Re: Ski lift accident investigation

Subject: Re: Ski lift accident investigation
From: Peter Neilson <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2011 21:05:26 -0400

On 06/11/2011 09:44 AM, Roberta Hennessey wrote:
> I thought people might find this article interesting.
>
> http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43361554
>
> Investigation of ski lift accident
> The report said maintenance records were inadequate and that the ski
> resort lacked a complete maintenance manual and a complete record
> of the drawings for the lift.

Anyone out there ever try to sell a company on producing those missing manuals? I was once on a company's safety committee. (Don't remember what started the idea that we needed such a thing.) We met just once, in the hallway, to decide on a time and place for meetings. The actual committee meetings never happened. There was no push to allow members to spend time on those "unproductive" meetings. I think the push has to come from outside, either from a government agency or from something like an insurance company.

When a maintenance or safety manual does exist, it's often produced in a vacuum and then ignored (and rightly so, since its contents are worthless). Written procedures often go untested, and the actual work methods are developed ad hoc and passed along by grapevine training. Maintenance records are never kept, or are faked.

Lowe's Home Improvement actually believes in written safety procedures and the associated training. The store manager and employees at the Sanford NC store, 13 miles from my home, knew what to do in a tornado. The storm on 16 April totally demolished the store, but no one in the store was killed and only a few were injured.

The state of North Carolina inspects rides such as ski lifts and ferris wheels. They do not inspect the wheels for my pony ride, though, and I doubt they would have any clue on what to inspect. They would probably want to see that the brakes worked correctly. But there are no brakes! The key to safety is proper training for the ponies, something that is not mechanical and is untestable by anyone who does not understand horses. There is no safety manual, although I suppose I could write one, but having one would be pointless. Just yesterday we tested a pony that we thought we might buy, and immediately rejected her on grounds of safety. She was "spoiled rotten," and we felt she would need a year of training before we might trust her not to strike or bite.

Even if there is a maintenance or safety manual for the ski lift, the actual safety derives from the sound judgment of the operators on duty and of their management. In my estimation, the accident resulted not from the failure to adhere to a written manual, but from the management technique called "deferred maintenance," in which "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is only the beginning. Deferred maintenance can show tremendous cost savings. Maintenance staff are not employed, spare parts are not kept in stock, and make-do patchwork repairs are tolerated. If the manager who initiates the deferral jumps ship before the inevitable catastrophe, he can look like a financial wizard. All the blame will go to his successors.

Thus I doubt that one can sell the manual and the training to a CFO who is deferring the maintenance, or to anyone beneath him. The pitch must be made to the board of directors. Do tech writers ever speak to boards of directors? How?


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References:
Ski lift accident investigation: From: Roberta Hennessey

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