What’s wrong with safety: yellow jackets and superficiality

A recent forum posed the question “what’s wrong with safety”?  Thankfully there is plenty wrong with safety.  If there were no problems it might be harder to improve!

Problem 1. Yellow jackets and superficial safety.

Politicians routinely wear high-visibility yellow or orange jackets when visiting workplaces.  Yellow jackets are intended to make people more visible to the operators of mobile plant, cranes and the like in order to reduce the likelihood of collisions with people they could not see.  It is a worthwhile problem but the solution is far from guaranteed.  Remember mobile plant operators also hit buildings, etc that are a lot bigger and more visible than a person wearing a fluorescent coat.

This picture from the UK shows a politician being safe wearing a yellow jacket and a hard hat in the cabin of a machine http://news.uk.msn.com/blog/news-bite-blogpost.aspx?post=68f4a59b-98ee-4855-9e42-754fc5e5e428

George Osborne helps to start work on the new 5 Broadgate development in the City Of London. Image (C) Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The machine was supposedly invisible beforehand but if the driver wears a yellow jacket it can be seen?  A heavy object falling from height sufficient to crush the cabin of the machine will be stopped by the hard hat?

What was the number of politicians run over on workplace visits before yellow jackets became popular?  Perhaps someone can help.  I expect the answer is a small number or zero.  What is the number run over since yellow jackets?  Also probably zero.  What problem is this pervasive practice supposed to be controlling?  No problem.  What has been the benefit.  Nothing.  A politician surrounded by a television crew, hangers-on, reporters, lighting, etc is surely visible enough.  There is no chance that a forklift driver in a cheese factory is going to drive through this media production.  The intent of the media show is probably to convey the message that the visitor is not immune from the “rules”; everyone follows the rules.  We all should be “safe” and “responsible” and this is how it is done.  However, there seems to be neither empirical evidence of danger nor any danger by analysis of the circumstances.  So there is no danger and no benefit.  Is there any harm in this practice?  Perhaps.  Harm to knowledge about what it really takes to improve safety.  The promotion of things that are irrelevant can hardly be useful for the growth of quality thinking on any topic.  Hence a proper understanding of safety becomes hijacked by superficiality.  It shows us that the understanding of risk and measures useful to improving safety are not particularly well understood.  So-called images of safety are mainly images of danger.  Thus if you actually need to wear a yellow jacket, it is not a sign of safety, but a sign that there is some prospect that you are about to be run over.  I wouldn’t call that safe.  The big danger with all of this is that safety is the result of everyone’s decisions, particularly people who organise, plan, design, manage, construct, etc.  The engagement of people on improvement of the safety of these things and systems is fairly difficult if safety is seen as being something people “at risk” need to do instead of something that people “designing risk” need to do.

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About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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2 Responses to What’s wrong with safety: yellow jackets and superficiality

  1. mikebehm says:

    The quote “The promotion of things that are irrelevant can hardly be useful for the growth of quality thinking on any topic. Hence a proper understanding of safety becomes hijacked by superficiality.” is an absolutely great thought and should be analyzed more thoroughly. I wonder how much money is spent on the irrelevant? What an interesting study it would be to determine that cost compared to a better engineered system. What is the payback period? Would be an interesting research study.

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