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Incident Prevention Magazine

Jeffrey Sullivan

Reject Risk Acceptance

The coronavirus pandemic is running wild, the economy is barely running at all, and I am running out of patience. I often hear people talk about the new normal, but personally, I am ready for the old normal: dinners out with friends, the Clemson Tigers on the football field and traveling with my son’s hockey team. All of this stuff runs through my head every day, and in some form or another, it’s likely running through your head, too. And if we are spending our time and energy thinking and worrying about everything that’s going on right now, do you know what we aren’t focusing on the way we should?

Our safety at work.

I have long said that complacency, also referred to as risk acceptance, is the biggest threat we face in life. It is the act of identifying a risk and then choosing not to take any action to eliminate or mitigate that risk. How many times has that gone poorly and caught us off guard? Perhaps there was a flash in a meter can, a broken water line at the end of an auger or a co-worker partially buried in a trench. Those things that went wrong did so because we accepted the risk that they could go wrong. We decided to leave the service hot in the meter can to fix the broken jaw and went phase to ground. We decided to use the auger even though we were a little too close to the blue marking paint on the ground. We decided to jump in the hole to splice the cable. Why did we decide to do those things? Perhaps because we were fatigued, distracted, feeling pressed for time or because almost all of us have done them dozens, hundreds or possibly even thousands of times before. The phrase “We do it all the time” usually is uttered in the follow-up meetings to these types of events. It’s complacency, it’s risk acceptance, and it’s dangerous.

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