Safety Culture.

I was nerding out and browsing some random tech reports from Los Alamos National Laboratory (Interesting if you’re into nuclear stuff though I won’t lie- most of it went over my head) and happened to come across a safety manual. I was interested to see what kind of safeguards they had in place and started reading but was somewhat surprised by the introduction:

“Safety is an accept balance of risk against benefit; it is meaningless as a concept isolated from other goals. It follows that safety should be considered one of the goals of design and operation instead of something superimposed. Although experience has shown that criticality hazards are no more serious than other industrial hazards, controls for balancing criticality risk against benefit are somewhat more stringent than is usual in nonnuclear industry. It is reasonable that there be some allowance for the uneasiness naturally associated with this new type of hazard. But the extreme concept of risk elimination (as implied by any claim that certain controls “assure” safety or “ensure” safety) is dangerously misleading. Dismissing risk as nonexistent can detract from the
continuing job of maintaining an acceptably low risk level.”

Pow. The whole document is here by the way:

Anyway, it stood out because usually the guy that writes the safety manual is the “safety at all costs type” that is becoming ubiquitous these days. This guy, though, held a very down to earth and common sense approach. It got me thinking to the kinds of experiences I’ve had with OH&S types and whether they really increased the safety of a workplace.

Safety without common sense often leads to unsafe situations. I remember once seeing a guy using a grinder. He was wearing gloves because it’s “more safe.” (Note to the uninitiated, it most definitely isn’t- you can lose a finger that way or with high power equipment like large lathes and mills, a limb or even your life). Someone pointed this out so he held the piece with pliers as well as using the gloves.

I remember once when I was involved with FSAE I bought my personal welder in to university so that we could have two people welding at the same time in order to get more work done. I left to take a nap (which is to say I didn’t leave, I just found somewhere inconspicuous and slept there) and woke up to find that my welder had been decommissioned because it wasn’t “tested and tagged.” This isn’t a legal requirement in Victoria, by the way, it’s just enforced in some workplaces. I took it home and placed it among the hundreds of commercial electronics equipment that people operate every day without ever testing and tagging. Televisions, air conditioners, ovens, electric blankets, lights… That welder still gets a lot of use, incidentally. Currently it’s a current source for an electrolysis tank.

I’m not the only one who’s getting a bit uneasy by safety culture and where it’s headed. Mike Rowe (presenter of Dirty Jobs and pretty fuckin’ awesome dude in general) has been saying similar things, too. Here’s a choice quote:

“In the jobs I have seen thus far, I can tell you with certainty, that safety, while always a major consideration, is never the priority.

Never, ever.
Not even once.

Is it important? Of course. But is it more important than getting the job done? No. Not even close. Making money is more important than safety – always – and it’s very dangerous in my opinion to ignore that. When we start to believe that someone else is more concerned about our own safety than we are, we become complacent, and then, we get careless. When a business tells you that they are more concerned with your safety than anything else, beware. They are not being honest. They are hedging their own bets, and following the advice of lawyers hired to protect them from lawsuits arising from accidents.”

Full article is here:

Anyway that’s it for now- just a brief bitching session. In the next week or so, I’ve got an article planned on machine safety- what’s required- particularly the control system that comes at this from the opposite angle. I just thought I’d preface it with a little bit of common sense and cynicism.

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