Tailgate Safety Topics

Tailgate meetings are a critical communication component of any strong utility safety program. Incident Prevention supplies the utility industry with topics for these important meetings. Each article can be printed out for use in the field or emailed to your crews.

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Do More Rules Make Us Safer?

Let’s begin this month’s Tailgate with a short quiz. Ask your employees these two questions:

  1. When is the last time you read the company’s safety rule book?
  2. If you had to take a test on its contents, would you pass?

It’s possible some of our employees are not as well-versed in the company’s safety rules as we would like because the rule book may be long and cover everything from office safety to working on overhead lines. Yet we base many of our safe work practices on our employees truly understanding these rules.

It’s also possible that we have fooled ourselves into thinking our employees have read the rule book, know and understand it, and believe in the written safety rules. The truth is, your company’s rule book could be causing problems when it comes to safety. How? Here are some possibilities.

Not all rules are known or followed. I’m aware of a cooperative that disciplined an employee for not adhering to a safety rule; the employee honestly stated, “I didn’t even know that was a rule.” In another instance, I asked a line superintendent about his cooperative’s grounding practice and then read him the rule from the cooperative’s rule book. He responded, “Oh, we don’t do it that way.”

The book includes rules that don’t tell you anything. One rule book I reviewed stated, “Disposal of trash and debris shall be done in an approved environmentally safe manner.” Yes, but what exactly does that mean? What is a worker supposed to do?

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Kelly Sparrow, CUSP, J.D.

The Power of a Tool and Equipment Inspection System

It’s a hot, muggy day in Missouri. A crew is preparing forms for a foundation that will be poured later, when it cools down a bit. Two employees are pounding in steel support stakes for the forms. They’ve used theses stakes forever, and the heads of the stakes have always looked like mushrooms due to their frequent contact with a 10-pound sledge. Santiago is on the sledgehammer, using all the force he can muster to drive the stakes deep into the earth. Jeff, waiting to hold the next support stake, momentarily removes his safety glasses to wipe the sweat from his brow. Santiago takes one last swing with the sledge and the unthinkable happens. A piece of the rusted mushroom on the head of the stake he is pounding breaks off, ricochets off a rock on the ground and enters Jeff’s left eye, causing permanent loss of vision.

In Georgia, a logging foreman gets his truck stuck in mud. The crew prepares to pull the truck out, using their truck to pull and a 20-foot logging chain as the connection between the two vehicles. The chain has been in their truck for some time and is rated for the intended purpose. They attach the chain to the frames of the two vehicles and start the pull.

It all happens so fast. About 4 feet out from the bumper of the stuck vehicle, a link gives way. Sixteen feet of heavy chain recoils, striking an employee standing by the chain in both knees. After extensive surgery, the employee retrains for work that is less demanding than the logging work he loves. Investigation reveals that the broken link in the chain was severely compromised by abrasive wear and neglect.

What could have prevented these two incidents? In the first incident, it would be easy to blame the injured employee for taking off his PPE, but we all know that PPE is the last line of defense. Good safety systems prevent unwanted occurrences before PPE is needed.

Both of these incidents could have been prevented by an aggressive inspection and removal-from-service program. Below are a few things to think about when reviewing or revamping your inspection program.

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Mark J. Steinhofer, CHST, CSP, CUSP

Don’t Blame People for Human Error

The first lineman scaled the pole and tried to perform the task on the conductor. After a minute or so, the supervisor yelled, “You’re doing that wrong!,” told the lineman he was incompetent and sent a second lineman up the pole in his place. The second lineman started the task only to hear, “That’s not how it’s done!” before returning to the ground. A third lineman took a deep breath before he climbed. He looked over the job and started to work. Soon the supervisor bellowed, “What’s wrong with you? That won’t work!”

This scenario illustrates the way the utility construction industry traditionally has dealt with human error: by blaming people instead of flawed processes. The supervisor assumed the linemen were making mistakes instead of reasoning that there must have been a fundamental flaw in the task or their training.

What is Human Error?
We define human error as undesirable human decisions or behaviors that reduce or may reduce safety and effectiveness. Errors typically fall into one of four categories:

  1. Mistakes result from ignorance of the correct task or the correct way to perform it.
  2. Mismatches occur when tasks are beyond the physical or mental ability of the person asked to perform them.
  3. Noncompliance or violations happen because someone decided not to carry out a task or did not carry it out in the way instructed or expected.
  4. Slips and lapses result from forgetfulness, habit, fatigue or similar causes.

Blaming individuals is the easy way out, and it doesn’t prevent errors. For one thing, sometimes the best people make the worst mistakes. And second, mishaps are anything but random; they tend to fall into recurring patterns.

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Ryan Dobbins, GSP, and Jordan Hollingsworth, CHST, CSP, CUSP

The Benefits of Near-Miss Reporting

As members of the utility construction industry, we must spend ample time and effort working to prevent incidents and injuries from occurring through the use of proactive techniques and leading indicators. The goals for everyone are simple: zero injuries, zero accidents, zero claims.

These goals are absolutely achievable, but they may be construed as unrealistic to the common craftsman. We have heard from this demographic that accidents are not always avoidable due to any number of factors, including scheduling pressures, financing, transient workforces, vendors and deliveries. In part, this frame of mind stems from the fact that some contractors’ safety and health programs are not ready to set these types of goals. Not only that, but the construction industry has a major handicap: people. We have humans performing hazardous and often strenuous work, and the reality is that humans make mistakes.

While managers and executives strive for zero injuries, zero accidents and zero claims, they also may be doing their company a disservice. Rather than specifically pushing for zero accidents, they should be pushing for greater transparency and a culture of reporting. After all, a reporting culture typically is a safe culture. Employees should get a vibe from management that says to them, “We’re not perfect and we need to report everything in order to identify trends, learn from our shortcomings and implement new programs and procedures.”

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Richard J. Horan Jr., CSP, CUSP

Learning from Potential Serious Injuries and Fatalities

Over the past century, there have been many changes in how companies manage their safety systems. Although fatalities were common and accepted as part of doing business in the 1920s, great strides were made throughout the following decades to reduce or eliminate unsafe conditions. Over time, safety measures continued to increase among various sectors, which led to a decline in serious injuries and fatalities. In the nearly five decades since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law, workplace deaths and reported occupational injuries have dropped by more than 60 percent, according to a January 2012 white paper published by OSHA.

And yet serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) and potential serious injuries and fatalities (PSIFs) continue to afflict companies across a wide range of industries. When a company experiences a SIF event, safety consciousness usually increases. However, when a PSIF incident occurs, some company leaders do not know where or how to take action to strengthen the company safety culture against future risk.

One solution to this problem is for leaders to consistently use an incident decision tree or assessment questions to determine PSIFs. Each PSIF incident should be treated as an actual event, and a thorough incident investigation should be conducted. The main objective in an investigation is to recognize and diminish precursors – existing conditions that are known to increase the risk of an incident – in order to avoid a future SIF or PSIF.

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Brad Brill, CHST, CSHO, CUSP

What is Your Why?

Do you have family members who rely on you? Would you like to provide a better life for your children than the one you’ve had? Is there a purchase you’d like to make with your hard-earned paycheck? Do you want to reward your hours of dedication to the company by taking a trip that’s long been on your bucket list? No matter the length of time you’ve been employed in the utility industry, I challenge you to answer the question, “What is your why?” What is it that motivates you to come to work each day and focus 100 percent of your energy on doing your job well and safely?

It’s important to keep this source of motivation in mind as you perform your daily tasks. As you are likely well aware, the work that an electric utility company’s team of employees is exposed to on a daily basis can be very hazardous. Throughout the U.S., from Alaska to Florida, you can find crews engaged in the following work and more:
• Building roads with high levels of traffic next to their work zones.
• Working around rock crushers with fast-moving conveyor belts and heavy machinery.
• Hauling enormous loads of materials out of rock pits, often up steep grades.
• Working deep underground in tunnels large enough to be featured on History Channel’s “Modern Marvels.”
• Donning a wet suit and wiggling through 24-inch pipes in preparation to line the pipes.
• Working in electrical substations with 500,000 volts overhead.
• Building bridges over frigid water with barge-mounted cranes.

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Jim Breuner

Safety vs. Productivity

At a recent Line/EMT monthly safety meeting, co-workers and I discussed three separate incidents with a common theme.

Incident 1
A 12-kV primary separated into two sections and came down hot when a falling tree took it out. In a possible case of “rush to restore” mentality, an after-action assessment revealed that proper safe grounding procedures, as well as switching procedures, were not followed by our employees during the restoration process.

Incident 2
One of our meter readers slipped and fell on the steps of a backyard deck after he got his read. This resulted in injury to the employee’s back, an OSHA-recordable incident and lost productivity. An investigation revealed that, among other things, the employee was reading his Itron device while he was walking, anticipating his next read before he had even exited the premises of his current read. One of the fundamental tenets of our company’s safety program is that “all employees are responsible for working safely and maintaining a safe and healthful work environment. All employees are required to develop and demonstrate safe work habits.” This incident occurred because the meter reader failed to do his work in a safe manner.

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Doug Hill, CUSP

Saving L.I.V.E.S. is Our Daily Responsibility

Learning to see our jobs in the utility industry through the lens of safety is probably the most important task we can accomplish. Our employers, the customers we serve, our co-workers and – most of all – our families benefit when we safely arrive at and return home from our jobs each day.

However, safely coming and going is not always easy; there are many hazards and distractions in the utility work environment that can and do make our work difficult. We respond to different surroundings each day, which requires each worker to be aware of his or her environment and abide by the proper rules and procedures in order to prevent incidents from occurring. Workers can address risks by prioritizing the hazards we are exposed to during a particular job, which helps to keep exposure to a minimum. There might be several ways to do the job, but the ultimate goal is to find the best method to keep risk at a low level for as many workers as possible.

One way to help keep risk at a low level is to use a sequence referred to as L.I.V.E.S., which stands for Look, Investigate, Visualize, Execute, Safely. This sequence can be used every day for our tailboards – on any worksite – to help ensure we have productive discussions and solid work plans, both of which are key to keeping workers in a safety state of mind.

Now, let’s break down each section of the L.I.V.E.S. sequence.

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Jay Brown

Are You an Active Communicator?

Famed playwright George Bernard Shaw once said that the “single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” This quote is no better demonstrated than in the classic telephone game I played in my eighth-grade civics class. The teacher would deliver a message in the back of the room to a student, and each student would whisper the message to the next student. The last student to receive the message would stand and deliver the message as he or she heard it. Invariably, the message that last student received would be quite different from the original. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the final versions of messages because of the differences between them and the originals. In this example, although the students were communicating a message, the practice of effective communication was not really taking place. Little did I know how important this exercise – and this lesson – would be to me throughout my life.

Elements of Communication
Leaders fill several roles. As a leader in my organization, I look at myself as a teacher, coach and mentor to those I lead; all of these roles require efficient, direct and active communication.

When delivering a tailgate to a crew, active communication requires several elements in order to be successful. Among these elements are accurate and clear delivery; the ability to lay out a plan and articulate thoughts and ideas; assigning tasks to each crew member and prioritizing the various steps included in the plan; and most importantly, soliciting feedback and ensuring that the plan is completely understood by each crew member. Depending on the complexity and size of the job or project, it can be beneficial to provide each crew member with his or her own blueprint.

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Trey McLaughlin

Stepping Up to Safety

Every one of us has the ability to recognize hazards on our job sites. And in the moments when we notice those hazards, we must be our brothers’ keepers. Hesitating to say something could cost someone his or her life. By speaking up when you see something potentially dangerous, you'll never live the nightmare of knowing you had the power to help change the outcome but failed to do so.

Of course, the notion of being your brother’s keeper is nothing new. For many years we have heard safety professionals and management tell us to watch out for our brothers and sisters. In fact, it has been said so much that I sometimes think it has become a catchphrase with no real meaning behind it. So, how do we change this? How do we make this directive more effective?

I believe that everyone wants to look out for their brother or sister, but not everyone may know how to do so. While the phrase “be your brother’s keeper” may seem self-explanatory to many, some workers may not completely understand what it means or how to speak up when they spot a potential problem. Do you know what the phrase means? Do you know who to speak up to? Do you know who to talk to if you do not get the answer to your question right away? Do you know how to recognize a hazard? These are questions we must ask ourselves before we can begin to expect our teams to speak up and understand what it means to be your brother’s keeper.

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Kelly Sparrow, CUSP, J.D.

The Importance of Situational Awareness in the Utility Industry

Years ago I read an account of an injury that took place on a U.S. Army base in California. I’m not sure if this account is truth or fiction, but it serves to illustrate a point about the importance of thinking a plan all the way through prior to implementing it.

A private was assigned the job of removing broken Spanish tiles from a rooftop after a large tree fell on the building. He was ordered not to throw the tiles off the roof. The private drove a jeep to the site and assessed his work.

There were lots of broken tiles, and it would take many trips up and down a ladder using the canvas he had to wrap them in. The building had an empty rain barrel, the private had a rope and a block and tackle, and a brilliant plan formed in the private’s head. He climbed a ladder to the edge of the roof and tied the block and tackle to a beam left exposed by the damage. He threaded the rope and lowered it to the ground. He went back down the ladder, attached the rope to the barrel and raised it to roof level, and tied the rope off to the bumper of the jeep.

The private went back up the ladder and quickly filled the barrel with broken tiles. This was going to be a piece of cake. He went back down the ladder thinking he would be done in three barrels’ worth. He untied the rope from the bumper and held onto it.

Can you guess what happened next?

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Chris McIntosh

The JSA: A Process, Not a Form

What is safety? How is it achieved? The bottom line is that competent, prepared employees rarely get hurt. That sounds pretty simple, but how often do we assume workers are competent and prepared only to learn – typically post-incident – that’s not the case?

The job safety analysis (JSA) is the most basic tool to combat this issue. Unfortunately, the JSA can sometimes be viewed by the job foreman as one pebble in the mountain of daily paperwork to be filled out. To employees, it may be seen as just one more form to sign. On a job that’s behind schedule, it can be blamed for holding up the start of work.

To a safety-conscious crew, however, the JSA is the centerpiece of the day’s activities.

Four years ago, I encountered a foreman who asked me for the definition of a JSA. This man was new to supervision, and his employer did not have a comprehensive safety program that provided specific instruction about how to complete and communicate a JSA. At the time, he was working from a canned form provided by the client. The foreman checked some boxes, noted the location of the job and listed the address of the nearest medical facility. Every member of the crew signed the document and went to work without question.

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Kelly Sparrow, CUSP, J.D.

A Mother on the Job

We’ve all watched young mothers care for a newborn child. As the child learns to crawl, mom is meticulous in placing household cleaners out of reach. She ensures that dad installs locks on all drawers that have knives or sharp objects, and together they remove all objects that could fall on their little explorer if he should jiggle a table. The vigilance is endless.

As the child grows older, mom and dad teach him to ride a bike, but always with a helmet, and always with the proper high-visibility clothing. They are constantly teaching the child to obey rules that will keep him safe.

Soon the child is off to school, and with school come more dangers. Mom teaches her child about the perils of traffic, riding a school bus and a myriad of other activities the child engages in, now without mom’s close supervision.

Mom continually insists that her child form good safety habits too numerous to mention. Is he wearing his helmet when he rides a bike or skateboard? Does he look both ways before crossing the street? Is coming home when the streetlights go on a routine part of his life?

Then the day comes when mom and dad hand their son the car keys. They teach the child about speed, alcohol, drugs and other drivers who may make poor choices. By example, they have taught their child about proper use of seat belts and other safety precautions. He knows how to change a flat tire and perform other emergency techniques.

Finally, after all those years of worry and vigilance, their 20-year-old son gets a job as an apprentice with your company. If the mother of your new employee were observing her child during his first few days of work, would it change how you introduce him to the workplace? What if all the mothers of your employees were continually watching how their sons and daughters are treated at your worksite?

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Dion Creggett, CIH, CSP, MPH

Hazard Awareness for Substation Workers

When performing work at an electrical substation, the obvious hazard – electricity – must be identified and addressed. But electricity is just one of a number of hazards potentially present in this working environment that may also serve as an employee reporting center, control station or storage area. Other possible hazards include thermal stress; noise; slip, trip and fall hazards; animal waste; and nonionizing radiation.

And around the country, especially in larger cities, substations may be enclosed or have large supervisory buildings, some of which were constructed in the early 20th century. It was common for facilities constructed before the 1960s or 1970s to be insulated and painted with materials – like asbestos and lead – that are recognized today as serious health hazards. Even if you aren’t exposed to 60-year-old substations, you may come into contact with these old construction materials, and knowing how to protect yourself is critical for you and your family.

Asbestos and Lead Hazards
The use of asbestos in the manufacture of building materials became popular in the late 1800s. The mineral was inexpensive, durable and flexible, with good insulating and fireproofing properties. Potential asbestos-containing building materials in today’s older substations include fire doors; fire blankets; floor tile and associated mastics; pipe insulation; wall boards; window caulk; window glazing; and roofing materials. If building material contains more than 1 percent asbestos as determined by polarized light microscopy analysis, the material is classified as asbestos-containing material. Asbestos becomes a hazard when the building material is damaged or disturbed and fibers are released into the air. While airborne, fibers can be inhaled or ingested into the body. OSHA has established a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.10 fibers per cubic centimeter of air as an eight-hour time-weighted average, and an excursion limit of 1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air over a 30-minute sampling period. This means that an employee may be exposed to asbestos above the PEL for a limited time period – up to 1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air within a half-hour – but the eight-hour exposure average cannot be above the PEL. After exposure, asbestos fibers can become stuck in the lung tissue and can cause asbestos-related diseases or conditions, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer.

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Dave Sowers

Recognizing Summit Fever in the Utility Industry

“Summit fever” is a mountaineering term that describes the drive or compulsion of a climber to reach the summit of a mountain no matter what the cost. The climber has invested time, energy and resources into their goal, and by the time they have the summit of the mountain in their sight, they are so close to accomplishing the feat that they allow their judgment to be impaired. They make choices toward the top of the mountain that they almost certainly would not have made earlier in their journey.

There are two factors that contribute to this impaired judgment: physical environment and psychological impact. How a climber responds to both can be the difference between life and death.

Both the environment and the physical state of the climber change throughout the climb. Toward the top of the mountain, the air is thinner, affecting the climber’s breathing. The physical exertion of climbing itself, in combination with the thin air’s impact, causes the climber’s body to become fatigued.

From a psychological standpoint, the more time and energy a climber puts into the climb, the more invested they become in its completion. Lower on the mountain, when their time and energy investments are not as great, it’s easier to turn back in the face of changing conditions or emergent risks. But as the hours – or sometimes even days – pass and it seemingly becomes much more difficult to make up for any lost time, the climber may start to feel the impact of schedule pressures. Almost everyone is influenced by the need to finish a task, a compulsion that can lead to risk-taking and dangerous or even deadly results.

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Nathan Boutwell, CUSP

Effective Tick-Repellent Strategies for Field Workers

If you read any job description for a lineworker, you are sure to see a reference to working outdoors in a variety of weather conditions. This is one of a number of requirements that draw people to the profession; most lineworkers enjoy spending time outside. And from time to time, every lineworker will have to work in tall grass or brush. One of the risks of working in grass or brush is, of course, exposure to ticks and the diseases they can transmit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/ncezid/dvbd/), tick-borne diseases – such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis – account for more than 4,000 cases each year, with some leading to death. Additionally, Lyme disease annually causes more than 300,000 estimated human illnesses in the U.S. alone.

Given the threat of tick-borne diseases, how can lineworkers protect themselves? While what we’ve traditionally done may not be enough, the good news is that, as an industry, we can take some additional, simple steps to greatly reduce our chances of contracting these diseases.

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Rey Gonzalez

Three-Way Communication for Utility Workers

The purpose of effective communication is to ensure understanding between two or more people. It is an important defense in the prevention of errors that can result in incidents. While the effects of mishaps due to ineffective communication will differ, the unfortunate organization can find itself facing legal, regulatory and financial consequences, and its people dealing with a significant emotional event as a result of a lost teammate.

Many industries have established protocols for effective communication. For example, in the medical field, 66 percent of all sentinel events reported from 1995 to 2005 were related to ineffective communication, according to The Joint Commission, a nonprofit that accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 U.S. health care organizations and programs. The commission defines a sentinel event as “an unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury, or the risk thereof.” To help combat this issue, organizations in the medical field have begun requiring their employees to engage in a repeat-back process when information is verbally communicated to them. This is because, in general, verbal communication presents a much greater risk for misunderstandings than written communication.

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Richard J. Horan Jr., CSP, CUSP

Adding Value to Your Organization’s Safety Culture

Every person who reads this Tailgate Topic might have a slightly different idea of what drives a strong safety culture. But there is one thing every reader can likely agree upon: that all of a company’s employees have value and make valuable contributions to the organization, helping to create and maintain its safety culture.

Valuable contributions come in an infinite number of forms. In the utility industry, they go well beyond employees simply getting the work done accurately and on time. One example of a valuable contribution is a new written work procedure that helps to keep crews safer, is easily understood by employees and isn’t overly cumbersome to adopt. This contribution also is tangible; it can be disseminated via email, printed, used in training sessions and brought to work sites for easy reference.

Other contributions are less concrete. For instance, a caring attitude is highly valuable. If employees do not have a caring attitude that’s authentic, safety and good health can falter or even cease to exist in some cases.

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Lee Marchessault, CUSP

Properly Securing Vehicle Cargo is Serious Business

Utility workers are required to receive electrical safety training on a variety of topics, including grounding, switching and tagging, de-energizing, live-line work, pole-top rescue and job briefings. Unfortunately, there are some training topics – like how to properly secure loads on vehicles – that are not always given the attention they deserve. For instance, when I first passed my commercial driver’s license test 25 years ago, I had to undergo training on proper inspection of commercial vehicles, physical limitations, record keeping and proper driving techniques. Part of the training discussion was about securing the load on a commercial vehicle, but not much emphasis was placed on its importance. As you and I well know today, properly securing cargo is serious business, and a failure to follow the rules may result in injuries, death and jail time.

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David Bowman

Do Your Employees Know When It’s Time to Stop?

Have you ever reflected on the moment when an accident or injury occurred? During that period of reflection, did you think about the decisions you made that may have played a part in the incident? A common thread I have discovered among many incidents is that we sometimes make the choice to proceed with a certain step in a process or activity despite the fact that we are unsure of exactly how to safely and correctly do so.

In retrospect, we know the step is one that we obviously should not have taken. It’s that simple. Instead of moving forward, we should have stopped and asked, am I really sure about what I am about to do? Do I fully understand what is going to happen when I perform this step?

Far too often, we find ourselves in a place of uncertainty and talk ourselves into going ahead with an action. Based on various root cause evaluations I have reviewed over the past several years, it has become more evident that we are creatures of habit who want to accomplish our tasks without failure. It has also become clear that many organizations have not provided enough resources to thwart this and related issues. The root cause of an incident is found to be human error and we leave it at that. But what about organizational weaknesses, such as failing to identify the need for more specific guidance or to provide stop-work criteria?

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