Human beings have an enormous capacity to believe what they want to believe no matter the facts, other opinions or even what is right in front of them.
It’s this capacity that is both our greatest strength and weakness all in one and it is expressed very clearly in construction safety.
This amazing capacity allows us to believe that we can build amazing things like bridges, tunnels, skyscrapers and many other amazing engineering achievements. It allows us to go beyond what we know and attempt things we have only dreamed of. We see only the good that could come from it and actively ignore the negative outcomes.
This active ignoring of negative outcomes – sometimes called ‘positive thinking’ – can lead to the belief that the hundreds of safety incidents that happen every day around the country on construction sites won’t happen to me. “I’m too skilled, experienced, strong, smart, quick”…I’ve heard them all. “I’m Superman, nothing can touch me. I won’t slip on the ladder, why do I need three points of contact? I’ve done it a million times and I’m fine.”
As someone who has investigated many incidents, I can tell you the most common thing I have heard is “I’ve done it a million times before and never had a problem.”
I’ve often heard people say, ‘no one comes to work trying to get hurt,’ which is true but it’s really only half the story. The question I would ask them is ‘What are you doing to actively prevent an incident?’
If 10,000 workers climb onto a ladder today across the country, at least one of them will fall and hurt themselves. What are you doing to make sure you are not that one?
If I think about all the bad things that might happen to me every day, I might never come to work again. It is true that it might sound like the “cup’s half empty” attitude, but to keep yourself safe you need to find the things that can hurt you and neutralise them. You don’t drive down the road admiring all the good drivers, you drive down the road looking out for the bad ones because they are the ones that can kill you. Think of it as ‘situational awareness.’ You are making yourself aware of the dangers around you and neutralising them.
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was a massive achievement in construction. It took vision and belief that it could be done. Joseph Strauss, the chief engineer, not only saw the final achievement clearly but he saw the dangers along the way. Although most remembered for the net that saved at least 19 lives, he also implemented at least 10 other measures such as onsite medical facilities that set the new standard for construction. It’s proof you don’t have to be Superman to make super achievements safely.
It’s great to feel like Superman, but even Superman has his kryptonite.