In Phil’s latest article he discusses the paradox of too much safety being harmful. To quote 2 of James Reason’s Safety Paradox’s: “Defences, barriers and safeguards not only protect a system, they can also cause its catastrophic breakdown” and “Many organisations seek to limit the variability of human action, primarily to minimise error, but it is this same variability – in the form of timely adjustments to unexpected events – that maintains safety in a dynamic and changing world.”
Safe As We Want To Be
By Phil La Duke – first published HERE
Some weeks ago I was in Huntington Beach California, a four-hour plane ride from my home of Detroit. I was in Los Angeles for business and took some time to relax. Whenever I get the chance to do so, I surf. I am, I admit, the world’s worst surfer but as it is an individual (as opposed to a team) endeavor I reason that my poor surfing skills are no one’s problem but my own. As it happened, the beach had been closed the previous weekend as a result of one surfer’s encounter with a particularly aggressive Great White shark. The surfer wasn’t harmed (nor was the shark for that matter) but as a matter of precaution the beach was closed.
The days that I were there the beach was crowded, it being a hot and sunny day, but there were no surfers and scant few swimmers. Those who did choose to go into the water chose to stay in water that was knee-deep at best. I paddled out.
For some, surfing in shark-infested waters may seem foolhardy, even reckless. But for me the fact that I so seldom get an opportunity to surf far out weighed the incredibly remote chance that I would encounter a shark let alone be attacked by one.
Was my behavior at risk? To be sure, it was. But was it reckless? Or even unsafe? Well…I don’t believe so. Recently I read a book about workplace safety. Like most of the self-published dreck that is churned out in the name of safety it was obvious the author had never worked in an industrial setting. The author (and I am deliberately withholding the title and author, not because I fear reprisals like lawsuits or customers deserting me, but because I honestly think much of the book is dangerously stupid advice that would do more harm than good and I don’t want to promote it) cites “thrill seeking” as a principle contributor to unsafe workplaces. Of course the author has no research to back up his position and most of the book is seemingly based on one man’s opinion (and if that is what the author intended he should have written a serious of blog articles instead of a book, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Identifying thrill seeking as a causative factor in worker injuries is, in my opinion, simply another way of blaming the injured party for getting hurt. As Dr. Robert Long says, “Risk makes sense” (numerous times in his book of the same name, which I do recommend, not because I agree with it (I do, but that is beside the point) but because it cites reams of research that supports his positions.)
While it makes a great story, surfing with the sharks, wasn’t thrill seeking. If I believed that I was in serious jeopardy of a shark attack I wouldn’t have paddled out. In fact, the local authorities publicly stated that they didn’t believe there was an elevated risk, but warned that surfers and swimmers should be more watchful for sharks and if one should make an appearance cut it a wide berth. So I reasoned (correctly it would seem) that I was not in any more danger than I normally would be (primarily from sports injuries or drowning). My behavior wasn’t “thrill seeking” in that I derived no extra adrenaline-induced pleasure from my surfing (in fact the waves were soft and crappy, but everything is better wetter as they say.
Are there crazed adrenaline junkies who are recklessly pursuing a rush by being reckless? Sure, but what percentage of your workforce is comprised of these people?
We as safety professionals have to stop treating 100% of the population like they are thrill seeking halfwits when less than 1% actually are. We need to weed those people out of our workplaces (I honestly don’t believe you can coach someone out of daredevil behavior) but we also have to recognize the limits of what we as safety professionals can safely require.