“It’s all in the Details”

There is a popular old saying, “Don’t major in the minors and minor in the majors”.  This phrase can sometimes make its way into the safety realm.  Yet, when it does we must be careful on how we utilize it as it can too often be misinterpreted as not worrying about the details.  At the end of the day when accident investigations are completed it is not uncommon to find out that the contributing factors come out of the details.

When we get the details correct we increase our safety.  In 2002 the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report highlighting the importance of paying attention to the details.  During a ten year period, from 1992-2002, the NTSB determined that maintenance work lead to 171 aircraft accidents that resulted in fatalities and another 119 aircraft accidents that lead to injuries.  What is even more interesting in the data is the fact that 18 fatal aircraft accidents during this period were the result of reversing the installation of a part where 32 fatal aircraft accident were caused by using the wrong part.  If those completing this work would have given more attention to the details countless lives could have been saved.

Overall the aviation industry has high safety standards and with good reason.  Running out of fuel in a car is not as risky as running out of fuel in an airplane.  While some differences are obvious additional areas translate well into other industries.  Take for instance the crash of Air Midwest Flight 5481, this flight crashed just 37 seconds after leaving Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.  A total of 21 people including two pilots lost their lives that day.  Following the investigation NTSB found that the turnbuckles that control tension to the elevator cables has been set incorrectly.  This mistake (lack of detail) limited the pilot’s control of the aircraft causing it to crash.

Regardless if it is highway construction, power generation or the security industry, these same mistakes result in numerous injuries and fatalities in the workplace every year.  For example, an employee is tasked with using an angle grinder and incorrectly adjusted (tighten) the nut.  This caused the disc to fly off while operating at 8,000 rpm’s striking and injuring the employee.

Not paying attention to the details resulted in an employee at a power generation station to fall to their death when they forgot to tie off to an anchor point before climbing out onto a structural beam.  Both injuries and fatalities could have been prevented if the employees had paid attention to the details of their task to ensure their equipment was operating properly.

So why are we as employers and employees susceptible to forgetting about the details?  The best way to understand this is to look at a concept developed by Gordon Dupont back in 1993, known as the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen contains the twelve most common human errors that cause or contribute to an accident.  They are; lack of communication, distraction, lack of resources, stress, complacency, lack of teamwork, pressure, lack of awareness, lack of knowledge, fatigue, lack of assertiveness and norms (workplace culture).

Looking back at the first example involving the angle grinder, we find that a complacency was the underlining cause of the accident.  In the second example, investigation revealed the underlining causes of the accident as pressure (to get the job finished) and complacency.  By paying attention to the details and understanding the mostly likely causes of human error, we improve our safety records regardless of the industry we operate in.

Our safety program at Elite Contracting Group believes in getting the details correct.  We look at the details of how we perform our work and adapt countermeasures to combat Gordon Dupont’s Dirty Dozen (human errors) to ensure that we better prevent accidents and injuries from occurring.