Absolute Shocker of the Week
Guest Post By Dr Rob Long – see more of his articles HERE
Isn’t it amazing how people in the safety profession think it is wonderful to parade photo-shopped images of people being illogical, irrational and nonsensical? It primes the population with the idea that ‘everyone is stupid except me’. The safety myth that ‘incidents only happen to idiots’ is perhaps one of the most dangerous myths in the workplace. Yet, some government websites on safety continue to perpetuate this idea ( as well as zero harm) as if it were true and entertaining. So much of this ‘safety noise’ in reality distracts people from the real meaning of safety and risk.
Intelligence is not a major factor in workplace injuries, of much greater importance are factors such as motivation, rushing, overconfidence, perception and mindfulness. The myth of ‘incidents only happen to idiots’ is also fostered by the myth of ‘common sense’. What wonderful language is used to apply and blame people who don’t think like us. Being a professor of engineering or science does not change the chance of them tripping over a hose and hitting their head, in fact, one can be the most intelligent person about and still get injured because of distractions, automaticity, interruption and habit.
The trouble with ‘absolute shockers of the week’ is that they prime the population to align a lack of safety with stupidity. Accidents won’t happen to us because we are smart and intelligent, so the idea goes.
I’ve been coaching on high risk facility sites again this week and find it amazing that everyone has done a ‘tick and flick’ on the prestart and safe work method statement but that no one on site has actually considered the risks on the job. This becomes clear in less than 3 minutes of conversation. When I arrive, everyone is anxious and fearful because they think I am some kind of regulator. Isn’t it wonderful, when they think of safety they think of fear and anxiety and checking off boxes. What a sad state of affairs we have made out of safety that workers are now made to think this way. So the tools that were created to help us think about risk have now been made an end in themselves and virtually worthless.
When I arrive on site everyone has made sure things are tagged and set out properly and all the paperwork is done, every box is ticked. They tell me that this is all that matters to the inspectors. I couldn’t be less interested in the cosmetics of safety and risk, I want to know about the reality of risk. I want to hear from their mouths what they are thinking about, what they think the risks are, not the fact that they signed a piece of paper with some numbers on it. In every case, once we start a conversation I find out that they have not thought about unpredictabilities, they haven’t thought or discussed hidden factors of risk, they haven’t thought about or imagined possibilities. There has been no exercise of imagination but plenty of non-thinking fostered by the delusion that paperwork is safety. The truth is, the more we load up workers with systems and safety bureaucracy, the less we foster thinking and the more we foster ‘tick and flick’, this is not shocker of the week but the shocker of the decade.