Normalization of Deviance . . . (Part 2)

normalization of deviance

A Predictable Surprise . . .

Should it take a driver over 30 minutes to spot a trailer? Should it take no less than three drivers over 30 minutes to dock a trailer?

Sure, docks aren’t always easy to maneuver around. Some are tight, really tight. Others have low overhangs or drooping tree limbs or even wires. A few are almost impossible “to bump.”

But how about over 30 minutes, three drivers and the destruction of the right front corner thrown in as a bonus?

CR England

The blogger who videotaped this backing disaster reported several months prior at this same location, another pair of drivers also gave up, and he backed the truck in for them.

A Normalization of Deviance?

In our last blog we discussed Normalization of Deviance.

“The gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behavior is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the organization.”

Normalization of Deviance is the result of a gradual erosion or drifting away from a standard, a rule, a policy or an established practice, etc., on a company-wide or organizational-wide basis.

“Social normalization of deviance means that people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviant behavior that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for the elementary safety” Dr. Diane Vaughan

The more such deviations from the standard are allowed, the more “normalized” they become. Oft-times the rule-breaker knows of the risk but feels justified . . .

  • “This is how things are done ‘in the real world.'”
  • “We got a job to do.”
  • “We’ve never had an accident.”

The trucking industry is noted for its driver turnover. The American Trucking Association tracks driver turnover. For large fleets (more than $30 million in annual revenue) driver turnover was 102 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. If the economy was better, turnover would be higher as drivers switch jobs for better paying positions.

Driver turnover has resulted in the rise of the “newbie” truck driver. Every year thousands of newbies obtain their Class A CDL to drive truck. Some attend truck driving schools, but that is not yet a current requirement of the federal government. Some train with a friend or family member. It is estimated a majority of new truck drivers will not complete a year on the job.

Poor training and lack of training standards contribute to driver turnover or “churn.” The trucking industry has been in denial on this issue for decades.

Backing is one area in which poor training and lack of training standards is evident. There are dozens of YouTube videos showing the sometimes comic, sometimes tragic results of poor training and a lack of training standards in backing.

When an ill-trained driver is behind the wheel, it doesn’t matter how many spotters the driver has in assisting him — he is likely to bump something, run over something or hurt someone.

Backing is not always easy to teach. Backing is a skill. Backing must be learned and most learning comes from experience. A newbie driver cannot teach another newbie driver how to back.

The basics of backing, however, can be taught or the driver indoctrinated:

  • Always do a good setup (usually on a 45 degree angle to your target)
  • G.O.A.L. — Get Out and Look – maintain good visual control of your vehicle, check your progress, when necessary. That means walking your intended path.
  • Pull far enough ahead for your setups. If the free space is there, why not use it?
  • Pick touchstones on the way to your target.
  • Respect property: don’t climb over curbs, drive on the grass or leave deep skid marks.
  • Use the painted dock lines to keep the trailer straight.
  • Always use spotters if possible, and communicate with your spotter.
  • Always have good visual contact with your spotter. Stop if you can’t see the spotter.
  • Bump the dock gently . . .

Following these backing guidelines will make learning how to back an enjoyable process — not a trial to be avoided . . .

What are the fruits of an industry in denial about its backing problem?

The results are what’s known as a predictable surprise – a crash, a fender bender, a ripped-off door or property damage . . .

Note in the below video:

  • The drivers don’t know how to position or setup the vehicle for a good back.
  • None of the drivers walk back and visually check their setup.
  • The spotter-driver standing in front of the truck does nothing to stop the truck from being damaged.
  • The drivers routinely drive over the curb and on the grass . . .
  • The truck is not properly positioned after 34 minutes . . .

Thank you for reading this.

Normalization of Deviance . . . the Root of Evil


Repeated Mistakes . . . Errors Made Over Time

NASA did it. Air Traffic Controllers do it. Fire fighters do it, and doctors, too. In fact, no one is immune from making rule deviations that can end in a bad way.

How bad? Really bad . . . like Chernobyl bad , or the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia bad, or Bhopal bad, and in any number of lesser-known catastrophes.

What happened in each of these instances were not simple mistakes or human error, but a series of perhaps small errors, shorts cuts or deviations from rules and standards. Each error may have been insignificant in of itself, but when combined with other errors or rule deviations, over time the results can be injurious or deadly.

Safety experts call these repeated mistakes or errors made over time, a normalization of deviance.

In fact, deviations (sometimes going under the name of errors, mistakes, or oversights) are common occurrences in most workplaces. These deviations are made without the intention of hurting anyone, usually under pressure or within time constraints. The person breaking the rules may even feel justified — they are saving time and money while getting the impossible done.

Many of these violations or shortcuts often result in no ill effects. The violations, shortcuts or deviations then continue. A normalization of deviance takes place. What should never happen, starts to happen on a routine basis.

At Chernobyl the emergency core cooling system was disabled and had everything went according to plan, it would have been no big deal. At Bhopal, many safety systems were not in working order, but management expected to find any leaks before something bad would happen. In the case of the space shuttle Challenger, NASA knew they had a critical seal problem for six years, but expected a solution or workaround before a dangerous or deadly situation developed. A lapse years later into that same approach resulted in the loss of Columbia.

In many situations, the normalization of deviance is subtle, even invisible to the people involved. It’s “how things get done” around here. Efficiency takes precedent over inspections or maintenance. Small equipment defects are let go, or standards are not met . . . on a regular basis. Operators start spending more time with their electronic devices than their instruments or gauges.

What happens next is no accident . . .

To be continued . . . .

Thank you for reading this . . .