A little thought can make all the difference

Can We Control Random Events?

In the past I have written about luck and it’s role in safety. We think we can control everything, but there is very little we truly control.

I’ve worked around big machines my whole life. Machines don’t kill people, but people die from making mistakes while working with them. Machines are totally unforgiving of human error, which is unfortunate because quite honestly, most of us are likely to err each day.

In the snow and ice we had in Atlanta a few weeks back I took this picture of icicles on my roof. Most of the icicles formed exactly as you might expect. Built by the pull of gravity, narrow at the low end with a broad base holding them to the gutter. Most were straight, and they were of varying lengths. But what about the one in the picture? Why the odd forked formation? Was it the result of an air pattern from the nearby bathroom vent that caused two streams to form? Or maybe it was the way the tree branches shaded some of them in parts of the day but not others.

If I had a goal to have no icicles form, I lost control. I would have had to put some heating wires on the roof or the gutters to assure that anything that melted didn’t re-form as ice.

If I had a goal to have identical, perfect vertical icicles, then there, too, I lost control. I may not have been able to prevent this formation, but I could have stopped it before it grew to two distinct legs.

And in safety, we try to control those things, which we have learned through experience, could result in injury or property loss. We see something that looks a little out of control, and we try to adjust it back to normal. When we are well trained, we don’t look for the failure, but we look for the potential for failure. We see things developing that could take us out of control and try to restore order.

When a person is injured or killed in a mahinery related accident, people will frequently say it was a random event. I worked with someone who received a bad hand injury reaching into a machine. He thought that he could do it safely, and had done it without incident hundreds of times. But this one time, there was a factor that was different. Not a major factor, but enough to cause a different outcome. You might say it was a random event, but what wasn’t random was his action. It was planned and reapeated time and again, just without consequence.

Do you see someone do something around machinery that makes you uncomfortable? Are you afraid to challenge them because of their experience doing the job? What if the unexpected happens? Will they walk away or is there a possibility that they could be seriously or fatally injured?

Random events. The definition is clear – you don’t know what and you don’t know when. Something is going to happen. We can’t control that, but we can control how prepared we are for possible events, and what precautions we take to stay out of Harm’s way. And to stay out of the way of his cousin, Potential Harm.

Watch out for random. Thanks, and let’s be careful out there.

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