Late last year 2 men (skilled earthmoving operators) were seen waiting out a storm by raising the bucket of their 20-tonne front end loader up and then standing under it, using it as an umbrella. When approached about the stupidity of this act the reply was “she’ll be right!”

A ‘She’ll be right’ attitude often contributes to accidents on Australian farms according to Tasmanian Workplace Standards Senior Inspector Peter Rigby. “Research shows that in many rural accidents, there is a ‘she’ll be right’ moment when someone consciously decides to take a risk,” Mr Rigby said. “Both workers and employers experience this moment — perhaps when they decide to take a shortcut to get a job done on time or when they decide not to train workers to ride All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), or to leave machinery unguarded. (Tasmania 2004)

All Australian risk management systems are designed essentially around one fundamental principle: to reduce or eliminate the occurrence of accidents within the workplace.

The primary model adopted by most workplaces is one of personal awareness to combat the She’ll be right attitude of many workers, “Think Safe”, “Work Safe”, “Be Safe”. This personal awareness of one’s safety is supposedly meant to ensure that the worker is less likely to have an accident and that they ultimately have most of the control over whether they are to be safe or not.

Regulators have made inroads recently in directing industries focus to look at safe processes and not set up the employees to fail by assessing not only what they do, but also the way that they do it for possible hazards, this is entirely sound thinking as long as there is never a “She’ll be right” moment in time.

This mindset infers that employees possibly do not think safe and therefore need to be reminded to “Think Safe”. Ultimately under this mindset the assumption is that the employees by not having the right mindset are setting themselves up for a possible accident, that they are “accident prone” unless concentrating on thinking safe, “She’ll be right, it’s the employee’s job to think about it, not ours”.

James Reason in his study of the nature of the human error (Reason 1990) states that the more predictable varieties of human fallibility are rooted in the essential and adaptive properties of human cognition. Two basic error types were identified:

  1. Slips (and Lapses), where the actions do not go according to plan, and

  1. Mistakes, where the plan itself is inadequate to achieve its objectives.

Insurance companies perpetuate the model that if an individual has a past record of injury or accidents then this predisposes them to more injuries and therefore are more reluctant to ensure that person again (Shaw 1971). Yet it is well documented that there is no proof that any individual can be pinpointed as being accident-prone, however, it is well documented that people take risks (what is the difference) “She’ll be right I’ll have another cigarette, one more won’t hurt!

Heinrich is credited with documenting the first scientific method of accidental injury causation. It is reported that his studies involved 75,000 insurance accident report cases of the 1930s. His study produced figures to indicate that 88% of the investigated accidents were caused by unsafe acts, 10% due to unsafe conditions and 2% as unpreventable.  Heinrich suggested that in the majority of cases the peoples’ individual characteristics and behaviour were the root cause of most accidents.  The assumption was that an individual’s personal traits or mindsets were either inherited or acquired and that they predisposed them to increased risk-taking i.e. Recklessness, stubbornness, avariciousness, “She’ll be right” attitude etc., this preceded a concept of the employee (risk taker) using a mindset of subjective judgment (Heinrich 1959), however it has to be acknowledged that due to the plethora of information the community have on insurance claims almost any inference can be statistically substantiated (Gemini’s are more accident prone than other star signs, fair dinkum, THEY say its true!).

Heinrich demonstrated his theory similar to five dominoes placed end-on-end. Knocking over one creates each domino to topple in turn.

Australian workplace version

Heinrich hypothesised that removing one thus breaking the knockdown sequence could alter factors in an injury accident. Essentially to prevent ‘loss’, remove the unsafe act or the unsafe condition (Taylor 2001).

Heinrich theorised that modifying human error, given the basis that some worker traits are careless or carefree, can reduce injury cause, that the actors have the ability to choose between safe and unsafe acts. Given ‘man and machine and/or energy’ co-exist and do not act separately, engineering solutions should be designed to relieve cognitive human weakness. (Gibson 1961). This, however, does not prevent the “She’ll be right” moment.

Viner’s theory (Viner 1991) suggests the identification and control of potentially harmful energy eliminate or reduces the latent conditions of the unsafe person while operating in an unsafe place. Further Hale (Hale 1999) theorises that if any of the senses are impaired then the identification and control of potentially harmful events may be impaired. Hale goes further to identify senses that may predispose an individual to harm.

Mohr and Clemmer (Mohr 1988) state that from the results of their studies it is unlikely that overall injury rates in the workplace can be effectively reduced by screening out workers with excessive numbers of injuries in any given time period despite the intuitive appeal of this approach. They precede this by identifying that their results could be skewed due to natural attrition of repeat safety offenders (drongo’s), this may be because such behaviour is a transient trait (Froggatt P. 1964) or because workers who behave in such a way are eliminated from the workforce early.

Some sportspeople are more prone to injury than others, despite being fully fit. In an article written by Mullins (Mullins 2004) a new mathematical model (developed by Rudi Penne of the Karel De Grote school in Antwerp, Belgium, and Henri Lauri of the University of Cape Town in South Africa) of the body shows that these athletes rely on a fixed combination of movements that they can not easily modify. Using projective geometry, Penne and Laurie modelled the actions of cricket bowlers, they found that most bowling combinations allowed the bowler to make small adjustments to their actions but a few combinations give no room to maneuver. The researchers call this “reduced redundancy” and say that it may play a special role in sports injuries. This type of biomechanical research is at the forefront of safety science looking at the ergonomics of the way tasks are undertaken. If the work of Penne and Laurie can be extrapolated to apply to other professions such as building and mining where workers often suffer repetitive strain injuries they should be able to reduce injuries.

The “She’ll be right” attitude is best exampled in modern society by the majority of the population refusing to adhere to safe driving codes.  Baum (Baum 1999) states that in the studies carried out by the Queensland University of technology in 1999, that at a spatial or aggregate level significant associations exist between drink driving offenders and a number of constructed and individual socioeconomic variables. Essentially this research points to demographic factors pointing to a lack of care and even worse wilful disregard of safety by a set group of people (“drongo class”).

Modern physiologists have tried to explain an individual’s wilfulness to determine safety for themselves.  Hale (Hale 1999) states that modern motivation theory tries to incorporate past theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow 1954) which sadly are no longer applicable in community terms.  Drugs of dependence supersede all human motivators previously studied, why else would a person skip lunch to smoke a cigarette! Hale (Hale 1999) states that bodily needs are the primary human motivator (based on Maslow’s work), unfortunately, modern society has shown that for certain individuals in the community safety, security and other “Bodily Needs” do not apply.  Their primary motivators are overridden by their addictions.  This needn’t be just heavy drugs; addictions can be traced to drugs such as nicotine and caffeine, both of which are legal drugs.  In the safety context an individual (often educated, healthy and astute) will smoke a cigarette that they know is going to kill them, smokers often make light of the health effects of cigarettes (“She’ll be right, mate”!) The full extent of the tragedy is shown in any public place where parents can often be seen smoking in cars with their children.  Often on a windy day, you see a mother light her cigarette in their babies pram, they willfully do this knowing the damage that it can cause the child, but “She’ll be right”!

Author credit to David Lee, Original post here.

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