Principle Number Four: Accidents Are A Matter Of (Bad) Luck

By Randy K. Logsdon

This is the fourth in a series of six columns exploring traditional principles of safety. Previous parts were entitled: “Safety First,” “Safety is Just Common Sense, ” and “Compliance = Safety.” – 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 fourth of six columns focused on expanding our approach to safety beyond each of those six panels.

It was a near miss. I was eastbound on I-10 near San Antonio when ahead I spotted a traffic jam. A construction project ahead had the right lane closed and both lanes turned into a parking lot.

There was plenty of time to react but to assist those behind me (and protect me), I applied the four-way flashers as I approached a stop in the left lane. As the traffic closed in behind, I switched off the four-ways as their effect diminished by the confluence of traffic to my rear. A moment later a roar to my left grabbed my attention. A loaded flatbed semi skidded to a stop on the grass and chip shoulder to my left.

Obviously the truck driver noticed the jam too late and steered into the median to avoid rear-ending a row of stopped vehicles. I can only guess at the specifics: driving too fast, distracted, drowsy. Who knows? One might remark that we were lucky that we were not a part of a multi-car pile-up.

I had done all I could to warn the drivers behind me and reached a point where I was no longer in control. I could not see the approaching semi but even if I could, I had no evasive options. So am I truly here today writing this because I was lucky outside of San Antonio?

I will not argue that a certain amount of chance plays a part in our individual susceptibility to harm. Consider the proverbial airline passenger who missed his flight – the one that crashed. That passenger who was left behind can attribute his survival to luck, chance or divine providence, but that did not prevent the airplane crash.

The fact is we regularly place safety in the hands of others. The dashed line in the center of a two-lane highway does not prevent that oncoming car from colliding with yours. We rely on attention and skill of that other driver – it’s expected. If we chalked each of those encounters up to “luck” we’d never drive on a two-lane road again.

To say that we make our own luck is only partially true. Undoubtedly, our own personal attention to risks in the workplace, home, or at play can significantly improve our chance of survival. Consider also that our chances are also enhanced by those others on whom we depend. Safety is not an independent act – it is an interdependent collaboration.

On I-10, I was out of options. While the semi-truck driver initially may have escalated the hazard created by the traffic jam, it was not luck that saved me that afternoon – it was the skill and action of the driver in avoiding the collision that prevented disaster.

So whether an injury incident occurs or not is not so much a function of luck or chance. It’s more a function of the merging of interdependent actions. Or as we used to say, look out for yourself and your buddy. It holds true as much now as it ever did.

Recap of Parts 1-3

  • Safety First: Safety should not be considered a priority – priorities change. Safety should be applied as a foundational value in every activity or task.
  • Safety is Just Common Sense: Safety can be said to be more than just common sense and more than applied specialized knowledge and training.
  • Compliance = Safety: Compliance may effectively protect miners from ordinary hazards and compliance with established safety rules and regulations should be viewed as an important (one of several) component in defining safety in mining operations. However, compliance will not necessarily protect miners from the extraordinary.

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