My wife and I had this discussion last night because she’s slowly gotten into the habit of leaving her curling iron on, trusting in the backup safety feature that turns it off after a certain amount of time, rather than unplugging it. I told her that she shouldn’t make the backup safety feature her primary way of making sure that the iron wasn’t left on all day. If the backup safety feature should fail the iron would end up on all day and might potentially start a fire.
I did get her permission to talk about this from her and, to her credit, she agreed and said she’d try to make sure she unplugged the iron from now on (time will tell if she actually does because habits are really hard to break).
It did get me thinking about this truth however, especially as it applies to safety in the workplace. If you make you backup your primary you don’t have a backup and you defeat the purpose of the backup, putting yourself at risk.
This can apply to almost any area of safety. Let’s take the example of confined space. Confined Space entry requires that anyone going into the confined space have a primary and a secondary means of entry. In most instances, the ladder that is mounted on the inside of the well is the primary and the line that is attached to the D-ring on your body harness is the secondary. If something happens and you slip off the ladder or aren’t able to physically climb the ladder, someone else outside the well can hoist you out. If, however, you use the hoist that is intended as your backup as you primary means of entry and/or egress, you’ve now made your backup your primary and you have no backup. if something goes wrong (say the line breaks or fails somehow) the worker plummets to the ground; trust me, he isn’t going to be able to suddenly grab onto the ladder.
Another example, in everyday life, is the seat belt and the airbag. You don’t ignore the seat belt just because your car is equipped with airbags, nor to you deactivate the airbags because you’ve got seat belts. Both are necessary.
There are many more examples of safety areas that have redundancy built into them in order to make sure that a worker isn’t just protected, but protected even if something goes wrong. Redundancy is important, especially in areas where lives are at risk. They might be inconvenient at times but they are designed the way they are for maximum protection. Don’t eliminate your primary in favor of the backup or you no longer have a backup.