Let’s turn our attention to home remodeling projects for a minute… literally cutting corners.

Most people are familiar with trim molding (baseboard and chair rail).  Laying out the trim on long flat surfaces is pretty easy: measure, cut, nail, paint… done.  Ok, sometimes it goes: measure, cut, measure again, cut the right length this time, nail, paint… done.  Some basic skills with woodworking tools are probably sufficient, but almost every room has corners.  Fitting the trim properly requires you to cut the trim at the appropriate angle.  A typical 90-degree corner is seldom a perfect 90 degrees.  The angle will vary slightly based on what kind of day your contractor is having.  You can miter most corners for a decent fit, but the best fit for inside corners is done with a coping saw. Consider this the “state of the art.”  Now I bought a coping saw a while back and had yet to use it for its intended purpose.  But I finally had the opportunity this weekend to cope the inside corners for a kitchen project.  The decorative trim I bought presented several challenges, but I listened to a guy talk about using a coping saw about 10 years ago so I thought I knew enough to get started.  My first attempt was horrible. Worried that I might not have enough material to finish the job, I decided to use it anyway and patch it with some wood putty.  Luckily it was in the least noticeable corner.  I realized this was tougher than it looked.  The second try went better but still not very good. I was running out of material and obscure corners to hide my mistakes.  I then realized I needed some training (the internet is good for things like this).  I watched some video examples and read about some tips and tricks.  I now realized that my task required some patience and I had to follow a process. 

My competency for this kind of work was a lot less than I originally thought.  I had done many home projects of varied descriptions and difficulty.  And I usually researched a bit before starting so I could anticipate problems. I was really analyzing my RISK.  Part of that was evaluating my training needs and finding out what I DIDN’T know.  So I didn’t do a very good job of evaluating my skills this time, and it almost ruined the job.  Without competency in this task, there was a high likelihood of making a mistake.  This could have had a high consequence: higher cost for extra material, hiring a contractor to fix my mistakes, wife unhappy with results.  As it turned out, I got the training I needed, even conferring with a master carpenter friend.  I then practiced on some scraps to improve my technique.

So the next time you think about your project activities that involve functional safety, don’t rush into the job with false assumptions.  Consider the skills and competencies needed to accomplish those tasks and to analyze the risks and consequences.  If the competency is not there, the likelihood of mistakes will increase.  Don’t underestimate the power of training!

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