President's Perspective: When safety fails

As details of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy slowly emerge, questions linger about what went wrong and how similar disasters can be prevented in the future. Ongoing investigations will no doubt reveal that somewhere along the line, safety failed.

In a matter of minutes, a bad choice or an oversight can become dangerous, deadly and irreversible. This is a difficult lesson, but one that we can thoughtfully apply to our daily lives.

While there is no single reason why things go wrong, there are common themes for why people fail to give safety the consideration it deserves.

Sometime it is because of a lack of education or proper training. People may not realize or respect the potential for danger. Memory also fails and technology changes, which is why taking refresher courses is so important.

At other times, there are engineering problems or mechanical failures. Distractions or carelessness or impairment can also quickly culminate in disaster. Familiarity might create the feeling that you know a process or procedure so well that you couldn’t make a mistake. This is one reason professional pilots always refer to a checklist when about to undertake critical aspects of a flight such as landings and takeoffs.

Sometimes it is a lack of enforcement. All the regulations in the world will not make a difference if monitoring is inadequate or if violations go without consequences. It might be valuing efficiency over safety. It might even be – and often is – human error.

With all the possibilities for things to go wrong, it is important and encouraging to recognize that prevention is possible and necessary to minimize avoidable death, injury and damage to property. The costs of not doing so are simply far too high.

It is estimated that preventable incidents claim more than 13,000 lives and cost Canadians nearly $20 billion every year in health care costs and lost productivity, according to a 2009 study by SMARTRISK.

Safety should never be an afterthought and it should never be forgotten. A safety-orientated attitude is one of the best defences against the unpredictable.

Safety training is most often associated with workplaces, but the idea of being safety-oriented is something that needs to be brought home every day. Talk about safety with the people in your life – your friends, your children and your co-workers. Take steps to make your home, school and community a safer place.

Do your part and give safety the consideration it deserves. It might just save a life.

Safety - It’s an Attitude!