Three layers of cheese: the new hierarchy of control

Safety in Australia “What a circus, it really is embarrassing and sends a message, a message that we aren’t serious about improving safety…. This is how a friend and colleague described the state of play in safety this morning.  I agree.  It seems that the circus has resulted in the emergence of a new hierarchy of control.  This is what “leadership” looks today in Australia in safety management.

The new hierarchy of control:

1. Use the sand.

2. Play the card.

3. Deploy the inspectors.

4. If you are really desperate after trying these good solutions then, and only if you are at your wits end, use design initiatives previously known as “elimination”, “substitution” and “engineering”.

Further explanations:

“The sand.”  Put your head in the sand and pretend a problem does not exist.  This technique is one of the top tools used in cultural leadership programs.  It manifests itself in targets for LTIF (lost time injury frequency rate) which results in things being hidden.  “Use the sand”.  Asbestos in the NBN communication ducts is another good example.  Let’s put the new cables through those existing ducts.  But won’t that abrade the ducts?  All the asbestos ducts in Australia?  Don’t worry about that now.  “Use the sand”.  Problem solved.

“The card.”  Devise a protective paper card that gives a worker special strength against a disease or danger.  This idea has been picked up from Masterchef and other reality TV games where a special pin or card conveys immunity.  It works there and should work for real as this is not called “reality” TV for nothing.  The NBN is using “the card” to protect workers from asbestos diseases.  We can only wonder why we all don’t get one.

“The inspectors”.  If “the sand” does not work and for some reason the powerful “card” is unreasonably questioned, deploy extra people to watch what is happening.  The NBN has employed the “inspectors”.  This curiously increases the exposure rather than decreasing it but if you are worried about that pesky detail then return to step 1. and use “the sand” which should relieve your concern or give the inspectors “the card” which will protect them too.

James Reason would be so proud.  Three layers of cheese!

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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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5 Responses to Three layers of cheese: the new hierarchy of control

  1. Rodney Currey says:

    Careful John you’ll create an outrage! But if the first cheese slice is true maybe not!

  2. Thanks Rodney. We need an outrage. We are descending into a bizarre state of play in safety. Unfortunately, as you suggest, I think the first slice of cheese is too thick!

  3. Sean Welsh says:

    John, remember, not all people are the same, our belief system vary dramatically and not all “safety practitioners” have been privileged and the pleasure to be educated in hazard management at VIOSH.
    Also, there is no benefit in providing solutions that would eliminate such a hazard to those seeking to make a profit from being safety inspectors and in this case the profit is obviously significant!
    Perhaps there should be two streams of safety people that employers can choose from:-
    1. The progressive organisation that engage safety practitioners that influence great outcomes that result in safe workplaces; or
    2. The other organistion that engage safety inspectors/officers that generate great incomes from ensuring people comply and are safe!!
    The problem is that NBN Co. is run by lawyers that obviously have advised management that the cost associated with available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk is grossly disproportionate to the risk!! Or maybe it is just too political in an election year and those that make the rules have influenced the outcome.

  4. Good points Sean. There is a mountain of money to be made selling the sand, the cards and providing the inspectors.

  5. Pingback: How to have a big industrial accident. Step by step guide. | safedesign

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