Sometimes, 99% is as good as 0%.  And it’s really quite useful to know when that’s the case. 

Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap. 

Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way.  Welcome to you, you’re in the right place.  If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.

This episode is brought to you by real people, doing real high risk work.  But even more than that, this episode is brought to you because well timed, well structured curious questions asked of the people who do that work, reveal insights that we can all learn a whole lot from. 

“210 to 318, am I okay to come past on your left side?”

What you just heard is often called poscomms. 

Poscomms is short for Positive Communication.  Poscomms serves as an important control measure to prevent the unwanted or uncontrolled interaction of people and plant, usually large plant or machinery in mining and civil construction works.  Picture large dump trucks or truck and trailer, bulldozers and excavators. 

So what’s the actual control, the things which is effective for minimising the risk of people and plant interaction? It turns out, it’s quite a number of things.  The basic ingredients are:

  1. People with radios
  2. The initial message
  3. The response

‘I’ve got it Baz’, I can hear you thinking.  Why are you talking about a really self-evident control for a common risk on lots of kinds of sites, on a podcast designed for deeper professional development?

Well to explain, we need to make a quick diversion and talk about the bung hole. 

Bung Holes

A bung is a kind of cork, which you put into the holes in a boat to stop it sinking. 

Why do boats have holes? Most boats, most except really big ones which permanently stay in the water, have holes in them because the boat needs to drain when it comes out of the water. Boats take on water, so they need a drain hole.  A bung hole. 

If you’ve ever been boating, you’ll know about the bung hole.  Because one single piece of cork or plastic is the thing that will, without a shadow of a doubt, make the difference between you floating, or sinking the boat. 

If someone forgets to put the bung back in the bung hole, you’re sunk. 

Even if you did secure every single bung hole, but forgot one.  You will sink. 

That’s when 99% is as good as 0%. 

So we are sitting outside with this construction crew after their morning pre-start meeting.  We were talking with the people who do the work in order to discuss with the senior governance committee about whether the safety vision was evident out on site.  And yes, that is data, and the process was data gathering for reporting purposes – not everything is a number, but I digress. 

We had done a couple of things to do our best to get the psychological safety sufficient for the group to discuss work as done. 

I asked ‘what’s something you know, that’s really important to you, that you wish other people knew?’

One of the excavator operators jumps in without missing a beat. 

“No one acknowledges me radio calls, I just wish when I jump on the radio to a spotter or another operator, that I get an acknowledgement’. 

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.  I could have guessed, but in these situations, my only goal is to encourage the person to talk more, using their own words, without my assumptions or interpretations.  If you want to stimulate good dialogue, a question like ‘what do you mean’ is what’s called an encourager. 

‘I got no idea whether anyone has heard me call, who is around, and what is happening on the ground’. 

Remember what it sounds like? This poscomms control?

Initial message.  Respond. 

Initial message.  No response. 

99% is as good as 0%. 

No response, no poscomms, incomplete visibility, incomplete information.  Uncertain delay, or just as likely proceeding blind.  Uncontrolled risk.  Drift towards failure. 

Approximately 70 seconds later, the group had talked about what good actually sounds like, and there was greater clarity of what people expected.  Not only that, the group had started to self-organise around one person’s expert knowledge of work as done.  They took that perspective as important, and understood what needed to happen and why.  The broader team who aren’t involved directly in plant movement also became witness to this work as done, the potential for immediate adaptation, and what to pay attention to in the hours thereafter. 

How confident are we that what we think is working, is working? How comfortable are we with our current uncertainty?

The idea of 99% = 0% is not the same as saying that everything is useless.  There are positive changes that are evident, in the way that risks are understood, controls are defined, planning ensures there are enough spotters, that everyone has a radio, and the radio’s are charged,  inductions set clear expectations, plant operators are actually on their radio’s and the calls are clear and understandable. 

The 99% = 0% Rule simply means that a lot of effort means diddly squat without all the right ingredients. 

These are the ingredients that come together to make the critical control cake.  But even cakes need a minimum of critical parts – some dry stuff like flour, some sweet stuff like sugar, some wet stuff like milk or eggs, and something to help it rise like yeast or bicarb. 

And yet a big list of those things were in place on the site for that poscomms control measure to work.  Except the plant operators don’t hear anything back. 

The trap, the real temptation is when the 99% fools everyone into thinking that it’s close enough to 100%.  It makes mathematical sense if you round it up.   It doesn’t work that way.  Near enough is good enough. 

The last bung missing in the boat.  The yeast missing from the cake.  The acknowledgement missing after the radio call. 

All too often in our game, the 99% is as good as 0%.

And it’s useful to know when. 

Thanks so much for listening.  Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way?