The Art of Safety: Self-Reliance
Given the predictable nature of hazards, how and why do incidents occur? Think about this: If I know the winning numbers ahead of a lottery drawing, it’s simple for me to be 100% successful at winning the lottery money. So, if we know how hazards are going to act and how they cause harm, why aren’t we 100% successful at safety? It’s because we don’t fully grasp and utilize the Art of Safety, or how and why you must understand, lead, develop and protect people.
That’s why I wrote the book “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle: Innovative and Practical Insights on the Art of Safety” and why I am focusing my 2023 Incident Prevention articles – and their corresponding free webinars – on the Art of Safety. So, let’s get started and discuss how to be responsible for your own safety and protect yourself rather than relying on other people and things to protect you.
A Self-Defeating Proposition
My pet peeve injury is outriggers on people’s feet. I cannot understand how it is possible and please don’t try to explain it to me. Years ago, during an investigation of one of these injuries that are far more common than you think, a supervisor made this comment: “I thought we had that fixed.” His statement is symbolic of a huge problem with safety. It can be a self-defeating proposition. The better we get at it, the less we think we need it. In the interest of brevity, I’ll leave it at this: The absence of injuries doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of safety.
With that in mind, let me explain the purpose of this article and identify two challenges that will continue to be problematic for safety programs in the future. First, my purpose: I want everyone to understand the need to be self-reliant, to be responsible for your own safety and to protect yourself. While that seems simple and obvious, let me explain the challenges to self-reliance.
Ambiguity and Overreliance
“I am responsible for my own safety.” “I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper.” “Everyone is responsible for safety.” These statements are everywhere, and while I believe each to be true, they present a problem in combination – by creating ambiguity and vagueness about who is actually responsible for safety. That’s the first challenge.
The next challenge is presented by technology and the manufacturers of work and protective equipment. Here are a few questions to illustrate my point. If I bought a crane that is less than 2 years old, would it be possible for me to turn it over due to incorrect operation (e.g., overloading, improper boom angle or not lowering the outriggers)? Probably not because the crane wouldn’t allow me to do those things. What about the effect on my risk tolerance of climbing with 100% fall protection or driving a vehicle equipped with a collision avoidance system? Even if I mess up, PPE has gotten so good that it makes me feel invincible (think cut-resistant gloves or chaps).
My point is this: We’ve gotten so good at safety that we don’t think we need it anymore, and each of us relies too much on other people and things to take care of us. Never forget to own safety and protect yourself.
Self-reliance starts with being fit for duty, trained and prepared for every task you perform. It includes work planning with situational awareness and work execution using human performance tools, such as checking and verification. As you work, base your decisions on verified knowledge rather than common sense, assumptions, comfort or convenience. Remember, rarely does anyone plan to get hurt, and most injuries are the result of split-second decisions and unplanned errors without proper controls in place. Value and protect yourself.
I want to stress here that other people and protective equipment are a valuable part of your safety, health and well-being. I am extremely encouraged by organizations that continue to improve their safety culture as well as advances in technology associated with protective equipment. Make sure you use everything you have available to reduce errors and manage controls for each task you perform. But I cannot emphasize enough that no matter how good other people and protective equipment are, you still must protect yourself.
From Words to Action
The words in this article will not save lives, but what you do with them can. Attend the free September 20 webinar on this topic and learn how to turn these words into action. We’ll discuss the article, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and add value to the discussion. I hope you’ll attend and look forward to seeing you there. I also encourage you to read “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle: Innovative and Practical Insights on the Art of Safety” and enroll in The Art of Safety course available at https://ip-institute.com.
About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CIT, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (https://ip-institute.com) and the author of “Frontline Leadership – The Hurdle” and “Frontline Incident Prevention – The Hurdle.” He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators.
About Frontline Fundamentals: Frontline Fundamentals topics are derived from the Incident Prevention Institute’s popular Frontline training program (https://frontlineutilityleader.com). Frontline covers critical knowledge, skills and abilities for utility leaders and aligns with the Certified Utility Safety Professional exam blueprint.
September 20, 2023, at 11 a.m. Eastern
Visit https://ip-institute.com/frontline-webinars/ for more information.
- Harnessing AI: Crafting the Future of Safety Professionals
- Planning for Emergencies: How to Increase Survivability When Someone Gets Hurt
- Tip of the Spear: A Tactical Approach to Safety Leadership
- The Art of Safety: Self-Reliance
- August-September 2023 Q&A
- The End of the Pin-On Man Basket
- Equipotential or Total Isolation?