny thing” people are after? Everyone has different motivation for getting that work done, but the shiny is the goal. When obstacles are in our way, we build steps around them to get to the prize. Any (or all) of those steps could present risk that the worker isn’t aware of, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about safety. Only that they’re unaware of what is and what isn’t.
The only exception to that I’ve ever seen is if the task that worker is trying to complete is actually to “stabby stabby” someone with a butcher knife (or anything else malicious, but that’s not the norm). In my daughter’s case, we may never know if that was the goal.
So next time you see someone do something really stupid and “risky,” figure out what they’re after. I’m betting it will most likely be successful completion of a task (even if that’s not the result). We need to stop judging the actions of our workers and start looking at the conditions that influenced them. Despite our predisposition to think the worst of people, not everyone is a sociopath with no regard for themselves or others. Most are trying to make an honest living working as hard as they can. Even if they have to build steps into the process that weren’t meant to be there.
In late 2016 I had just passed all of the lab work required to obtain a new life insurance policy. My numbers were perfect and I was in great shape. I was less than a year past my unsatisfying attempt at competitive bodybuilding. And while I had given up on that dream, I hadn’t given up on the training and discipline of the craft.
On November 16th, I woke up early feeling queasy. It wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t able to go back to sleep. So I went to work. By 9 AM my stomach was cramping so bad I knew something was wrong, so I told my boss I was heading to the doctor. On the way I called my wife and told her I thought I had a kidney stone (not that I know what that’s like, I still haven’t had one). She suggested that I go to an ER just in case I needed some kind of test a quick-care couldn’t offer.
The next 36 hours made me seriously question the cost of medical school
When I got to the ER, the triage nurse took my blood pressure and it was sky high. She set off all the alarms and immediately called in the doctor (by immediately, I mean an hour or so later). When he walked in I was curled into a ball trying to hold my insides in.
“Alright, Mr. Maldonado, lets get this prostate exam done,” he stretched a pair of exam gloves on as he completed that statement nonchalantly.
“What?” I rolled over and glared at him.
“Need to rule everything out,” he replied.
“Seriously? For stomach pain?” He didn’t flinch. “Are you joking?” He wasn’t…
This is a long story, so I’ll just hit the high notes
After that first unsuccessful “exam,” they hooked me up to an EKG (also not a freaking stomach test!). If you were in that room at the time, you would have thought the world was imploding. Apparently I was in what’s called Atrial Fibrillation (or AFib).
“We’re going to have to admit you, Mr. Maldonado,” my nurse explained. “If you’re in AFib longer than 24 hours, you’ll be at extreme risk for a stroke.”
I’ll skip the witty banter that occurred after that statement, but the long and short of it was that they could “shock” my heart back into normal rhythm. The only problem was that the ER (it was a standalone facility) didn’t have the equipment to do it.
So I got a super-fun $50k ride in an ambulance
When I arrived, the stomach cramps hadn’t subsided at all. The staff at the hospital hadn’t even gotten the message that I had come in for that. When I told my intake nurse, I was informed that they couldn’t give me anything for that pain because the cardiologist needed to evaluate my AFib first. As it turned out, I had a quite a while to ponder my situation and realized I had felt this way a handful of times before.
At 7 PM (almost twelve hours since I’d begun feeling off), I was finally visited by the first cardiologist. My wife and kids had arrived shortly before that and I was doing my best not to alarm the tiny humans. The pain was making it difficult, though, and I didn’t need to tell my wife out-loud that I was agitated. The doctor did not help. She had a thick Eastern-European accent and zero bedside manner.
“You’re a very big boy,” she said without introducing herself. “You’re not doing anything silly like creatine, are you?” I glared at her without answering that ridiculous question so she continued. “What’s wrong with you, then?”
I explained the whole sequence of events and then told her about my revelation that I had felt this way before.
“It’s happened a few times. I didn’t know what it was, but every time it’s happened I went to sleep and woke up the next morning feeling normal,” I explained.
“That’s not possible,” she dismissed my evaluation and then dismissed me, looking up at my wife. “Is there anything youwould like to tell me? Sometimes they forget.” The doctor pointed at me as she made that statement.
Umm… Nurse, that’s “normal,” isn’t it?
For the next seven hours I battled back and forth with the hospital staff about my condition. I insisted that it was going to go away on it’s own, they insisted that it wouldn’t. From there the argument transitioned into my endless requests to fix the AFib and their insistence that they needed to “run some tests first.”
Around 3 AM I finally got some medicine for the stomach pain and drifted off into sorta-sleep. Then I felt the snap. At 4 AM on the nose I was jolted awake by a new feeling. I was exhausted, still a bit queasy, but… better. I looked up at my heart monitor and I could no longer feel the palpitations. As I squinted through the medication haze I squeezed the call button. A few seconds later the nurse walked in.
“That’s normal, isn’t it?” I asked as she walked up to my bed. “I guess you can’t do your tests now.”
They never figured it out
I was stuck in that bed for another 24 hours before I was released. And only then because I threatened to sue them for malpractice if they didn’t let me out. It felt like prison. But I can understand why they didn’t want to let me out. No one likes not knowing.
There was no medical reason for my being there. None of the numerous tests (there was a CT and many other in addition to the prostate exam) showed anything abnormal. Other than the fact that I felt like I was dying, I was normal.
As much as I despised the staff who “treated” me (still do actually) over those 36 hours, I understand their frustration. It’s one shared by every safety professional out there.
We’re not the gods we wish we were
We can’t control everything because we don’t understand everything. That’s a sobering reality. And it’s especially hard to cope with when something bad happens. But it doesn’t mean we stop trying. It just means we have to accept that all risk cannot be removed. The best we can work toward is creating a system that reduces those risk’s impact on people rather than believing the false dogma that we somehow have the power to eliminate all accidents. Anyone who believes that is possible is lying to themselves or (even worse) to everyone else.
As I was thinking about that event yesterday, it occurred to me that it changed my whole perspective. Prior to that day life seemed like a foregone conclusion. Now I don’t see a future. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a veiled cry for help with that statement. I just realize that there’s no grantee I’ll grow old and get to see my kids experience life. No one else get’s that certainty either. With that realization, it becomes all the more important to manage the risks we deal with on a daily basis. When you do, though, just remember you’re human. You’re not going to manage (or even see) them all.
As the country began to warm up from a particularly harsh winter, my crew was assigned a special task. It was an activity that only came around once every four years or so. But the rarity of the mission wasn’t why we thought it was cool. The fact that we were given nail guns was.
Our job was to build special “blocking and bracing” in order to pack and load shipping containers full of munitions. It was a pretty mundane task, but it definitely beat spray painting tubes of concrete shaped like missiles (trainers). We probably saved a few brain cells during the painting hiatus as well.
You might actually hit it!
18-22 year olds who’s only job experience is building and maintaining high explosives tend to try to push boundaries. Our job wasn’t as high stress as many others, but it did require a bit of dark practicality. After all, we were making devices intended to transport our enemies to the deity of their choosing.
That being the case, we made something entertaining out of a task as mundane and vanilla as nailing 2x4s together. How? The same way any group of caffeine and nicotine fueled young males would: Fierce competition. We matched each other in heats and the winners had bragging rights.
The bouts were civil until someone realized that by holding down the trigger of our pneumatic nail guns you could “pop” the safety on the end of the gun and rapid-fire nails into your boards. Shortly after, one of the guys nailed his knee while it was bent at a 90 degree angle. His ambulance ride was less than comfortable.
The safety lesson is obvious
I’ll just keep that part simple. Train your people.
The less obvious aspect of this story is what it says about motivation and intention. Every one of that group of guys was driven to be the best. We weren’t messing around or playing games (even when we were competing). We were trying to accomplish our mission as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Out in the civilian world I see that mentality all the time as well. Most of the time the drive and innovation of our workers pays off and they get rewarded for their efforts. Sometimes, though, someone (metaphorically) shoots a nail into their knee. Often there’s no doubt that the action that triggered that consequence was foolish, or at the very least misguided.
But try to take a step back next time something like that does happen. Ask yourself if you would have condemned their actions had no negative consequence occurred. Better still, would you have even noticed there was something wrong?
As safety professionals we develop a heightened sense of what’s “wrong,” so I’m not going to assume there’s a bunch of idiots out there who can’t recognize when an activity is too risky. That’s not what I’m driving at. My point is that it’s easy to get wrapped up in labeling a behavior or action as unsafe once something undesired happens. It’s much harder to see through the eyes and perspective of the one who was working.
Try to dig deeper and find out why the person was motivated to work the way they did. That will require looking beyond the stupid action at the system they operated within.
“KIIIT-TEEEE!” My son froze in his tracks as he growled the word as deeply as any 18-month old can. I looked up, half expecting to see our British Shorthair (think gray Garfield) skittering across the back yard. My gaze was only met by my landlord’s giant toy-hauler RV.
“There’s nothing there, bud. Let’s keep walking”
“KIIIT-TEEEE!” He growled again, this time raising a finger to point.
“That’s Mike’s trailer,” I said. He kept his finger pointed out in front of him.
Then it clicked. I slowly bent down, got onto one knee, and looked from his level.
My line of sight changed, so did my perspective
As I aligned my eyes with my son’s fingertip and looked ahead I could see the ground on the other side of the RV. In the shadow cast by the trailer, a large jackrabbit stood on it’s two hind feet staring back at my son and I. He was on alert, fully aware of our presence. My son finally shifted his gaze and looked at me.
“Kiddy,” he said more quietly.
“That’s a rabbit,” I replied. “The kitties are inside.”
That moment had a big impression on me. It was one of those incredibly simple, yet deeply profound happenings. For me, it’s a stark reminder of the differences we all need to account for in our professional lives.
Everyone sees the world differently
Perspective is a uniquely personal thing. It can also be deceptive. What I mean by that is that is that it’s easy to believe our perspective is the right one. In my experience, though, no person’s view of the world is better than anyone else’s. They’re all just… different.
As leaders we cause unneeded difficulty for ourselves when we forget that the people we support don’t have the same perspective we do. It’s not that they’re dumb, negligent, or unmotivated. They just see the world from a different position. We can realize some huge benefits by taking a knee every now and then to try and see what they see.
Even if it doesn’t change your life, you may spot a bunny or two. There’s nothing wrong with that.
This morning my car smelled faintly like feet and a wet dog dipped in cheese. It was more weird than gross, so I didn’t investigate (I keep a protective layer of dirt on my car year round, so it will never win a cleanliness award anyway). When my daughter reminded me that I had agreed to take her and her brother to the pool today I remembered what I had done. Thankfully she’s old enough to deal with my mistakes for me. I don’t handle smells very well.
On Friday, my wife and I had an awards dinner to attend. I was able to leave work early to give her some extra time to get ready. So, unlike most days, I picked up the kids from their summer program. My wife works closer to the facility, so she gets them most days.
They’d spent the day swimming and came out toting bags full of sopping wet swim suits and accessories. Along with their unfinished lunches. I opened the trunk and they plopped them inside. Then I forgot about all of it as I got ready for the dinner. My wife knows better.
What kind of stink do you have hidden?
Our work sites are just as prone to the type of mistake I made with the swimsuits. Some of the worst incidents I’ve investigated have been one-offs or infrequent operations. How your crews approach those tasks will mean the difference between success and failure.
In my book (pre-order it HERE), I talk extensively about the concept of making safety “muscle memory.” It’s simply the idea that we create usable processes, train relentlessly on their use, and then plan our work. When talking about non-routine tasks, the planning aspect is paramount. Even the most experienced technicians will make oversights and forget steps when the work isn’t familiar.
I’ve seen organizations that perform non-routine tasks in spectacular fashion, and I’ve also seen some that spectacularly fail at them. From my experience, the ones who do well are those that recognize the difference between a robust routine or just complacently going through some motions. And there is a BIG difference.
Think of it like working out
No matter what your favorite sport might be, this example works. Whether you like football, MMA, or table tennis, elite athletes in any of these arenas have at least one similarity: they practice like they play. Every training session is deliberate and outcome-based. Industry could learn a lot from them.
If you read THIS ARTICLE, you’ll get my take on what it means to train like that. It’s amazing to me that there are so many dedicated gym rats who find true success through their commitment to routine (diet and exercise) and yet, industry professionals rarely draw the parallel. We would rather complicate than dedicate.
Figure out what to do with the stuff in your trunk… before it becomes cheese
I’m not going to try and elevate what I’m saying here to some philosophical level it doesn’t deserve. As with most things I discuss in this blog, my point is simple. But simple doesn’t mean easy. Does your organization have a process that addresses the non-routine? If so, how effective is it?
Do your people know how to put a plan together that will guide them toward success? Or do you just stick things in your trunk and hope someone remembers to take them out before they grow hair?
Turns out when your knee bends sideways, you squeak…
At least I do.
I was standing two steps below the top of the second of two flights of stairs in the house my wife and I shared in Vegas. She was standing at the top and we were talking about something super important which I have absolutely no recollection of now. I do remember holding myself steady with my left hand placed firmly on the handrail while looking up at her. Then I pivoted to my left and shifted all of my weight to my right leg, intending to turn around and descend the stairs.
My right knee did not agree with that course of action. Instead of holding me up as I pivoted, it decided to play “I’m not a knee, today I’m a noodle.” As it did so, my lower right leg kicked itself unnaturally toward my wife (sideways) and I squeaked. The next thing I remember was waking up several steps down on the middle landing in excruciating pain.
It was much worse than the pain I’d already endured for the past six months since my noodle-knee had been operated on. The first thought in my head as I came to was regret for wearing socks on carpet stairs. Too bad I was so careless, right?
Let’s pause there for a minute and enjoy some vintage safety training:
The video clip above was posted a Human and Organizational Performance (HOP) group I’m a part of on LinkedIn. I got a few chuckles from it, but it also reminded me how stuck in the past this profession is. If you don’t think the beliefs in the video are alive and well today, you’re fooling yourself.
To be fair, not all of it is complete nonsense. If you choose to invest 8 minutes and 26 seconds to watch it, you’ll see what I mean. Near the end the video talks about things like teaching lessons, training, communicating throughout the organization, and personal responsibility. Those are all things worth investing in. The premise, however, is where it gets… sticky. To twist the words of the head honcho in the clip, if you believe the “majority” of accidents are caused by carelessness, you’re just “plain not smart.”
Here’s my beef with the whole concept of calling someones actions carelessness (sometimes labeled “choice”): it’s a cop out people use after something has occurred. The obvious reason people make the choice (see what I did there?) to do it, is because its easier than coming up with a real solution.
Sure there are outliers, and genuinely stupid people who just don’t perform safely no matter what direction they’re given, but most of our workers posses enough skill, drive, and cognitive ability to accomplish their jobs satisfactorily. People run into problems when the system fails. Come follow me down the rabbit hole:
Part of any system in which a human is working involves that human. So, when an event occurs, it’s almost irrelevant to say their behavior is what caused the event. Seriously, we wouldn’t be talking about a near miss, an injury, or a death if a human wasn’t involved. And you can’t go back in time and make someone do something different than they did in a given moment. So, wouldn’t it make more sense to try and figure out what influenced them to behave in a certain way?
Of course not, that requires taking responsibility…
I’m just going to say it. It’s plain lazy to say that a person made a choice to behave in a way that got them injured. Not only that, but its disingenuous as that statement is often coupled with the mantra: No one wants to get hurt at work. Most people just don’t think like that. We don’t manage risk in real time. We react to it based on our experience and the environment we’re in. Sometimes reactions yield positive results, sometimes they don’t.
Now let’s get back to my knee. If that scenario happened in an industrial environment, someone would inevitably call out any of the several poor choices I made. Working back through time it might go something like this:
The employee failed to ensure that the stairs were clean and free from debris that could contribute to a slip/trip (We hadn’t vacuumed in a while and our cats had hair… so…).
The employee was not standing a safe location.
The employee was focused above himself, not paying attention to his surroundings.
The employee was wearing improper PPE (no socks on the stairwell).
The problem with that line of thinking is that none of those contributing factors were conscious choices I made. There was no sign (which I ignored) at the bottom of the stairwell with an info graphic stating “SOCKS SHALL NOT BE WORN ON STAIRS.” My wife and I didn’t have a sanitation schedule we neglected that dictated how often the stairs must be vacuumed. We didn’t have an SOP that explained where it was or was not safe to converse. You get my drift.
They were interactions…
You could easily argue that I’m playing with semantics here, but that’s not my point. I’m suggesting that we get practical. People don’t “choose” most of the things they do throughout the day in the same way one chooses what to order from a menu. We interact with our environments based on the stimuli around us (and within us to some degree). Call it a choice if you want. Chances are it’s a subconscious one.
So am I suggesting like George Potter that it’s all hopeless and we should just accept that when our number is up, it’s our turn for an accident? Hardly. Let’s go back to my knee one more time.
It’s tempting to label any of my behaviors listed above as careless. But that would be pretty presumptive thing to do. In fact, knowing my weakness, I remember gripping the handrail extra tight (because, you know, handrails prevent every fall…). I even remember the seconds before noodle-knee gave out that my intention was to grab the rail just as tightly with my other hand when I turned around to descend. I had done a risk assessment, it just wasn’t adequate. Because, right or wrong, most of my actions were commonplace habits when I was at home. I also didn’t know what I didn’t know (that my knee wasn’t strong enough).
Now I know what could happen in that scenario. I’m armed with tools that can help perform the task better in the future. Again, transporting the event to an industrial environment, I consider the following:
Stairs should be inspected for slip hazards before using them.
Footwear with proper grip must be worn.
Conversations should take place off of the stairs.
Special consideration should be given to my right knee that is less strong.
Better yet, I could work on strengthening it (which I’ve done over the years).
If I had planned my stair journey better, I may have avoided an injury (maybe not though, no one will ever know). But I certainly didn’t start that day off looking risk in the face and responding: “screw it, it won’t get me this time.” This is an argument I tend to get in more than I should (mostly because its a waste of breath) with stubborn Safety Practitioners, but it’s something we need to address. I’ll say it again: telling someone they made a choice to get injured is a cop out. It’s an excuse to place blame on the injured rather than dig deeper and figure out what influenced that person’s actions/reactions. Often that will mean that part of the system we own (training, procedures, machine configuration, maintenance, etc.) was faulty. The human may well have been, too. But like I said that’s irrelevant. You can’t engineer mistakes out of people.
I’m always looking for new things to discuss as well. If you have an idea, leave it HEREand I’ll include it in an upcoming post.