Warning Signs and Culture
Join Chris and Fred as they discuss
- We started this conversation based on what is happening at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Where (nuclear-related) safety issue after safety issue have occurred over the last decade. Simply putting too much plutonium or uranium in the same ‘space’ will trigger a ‘criticality incident’ that involves an always lethal radiation burst that results in an agonizing death over the next few days, weeks or even months. And yet at Los Alamos these materials (that look like normal ‘bits’ of metal) are routinely mishandled or otherwise mistreated. In one of these incidents, the entire Los Alamos ‘safety’ staff resigned in protest over safety not being taken seriously. So where is the accountability?
- Humans are wired to deal with immediate threats. Especially if it is something that is going to ‘eat’ you, like a lion, tiger or bear. But when we walk past a leaking pump or a corroded bridge span – we just don’t have the same emotional response. This is something we need to understand as human beings.
- What is ‘safe’ anyway? A lot of us think that ‘safe’ means the absence of risk. This is not the case. Different scenarios have different definitions of what ‘safe’ is … regardless of what we like to believe. ‘Safety’ as it relates to (for example) baby’s toys is different to ‘safety’ as it relates to parachuting. A ‘safe’ parachute jump involves risk that is very different to a ‘safe’ toy.
- We are often blind to the ramification of risk. Especially if we can’t see it every day.
- It is all about leadership and culture. If humans are easily able to dismiss or forget about the consequence of failures, then we need culture. Fred talked about an organization that realized that there were a lot of vehicular incidents and injuries in the parking lot. So the leadership required all employees who were ever going to rent a car to pass a week-long, professionally run, driver training course. They also ensured that people reversed their vehicles into spots in the parking lot as this has been shown to drastically reduce vehicular incidents. And the result? A 10 % reduction in all work lost due to employee injuries and time off work.
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