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Principle Number Two: Safety is Just Common Sense


By Randy K. Logsdon

This is the second in a series of six columns exploring traditional principles of safety. The first part was entitled: “Safety First.” Safety should not be considered a priority – priorities change. Safety should be applied as a foundational value in every activity or task. – Ed.

The typical box is made up of six panels – top, bottom and four sides. That same structure can be applied to the figurative box often referenced when one is advised to “think outside of the box.” This is the second of six columns focused on expanding our approach to safety beyond each of those six panels.

Dictionary.com defines common sense as: “sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.” Common sense implies that there is some inherent self-protective defense mechanism in each of us that helps us recognize danger and respond accordingly. Some argue that common sense is not as common as one would think. They may be right.

Even a cursory review of MSHA Fatalgrams will reveal a demonstrated breakdown in common sense. An in-depth study of the contributing factors of most any body of injury investigations will lead on to the same conclusion. We not only fail to apply common sense, but we seem to repeat the same errors in judgment. In blunt terms, reliance on common sense has proven to be an unreliable and ineffective accident prevention strategy.

The definition from Dictionary.com describes common sense first as “sound practical judgment.” With few exceptions, most of us are capable of this. But the definition qualifies this judgment as being “independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like.” So, take away any knowledge you have concerning industrial hazards (particularly specialized mining hazards).

Forget what you know about personal protective equipment. Disregard your knowledge of energy control. Ignore your operational, mechanical and electrical training. What remains is common sense, or what Dictionary.com calls “normal native intelligence.” Without that knowledge and training, how long do you think you would survive?

Important to Safety
Common sense is still important to our safety. While “specialized knowledge, training, or the like” is essential to our survival in our modern world, that “sound practical judgment” component helps to fill those gaps that knowledge and training just can’t cover.

Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence is focused on crime and violence in society, including workplace violence. His premise is that there are distinct signs or signals of danger that occur in our lives but that in polite society, we’ve learned to either ignore or rationalize those warnings. We’ve learned to repress our fears.

Failing to act on those signs and signals can put one at great personal risk. While his book is focused on interpersonal observations, it is conceptually fully applicable to workplace observations – hazardous conditions and at-risk procedures that are seemingly in control.

Similar signs and signals of danger present themselves in an occupational environment. De Becker advises listening to your gut. Fear is that inherent self-protective defense mechanism in each of us. It should not be taken lightly.

Easy to Understand
Outside of this box, safety can be said to be more than just common sense and more than applied specialized knowledge and training. When we try to define safety in the simplest (easy to understand) terms, we learn that in application, safety can be as complex as the most complex process we can create.

Knowledge, understanding, training and practice are as essential to safety as sound engineering, processes and energy control. In a complex mining environment, we must employ those systems that manage the inherent risks.

Still, we must not ignore that faint intuitive voice that asks: “Am I safe?”