Have you ever heard the phrase, “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” In a nutshell, it means your focus is narrowed or minimized preventing you from seeing the whole situation. You are caught up in details of something much bigger. I have found this to be a common error among many new inspectors or inspectors who are not very deep in their knowledge of the work being performed. I have commonly referred to this situation as, “Not seeing the big picture.”
As an inspector, there are two senses you will use most of the time. They are sight and sound. Your sense of smell comes into play but not as much as the other two which is the focus here. You need to be able to master the technique of scanning your responsible area of work with your eyes and listening for anything out of the normal construction noise. In addition to this, there will be instances where you will need to incorporate the ability to verbally communicate with someone at the same time you are listening and scanning. An inspector needs to practice this until it becomes second nature to him or her. The minute you step out of your vehicle your senses should be on high alert.
Undoubtedly you will have circumstances that call for your direct attention to details of an issue. However, it should not take away your ability to listen to things going on around you or taking the occasional glance around you and the personnel in the work area until the issue you are currently dealing with is resolved.
The only way that an inspector can turn this technique into a habit is through deliberate practice. Make yourself hear the engine roar of that dozer at a distance while you are listening to workers converse about a task they are involved with. Note in your scan where all the workers are at and what they are doing. Do you not hear the engine noise from the dozer? Why?
Being able to process multiple kinds of information will seem a little crazy at first and you might even question if it is necessary to be able to perform this technique. I have many reasons for wanting an inspector to be able to make this technique into a habit of theirs. But if you feel it might be a little over the top let me give you two reasons why you should make this a habit.
First, safety. You are an inspector, and an inspector contributes equally, if not more to the safety of the crew working under his or her watch. You should be looking at the “big picture” at all times. It is true, everyone should be, but the fact of the matter is not everyone will or are capable because they have never been taught how to. Most crews will get tunnel vision and be highly focused on the task they are assigned to do. Most rely heavily on their supervisor to keep them safe and out of trouble for the most part. If you are scanning and watching personnel and equipment you may be able to head off an incident from taking place. If your ears are keen to listen to the activity around you and the personnel, you may hear something that is out of the norm and cause you to investigate the source and cause.
Secondly, mastering the technique of scanning and listening gives you the ability to stay tighter on construction quality and integrity. Do you know what it sounds like when a bucket from a track hoe hits or scrapes pipe? Do you know how people react when this occurs? What is their body language? Do you know what you will see or hear if a welder is changing positions and you see an arc flash? Did you not hear personnel fire up the generator to use the electric mixer attachment for the coating mix? Why are they applying the coating?
There are two reasons of many why you as an inspector should do everything in your power to learn this technique and turn it into a habit. If you are in the business long enough you will understand this technique and the importance of it, even more, when you are working inside a facility with multiple crews, contractors, and company personnel. You will understand why it is imperative to know this technique when you are on a well pad with multiple crews working around a live well. You need to do everything possible to stay aware of the “big picture” at all times. Being able to process the activities around you through sight and sound can aid you in staying ahead of everyone in the work area.
Take care and be safe!