Toolbox Talks: How much are you relying on luck?


Can we rely on 0.1% luck in our operations? In other words, is 99.9% good enough? If it was, here are some startling statistics:

  • 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents daily.
  • 810 commercial airline flights would crash every month.
  • Every hour, 22,000 transactions will be deducted from the wrong bank accounts.
  • For 43 minutes each month, the drinking water from your faucet would be unsafe.
  • 103,260 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly each year.

How much are you relying on luck?

Let’s say your safety metrics are in the top 10% of the industry. You haven’t had a recordable in a over year. Everything seems to be great and you’re on the top of your game. Would you say that you are good, or that you are lucky? How would you know?

Oftentimes, we will see organizations with the best safety metrics relying too much on luck without realizing it. Everything seems to going fine until one day the house of cards comes crashing down and they’re faced with numerous injuries and accidents in a short amount of time.

There are two significant ways to tell the difference between lucky and good: 1. Inspect what you expect. 2. Near-miss reporting.

If you aren’t watching the work to see that “work as prescribed” aligns with “work as performed,” then you don’t know how much luck is a factor. Just because three jobs went out this morning and they all come back completed, you still don’t know if every shortcut was taken and every rule was bent unless you were there.

Near-miss reporting is the clearest way to see how much luck has been in your favor. The problem is most organizations aren’t getting robust near-miss reporting. If you don’t get ANY near-miss reporting, that doesn’t mean there were no near misses and everything is great. It means people are not comfortable reporting them.

Eliminate the need for luck by seeing how the work is done and encouraging near-miss reporting.

Toolbox Talks offers quick insights and thoughts to use for your toolbox (tailboard) talks. Dave Sowers is a founding member of Knowledge Vine, a veteran-owned human performance training and consulting organization that strives to reduce the frequency and severity of human errors in the workplace. He has almost 30 years of experience in power generation and the utility industry. He is a veteran of U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program and holds a bachelor’s degree in resources management and a master’s degree in both management and emergency management and homeland security.