Jul 09, 2012 / by Alisa Hafen / No Comments

A worker is changing out a commercial meter. As he completes this task, he should always vent the gas outside. Everyone knows this, but we sometimes skip it because we’re trying to keep up with the production and maintenance schedule. Well, the small room he was in filled with gas, that eventually was ignited by a nearby water heater. The room blew up and the worker was trapped inside because the exit door was locked. Luckily, someone opened the door before the worker died. But he was badly burned.

That slowed us down for a while, but now I see us feeling pressured again to not let the team down when schedules get crazy.
Get it done (Unsafe practices that are justified by tight timelines)

“When a welder tripped on a bleach hose, broke the nozzle and was burned, the emergency response team quickly shut off the valve to the hose. Since they were in a rush, the leader of the team stood on a milk crate because he didn’t feel he had time to get the appropriate equipment to reach the valve. The crate tipped over and the supervisor came down hard, ripping his protective suit and getting an even bigger burn than the welder had received.”

Undiscussed incompetence (Unsafe practices that stem from skill deficits that can’t be discussed)

“Some people just don’t get it. For example, when blocking a line, they’ll just kink it rather than putting on a squeeze. The problem is that kinking the line could cause a static ignition. It caused a fire out on the coast. One guy said he thought static electricity works different here because we’re inland. Yeah, whatever. One of these days, someone is gonna get themselves burned.”

Just this once (Unsafe practices that are justified because they are exceptions to the rule)

“We had to change out one of the catalysts. When we swapped it out, we put the wrong catalyst in and had to redo the job. This required moving a 150-pound cover. This is a job for a crane, but since we were trying to correct our mistake, we decided to remove the cover with a forklift. This was obviously against safety protocol. We ended up dropping the cover, nearly crushing our maintenance guy.”

This is overboard (Unsafe practices that bypass precautions that management or workers consider excessive)

“One guy fell off his ladder and now we have a new ladder policy. You are always supposed to have someone hold the ladder and once you reach the top, you’re supposed to always tie the ladder off. Well, even though policy has changed, not many of us follow it. I’d say 75 percent of us still do it the old way. There’s just not much danger in it. We’re trained professionals. We know what we’re doing.”

Are you a team player? (Unsafe practices that are justified for the ‘good’ of the team, company or customer)

“Sometimes we’re expected to go into manholes with energized cable.
This is not a safe practice and it’s not in line with our policy, but our only alternative is to turn the power off, which would make our customers angry and wouldn’t fly with management. So I go in and do the work anyway. It’s my job to get the power on and that’s what I’ll do. I’m not going to wimp out.”

Unsafe practices cannot be justified even if we don’t have an accident as with the law of averages, the more we keep trying, the greater the chance of an event occurring.
Don’t be silent about unsafe practices, speak up and first speak to the person who is carrying out the act. The objective is to change behaviour and make the workplace safer for everyone.

“If you don’t think every day is a good day, just try missing one.” ~Cavett Robert