By Randy K. Logsdon
A popular “big picture” management recommendation suggests that management focus should be on the highly critical issues that have potentially broad effect and if not addressed properly may have potentially catastrophic consequences.
The descriptive phrase is “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
True, we have developed sophisticated processes, engineered elaborate safeguards and implemented systems that routinely handle many of the safety issues to which we once were forced to attend. Now we can focus on that big picture.
But does that really make us safer?
- Automated labor saving devices have enhanced our society in many ways. But there are unintended consequences that have proven detrimental.
- Cashiers at the local fast-food establishment or grocery store operate computerized terminals that calculate the change-back on a cash sale. When was the last time a clerk counted back change to you after the sale? I typically get a receipt, a few bills, and a pile of change on top (and perhaps a “thank you”).
- The smart phone does amazing things. One no longer has to memorize phone numbers (or addresses). The calculator function will quickly produce an answer to a complex calculation. Are we unlearning our ability to perform such calculations using paper and pencil? How adept are we at estimating a cost or refund in our heads?
- Auto manufacturers are now building cars that parallel park themselves and are testing vehicles that drive themselves. Safeguards are abundant on the new car models. (It seems though that the cell phone is losing popularity as a “safety” option.) As we add back-up cameras, blind spot warnings and impact warnings (that even apply the brakes), do we rely on these options to the extent that we forget the techniques we learned to check blind spots and safely back up by actually looking over the shoulder and through the rear window? Are we putting ourselves at risk?
The mining industry has kept up with progress in its own right. Clearly technical improvements from CCTV installations and solid-state/wireless process monitoring to discriminating back-up alarms have improved efficiency and day-to-day safety.
Some underground mine equipment can be operated by remote control. We can point to progress from laser profiling and electronic blasting through the process to automated loadout and shipping.
Despite that, we still employ human beings. They still interact with the process machinery. Unfortunately, they still get injured. Some even die.
We have gotten better at managing the big risks (the big stuff). Lock-out/Tag-out is universally accepted and applied in mining. We have adopted improved fall protection systems and we have applied more stringent standards for confined space entry.
We use industry-accepted procedures for trenching and handling overhead loads. Through experience and education, we have learned to plan safety into the big jobs. Yet, we still experience unacceptable serious injuries.
I will suggest that we must once again practice sweating some of the small stuff. Yes, there are effective safeguards. But, when those safeguards fail, when there’s an incidental error, if someone executes an un-thinking act after the unexpected occurs; the small stuff can produce tragic results.
We recognize the serious risks to our safety and act accordingly to reduce the risk to ourselves and to others. But how often do we ignore the small risk – the one that would be unlikely to occur and if it did occur, would probably result in minimal injury or damage? Unfortunately for some, it happens once too often.
Sweat what counts.