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Is it Better to be Good or Lucky?

The answer to that age-old question depends on the context.  My dad taught me how to play cribbage as a youngster, and I still believe that if you play regularly you develop enough skill in a few years to compete with the old-timers.  The rest, as they say, is the luck of the draw.

Being “good” implies a consistent skill with a reproducible result.  Luck, on the other hand, is purely a random result without an ability to influence the outcome.  Every day we see examples of tragedy that has been avoided by fractions of a second and chalk it up to being “lucky.” I’ve been driving for over 30 years and regularly take from the “luck” column and add to the “good” driving column.  At green lights, I hesitate for an extra second or two before proceeding to avoid drivers running red lights in the opposite direction.  I know I’ve avoided at least a dozen collisions—life changing events.  Where the outcome depends on some element of chance we deduce it to “being at the right time and right place” or conversely “the wrong time and wrong place.”

A safe outcome should never be built on luck.  Policies, procedures, and programs all exist for the purpose of producing predictable injury-free events.  But as an employer, how do we combat the actions of others that affect our workers?  The driving example is always a good one.  An employee’s driving habits can be mostly controlled through training, policies, and clearly communicating expectations like no cell phone use while driving.  What about the other guy, the other driver that fails to yield and causes a crash.  Unfortunately, this worker injury must still be recorded on the OSHA log.  Large facilities or construction sites are no different as each contractor and each employee can be viewed as a moving part.  The more parts, the more complex, and the more chances for someone else cause a problem.  To minimize the occurrence of a bad outcome, every part must work together well and with the same purpose.

To reduce the reliance on “luck” and to move towards a state of “good,” consider the following practices:

  • Hire contractor employees with an acceptable safety performance record. Vetting or pre-qualifying a contractor thoroughly will help to reduce hiring an at-risk workforce.
  • When on-boarding new employees, give safety its due. Set the tone and take adequate time to communicate expectations.  Do not short-change the importance of safety, but rather discuss both the human and business costs of a solid safety program.  Make it personal.
  • Consistently engage the workers to make them understand that they are a large part of the success or failure of safety performance. Reach out to employees through daily huddles, committees, and any other forms of communication.
  • Leading by example is the challenge for senior leadership. Visibility and a commitment to safety through regular communications reaffirms that safety is a core value within an organization.

I occasionally purchase lottery tickets with the expectation of not winning.  It sure is fun to dream, but I know enough where not to rely on luck.  Is it better to be good or lucky?  That depends on whether we are talking about gambling or the safety of workers.

Dan Hannan, safety professionalAbout the Author: Dan Hannan is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and has been practicing safety for twenty-four years.  He is presently the Safety Director for Merjent, an environmental and social consulting firm serving the world’s leading energy and natural resource companies. Merjent  consultants have decades of specialized experience on pipeline projects, including planning and feasibility, environmental permitting, construction compliance, operational compliance, third-party analyses, stakeholder engagement, and technology solutions.  Dan can be reached at dhannan@merjent.com.

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