I reported recently on a couple of very nasty near misses, and if you look at the comments at the end of that post there is another scary story about someone who thought he did not need to follow the rules. Recently there was a report of very similar near miss which was described like this:
The contractor moved cyclone fence (exclusion barrier) and dug 2 metres into a 3 metre no go zone with a 30 tonne excavator installing a drainage pit. Works on this estate started approx three months ago with various locations marked out and fenced to avoid encroachment. The whole area is clearly signed and a lot of discussions were already carried out with the estate developer prior to approve the works in the vicinity, explaining the risk of pipeline failure and conditions of works.
So again some strange thought processes were used to conclude that all the precautions could be ignored.
In the same vein there seem to be numerous anecdotes of farmers and others who hang their jacket on the pipeline warning sign and proceed to dig right next to it.
I have referred semi-disparagingly here to people who used strange thinking and/or did not believe they needed to follow rules, but I think the real problem is just as much with those of us in the pipeline industry who don’t understand the reasoning that might be used by others who are different from us.
Not long ago I was fascinated by the book Everything is Obvious – Once You Know the Answer; How Common Sense Fails, by Duncan Watts (an Australian physicist turned sociologist and head of research at Yahoo – interesting career path!). At one point he says:
Plans fail … not because planners ignore common sense but rather because they rely on their own common sense to reason about the behaviour of people who are different from them
That statement seems to apply in spades to the problem of people who ignore all the measures that thoughtful and well-intentioned pipeline engineers and operators put in place in the hope of preventing pipeline damage. Just because it is common sense to us doesn’t mean that everyone else will share the same interpretation of “common sense”.
For this reason I am keen to see what the pipeline industry can learn about how people outside the industry think about the procedural protection measures we use. But regardless of that, incidents like these reinforce yet again the danger of believing that procedural controls provide complete protection. Others think differently.