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Seaworthy is produced by the Directorate of Navy Safety Systems in the interests of promoting
safety in the Navy. The contents do not necessarily reflect Service policy and, unless stated
otherwise, should not be construed as orders, instructions or directives – KEEP NAVY SAFE.
When lower standards
become the norm
Skipping the step results in time and cost benefits. If this is the case, the shortcut
will likely be continued, becoming the go-to strategy whenever the pressure is on.
WHEN it comes to safety, the standard you walk past is
the standard you set.
Normalised deviancy relates to the long-term ero-
sion of established standards, without negative conse-
quence, until the lowered standard becomes the norm.
The deviation often takes place gradually, going largely
unnoticed and only becoming apparent when an inci-
Acceptance of the lower standard usually occurs
because the individuals or teams are under significant
pressure (budget or scheduling problems) and believe it
will be too difficult to achieve the higher standard.
Their intention may be to revert to the higher stand-
ard when the period of pressure passes. However, their
short-term success will see a likely return to bad habits
when they are once again “under the pump”.
In some cases, cutting corners is not only condoned,
but actually rewarded, with personnel achieving out-
comes such as saving time, reducing costs and using
fewer personnel that would be otherwise impossible.
Allowed to continue without incident, these short-
cuts gain further validation. Over time, this fosters the
belief that the exception is now the rule and becomes
We can use the example of an electrical isolation
procedure before conducting maintenance, to better
demonstrate the consequences of taking a ride down the
slippery slope of normalised deviancy.
Electrical isolation consists of:
• isolating all sources of electrical energy;
• danger tagging all sources of electrical
• applying a contractor danger tag and lockout
device if conducting a maintenance period;
• testing for potential; and
• ensuring equipment is grounded.
This procedure is deliberately constructed in such a
way that failure to follow one step will be safeguarded
by another. If one of these steps were missed through
human error, one of the later steps would provide assur-
ance against an adverse consequence.
However, when a step is either deliberately or acci-
dently skipped without negative consequence, it’s pos-
sible that missing the step might actually be viewed as
Skipping the step results in time and cost benefits.
If this is the case, the shortcut will likely be continued,
becoming the go-to strategy whenever the pressure is
As a result of normalised deviancy, what was once a
five-step procedure now consists of only four. The like-
lihood of an incident occurring has now increased, with
the removal of a safeguard leaving a decreased margin
for human error.
Now what happens if this same person is training
an inexperienced worker? Teaching a four instead of
a five-step procedure holds consequences far removed
from the individual for which the four-step procedure
worked without harm.
A number of OHS Incident Reports have been
raised in response to unsafe electrical practices, non-
conforming equipment and unauthorised modifications.
These deficiencies were not introduced overnight but
began to surface with alarming frequency.
In the absence of serious injury or death, compla-
cency set in until a review of the electric shock OHSIRs
revealed these dangerous trends.
This resulted in an electrical safety stand down
period where personnel were not asked to learn any-
thing new, but rather directed to follow electrical safety
requirements which had been gradually eroded and
accepted over time.
When we look at safety standards and procedures,
we come to the realisation many were etched in blood
– written in response or designed as a result of human
loss. Following these standards is the best way to avoid
falling into the trap of normalised deviancy.
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