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Beyond the Friday Funnies 

Derek NelsonDerek Nelson has been writing the Friday Funnies since 2002. He also creates the Photo of the Week feature for this website. A long-time Naval Safety Center employee, he is head of the Media Division in the Communications and Marketing Department. He is author of more than 200 freelance magazine articles and ten books about Americana and military history.

Today’s Highlight: Nothing Happened

Posted May 12, 2014

One of the things that makes safety such a hard sell is that successful days offer nothing remarkable. Work just goes along apace. Sailors, Marines and civilian personnel show up and do their thing. Then they head back to berthing, barracks, apartment or house and carry on with the rest of their lives for a while.

On a good day (which, in terms of mishaps, is most days), what is important is what doesn’t happen. Nobody has to run for the first-aid kit because someone sliced off a finger. No one has to help a shipmate stagger to an eyewash station. No one has to give CPR or call 911. The safety officer doesn’t have to start assembling a mishap report.

This fact is contrary to most activities in our lives. Sporting events are highlighted with, well, highlights: home runs, shoestring catches, miracle touchdowns, holes-in-one. On a good day in school, you get an A or a B on a test. Something tangible and recognizable has happened. It isn’t “nothing.”

Mishap-free milestones take a stab at recognizing this “nothing happened” phenomenon on a macro level. We’ve all seen those billboards listing the number of days since the last injury or wreck. These are good things to recognize, because they are so easy to take for granted.

A mishap-free day is how it is supposed to be. Most people don’t work all day, stop by the grocery store on the way home, pick up a rotisserie chicken and a quart of milk, drive home, park, walk in the door and proudly announce, “Whew, cheated death again!”

It takes a moron jabbering on a cellphone nearly T-boning you to make you appreciate ops normal. There’s nothing quite like a shot of adrenalin, a “Whew, that was close!” and your heart rate gradually settling down from the red line.

Here’s a near-miss: firing rounds into weapons clearing barrels. That’s what the barrels are there for, right? But the shooters are still startled when they hear the loud bangs. They should be surprised, because they should have known whether their weapons were unloaded. The clearing barrel is just an attempt at idiot-proofing the “now my gun is unloaded” process. Yet, plenty of warriors shoot themselves every year, and most of them probably would have described themselves as gun experts, before they started bleeding. The clearing-barrel near-miss is a good thing. It dramatizes the proximity of disaster.

A final problem with everything going right is that we tend to forget that things don’t just “go” right all by themselves. In spite of all the designs, plans, systems and precautions, we all still have to take specific actions to keep things on track. So feel good when nothing happens. It isn’t a coincidence.


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