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Progressive Safety: Pogo was right…

It seems a reasonable assumption to me, that if we are progressing in safety the numbers of injuries would be drastically less than they are in 2013. –Carl Potter, CSP

For more than 17 years I worked in an environment where I learned about safety, applied what I learned, and then observed the results.  Then I started a consulting business to teach safety, help companies apply safety practices, and I have observed the results of that work.  This has given me more than 37 years of time to consider what is working and what is not working in safety.

Progressive safety should mean that we are constantly improving our ability to reduce injuries.  When I review the overall data and take note of the types of injuries we experience in industry, and the amount of production, I see a great improvement in our ability to prevent workplace injuries.  There is a common issue that is a barrier to our goal.

In reviewing my 37 plus years of industry experience as a worker, supervisor, business owner, and consultant it occurs to me that as a famous Pogo Comic character quoted, “We have meet the enemy, and he is us.”  In the famous poster used to show people that we are the reason for a littered landscape, Pogo is looking at a wooded area that is cover with discarded trash.  In the same way, when conducting walk-throughs at client locations in preparation for a Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop, I tend to feel like Pogo.

Grown-ups have taken the all the fun from being a kid just to save a few thousand miserable lives.  It’s pathetic.  Whatever happened to natural selection; survival of the fittest?  Nature knows best.  We’re saving entirely too many lives in this country of all ages.” – Comic: George Carlin

We have plenty of rules, process, practices, and safety equipment to prevent injuries in our workplaces.  The issue is that we tend to not follow the rules, know the processes, implement the practices, or use the safety equipment and the results are injuries.  I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to violating all the elements that can keep me safe.  In the Bible the Apostle Paul said, “I am chief among sinners” and I resemble that quote.  I think we can practice progressive safety by first recognizing our own inability to do what it takes to be safe.

Recently I was discussing an incident that happened at our airport with a fellow pilot:

The pilot came in for a landing and had to commit to “going around” due to another aircraft being on the runway.  The pilot going around was flying an aircraft that had retractable landing gear.  When he started his go-around he retracted his gear and re-entered the pattern to land.  During the post incident landing interview the pilot said he noticed a horn blowing that he didn’t recognize.  As he leveled off to land he thought, “What is that noise?”  About that time the prop struck the runway!  He was able to power up and go around again (which is amazing) and this time he remember the gear was not down.  The horn blowing was the gear horn telling him that, “the gear is not down!”

The pilot I was discussing this with said, “I would never do that!”  I said, “That statement is your first mistake.”  I asked him,  “Have you ever heard the gear warning horn?”  He thought for a moment and said, “I don’t know.”  I then explained that it is likely that you have never heard the horn unless you have been a Commercial Pilot student.  To earn a Commercial Pilot Rating you have to do an emergency decent to landing.  Typically this maneuver is initiated at a high altitude with the power all the way back to idle.  At this point the student hears the horn for the first time because a switch on the throttle is activated and a relay is activated that blows the horn if the gear is not down and locked.  The pilot who had the prop strike had likely never heard the horn before and would not have recognized the sound.

Consider that with regard to safety we have a lot of tools to help us create an injury free workplace.  The one element that prevents the use of those tools is our own attitude.  In the workshops and seminars I present we discuss rules, processes, practices and equipment.  I always like to point out that:

  • if you don’t know the rules, you can’t follow them
  • if you don’t know how to perform the practices, you can’t perform them
  • if you don’t think you’ll get hurt, you won’t follow the rules, use the process, or practice safety

My Dad use to tell me, “When you think you can’t screw-up, that’s when you’re most likely to do it.”

My question when discussing situations like the previous incident is, “What would cause me to do that?”  Sometimes it is a lack of knowledge, experience, or desire to learn.  Thinking that we are better than everyone else is a fault that we can all choose to deal with.  For us to progress in creating a safe workplace we have to say, “…there go I!” and realize how easy it is to screw-up!

Thanks and Be Safe!

Carl Potter


If you would like to learn more about improving workplace safety contact Carl at:

You can also find out about opportunities to attend an upcoming open enrollment class by emailing me.


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