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Is ‘Good Enough’ Really Enough?

It was a hot and humid spring day and the three-man crew had just changed out the gear case on the secondary crusher in record time. Best of all, no one got hurt – not even a busted knuckle. The lead mechanic, Dave, had directed the entire operation and was anxious to test-run the crusher.

“Ok guys, pick up your tools and get your locks off the breaker,” instructed Dave. “We’re going to start this bad boy up.” The crew had just begun to collect their tools when Pat spoke up, “Hey, Dave. Looks like we spilled some gear oil over here by the motor. We should probably get some oil dry and clean this up before we start up.” Dave gave it a quick glance and replied, “Nah, let’s get going. There’ll be enough fines that drop out to soak up the oil. It’s good enough.”

Back in the shop, Ed and Brandon looked over the old gear case. Brandon, bent over and inspecting the shaft, commented, “Boss wants us to save as much as we can off this old gear case before we send it in for re-build. Let’s see if we can get this pulley off.” Ed added, “You know, we just put that new pulley on a couple of weeks ago. It went on pretty good. Let’s see if we can pry it off.”

While Brandon used a pry bar on one side of the hub to provide pressure, Ed used a short bar and an 8-lb. hammer to tap against the opposite side of the hub. As Ed was about to swing, Brandon hollered, “STOP! Wait a minute, Ed. You’re striking steel on steel. If a shard came off that hammer or bar, it could take your eye out.”

“Good point,” Ed responded. “ We should probably get a couple of face shields. That should be good enough.”

My apologies to those mechanics out there who may find inaccuracies in the technical aspects of the preceding scenarios. The point is that it is very easy to get caught up in the process to the extent that the analysis of risk may get only superficial attention. Experience tells us that less than full attention may just not be good enough.

Actually, the phrase “good enough” can serve as a wake-up call. While gathering tools and equipment for the job, in the process of performing the work, at the completion of the job, when you hear (or think) “good enough” one should pause and re-evaluate. The phrase “good enough” actually implies that there is more that can be done.
Too often we trust our safety to a single safeguard – a single layer if you will. In a number of processes, there may be only one reliable and practical safeguard. We certainly don’t want to add risk. But, for our own safety, we really should consider all the options.

There is a fairly simple hierarchy of controls that applies to safety that is fairly easy to use. The first is the most effective; the last is the least effective. The more controls (layers) employed, the greater the benefit.

  1. Elimination.
  2. Substitution.
  3. Engineering Controls.
  4. Administrative Controls.
  5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
    1) Elimination is the ultimate safeguard. If the task or hazard can be eliminated, the risk is neutralized. In the first scenario, the oil spill may have been cleaned up and the hazard to an unsuspecting employee would be eliminated.
    2) One may substitute a different tool, chemical or procedure to mitigate the risk. In the second scenario, a wheel puller or other hydraulic device may have been used to remove the pulley.
    3) Engineering controls include guards, interlocks and other devices that separate the individual from the hazard.
    4) Administrative controls include training and the application of procedures designed to mitigate hazards. Administrative controls may also include warnings, signage and minimizing exposure time.
    5) While Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) may be the only reliable safeguard, it is the last line of defense. If PPE fails, an injury occurs.

There is one other aspect of “good enough” to consider. We may rely on good enough because we’ve determined that the likelihood of an incident is remote. We clearly understand that it could happen, but we’ve rationalized the risk to believe that it won’t happen now and it won’t happen to me. Think about reversing that thought process.

I’ve done this a thousand times. Nothing has ever happened. But it could happen. What would it feel like if it happened this time? If I were certain that it would happen this time, how would I protect myself?

There’s another hierarchy of protection that may make even more sense. Consider: Good Enough – Better – Best.