Normal work-life is boring. Boring like a Tarantino Movie. Hours and hours of not much punctuated by short bursts of extreme chaos. In a way that plateau of slow-moving normality lulls us into feeling that nothing will ever change. Nothing will burst this safe, protected bubble. It creates the conditions for the chaos but doesn’t prepare us for it. Like a sink hole in a long straight road. Five hundred and fifty- five thousand people were injured in non-fatal accidents in 2018. That’s a lot of sudden chaotic moments. Five hundred and fifty- five thousand people ripped from the walking sleep and fell down that sink hole. Some of them stood up shook themselves down and got on with it. Some had to receive first aid and went home with a bandage or a limp. Some had to be taken to hospital and treated or admitted. The vast majority of them might have said they didn’t see that coming. Really?
So what is normal, to expect an accident, or to expect that there will be no accident?
A lot would be human error. Some of it may be down to equipment failure, some of it unsafe working practices. Nearly a hundred per cent would Have been preventable. If I was a betting man, which occasionally I am, I would say that after almost every accident ANYBODY could sit back and look at the facts of what happened and point to some kind of failure. If they pursued this desk-top exercise and thought back up the chain and asked a few Why’s and How’s then they would also pin-point a few endemic, cultural or management issues which created the conditions which allowed the incident to happen.
The other day my teenage son uncoupled himself from his computer and went out on one of the bikes that are stabled in the shed. He went up and down the street jumping off the kerbs and doing the usual infuriating things kids do on bikes. He came back in and casually dropped that there was something wrong with the front brakes. I took a cursory look at it and the answer made me visibly inhale. The wheel nut had come loose and nothing was holding the front wheel to the frame except gravity. One more kerb jump, one more wheelie and the think would have come away and my eldest son would have planted his face in the tarmac. Not an accident but a near miss for sure. Preventable? Yes.
The ‘Theory of Everything’ is, according to Wikipedia, the attempt to find ‘a single, coherent, unifying theory to explain all the physical aspects of the universe.’ In trying to achieve this all sorts of theories have been put forward including one called the Multiverse theory, where the universe splits every time there is a decision to be made which could affect the future events. In effect every possibility happens somewhere in one of the concurrent existing universes. So, when we look at an event such as an accident, there will always be small pathway events leading up where a decision can be made which will alter the course of what will happen and prevent the accident. Like forks in the road. You can decide to go left, or right. Left leads to the accident whereas right leads to no accident. I could have checked the bike over when I got it out of the shed and found the loose wheel and tightened the nut. In some universe I did that. In another I’m sat in A and E whilst he gets his face put back together thinking I only I checked it over. Nothing in this world is accidental. Its all causatory.
We need to learn to take these opportunities, these forks in the road to make sure you make the right choices. Choose safety. Choose to insist on tools being serviced and maintained, on pre-start checks being made. Choose to insist on giving people the right training and the right work environment. Choose to insist on people wearing their PPE, removing debris off the floor, in unblocking the fire exit. Choose to do some thing about the thing you thought, ‘I must do something about that’ rather than just walking past, sleep walking through the normalness of it all. Tarantino knows what he is doing. He accentuates the action by the prolonged use of inaction. The longer nothing is happening makes it is more likely that something bad will eventually happen. Wake- up, see the opportunities, see the forks in the road, take the right path, prevent accidents.