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Overestimating Capability or Experience



Have you ever been on a project when a bad incident occurs?


During my career I have seen a lot of bad things happen.


Nothing wakes you up quicker than seeing a serious incident. When it happens, it happens quicker than you would ever think.


Let me share with you the details of one of these incidents:


I was working on a airport terminal in Phoenix, AZ. I was a carpenter foreman working on the concrete form work. We were using a tower crane that ran on rails. We shared the crane with several different operations on the project. The crane operator we had was a very capable and experienced operator. Some ironworkers were erecting a steel beam on top of the roof close to my crew. The beam was a pretty good size beam; 60 feetlong x 36 inches tall. As the crane operator trolleyed out, he reached a point where the beam was half way over the roof edge, about 80 feet in the air.



I remember looking over at the pick and watching as the crane hoist failed and the beam starting falling to the ground. It hit on the temporary road and sunk down in the hard packed surface several feet. Then it leaned over and took out about 40 feet of lacing on the crane mast. The crane was sitting on rails and it rocked back and forth violently. I thought it was going to come down. I didn’t know which way to run so I just tried to watch closely in case the crane fell our way. After everything settled down, I watched the crane operator come down from the top of the tower crane. When he got to the ground, he sat down and held his head in his hands crying. He was as pale as a ghost.


Luckily, through all of the bent steel and damaged equipment, no one was injured. After an investigation was done, they determined the operator over rode his limit switch to set the beam. It was outside of his rated capacity and radius. He had been running this crane for a long time and thought it was capable of more than the chart.


His experience put him into a level of risk tolerance that he felt comfortable with. He disregarded his chart, the limits, and put his faith in the wrong thing.


Below, I've listed out 10 points that help us justify risk. Please look through this list and think about how you might be justifying risk in your operation.


Justification Points:

  1. Overestimating Capability/Experience: "I have driven in worse conditions than this and did just fine."

  2. Familiarity with the Task (Complacency): "I've done this for 20 years, nothing will happen."

  3. Seriousness of Outcome: "How bad can it be?"

  4. Voluntary Actions and Being in Control: "I understand the risks but when I'm in control there's nothing to worry about."

  5. Personal Experience with an Outcome: "I've never seen anyone get hurt doing that."

  6. Cost of Non-Compliance: "If something happens, I won't be the one getting blamed."

  7. Confidence in Equipment: "This equipment has never failed" or, "It's brand new."

  8. Confidence in Protection/Rescue Equipment: "My PPE will protect me" or, "Someone will come and get me if I get into trouble."

  9. Potential Profit and Gain from Actions: "I'm tired but I need the overtime."

  10. Role Models Accepting Risk: "I've seen Joe do it that way, and Joe taught me everything I know."

Certainly, this example is one where the operator knowingly tried to run the equipment beyond the rated capacity because of his experience level. It backfired on him and I’ll bet he has a much higher regard for capacities and limit switches. Don’t let your capabilities and experience get you into a spot where we risk an injury.

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