Taking Safety on Offense - Unconscious Controls

Taking your safety on offense is all about learning how to compensate for the human limitations that create human errors. Human errors account for 95% of all accidents and are indefensible when the human traits that cause these errors remain unexposed, and defensive measures are never taught.

The first article exposed our limitations in vision that allow us the same ability to see hazards as we would expect from being partially blindfolded. At best our vision downloads visual information at two thousand bits per second in environments that contain millions of bits of information; however, work during dark stormy nights or be swept away into a thought induced daydream and your vision can be reduced to seeing nothing at all.

The second article covered our limitations in the ability to accurately recall a memory.

We believe memories are like movie reels that we can rerun to remember people, places, experiences, and technical information; however, the truth is closer to a pile of Polaroid photographs that age, turn yellow, and run together over time. Often retrieved memories are believed to be accurate accounts of the past, but often contain errors as reconstructed. The effects this have on our abilities to accurately recall safety steps can lead us to perform actions that contain deadly errors. Our limitations in vision and memory are created by our biology and will be lifelong vulnerabilities we can learn to compensate for effectively.

The third article covered the power of our beliefs. It revealed how we can creatively  form beliefs that contain error-filled information, and we use these beliefs as the software programs within our minds. Any errors contained in a belief instantly affects our behaviors, ability to form relationships, lowers available intelligence, grows false confidence, generates negative emotions, and can produce daydreams of compulsive thinking. Coming to understand the power limiting beliefs possess in our lives is by far the most difficult limitation to accept as true and the most time consuming to correct; however, gaining personal growth by adopting wisdom to replace limiting beliefs can literally change people’s lives. Limitations in vision, memory, and beliefs alone would seem like enough obstacles working against our safety; however, our subconscious minds can be allowed to control the majority of our actions, but is unaware of existing hazards or safety training.

Within evolution, every move up the evolutionary ladder is marked by an organisms ability to conserve energy whenever possible. We sit on top of this ladder, because of our great intelligence and reasoning skills. This ability comes to us with a large expenditure of energy when the conscious mind is calculating strategies. To compensate, nature gave us a way to still function and limit our energy consumption. Nature developed the subconscious mind to consume low levels of energy while controlling many of our bodies active systems.

It would be impossible for anyone to dribble a basketball or ski down a mountainside without the subconscious mind controlling our balance and muscle memory. However; when our subconscious minds are making corrective movements at the speed of light, we are consciously unaware of each individual correction. We need the control mechanisms of the subconscious mind. The conscious mind does not operate at speeds fast enough to make actions appear fluid and effortless; however, being aware of environmental hazards present in the environment is not within the skill set of the subconscious mind.

Only our conscious minds are able to be present each moment and detect changes within the environment. When this ability is linked with the subconscious mind’s ability for  faster action controls, we are operating at our highest possible levels of physical performance. However, problems arise when we become so conditioned in relying on our subconscious minds for control that we continue this habit in hazardous environments. We allow our subconscious minds to control our actions when our conscious minds are preoccupied. It is estimated that 95% of our daily activities are performed at some level in a thought induced daydream state. The danger of doing this in a hazardous environment is that the subconscious mind possesses no knowledge of safety training or environmental hazards.

The subconscious mind is programmed with genetic information passed down by our ancestors, and downloading experiences up to six years old. Our ancestors had no  experiences with hazards that modern technology has produced, and as children, we were  kept away from dangers created by technology. Lessons stored in the subconscious mind are powerful and can keep us from ever touching a hot ember again since the pain felt once taught a lesson in a second that will last a lifetime.

The only part of the subconscious mind that learns as an adult are skills learned through repetition. These skills often take months or years to become automatic; however, the current changes to the environment still remain unnoticed. This leaves the subconscious mind being able to control our actions, but uninformed and defenseless in defending us from evolving hazards within the environment.

Have you ever walked into a room where a person was so engrossed in a television show that they didn’t notice you were there? You  can talk to them, but they can’t   hear the sound of your voice. A person’s subconscious mind can take over while driving a car, but they only wake up once the destination is reached. Often the person doesn’t remember the trip or anything from the past fifteen minutes. They could pull out in front of other cars, run red lights, crash into the rear of stopped vehicles because the subconscious actions of the driver is not consciously aware of the changing traffic environment. Awareness to the environment, safety training, reasoning logic skills that allow us to avoid hazards are not programmed into  our subconscious minds, so this weakness leaves us exposed to hazards when we allow our subconscious minds to take control.

Being controlled by the subconscious mind leaves us blind to changes in the environment, open to memory lapses, and overconfident around hazards created by technology. Only the conscious mind is powerful enough to detect all environmental hazards, but remaining consciously aware each moment takes more energy and effort. Since evolution conditioned the mind for energy conservation, we are predisposed to allow our subconscious minds to control most of our daily activities. Only training, that educates us on the limitations our subconscious minds possess, can allow us to grow more mindfully aware.

To be mindfully aware is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the subconscious mind and the conscious mind. Within these two areas of the mind, there is plenty of power to keep everyone safe for a lifetime; however, we don’t receive the training to understand in what type of environments it is safe to use our different minds. Accident reports are full of examples where people get into fatal trouble by allowing the wrong mind to control their actions in the wrong environment.

There was a young crew leader around 35 years old, who was leading his crew to replace a 40-foot single-phase pole in an easement. The pole had a primary riser that ran south about one hundred feet which fed an underground transformer. Most of the work had been completed in the morning, so after lunch, all that remained was to finish backfilling the pole   hole and energizing the riser to the transformer. When they went back to work, the crew leader instructed the crewmen to start backfilling around the pole while he would close the cutout to energize the underground cable.

There was a small bucket truck in the easement, so the crew-leader grabbed a shotgun, harnessed himself into the bucket, and went up to install the high side stinger. Reaching the cutout he placed the hot-line clamp into the shotgun, and put the stinger onto the 7200-volt primary line and tightened it down. He was about to close the cutout when he remembered there was an underground primary sleeve at the base of the pole where his men were working. He didn’t want to energize an untested sleeve with his men so close, because it might blow up in their faces. He decided to stop and wait for the men to finish backfilling and get in the clear.

Up to this point, everything the crew had done was safe and followed every current safety rule. However, once the crew leader stopped to wait he relaxed and decided to smoke a cigarette. He was smoking when he noticed the cutout wasn’t exactly in the right position. He put the cigarette between his lips and reached out grabbing the top of the cutout with his right hand and the bottom with his left hand. His hands became frozen as 7200 volts flowed in  series through his body and the coil in the pad-mount transformer.

This was a crew leader, who was so safety conscious and knowledgable about his occupation. Everyone wondered, how this accident could possibly happen to such a fine young man? That was the most repeated question at his visitation and funeral; however, his accident is completely understandable. What happened on that day was an error in allowing the wrong mind to be in control while in an environment containing primary voltage (technological hazard).

He was operating from his conscious mind when he used the shotgun to place the high side stinger on the primary line. He knew the elbow was on the pad mount transformer which would put a 7200-volt potential across the top and bottom of the cutout. He knew he didn’t  have his rubber gloves on since he was going to be using the shotgun for all the hot work. He was thinking with his conscious mind when he remembered the sleeve that was close to his co-workers, so he decided to wait for them to be in the clear.

He left his conscious mind the moment he relaxed and decided to smoke a cigarette, and whatever he was thinking about beyond that point allowed his thoughts to produce a low- grade daydream. He was aware enough of the environment to notice the crooked cutout, but his subconscious mind, through the repetition of rubber gloving training, had been trained that it is ok to reach out and touch a cutout while standing in a bucket. He wasn’t conscious  enough to realize he didn’t have rubber gloves on, or that the stinger was on the primary energized line. This mismatch of the wrong mindset being used in a hazardous environment was the true cause of the accident.

There is an unlimited number of thoughts which can redirect the conscious mind from controlling our actions and allowing the subconscious mind to take control; however, there are never any benefits for our safety when we are in close proximity to a hazard. The moment our conscious minds relinquish control of our actions the subconscious mind takes control. The subconscious mind doesn’t operate with the same type of immediate information of the environment as the conscious mind, so we are immediately at risk for an accident.

Unfortunately, we don’t train people to understand this vulnerability and ways to protect themselves.

The way we can protect ourselves from these types of accidents is by learning about our human limitations and choosing to remain in the conscious mind while in close proximity to any hazard. We can control what we think about and choose not to daydream if a hazard is present. These hazards are present a small percentage of the time each day; however, the payback is huge in the terms, of personal safety. We can choose to keep our conscious minds calculating the risk at all times. This is what the conscious mind was designed to do, and utilizes all of the conscious mind’s most powerful qualities.

To STOP the injuries and fatalities Lineman suffer every week I have provided valuable information in seven articles “Taking Safety on Offense” in Power Lineman Magazine. Now it is up to you to look up these articles on the, “Be Safe,” facebook page and bring answers to your workgroup. Search, “Be Safe Steve Opper,” and it should pop up. Only you can bring the necessary changes that protect your own life, and the live’s of your friends. We can only defend ourselves from hazards we know exists and the greatest dangers lie in what we have never been taught to recognize within ourselves. All of my findings on how to remain fully aware in dangerous environments can be found in my book, Be Safe, Growing Safety Awareness for Accident Prevention in Dangerous Occupations, on sale at Powerlineman.com book store. If you have found this article helpful or think I am missing important information, please let me know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In Solidarity, Brotherhood, and Safety,

Steve Opper, Journeyman Lineman/Retired

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