Should safety work be done fast or slow?

Should safety work be done fast or slow?  This position of Safety Director asks whether you would like to “lead the safe delivery of construction in Victoria”.  Getting there will include “An opportunity to be innovative and strategic in an important area of government compliance”.  Both these sound useful and point toward safety being an upstream consideration.  Right on the safe design theme.  A wonderful development with potentially very effective outcomes.  Years ago when I introduced the topic of “safe design” into the Royal Commission I was hopeful of this effect.  But what about the other suggestion in the advertisement: “Do you want challenging work in a fast paced environment”.  Perhaps not.  Why do this important work in a rush?  It sounds more like the chaotic management of a crisis rather than thoughtful design.  Consider the “fast-paced” $5 billion government insulation scheme.  The lack of slow thinking here was followed by a project that resulted in several worker deaths, dozens of building fires, 100,000’s of houses needed to be checked, 10’s of thousands and perhaps 100’s of thousands of homes reworked and $millions if not $billions to fix.  Thus it has the classic safe design themes: (a) safety problems; (b) rework problems; and (c) cost overruns following a lack of thinking in the design of the program.  Think about for instance the Burnley Tunnel fire (Tunnel crashes – blame the drivers and let the designers off).  Designers and planners had the time to do slow thinking but did not do it well.  Instead the truck driver with only seconds (fast paced thinking) to avoid a mistake while driving in the tunnel was sent to jail.  The Coroner then recommends  that emergency lanes be considered for freeway tunnels; decades after it was already known.  Some slow thinking beforehand on whether it was a wise idea to leave out a known and proven safety feature would have been better.  So should we be encouraged to work in a fast paced environment or a slow and deliberate environment?  Should robust and effective safety work follow the rhythm of the tortoise or the hare?

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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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