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Be Ready for What May Come


By Michael Halliwell

Kay Redfield Jamison once said, “There is always a part of my mind that is preparing for the worst, and another part of my mind that believes if I prepare enough for it, the worst won’t happen.”

For a writer and clinical psychologist dealing with bipolar disorder, she sounds a lot like a lieutenant I had when I was in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves—he was always harping on my platoon to prepare like we were going to hell, but pray that we’d never get there.

Kay Redfield Jamison
JHMI / CC BY 2.5  via Wikimedia Commons

Clinical psychologist and writer Kay Redfield Jamison may not look my old lieutenant, but she shared the same sentiment: Be prepared for the worst but hope you don't get there.

When you step back and look at what we do on a day-to-day basis, it’s surprising how true this advice is: Be prepared for the worst in case it happens, but also be confident that you’ve prepared and can do what is needed so that you’re not dwelling on the “what-ifs.”

Preparation for the Job

Much of the modern safety programs we deal with at work—or even doing the work itself—relies on this principle of preparing for the things that can crop up and then doing the job until we need to call on those plans or skills.

We go to school to learn our trade, learn about safety, learn from more senior folks on the job when we get there, learn from our own mistakes as we gain experience and then learn some more as we pass on what we’ve learned to the next generation.

There’s lots of learning there, but underlying it all is the preparation to face what comes up.

Yes, even experience and teaching others are forms of preparation for what may come. You’d be surprised by how many times I’ve heard folks with 20-plus years of experience be dumbfounded by a little change that makes a huge difference, but also how many times those same folks can pull a solution to a problem seemingly out of thin air.

An Example on the Road

As many of you know from my past posts, I take part in a cycling fundraiser for cancer research each year. The event runs about 235 kilometer (about 145 miles) over a weekend and travels through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in southwest Alberta.

Halliwell bike
Michael Halliwell

Preparation is just as much knowing how to use the tools and materials you may need as it is having them on hand. Here, my bike for the 2013 Ride to Conquer Cancer was prepped with basic repair tools in a bag attached below the seat (just above the dedication flag).

It’s a great event with lots of support, but the rest stops are about 30 kilometers (almost 19 miles) apart, and there are not enough support vehicles to have one behind each of the 2,000 or so riders—so we’re asked to be prepared.

Even such basics as having spare tubes and a pump (and knowing how to use them) are important on a 235-kilometer ride.

I’ve seen firsthand a “lost sheep” with pump and tube in hand, standing there looking at her bicycle’s flat rear tire. She had not prepared herself with the knowledge of how to actually use the tools and supplies (yes, I stopped to help and helped her learn how to do it at the same time).

What’s the Point?

One might be tempted to say we over-prepare a fair bit, considering how seldom we actually have to use these “extra” skills and materials. But I’m sure no one would suggest that having first-aid skills on the job is a waste as a “just-in-case” measure.

However, do we really need to learn about all these coating systems that we may never use in our lifetimes?

Does anyone working for a living really use calculus?

If that’s what’s you’re thinking, then you may not be getting my point.

Ready for the Known and the New

Many of my fellow bloggers on this site have discussed coating challenges recently, looking at cases where things have not gone according to plan and how to fix them when thatt happens. That’s why we prepare.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a failed submerged coating in a pool, a poor-looking coating that ran before curing on a tank, or even a specification that is out to lunch—that’s why we prepare.

painters on a water tower
© / Tom Price

Coating project case studies often share challenging situations where things did not go as planned and how consultants and contractors tackled the problem. They also provide good examples of why we prepare.

Having the knowledge and skill to know what to do and how to do it is where craftsmanship comes in and trouble-shooters are born.

I might be able to go for a dive to inspect that pool or climb some stairs to look at a runny coating—and I’d certainly be able to investigate either for lead—but I am not prepared with the education or experience to tell you why the coatings failed or how to fix them.

There are those among us who are prepared for it and others who may have been prepared to deal with it before it became a bigger problem. We (hopefully) know our jobs and are competent to do them.

We know our jobs can be the same from day to day or in a constant state of flux as coatings systems and how to apply them change with time.

No matter what part of the industry we are involved with, or even in our day-to-day lives, we are constantly learning and preparing for different situations.

A Continuing Journey

I hope that you continue to learn and prepare, regardless of whether it is a safety matter or directly job related, so that when your skills are called upon, you’re ready.

We all get those “unique jobs” that we remember for a lifetime, or the critical events where skill and preparation means everything, but only through preparation will we be ready for them.

Going back to my lieutenant, I hope you’ve prepared and are ready for when a situation goes to hell … but that you never have to deal with it.

Stay safe out there, folks.


Michael Halliwell

Michael Halliwell, M.Eng., CESA, EP, P.Eng., is an Associate and Environmental Engineer for Thurber Engineering Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. During his 17-plus years with the company, he has been involved with environmental site assessment, remediation, construction inspection and supervision, and project management. He also performs hazardous building material assessments for asbestos and lead paint.



Tagged categories: Engineers; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Project Management; Thurber Engineering Ltd.; Asia Pacific; Coatings education; Education; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; North America; Safety; Worker training

Comment from Christine Gunsaullus, (7/14/2016, 8:15 AM)

Great post, excellent points!

Comment from Patrick C Sweeney, (7/14/2016, 10:07 AM)

Words to live by...

Comment from Car F., (7/15/2016, 10:23 AM)

Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

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