Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

November 2014

Practice Makes Permanent

Vince Lombardi is often given credit for stating “Practice does not make perfect.  Only perfect practice makes perfect”.  There’s a lot of truth in that.  Consider these questions:  If a practice isn’t perfect, what does that make regular practice session?  What constitutes a “perfect practice”?  Is a perfect practice session even possible?

In most things, we tend to make a few mistakes.  A practice session wouldn’t be practice without a few mistakes.  (Kinda makes you wonder why doctors and lawyers call what they do “practice”, doesn’t it).  The most important thing is that we don’t ignore these mistakes when they happen.  We should, rather, learn from them.  I’ll be the first to admit, that in almost everything I’ve attempted in life, I’ve made mistakes.  Many lessons I’ve learned, many more I’ve yet to fully grasp.

Perfect practice tends to develop into, or be considered, a routine or habit.  In essence, practice makes permanent, not perfect.  So what happens when we’re in our routine and are thrown a curve ball or unplanned event?  Who remembers what the statement “unplanned event” describes?  Yep, that’s right…an accident!  How should we interpret the phrase “perfect practice”?  Often, we have the wrong impression, believing that the practice should be free of errors.  In our industry, this is a delicate issue, because on the job, mistakes can be fatal.

When we’re lucky enough to survive a mistake, we must adjust our methods and processes.  Not only is it in our best interest to adjust our methods to avoid repeating mistakes, it is also our responsibility to share with others how to avoid the mistakes we’ve made.  Over time, with processing and testing from collective minds, new, safer and more efficient processes are developed; all from a mistake.

How many of us incorporate PDCA in our daily tasks?  PDCA is an acronym for the phrase Plan Do Check results and Act or Adjust.  While I was introduced to this concept much earlier in a manufacturing and business setting, this method is applicable in nearly every facet of life.

Anything worth doing is worth planning ahead for.  When our safety is of concern, we definitely should PLAN ahead and evaluate the situation!  Once we are satisfied with our plan, what else is there but execute the plan – DO!  Once the task is complete, CHECK the results of your actions.  Did the DO work out as planned, or did it wind up placing you in double DO of the deepest kind?  If things didn’t work out as planned, now is the time to ACT and ADJUST your plan before executing the task again.

If mistakes and close calls are still all too prevalent, maybe the adjustment needing to be made is to back up and make sure we’ve mastered the fundamentals.  While confidence is a good thing, overconfidence can be deadly!  Remember our article on the accident pyramid back in April this year?  We can’t afford to keep stacking up those near-misses!  No matter how much experience we have felling and processing timber, it never hurts to refresh what we know and remember what we’ve forgotten.  Seeking out, and participating in, worthwhile continuing education opportunities are worth the investment of our time and money.  Over the last three years, I’ve heard dozens of seasoned sawyers proclaim they still pick up great info; even our basic level chainsaw class!

With every task completed and PDCA process followed, opportunities for mistakes and future accidents are drastically reduced, even eliminated.  With each successful task completion, we reinforce better routines and develop good habits while breaking bad ones.  When this happens, we see perfect practice unfolding right before our eyes.


Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University.  Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments.  He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA.  For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or ben.parsons@fistausa.org

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