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The Six Sides of the Box

Last year, this column featured a six-part series focused on expanding our approach to safety beyond the six sides of a proverbial box. This is a recap of those six articles. – Ed

Most can agree that the typical box is made up of six panels – top, bottom and four sides. That same structure can be applied to the figurative box often referenced when one is advised to “think outside of the box.”


My good friend, veteran safety professional Carl Metzgar employed this figurative box once to describe six traditionally ascribed “principles” of safety that he suggested have trapped us within the confines of that proverbial box and perhaps, at the same time, suppressed important safety innovation.

So, within the spirit of Carl’s lead and with my own twist, I offer my definition of that box, one panel at a time.

Panel One

Safety First: Safety should not be considered a priority – priorities change. Safety should be applied as a foundational value in every activity or task.

Safety, as one of the foundational components of an organization, can be described as being integral to principles (even values) that define the success of the organization. As a foundational component, safety can be defined in broad terms that encompass expectations for personal performance, working conditions, communication and social interaction.

Panel Two

Safety is just Common Sense: Safety can be said to be more than just common sense and more than applied specialized knowledge and training.

Knowledge, understanding, training and practice are as essential to safety as sound engineering, processes and energy control. In a complex mining environment, we must employ those systems that manage the inherent risks.

Panel Three

Compliance = Safety: Compliance with established safety rules and regulations should be viewed as an important component in defining safety in mining operations. However, compliance will not necessarily protect miners from the extraordinary – the unusual. These are the types of incidents we must learn to prevent if we are to improve.

We cannot hope to produce a rule for each and every possibility. While we’ve made astonishing progress in institutionalizing safety, safety is ultimately very personal. Only when we create, nurture, and operate within a true safety culture will we begin to approach our ultimate objective.

Panel Four

Accidents Are a Matter of (Bad) Luck: Whether an injury incident occurs is a function of the merging of interdependent actions.

To say that we make our own luck is only partially true. Undoubtedly, our own personal attention to risks can significantly improve our chance of survival. Our chances are also enhanced by those others on whom we depend. Safety is not an independent act – it is an interdependent collaboration.

Panel Five

Safety is a Given : The battle for safety is fought on two fronts: environment and human. On both lines, we must not assume safety as a given.

Assume rather, that without active attention, reminders and reinforcement, our existing controls and systems will eventually wane. We may not even know until something happens.

Panel Six

Not Here, Not Now, Not Me: Because we are safety-aware and actively vigilant.

There are established methods for improving awareness through communication and procedures, and for improving evaluation of risk through structured risk assessment.

The failure to act upon known dangers or deficiencies plays an equally critical role in contributing to complacency. Experience has taught us that we can get the job done quickly and efficiently (most of the time) by applying time-tested shortcuts. Whether you climb over that spill or operate a power tool a the frayed cord, you may be demonstrating a degree of complacency.