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If Only My Co-Worker Had Stayed in Control That Day

February 19, 2014

I was at a mining safety conference last year, talking to a gentleman (let’s call him Frank) who had been a mining operator for nearly 30 years.  I was beginning to explain to him how some individuals find it easier than others to stay in control of their emotions during stress, and how this leads to safer behavior.  As I started to explain this in more detail, he suddenly interrupted me, held up his finger, and said “You see this?  This happened because of what you’re talking about.”  I immediately noticed that he was missing most of his pinky finger and part of his ring finger.  Then it was his turn to talk.162720064

He went on to describe in detail how one day he was working with a fellow operator who was on his crew for a long time.  While his co-worker drilled through a wall, Frank was busy hooking up some equipment on the opposite side.  His co-worker had been communicating with Frank regularly, alerting Frank of when and where he was about to drill.  But at some point, the drill started to act up and would not function properly, which frustrated the co-worker.  As he yelled and vented his anger for about 10 minutes, he suddenly drilled through the wall while Frank was working on the other side of it - straight in its path.  Frank was not expecting this, since his co-worker had not given any warning, as he had been doing earlier. The drill slammed into the equipment that Frank was holding at the time, which included a gearbox that smashed and severed his two fingers in an instant.

Frank went on to tell me how this was not the first time his co-worker had lost his cool and used poor judgment which put others at risk.  Frank went on to tell me how the guy had a short temper, was easily frustrated, and had put himself and others in danger multiple times due to his quick knee-jerk reactions when equipment did not work right or when other people irritated him.  But this time, Frank had paid the price.

Staying in Control is a critical part of everyone’s safety.  We all encounter frequent situations where things go wrong, unexpected events occur, and we face sudden challenges.  These are often outside of our control.  But what IS in our control is how we RESPOND to these situations.  We can either lose our cool, let our emotions impair our judgment and act in a way that puts us at risk – or we can react positively, stay calm and collected, and make a careful decision that keeps us and our co-workers safe.  It will always come easier to some people to stay calm because it’s in their SafetyDNA, but by knowing our tendencies ahead of time, we can all take steps to control our response during stressful times so we can act in a safe manner.  Just ask Frank – as he told me that day, “You gotta be in control – always.”  

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Esteban Tristan, Ph.D. Esteban Tristan, Ph.D. is the Director of Safety Solutions at PSI. He manages the development and implementation of all safety solutions and services, which address some of the critical challenges faced by organizations today in workplace safety.