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9,144 Steps to Safety


By Randy Logsdon

As part of a personal wellness initiative, I’ve been tracking the number of steps I take during the course of each day. Using a pedometer, on one particular day, I recorded 9,144 steps.

One of the keys to personal and group safety is attention to details. We’ve learned that many injury incidents occur as a result of some small variation in routine activity. Someone trips and falls walking through an area he/she has traveled hundreds – perhaps thousands of times. The vehicle cab door closes and pinches the operator’s thumb. The task has been repeated dozens of times daily for years. What was different this time? An employee is drawing a knife across a piece of conveyor belt. It’s routine. Suddenly the knife has cut into the employee’s thigh. What caused it to slip?

The fact is we do have to rely on muscle memory to accomplish our jobs and to live our daily lives. I was unaware of a large majority of the 9,144 steps I took one day last week. Had I tried to consciously analyze each step, I would have likely fallen flat on my face. It was once demonstrated that a drummer cannot perform a drum roll if he thinks about and times each stroke of the drum stick. To be successful, it must be automatic. Muscle memory keeps us from biting our tongues when chewing food (most of the time). It allows us to throw a baseball, shoot a basketball, drive a golf ball, and to walk from point A to point B. We can perform these functions while our minds can work on more complex matters. One of those complex matters is safety.

While I was not fully attentive to each of the 9,144 steps, I was quite cognizant of the environment in which I was walking. While my feet and legs were doing the walking, my mind was processing potential hazards in the pathway. The computations were almost instantaneous. Distance, surface, grade and obstacles are just a part of the information that my mind was processing. So, monitoring each individual step is not important. Monitoring the variables that may affect my safety as I proceed is important. Identifying that variable that could cause a trip and fall; that could result in a finger being slammed in the door; that could cause loss of control of the knife at the same moment that an employee is in the line of fire – these are the details that we must learn to recognize and adjust for.

There is a process that the attentive mind uses to accomplish this. It’s a process that’s been taught in driver education classes as early as the 1970s (perhaps earlier). After all, some aspects of driving also rely on muscle memory to successfully accomplish the task of driving. The process acronym is IPDE:

  • Identify information in your environment – sights, sounds, smells and temperature changes.
  • Predict how what you’ve identified can affect you in the course of your task.
  • Decide on the necessary preventative action required.
  • Execute that action in time to exercise control and ensure a positive result.

It can happen in a split second. It can occur over an extended period of time. But it must happen (in sequence) to be successful.

Over the years, my knees have deteriorated. Last year, I even underwent replacement knee surgery. The experience of knee pain and the reduced confidence in using stairs gave me an unmitigated appreciation for handrails. Not only do I use them when ascending and descending stairs, but I always take a moment when approaching a stairway to examine the stairway carefully before proceeding – to identify potential hazards. How many stairway incidents could have been prevented if everyone (especially the unencumbered) took that same moment?

Predictions are best if they are accurate. However, even using the best information and experience, we can sometimes produce a faulty prediction. Rather than predicting if something will happen, predict if it can happen. Will an item fall, slide or roll? Can an item fall, slide or roll?

Based on what can happen, decide how to protect yourself and others from the potential consequences. Is evasive action required? Can the energy be controlled? Are barriers required? PPE? Does the process need to be stopped or altered? Does someone need to be alerted? Is there a safer way?

Finally, execute the action that you’ve decided will be effective in mitigating the danger.

Understand this process and apply it consciously with each activity – routine or not. Identify that variable, predict the potential effects, decide the safe course of action, and execute.

Actually, there may not be 9,144 steps to safety. There may only be four.