A fundamental premise of working safely is that hazards must be identified and then controlled. Too many incidents occur because hazards are not identified, or worse, they are identified but ignored or tolerated.
One of my favorite ways to introduce the concept of risk tolerance is to ask a Frontline class this simple question: “What are some things you might hear someone say before something really bad happens?” It always amazes me – and scares me – how open participants are when I ask this question. Typical responses I have heard include:
• “We’ve done this a thousand times and no one has ever gotten hurt.”
• “We’ve always done it this way.”
• “This is going to hurt.”
• “If this works, we’ll be heroes.”
• “I think it will hold.”
• “I can survive anything for two minutes.”
• “What’s the worst that could happen?”
• “Here goes nothing.”
That list could go on for a long time, and it gives us a lot of insight into how we think about hazards and risk. In fact, I want to be sure to mention one incredibly memorable response not listed above that led to some great discussion about risk tolerance: “Hold my beer and watch this.”
Take a moment to remember if you have ever made that statement or heard someone else make it. What followed? I have heard stories involving “testing” an underground dog fence, in which someone held the shock collar in his hand and ran through the fence; jumping off a roof into a swimming pool; attempting to bench-press 400 pounds; boxing a kangaroo; and a myriad of other superhuman feats fueled by alcohol. Oddly enough, sober people do not think it is cool or that it will impress someone if they, for instance, eat a spoonful of cinnamon.