Tape Down Those Leads

Originally posted on April 6, 2016 @ 7:07 PM

Tape Down Those Leads

imageOne of the things that is curiously entertaining in safety is a lack of proportionality and critical thinking. I often present in facilities where arrangements have not been considered for how workshops are presented, including: lighting, power leads, power points, desks, tables and ventilation just to name a few factors. But one thing I can count on is paranoia of a crusader to freak out about power chords and leads. The anxiety is often way out of proportion to problem.

Recently I had to present in a rural venue in a community hall that had no arrangements for presenting. As usual, the freak out over leads was present, so much so that someone made a trip to a shop to buy tape. On their return I insisted that we would not be taping down the leads as the only person at risk of tripping was me and I was aware and accepted the risk. Even in the event of a trip I assured them the most that would happen would be a dent to my pride and I was happy to wear a dent to my head but it was very unlikely.

What did concern me, was the number of hours people had driven to get to the event. Some had drive more than 10 hours straight to come to the workshop (to save money). Some did not stop over night (to save money). The risk of being on country roads far outweighs the threat of a slip trip and fall in a community hall. However, there was no conversation about fatigue and driving, no idea that this was the greatest risk. No, power leads deserved a freak out, non-tagged and tapped leads are the end of the world. This is the outcome of a culture of pissy, petty dumb down safety.

Our latest book (Risky Conversations, The Law and Social Psychology of Risk) is due for release in June. The book is a collection of conversations between Greg Smith, myself and Craig Ashhurst and will be published with video and audio files attached. The launch will be at Nexus Lawyers Melbourne in late June.

In one of our conversations, Greg Smith talks about an interesting situation that happened during the inquiry into the BP Deep Water Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Here is an extract of the conversation (page 44-45): (Watch the video here)

A catastrophic failure on a deep water oil and gas drilling rig, in the Gulf of Mexico, multiple fatality events, billions of dollars worth of loss for the company involved, BP. Major public inquiries and volumes and volumes written about that disaster. But I want to draw on a very small part of it. What a number of people may not be familiar with is that a number of the public inquiries into the disaster were broadcast live on the internet; and there’s a tiny snippet that I came across of a fellow called Steve Tink, who was a Safety Manager at BP and he was being cross examined in this inquiry and the video is still available online.

Tink was asked an initial question about the use of knives, or cutting devices on the facility. And he was able to give a reasonably eloquent answer about that. He was able to describe that they’d had a number of cut fingers on the facility and as a consequence of that they withdrew a whole lot of cutting devices, knives and so on, off the facility. They had special types of cutting devices that people could use. He understood that risk and was quite eloquent about it.

Tink was then asked by the Commission whether that policy applied on the life rafts, because apparently the evidence that came out, was that there were examples where people actually couldn’t get off this facility that was on fire, because there was nothing in the life boats to cut the tethers that held them on to the facility. And that’s interesting in its own right for a number of reasons, I’ll come to in a moment.

But what struck me as quite extraordinary and entirely common and consistent, but extraordinary none the less; was that this Safety Manager, who knew all about the knives and the cut fingers on the facility, ended up having to admit to this inquiry that he couldn’t explain the emergency procedures. And so his evidence eventually came round to “I can’t answer that question; I don’t know the emergency procedures; I couldn’t tell you what was done to enable these life rafts to get away”. And to me that is symptomatic of so many of the problems that I see as a lawyer when we look at risk and safety.

So, we’re here in this major public inquiry and the impression you get is, well we knew how to deal with peoples’ cut fingers but we didn’t understand the emergency procedures. And I often use this in my training, I often say to people “how many cut fingers do you think they would’ve had to have had on that facility before the President of the United States would have called for an inquiry”. And of course the answer it’s a nonsensical question because it never would happen; it never would happen.

And it seems to me to be such a problem we have in safety that we are so focused on minor, trivial things from a legal perspective, they don’t create legal liability, someone cuts their finger, doesn’t create legal liability. The courts accept that this just happens in the normal course of a life. You’re not going to be prosecuted; you’re not going to be sued, because someone’s cut their finger. You blow up an oil rig and you flood the place with oil and you destroy peoples livelihoods and kill tens of people in your business, yes the courts are going to take a different perspective on that.

So we can freak out about wires and leads in a community hall but have no sense of proportionality about risk. This is the challenge for dumb down safety, checklist thinking is not good thinking nor critical thinking. Checklist thinking rarely thinks of the trajectory, trade offs or by-products of decisions (https://safetyrisk.net/risk-and-safety-matrices-and-the-psychology-of-colour/ ). So, we worry about cut fingers but can’t use the lifeboats. There is not likely to be any practice of ‘safety differently’ until this ‘mentalitie’ is challenged.

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