Near wotsit: Moving on

I would like to clarify a couple of points about yesterday’s Near Wotsit post:

  1. The incident last week was very clearly an accident, plain and straightforward, no one even considered calling it a near accident/ miss. It was serious and we were very lucky that as little happened as did.
  2. I have never swung a one ton lump of wood 10cm past a carport with a 380k fully pimped-up Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 Roadster parked in it. Never a Lambo. Other brands, maybe, but never that. 😉

On a more serious note, I was thinking about what I wrote yesterday, about how I felt the term near accident was preferable to near miss, but actually realized that I am not even sure about that.

The Oxford Dictionary of English’s definition of an accident is:

1. An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury

Apart from the element of surprise and lack of intent, first and foremost, an accident represents a system failure. You are no longer in control and the the safety mechanisms of the system(s) you put in place (be this a climbing or rigging system, your traffic management system, a crane or a MEWP…) has failed and no longer performs its intended function. Considering an accident this way raises the question whether an near accident is actually possible.

This reminded me of what Clifford W. Ashley wrote in his book, The Ashley Book of Knots on the correct tying of knots:

A knot is never “nearly right”; it is either exactly right or it is hopelessly wrong, one or the other; there is nothing in between. This is not the impossibly high standard of the idealist, it is a mere fact for the realist to face.

Get that knot right. It's either exactly right – or hopelessly wrong.
Get that knot right! It’s either exactly right – or hopelessly wrong.

So, if Ashley’s standard is applied to work at height, or any activity entailing risk come to that, then either you perform the task correctly – or hopelessly wrong. And if there is nothing in between, that also makes the terms near miss or near accident, whichever one you choose to use, obsolete. Either everything goes to plan, which is obviously the desirable outcome. Or things do no go to plan, then the situation evolves into an incident and if that incident incurs a system failure we are dealing with an accident, which may lead to injury or damage to a person or an object, but does not have to in order to qualify as an accident.

The point I am trying to get to is that maybe the psychological loopholes and backdoors I mentioned in yesterday’s post in how we refer to these incidents go deeper. By referring to something as a near miss or accident we are de facto belittling it and again changing our mental level of acceptance for it and influencing our ability to recognize it as what may be the start of a chain of events that could ultimately lead to a system failure.

So maybe this traffic light only has a green and a red light? Right or wrong, black or white, yin or yang, cake or death!… Whoops, sorry, spun out of control there for a moment.

Looking at things from this angle creates a strong incentive to get things right. Not more or less right, but spot on. Or, if you are lacking a skill, competences or tools to perform the job correctly, to remedy the situation before continuing – rather than to fudge it. Because, again following Ashley’s lead, this would mean that you are not doing the job half-right, but rather hopelessly wrong. And that can then paves the road towards incidents, accidents and/ or system failures.

Yes, it was a big tree today and I had lots of time and head space to think…