Anker & Marsh

Author Bio ▼

Dr Tim Marsh PhD, MSc, CFIOSH, CPsychol, SFIIRSM is MD of Anker and Marsh. Visiting Professor at Plymouth University he is considered a world authority on the subject of behavioural safety, safety leadership and organisational culture. As well as many of the world's most recognisable industrial names Tim has worked with diverse organisations such as the European Space Agency, the BBC, Sky TV, the RNLI and the National Theatre in his 25 year plus consultancy career. He has key noted and chaired dozens of conferences around the world including the closing key note at the Campbell Institutes inaugural International Thoughts Leaders event in 2014. He has written several best-selling books including Affective Safety Management, Talking Safety, Total Safety Culture, the Definitive Guide to Behavioural Safety and Organised Wellbeing. Previously he led Manchester Universities ground-breaking research team into behavioural safety methodologies in the 1990s.
August 18, 2020

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Behavioural safety

Behavioural safety & risk management: Dr Tim Marsh’s personal case study

I’ve often written about personal safety in these pages. Specifically, I’ve suggested that what lands us in hospital, or worse is, statistically, seldom a consequence of the most dangerous things we do but very often a consequence of a moderately risky but frequent action. This usually involving some combination of: losing our footing/tripping, losing focus and taking our eyes and/our minds off the hazard or moving into (or not out of) the line of fire. These directly caused most usually by tiredness, rushing, being angry or frustrated or having simply habituated to the risk.

In my life I’ve probably crossed busy roads on foot about 150,000 times or so without any incident. Not even a single near miss I can recall.

traffic-lightOn Saturday, however, I went for crossing 150,001. Paying full attention I’d half crossed a busy road near where I live then paused standing not in the ‘middle of the road’ but on a checkered section where cars are not allowed to drive. (It’s actually painted red to highlight that). However, as I stood looking left to confirm it was safe to continue crossing (I’m in the UK) I was hit by a car from behind and launched into the air … luckily landing mostly shoulder first.

I don’t know what the driver was thinking, but the facts are: There is a traffic light about 80 yards up the road from where I was hit; there is a filter lane that starts about 30 yards further up the road; this filter lane was empty; the traffic light had been green for a while. (Indeed, my last thought before several variations of WTF!!, was ‘come on, isn’t it about time you turned red and stopped this flow of cars so I can get across …’).

When we talk about excellence in personal risk management we talk about the importance of ‘never assuming’ and that should is a four letter word. We also have rules of thumb that drive pro-active habits like ‘always give yourself the leeway to deal not only with your mistakes but also the mistakes of others’ and ‘assume everyone else is drunk, stupid or both’. It was light, I wasn’t rushing, wasn’t distracted, (my phone was in my pocket), I was calm, sober and legally compliant so I should have been safe. Indeed, I had been safe about 150,000 times before in similar circumstances … but what I didn’t do was double check an assumption…

So, finally, a note on the nature of luck: My business partner, Jason Anker MBE, often points out that when we fall we usually don’t injure ourselves at all – it’s just hurt pride or dignity maybe. But sometimes, however, we land awkwardly and break a wrist, or an arm, or tragically, we land badly on our back as Jason did. And sometimes we can hit our heads which can of course even prove fatal. The point is that once we’re falling we’ve lost control: the dice are rolling and what happens next is down to luck. The trick is to keep full control and not fall at all. (Especially don’t start the fall in question by being launched into the air by a moving car.)

So although I’m chock full of pain-killing drugs as I write this and utterly desperate to not need to cough or sneeze for a least a week! I’m very aware of the fact that, among other things that happened on Saturday, I got lucky.

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