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Safety Critical Elements: Check, and Double-Check

There are just a few conditions that if left unchecked can lead to a serious outcome. What are these for your work team?

This past week here in Oklahoma a young lady lost her life skydiving.  Preliminary questioning leads all the experts to believe that she failed to check her chest strap before jumping.  One of my good friends who is a Jump Master and has thousands of jumps said the young lady was on her sixth jump of the day.  Our outside temperature was running close to 100 degrees or more all day.  My friend is in good physical shape and told me that he would have been exhausted had he done six jumps.  He believes that she may have been tired and unfocused, causing her to not make vital equipment checks which caused her to fall out of her harness when she deployed the chute.  (at this point is speculation, but is likely well founded)

When I was working in the world of high-voltage electricity we had checks that ensured our ability to perform a job without injury or death.  As I fly myself around the country speaking I now have checks that if gone undone the results are a disaster.  Human beings make mistakes, errors, and are forgetful causing us to not apply a safety device.  Moreover, a machine, meter, or safety device that fails to function can also lead to the same devastating results.

Checking and double-checking to make sure a machine, meter, or safety device is working properly is vital to safety and well-being of the individual and co-workers.  I like to use the term “Safety Critical” to describe the elements that must be confirmed.  If you are working on electrical systems that have the potential for 50 volts or more and you are going to touch conductive parts, you must check it for “dead” or to be “de-energized”.  Further to the point, you must check the volt-meter to make sure it is working and able to give you a good reading.  Once the voltage is checked you must re-check the meter to make sure it was working when you checked the dead circuit, hence “check and re-check”.  It is also vital to know, understand, and accept that safety devices such as rubber gloves can fail to provide protection if left unchecked.

Rubber gloves that are designed to provide a barrier between the worker and certain levels of electrical voltage are cleaned, inspected, and tested usually every 6 months.  When the electrician is in the field using the gloves to work on or around conductors they are supposed to recheck each day, and additionally when they may have been damaged.  Checks and rechecks are also critical to confirm that a machine is doing what it is supposed to do as well.

In the manufacturing and construction trade when operating equipment to perform a job we must recognize safety critical operations.  If you operate a press or stamping machine in the manufacturing environment there are safety interlocks which must be checked and double checked to ensure that they are operational.  Again, these are safety critical if your goal is to not get hurt.  We see these same interlocks in construction equipment such as cranes where the machine will not operate if it becomes unleveled.  The sad part is that many deaths occur because the operator failed to check and double check safety critical operations (human error).  Moreover, there are cases where death was the outcome because the operator by-passed or physically disabled safety critical interlocks (blatant disregard).  As a pilot I have a safety critical check and double check before landing.

Previous to landing my plane I check my landing gear is actually down after I engage it during my approach to the airport.  Once on the short part of the approach I recheck the gear down.  Even though I have a light that illuminates green when the landing gear is down I look out at the mirror on my wing to visually recheck to confirm.  Landing with the gear up is a common problem in aviation when the pilot fails to make sure the gear is “down and locked”.  As a Coast Guard volunteer pilot I occasionally land at military bases where the controller in the tower tells me, “Check gear down and locked… cleared to land”.  Interestingly enough civilian airports do not use this verbiage to reconfirm the gear is down.  As humans we work and play in unforgiving environments.  To ensure a positive outcome so that we can repeat a hazardous activity we must check and double-check our actions, the condition of our safety equipment, and the safety critical operations of our machines.

When playing a game of cards at the kitchen table it is likely that we can say there are no “Safety Critical” elements unless it is a game of high-stakes poker.  On the other hand, when going out to make a living in heavy industry you are likely going to have many “Safety Critical” elements.  The key is in recognizing the hazards, evaluating what the hazard potentially can cause, and what controls will mitigate the risk posed by the hazard.  When it comes to being safe, hazard recognition and control is safety critical to creating a workplace where it is difficult to get hurt.  Spend some time with the team you lead or work with to discuss what are “Safety Critical” elements that must be checked without fail and you will be taking aim at the target of zero-injuries.

Be Safe!

Carl Potter, CSP


Check and Double-checking safety critical elements is a discussion during the Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop or Hazard Recognition and Control Concepts Seminar.  Effective training for your organization is a safety critical element and the Safety Institute is here to help your organization.  Call 800.259.6209 today to see what can be accomplished.

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