It is intuitively obvious that whenever we conduct a hazardous operation or develop a new program we should conduct a thorough risk analysis. It may not be as obvious, but it certainly is just as important to conduct a risk analysis of our daily operations and routines. It is too easy to be lulled in a false sense of security because since nothing bad has ever happened before, therefore, nothing bad will ever happen.
You would certainly expect NASA to conduct a risk analysis to mitigate potential hazards before sending an astronaut hurling through space in a tiny space capsule. And, we would expect that a towboat on the Mississippi River pushing 40 barges that cover more square feet of water than an aircraft carrier would be well prepared for high risk evolutions with adverse currents near shoal waters and obstructions such as bridges.
So why did John Glenn safely return from outer space yet suffer a concussion when he tripped on a rug and hit his head on the bath tub? Or why is the leading cause of fatalities on towboats falls overboard during routine operations?
We know that there is a risk associated with every decision that we make. But, are we just as conscious of the risks associated with the decisions that we don’t’ make? Good things do not generally happen on their own when we pretend that we are an ostrich and stick our heads in the sand.
Identify all of your routine tasks and the hazardous associated with them. Look for what can go wrong with equipment, the environment and personnel. Assess the risk by knowing the potential adverse consequences of each of the hazards. Do not accept unnecessary risks, unacceptable risks or projects where the potential benefit does not outweigh the risk. And, always monitor the situation for change. It doesn’t matter how good Plan “A’ is; if the situation changes, you need Plan “B.”
Unless we periodically review our daily operations and routines, we have no idea of what is lurking around the corner lying in wait to attack us when we least expect it. If we “know” that we are safe even though we have failed to take the action necessary to ensure it, then our safety “just ain’t so!” I think that Mark Twain was on to something!
Captain Larry Brudnicki is the real-life Captain of the Coast Guard ship that performed two dramatic rescues during the storm that became known as The Perfect Storm, and inspired the book that was on the New York Times best-seller list and the blockbuster movie. These two dramatic rescues during the Perfect Storm amount to only 100 hours of a 30-year career of assessing risks, making decisions and inspiring teamwork.