By Randy K. Logsdon
I don’t get as many strange looks as I used to get. That is probably because in a mining community more drivers have joined in practicing this procedure. I speak of the practice of sounding the car or truck horn prior to pulling forward or backing out of a parking space.
If you operate mobile equipment, including light-duty vehicles on the mine site (including underground operations), you’ve developed the habit, if for no better reason than to comply with 56/57.14200. (Before starting crushers or moving self-propelled mobile equipment, equipment operators shall sound a warning that is audible above the surrounding noise level or use other effective means to warn all persons who could be exposed to a hazard from the equipment.)
While some may find the practice annoying (my wife no longer voices such displeasure with me), the practice illustrates the value in applying a consistent procedure.
I hesitate to use the term “habit” because a habit is often considered as an action or series of actions performed without thought. Dictionary.com defines habit as: an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. When we perform these safety steps, they should be deliberate. If they become habit, an interruption in the routine can force an error.
The thoughtful repetition of a procedure helps to reinforce the consistent application both on and off the job. Habit may be an excellent way to perfect your golf swing, but can lead to problems when performing tasks that are likely to include unexpected (even hazardous) deviations from the norm.
Airline pilots have a very complex set of steps that they must perform prior to initiating flight. They use a checklist so that none of the essential tasks are overlooked due to a memory error. Airline mechanics use similar checklists. Each check is a deliberate act that is documented. Procedures for preparing to drive or park an automobile are much simpler but we can still apply a mental checklist. In the workplace, we do use a checklist in performing of a pre-operational inspection.
While certain steps may be routine, each is deliberate, requiring an observation and a conclusion. When you check the engine oil, you must compare the actual presence of oil with respect to the graduations on the dipstick. At work this inspection is mandatory and must be performed by the operator before placing the mobile equipment in operation. I’ll suggest that most of us don’t use a similar checklist for our personal vehicles.
The deliberate application of steps in a repetitious procedure better prepares one for deviations – conditions that need to be addressed immediately or the addition of additional steps if needed without interrupting the routine.
I recently attended an out-of-town seminar where it was necessary to park a rental car in a large single-level parking garage. After setting the parking brake, and turning off the motor, I realized that later in the day my vehicle might be difficult to distinguish among all the other white cars. There were no unique landmarks. I completed the standard parking procedure, removing the seatbelt, stepping out, locking the door and added one more conscious task.
I located the parking space number (a four-digit number) and copied that number on the back of the parking pass, which I then secured in my wallet. Reliance on habit may have led me directly into the convention center without taking this brief but important step. At the end of the day, I was able to locate my ride without difficulty.
As with developing a habit, the consistent application of routine procedures can be improved with practice. That means performing those procedures (when applicable) always. To ensure that deliberate application, it helps to consciously identify those steps each time they’re performed. Three-point control when ascending and descending ladders is another good illustration. Habitually, your body wants to move an arm and a leg together. This occurs when walking, running, climbing stairs and climbing ladders. Mentally commanding your extremities as you ascend (hand – foot – hand – foot – hand – foot) will help to overcome the unconscious urge to simultaneously move an arm and a leg.
Initially, it seems awkward and perhaps a bit slow but you will find that your grip and step are firm and solid as you proceed. With practice, the task soon becomes deliberate – a consciously repeated routine procedure.
Consider some of the habitual (automatic) on- and off-the-job habits that really should be deliberate.