Don’t Hold the Hand Rail

Originally posted on March 19, 2020 @ 8:57 AM

imageI normally hold handrails, but not anymore. I normally touch things like touch screens but not anymore, I am now hyper aware of all that I touch. The Coronavirus has changed this and has amplified our awareness of all we touch and of hygiene. Strangely, the very people most susceptible to falling over down stairs are the same people most likely to die of Covid-19!

Safety has always been about trade-offs and by-products. Safety has always been about the less and more in outcomes. Safety has always been about adaptability in the face of vulnerability, that’s the nature of ALARP ( ). Any organisation that has a mantra of zero demonstrates clearly that they don’t understand the WHS Act and Regulation. Safety has never been about zero and can’t be

One thing that Covid-19 brings to the fore in our thinking is human fallibility. We see just how much people fear loss of control and power in the symbolism of hoarding toilet paper ( ). Nothing projects fallibility awareness like the need to go to the toilet. There’s nothing quite like bodily functions to dispel any delusions of infallibility. Yet in safety, the delusions of zero are everywhere. Zero is the symbol of this industry’s immaturity. Safety simply doesn’t know what to do about fallibility so it fixates in denial.

There’s nothing quite like a virus to level any sense of immunity. I wrote about this at the start of my recent book (for free download) Fallibility and Risk, Living With Uncertainty ( ). If you believe human beings are fallible then there can be no mantra of zero!

I remember standing in front of Notke’s Dance of Death in St Nicholas Church in Tallinn Estonia ( ) and being stunned by its simple and clear message. There is no immunity from fallibility!

Notke’s Dance of Death sits on a stand and is three meters wide but once measured 15 metres. The painting depicts the nature of a Pandemic and has Death as a skeleton with sickle placed between each person: Pope, King, Queen, priest, joker, nobleman and Everyman. Death is no respecter of persons. The sun rises on the just and unjust, the same rain falls on all of us (Matthew 545). A virus doesn’t differentiate on class and occupation. You would think this might drive a society that holds to the common good, the run on toilet paper demonstrates the opposite.

As public events and institutions shut down to manage this virus there is a whole different focus on safety. And as disinformation spreads like a virus on commercial TV I also chat to people who don’t understand what this is all about. If ever we needs a sense of Real Risk ( ) is now. The health system at the moment is already under acute stress without any exponential growth occurring.

I watched for 20 minutes or so at the airport yesterday, I think my final trip for a long time and, no one was touching handrails, no one was shaking hands and the airport was nearly empty. There were cleaners diligently disinfecting surfaces and my taxi driver disinfected the car door for me so I could touch it! I did see a few people bow to each other as is common in SE Asia.

So we are quickly developing a whole new collection of safety habits because we know we are vulnerable and fallible. How dumb does zero look!

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