The empty chair: A miner’s true story | part 2: lessons
I have thought several times about what went wrong that day. I have been working in underground mining for many years and have always been mindful about safety. I have never had a close call.
Soon after the incident, I was able to single out the root cause. Surprisingly, it was something remarkably simple: I made a wrong decision. There was nobody to blame but myself. My company has safety systems in place, including continuous awareness and training on safety. I had multiple options at hand before the incident happened that morning, but I chose the wrong one. I could have waited where I had finished my job, which was a safe spot to be. I could have called my ride and told him to come and pick me up in that location. I could have stopped when I saw the mucking activity taking place in the drift, put my gear down, and used my radio to call the scoop operator. I could have just gone back to a safe place and waited until the right moment to continue my journey. Lastly, I could have walked around the scoop on the operator’s side and not in straight line as I did. Choosing this path put me in the scoop’s blind spot. Yes, I had much better options, but for some reason I picked the wrong one. I learned the hard way that no matter how much my company does for my personal safety, ultimately, I make the final call, and that call must always be the right one.
I made the wrong decision. There was nobody to blame but myself.
To feel more comfortable with myself, I could say that making mistakes is human and that I made a mistake because I am human. However, in this case I have to say that when it comes to your personal safety and the safety and wellbeing of your coworkers, you cannot make mistakes, period. You need to realize that safety is a priority and a value. Safety is about cherishing life, the greatest gift that was given to each one of us. Safety is about growing and nurturing everything good that is inside of each one of us. Safety is the foundation of living a meaningful life. It must permeate every moment of your life, every step of the way, every decision, everything you do at work and away from work. Thinking of your personal safety as a value will ensure that you will always be safe and you will always keep your coworkers, your family, and your friends safe. You will know that safety is your personal value when you make only the right decisions related to your personal safety and the safety of those around you. You cannot leave it to chance that your life and wellbeing, as well as the lives and wellbeing of others around you, will be fine.
Finally, to summarize the lessons learned
1 When it comes to your personal safety, you make the final call and you can only make the right call, period.
2 Safety is a priority and a value. It must permeate everything you do every day and every step of the way. You work safe because you are thankful for your life, the only and greatest gift ever given to each one of us.
3 Eliminate bad safety habits from your life. They will kill you one day. Shortcuts will work until one day they will not, and it will be too late. Instead, nurture good safety habits. They will keep you alive and happy.
4 Pay attention to the behaviour and conditions of your coworkers. Someone may not be feeling 100% today, and he or she can put themselves at risk and put you at risk. Your coworkers may look the same day after day, but their behavior is driven by what is happening inside their minds. And that you do not know.
5 Always check your surroundings. Not just once, but always, continuously. Things and people are in a state of continuous change. It is not always evident until it is too late.
6 Always be defensive. Do not trust anything until you are satisfied that it is safe. You will never win a battle against a scoop, a truck, a man carrier, a piece of falling rock, or even a hammer.
7 The lifesaving rules are the voice of the dead, the voice of those who did not live to tell the story. Think of every sentence written in the lifesaving rules as being said by someone who was tragically taken away from life. The dead are asking you to please pay attention and do not make the same mistake they did.
8 The field risk assessments are not a formality, nor are they just paperwork. They are a reminder about the simple things where we can fail, those trivial things that we take for granted most of the time because they seem so obvious. When doing a field risk assessment, think about the real meaning of every reminder and how it applies to the task you are about to take. Reset your mind every time you start a new field risk assessment. Hazards are just waiting for you to make a mistake.
9 Maintain your workplace in good and safe condition. Good housekeeping will ensure that many hidden hazards are uncovered before they hit you. Housekeeping is not just an exercise to make a place to look pretty. It is an integral part of maintaining the workplace free of hazards. Never leave your workplace in disarray. The next person can be exposed to harm. You do not want to do that to your colleagues. And remember, the next person can be you.
10 Communicate with your team regularly about the condition of tools, equipment, and the surroundings; about your whereabouts, about your decisions regarding your tasks. Communication is like the blood stream in your body. It keeps all the parts healthy.
11 Wear proper PPE for the job. Make sure it is always in good condition. Make sure it is well-fitted and secured. I came out from the incident with just a few scratches because I was wearing my PPE and it was properly fitted.
Thank you for sharing this experience. A great reminder of what we can do to prevent things from happening.