Originally posted on Caterpillar Safety Service’s Safety Culture WORLD blog http://safetycultureworld.blogspot.com/and reposted here with Caterpillar’s permission.

A corollary to over-confidence in equipment is having too much confidence in our personal protective equipment (PPE).  Technology advances, in some cases, have led us to be more confident in PPE preventing injuries --thus increasing our personal risk tolerances to the dangers around us. Some examples include:

  • Fire resistant clothing that does not burn when exposed to flame:  When wearing fire-resistant clothing, individuals may take risks that they would have not taken otherwise.  While Nomex does not burn, it does get very hot and can still burn the employee wearing the protective gear. 
  • Gas detectors designed to warn of the presence of dangerous gases:  Often, gas detectors are designed to detect specific gases. For example, H2S monitors do not alarm in the presence of flammable gases that do not contain H2S, leaving other dangerous gases undetected.
  • Crush-resistant gloves designed to protect the hands:  While crush-resistant gloves protect individuals from minor forces of impact, they do not protect against high-impact forces or amputations.

To prevent decreased personal risk tolerance, an individual should work as if unprotected. Working as if exposed to various levels of safety risk can help individuals take accountability for their safety rather than solely relying on the technology of PPE. By understanding the limitations of PPE, one can identify the risk, mitigate the dangers, improve safety systems functionalities and use PPE as a final line of defense.  

Another common worksite over-confidence is relying upon rescue and medical technology.  The real deterrent to this over-confidence that leads to higher personal risk is to understand the limitations of protection and rescue measures. Air and ambulance evacuation for remote or local sites, for example, can take too long.  Without a doubt, the improved technologies that exist are meant to be the last line of defense. 

We must first try to eliminate the risk, then mitigate the dangers, improve our safety systems functionalities and leave PPE and medical treatment as a last line of defense, not something to be relied upon. 

Maybe pre-job briefings that present the thought of each of us being older, less capable and unprotected to the dangers we can encounter is not such a preposterous concept to present before we step into work and off-the-job related risk environments. It may bring some realities to the forefront of one’s mind if we rely too much on rescue and medical technology.