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Mistakes on the job? I’ve made a few. Those hours immediately following the big oops can really drag out while your mind spins twice as fast with emotions redlining. Accepting responsibility is not something I struggle with, which provides the added benefit of stewing in frustration and anger all by my lonesome.  What I need in those moments is a way forward that is not only sharing the incident with others, but delivers some sense on the conditions that produced the serious failure.  Putting on the Captain hindsight cape to share the lessons learned at safety meetings may facilitate a positive and beneficial discussion, although the reality is just about every job we perform can be produced countless ways. There will always be a better way to avoid an incident when analyzed after the fact. I recognize that in most cases, some contributing conditions that lead to serious incidents were in place long before I ever arrived on site.

What is the alternative to woulda-coulda-shoulda incident analysis? Although the training and education I’ve received, the articles I’ve read, the places I’ve worked and the people I’ve worked with have been overwhelmingly positive, I have inevitably picked up some baggage in those places as well.  Some of the baggage is highly volatile it turns out.  The volatile material I’ve consumed and embraced has included many concepts, mantras, as well as some work procedures.  The number one worst piece of baggage I picked up and have carried is over-confidence in my abilities -- this trait is frequently rewarded in tree work.

Much of the trades content we learn from in this era comes quickly, because it’s cost-efficient and our attention spans are short.  I realize that in many cases my excitement in learning the new skill, or in being introduced to the new widget has given me just enough training and enthusiasm to be dangerous.  Slow learning is all the rage in many circles lately, and most of us are already doing it in some capacity. I’m not suggesting that every new tree worker must earn their wings with 1000 tautline hitch hours.

Conversely, a 2-day course or a certification from a self-study course does not an Arborist make.  There is rarely the will in workplaces to find middle ground for slow learning for reasons that are economic and logistical in nature. If we (the industry) are serious about reducing incidents and saving lives, we must consider that however costly increased attention to professional development is, increased professional development makes long term economic sense when incidents are reduced, careers are extended, and turnover is reduced.

The endless Instagram mastery of felling hinge-rating, multi-tonne rigs by crane, and huge tops flying into narrow landings is undeniably impressive.  What we don’t see from the big finale in Instagram videos and photos is only the other 9/10ths of our job, and precisely the missed opportunity I would like to work on. #ratemyworkpractices

- Gary Oaks