By Randy Logsdon
We love to be frightened, especially during Halloween.
The house predates the Civil War. It's been vacant for at least 30 years, but it looks like it's been abandoned for 50. The front yard is overgrown. Despite its state of disrepair, its Victorian style has not diminished over the years. Inside, the nineteenth century furniture is covered. Dust is everywhere and cobwebs are prolific.
It’s close to midnight, give or take an hour, the moon is full and the wind is blowing the fall leaves in circular patterns around the front porch. A young woman, perhaps 24, enters through the front door. She's searching for something. As she passes the threshold, her flashlight flickers and goes out. She shakes it to no avail and then proceeds.
She's silent, but we hear the distinct sound of something being dragged. She glances behind her and takes a deep breath. She’s half way to the first landing. Determinedly, she takes another step. There’s a crash, and a flash of lightning reveals the ominous shadow of a figure with a raised axe.
Whether you're a horror movie fan or not, you recognize that this stereotypical scenario will not end well for the young lady. Even without the pulsing telltale background music, you recognize the signs of trouble brewing. You’ve seen it before.
It’s night time. The house is creepy. She’s alone (or so she thinks). She has no protection or weapon. The flashlight quit. Her exit is blocked. Her position is telegraphed with each step. Then, in a flash, our fears are confirmed. You know that she is in mortal danger. But does she?
Instinctively, you want to warn her. Under your breath, you're telling her to get out! Run as fast as you can!
So why do we sometimes proceed even with knowledge of those signs of impending disaster in the workplace?
- Why do we not fear (or at least respect) that loose guard; the spillage in the walkway; the unsecured compressed gas cylinder; a loose step?
- Why would we reach under a suspended motor; operate with an inoperative backup alarm; speed around a blind corner; climb into an untested confined space?
- Why do we not turn and run away when we see a damaged cable or a slick spot on a stairway?
- Why would we not speak up when we see someone work on equipment when its not locked out, or work around that broken handrail?
- Why do we still proceed when two or more of these warnings come together?
Maybe the answer is familiarity; perhaps complacency or even a lack of focus. In reality, we see and comprehend better when we assess safety from an objective point of view – like watching a movie. Its not that we don’t understand the risk, is more that when engaged in a task, we (consciously or unconsciously) rationalize the risk.
We sometimes let our sense of mission govern our sense of self-preservation. Our objective viewpoint also materializes after the fact – during the accident investigation. What do they say about hindsight? How often has someone remarked (head shaking): What was he thinking? How did she not see that?
So make it a practice to pause a few moments before engaging; to view the conditions and review the procedure from a third party's perspective – as a spectator, not a participant. Focus for a moment on the risks, not on the mission. Implement a strategy to mitigate those risks. You might just find yourself shouting that warning: Don't go in there!