“Not again!” That’s how many of us react to incidents that occur around us or in our area of operations. Often times, there are similar or consistent root causes that set up the chain of events.
When it comes to the human element in incidents, we can often identify one or more of the following conditions:
The number of hours on duty, time of day, or number of consecutive days working can influence reaction times and decision making. Fatigue is a form of impairment; we tend to engage in riskier behaviors or downplay the consequence when we are fatigued. Factors outside of work play a huge part in how fatigued we are in the workplace. Stress from family situations, late nights during sport seasons or poor sleep from when kids are young can affect us the next day.
Sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to. Equipment gets bogged down, we get news we didn’t want or a project deadline not being met. This frustration can lead to corner cutting or being so focused on the objective that we don’t break the task down into its components and set ourselves up for an incident.
“Time and tide wait for no one” to paraphrase Chaucer. Deadlines come at us and there is pressure to perform and produce within a time frame. Most of the time we can meet those deadlines, but when it looks like we won’t we are inclined to rush, skip steps and overlook controls. Rushing can give us tunnel vision and prevents us from taking regular precautions.
When we have been in a situation or completed tasks successfully multiple times, we tend to be less cautious about risk. Some people consider this a false sense of security, but really, it’s a failure to recognize the small differences in a situation or environment that could compound into a larger hazard.
At this point in time, many of us are fatigued from the news cycle surrounding COVID-19. We may have disturbed sleep, stress from disrupted routine and uncertainty. It is likely that you are frustrated at cancelled plans, empty shelves and the lack of a timeline for when things will be back on track.
We may rush through tasks so we can concentrate on what worries us most, or not pay attention to the speed we are driving. It is likely that we will be complacent about everyday risks as the pandemic crisis throws a shadow over our days.
Now is the opportunity to recognize how exposed we are to fatigue, frustration, rushing and complacency. Most of us do not have much control over how the COVID-19 pandemic will unfold but we do have control over the everyday risks we are exposed to. Let’s focus on doing the basics really well, and coaching others to do the same. Let’s recognize that those four elements, that are so often at the root of incidents and accidents, are there and must be challenged before we make critical decisions. While time and tide wait for no one, it will also turn against the current situation.