One of my favorite topics to discuss during weekly Health, Safety, and Environmental meetings on board ships and offshore drilling rigs is the “Incident Triangle”. Not only is this a good safety meeting topic for the maritime industry, the principles can be applied to virtually any working environment (even at home). Here’s the set up for the discussion.
Almost everyone who works in the maritime industry has a pretty good understanding of the three sides of the fire triangle (oxygen, heat, and fuel). Take any one of these sides away and there is no fire.
This same concept can be applied to the prevention of incidents on board ships when we look at the three primary ingredients of an “incident”: Inactions, Changes, and Conditions. Now if you’re a little confused on how these three elements are responsible for nearly every incident that has ever happened in the history of man kind, please read on and I’ll explain.
When planning a task on board a ship, industrial factory, or even a corporate office, nobody ever sets out with the intention of causing an incident. Hazards and risks are identified and, where applicable, control measures are put in place to prevent the hazards from materializing.
Unfortunately, the world is not perfect and sometimes simply planning how you think a task will be performed is not good enough. Either the plan to perform the task was not complete (the condition), a new element was introduced requiring the plan to change (the change), or the plan was simply not followed (the inaction).
Here’s a closer look at each leg of the Incident Triangle:
Failure to plan a task or follow the job safety analysis as originally developed by the individuals involved with the task. Inaction can be prevented by stressing the importance of following the agreed upon plan. Tell your coworkers that following their safe work plan is more than just an expectation of the company, it is an expectation of their families that they return home from work in the same condition (or better) than when they left. Ask them what their family would think of they were injured on the job because they didn’t follow their agreed task plan.
Failure to recognize and manage changes in the task that deviate from the job safety analysis or task plan. Incidents associated with management of change can be prevented by continually monitoring the task and taking frequent “time-outs” to reassess the task and look for any hazardous conditions not previously identified.
Failure to recognize all of the potential hazards associated with the task. Unsafe conditions can be prevented by involving the right people with the knowledge, skills, and experience to perform the task safely.
A Real World Example of the Incident Triangle:
To illustrate my point about the incident triangle, I often share the story of how my basement flooded one winter due to a failure on my part to recognize an unsafe conditions (and take action on it).
Every year in Maine, homeowners will spend some time “winterizing” their homes in preparation for the cold winter months. Part of this winterising involves removing the “garden hose(s)” that are attached to the outside spigots so they can be drained and properly stowed so they don’t freeze and burst.
One winter, I was running a little behind in my preparation for winter and I hurriedly cleaned up around my house before heading back out to sea. Unfortunately, during my haste, I did not realize that my wife had installed a second garden hose on the back side of my house which she and the kids like to use in the summer time for various activities. Even worse, this hose was normally left pressurized so she wouldn’t have to climb down the stairs with our young children running around to turn the faucet on.
About a month later (around Christmas time) I received a called on the ship from my wife informing me that the basement was flooding with water from the garden hose that had frozen and then burst spilling water into the basement of the house.
Naturally, my wife asked me why I hadn’t properly stored the hose in the first place. My reply was that I didn’t even know we had a house on the back side of the house. The reality was, had I done a proper inspection of the exterior of my home while “winterizing” the yard, I am pretty confident I would have caught it.
When I tell this story in safety meetings, most people find it pretty amusing. To conclude the safety meeting topic, I’ll typically ask a series of questions to stress the three elements of the incident triangle and how they related to this incident.
First, I’ll ask what the inaction was in my flooding incident: Not properly storing the garden hose.
Second, I’ll ask the goup what the condition was: The hose being filled with water.
Finally, I’ll ask what the change was: The temperature dropping below freezing and bursting the pipe.
Generally, the feedback from this meeting is overwhelmingly positive but I need to be careful not to tell it too many times. It gets old after a while!
I hope this discussion has helped provide you with some tools, ideas, or suggestions for you own safety, environmental, and health meetings. I’ll be presenting more safety meeting topics and ideas aimed at the maritime industry in future installments. Good luck!