Common Sense – noun

1. sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.

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I found myself involved in a conversation last week with a mixed group of people in a workplace—old and young, tradesmen and operators, and even an engineer to round out the group—when the question of practical application of safety principle came up. Now over the years I have gotten used to the booing and jibes that are associated with someone mentioning the “S” word in conversation, but this one was very positive, with people sharing experiences with safety decisions that they thought were quite amusing: Walkways painted in awkward positions, insane amounts of PPE required, and something about the driving skills of P-Platers.

An older tradesman in the group looked up from his paper and said quite loudly, “safety is just common sense, some people have it and some people don’t … end of discussion”.

This isn’t the first time I have heard this response, and while I am a fan of the theory in principle, if we break it down, a person we identify as having common sense is usually older and more experienced, and, throughout their time, have not hurt themselves—or at least not been caught hurting themselves. On the other hand, the person we usually describe as not having any common sense is often someone who has been involved in some sort of incident or accident. “What an idiot, how could he possibly have made a decision like that, he has no common sense.”

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You can’t measure common sense, it is not physically possible, and I can tell you that, in my experience, people who hurt themselves come in all types. Different ages, races, religions, sizes, levels of experience etc. The thing they have in common is that, prior to the incident or accident, they had lots of common sense, and after they had none.

“Common Sense is like deodorant – The people that need it the most never use it.”

We need to get away from this phrase, as measuring a person’s safety performance does not come down to common sense, it comes down to their ability to prepare themselves properly for a task, not start the task until they are confident that all hazards have been effectively controlled, and, most important of all, sharing lessons they have learned through safety shares and reporting of hazards or near misses (or ‘free lessons’ as I refer to them).

Carl Watt(MBA, Grad Dip OHS)

Find Carl on LinkedIn and connect with him here.