Make sure you LOOK safe

Safety Has Nothing To Do With Optics

There’s an old bodybuilder adage that says “it’s not about how much you can lift, it’s about how much you look like you can lift.”

I think there was an executive once upon a time who heard that joke and thought it had a direct parallel to safety. No one can question safety…

As long as it looks like we care...

As long as we say safety is important…

As long as we put up a bunch of signs that show how serious we are…

While we’re at it, let’s make people wear unnecessary PPE and cumbersome “safety” gear that actually makes the job harder, too.

Now is not the time for platitudes

In light of all that’s going on in the world, safety has taken a strange turn lately. It’s definitely on everyone’s mind. But one thing is becoming clearer by the day: We have a lot of teaching to do.

I’ve heard a lot of frustration from fellow safety professionals about how their leadership is not taking their recommendations seriously. Not just for virus-related topics either. I can empathize with that sentiment completely. But it makes me wonder…

Amidst all the misinformation, bad decisions, and emotion I wonder if leaders don’t take our recommendations because of things we have done to ourselves.

Have we “Chicken Little’d” ourselves out of being trusted advisors?

Did we rely too much on gimmicks and goofy slogans to be taken seriously?

Are we too busy handing out band-aids and checking off checklist items to focus on what really matters?

I wonder…

Eventually business will have to get back to “normal.” Unfortunately none of us know what normal will look like tomorrow. All I know is I don’t want to be part of a profession that isn’t taken seriously. Maybe we should consider that during this time.

What will you do differently?

Safety Whack-A-Mole… Blindfolded

Sorry, Jason. She’s going to need bed rest!!!!

I’d been sitting in a crowded waiting room for hours with Julie, one of the executive assistants on my project. Julie was a sweet woman with a mean streak. I learned early on that it was best to stay on her good side. And I always did… which was why I was the one sitting with her that particular day.

At the time, I was fresh out of the Air Force and still learning what safety was about in the “real world.” The company I now worked for had been serving as “agent for the client” at my location for over 27 years. The project spanned six phases of construction worth billions. Our people rarely experienced injuries on that project so when Julie strained her back picking up an ice chest full of soda everyone was very “concerned.”

I’m sure the concern had nothing to do with the fact that the project proudly boasted about no lost time accident in nearly 17 years…

So, there Julie and I waited. She was tough but I could tell she was in a lot of pain. Finally, the medical assistant called her back and I walked to the door with her. I had two reasons for doing so: First I asked if I could consult with the doctor to let him know what Julie’s role was and what kind of accommodations we could make if he determined that her duties needed restrictions, and second I really (and I mean really) needed to pee.

The MA let me into the back as she shuttled Julie into an exam room. I walked to the restroom and tried the knob but found it locked. So I waited. Standing there, I watched the doctor follow Julie and the MA into the room and close the door. So much for my consult, I thought.

But then, the doctor emerged just as quickly as he had gone in. He headed straight for me.

“I know what you’re after, Jason and I hate to give you bad news. But she’s going to need at least three days of bed rest.” His lightning fast diagnosis was perplexing to me.

“She needs bed rest for a back strain?” I asked.

“That’s what she needs. I’m afraid so,” he answered.

I’m sure I was glaring at him, but I didn’t ask any more questions. He walked away and I forgot about my urgent need. I walked back out to the waiting room to call my boss and deliver the news. Our record was about to end.

My boss handled it well. He accepted the news and told me to “just make sure she’s taken care of.” I hung up and sighed with relief as my bladder reminded me it also needed to be taken care of. So, I headed back to the restroom once again.

Great news!!!

I emerged a few minutes later to see the doctor once again leaving Julie’s room and heading toward me. He looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Great news Jason! No restrictions or time off!?!! Julie can return to work today.” His look was shifty and nervous. Again, I agreed and let him move on.

As he walked away, Julie exited the room with a devilish smirk on her face. I can only imagine what she told him when he tried to give her time off. She told me on the ride home that she wasn’t going to be the one to break a 17 year record. At the time I considered it a victory. I didn’t know any better.

“No lives were ever saved in retrospect” – PLD

The aftermath of Julie’s incident was filled with corrective actions, new office policies, and worker training. It was as typical as any post accident ritual at any company. We spent hours determining the root cause of her injury (ahem… her back was not strong enough to perform that task in that position). We interviewed the co-worker who had been helping with the coolers. The project manager even made the decree that canned beverages were not to be carried in any greater quantity than a 12-pack (seriously).

All of it was done under the auspices of “prevention.” Which… would have been fine if it prevented anything. The problem, as with most reactionary safety, is that circumstances are rarely, if ever, duplicated. In this case, the project had similar injury when Julie’s counterpart picked up a cooler filled with ice not six months later. But, hey, she hadn’t violated the 12-pack rule.

I’m not trying to say that figuring out what can be learned from an injury is a bad thing. Those are lessons we need to learn. What I am getting at is that we spend far too much time reacting because of a consequence instead of trying to avoid that consequence in the first place. You can read between the lines of this story and get a pretty clear idea of why organizations do it, but those subjects are for another post.

The constant rear-view mentality of safety has created a mob of over-paid band-aid dispensers who no nothing more than try to prevent something that ALREADY happened. Most of them fool themselves into believing that will magically change the future. We should do better…

  • We should stop telling people that their safety is determined by a number
  • We should find ways to investigate and replicate successful work
  • We should engage with our people to find out what little things make their jobs more difficult than they need to be
  • We should look beyond yesterday and try to figure out what will kill and maim today.

Until we do, we’ll just keep playing blindfolded whack-a-mole safety.

The Sky (PROBABLY) Isn’t Falling…

I don’t usually pander to the flavor of the day, but COVID-19 has permeated every aspect of social media lately. I’m hoping that I can help bring some pragmatism into the conversation. Not because I’m super smart or have knowledge most people lack, but specifically because I don’t. We’re all lacking full understanding of what’s going on. The media hype (regardless of what’s motivating it) isn’t helping matters.

First and foremost, people need to educate themselves on the risks associated with this outbreak. We should be seeking credible sources to help us make informed decisions about our response. Should we take it seriously? Of course. Should we buy two thousand rolls of toilet paper because the apocalypse is nigh? Sure, just give me some time to get some Charmin stocks purchased first…

Hysteria isn’t the answer fellow safety peeps. We should be the ones bringing rationale to the table. From a risk perspective, we need to remember the fundamentals (ahem… Hierarchy of Controls anyone?). Too many are casting aside their sensibilities because wearing an N95 makes people “feel” safe.

So let’s get educated.

My good friend Abby Ferri recently published a well-informed white paper on Corona virus and I think it’s a great place to start.

You can find the paper on her website (abbyferri.com) or by clicking THIS LINK!!!

Let’s help each other out and share knowledge instead of unfounded opinions. Otherwise we’ll all be wiping with our sleeves and passing out from lung fatigue.

The Only Way To Safety

Year one is in the books!

Yesterday marked exactly one year since I started Relentless Safety. It’s been an interesting one. Now, here we are 100 posts (yep you’re reading article 100, be sure to catch up if you haven’t read them all) later and I have to say is it’s been a wild ride so far.

I had every intention of sitting down to write this yesterday after some weekend work, but the allure of a wife-sanctioned nap won out. It was a nice nap, but I’m still a little grumpy about why I needed one in the first place… Daylight Savings Time!

As usual, my Spring Forward Sunday included the obligatory discussion about the senselessness of Daylight Savings. Since I can’t recall ever meeting anyone who disagrees with that sentiment, I’ll spare you the research paper on why I think changing the clock twice a year is stupid.

The conversation got me thinking…

So much of what we do in the safety profession is based on what we’ve always done. And sometimes what we’ve always done makes about as much sense as loosing an hour of sleep so you’ll have more time to plant your crops. Yet there are so many who cling to ideas just because they know nothing else.

A few weeks ago I was invited to sit on a multi-disciplinary task analysis panel. It ended up being a fun experience, but the first day had me doubting. I always try to feel out the room before getting too boisterous. Especially when I’ve never met anyone. Not everyone shares my temperament though.

The interesting part about that first day was watching everyone jockey for position. Everyone wanted to stake the claim that they knew best (or at least as much as everyone else). One would pontificate about his knowledge of a regulation only to be countered by another who zealously proclaimed to go “beyond regulations in my industry.” It was civil, but also a little uncomfortable. But as the day progressed I started to notice something eye- opening.

Other perspectives are hard to see

It’s easy to get wrapped up in what we know or believe to be true. Everyone does it. In safety that’s a dangerous proposition, though. Because it obscures your vision and impedes your ability to see what’s actually going on outside of the box you hide your ideas in.

In an interesting twist, after that first day of tension, the group spent a few hours getting to know each other over drinks and dinner. Not surprisingly, the discussion was much smoother on day 2.

So what have I learned?

If the past year of writing and interacting with those of you who take the time to read this stuff has taught me anything, it’s that perspective matters. And everyone’s is different. There is no magic safety bullet, so quit thinking that your way is THE WAY (now the picture makes sense, huh?).

The more time and energy we can put into figuring out all of the angles (perspectives), the more likely we’ll be able to see the next big thing heading our direction. The people we support will appreciate when we do.

I Got 99 Problems But A Niche Ain’t One

That seemed like a suiting title for my 99th post on Relentless Safety

It’s been a crazy road over the last year. As with anything it’s tempting to veer off course and get sidetracked. But the ideas that pushed me down this rabbit hole have remained constant. Relentless Safety is about starting conversations that this profession needs to have to get better. Along the way, my hope is that it also helps make safety interesting to people who roll their eyes as soon as we step on site.

Recently I got the chance to talk to Dr. Jay Allen about what brought me here on The Jay Allen Show. Now you can have a little Relentless Safety in your ears as well as on your screen. Hope you enjoy.

Listen to “EP 107 – Jason A. Maldonado” on Spreaker.

Stop Sitting Around Watching Superhero Shows, Start Doing Better Safety

What does that even mean? Well… truth be told, my son AJ helped me out with the title of this post. It’s actually been sitting in my “to be written” file since October 19th. But now’s the time.

Since around that time in October, I’ve been taking a really hard look at everything I want to do on this blog and my other social media outlets.

The one constant has been to continue trying to question status quo and make work safer. Let’s be honest, we’re not where we should be. But there are a TON of great ideas right now. They just need a voice… a platform.

That’s the part I’m most excited about…

Remember that Safety Justice League thing I posted about a few months ago? Well, if you don’t, I don’t blame you. Every time we blink these day’s there’s lifetimes to miss. But I hope you don’t miss out on this.

ON MARCH 4th, SAFETY JUSTICE LEAGUE BECOMES THE PLATFORM

Join us…

Imaginary Safety Unicorns & Rainbows

CHARLIE!!!!

I F#$@%*& Hate Cooling Towers…

Let me explain. I don’t actually hate the existence of cooling towers. I hate that they break down and fail sometimes. If you’ve read my book, you likely remember why I’m so sensitive about it (and if you haven’t read the book, you probably should). In the meantime, while you’re waiting for your new copy to arrive, I’ll get you up to speed.

Some people like to grandstand. It’s a part of life I should be used to by now. I’m not though. I still get riled up when it happens.

So here’s the scoop… Someone emailed me last week with a very accusatory tone (admit it, you know emails have tone). The message was from a VP who was very concerned about a NEAR MISS that had happened at a construction site at one of her facilities. Her contractors were very shook up about the nearly fatal event and wanted to know what was going to be done to ensure their safety at the site.

What actually happened was this: Some equipment failed and a some plastic fell off of a roof onto the ground at an unoccupied construction site where no one was working. Problem? Yes. Serious near miss? Not quite.

However…

What if there had been people there?!?! (Gasp). What if more equipment fails in the future and bigger chunks of material come careening down to earth in flaming fireballs? What if there was a bus full of children on their first school field trip who were there to see their first construction site? All of that could happen. Doesn’t that qualify it as a near miss?

NO!

None of it actually happened. A piece of equipment failed. That equipment needs to be addressed. Hopefully we’ll learn something about preventing damage like that in the future, but the incident was not more than it was.

Safety people need to stop making things up to sell the importance of safety. It makes us look foolish. Instead, we should be using events like the one I described to partner and work on solutions. No one needs to be imaginarily sliced into human confetti in order for action to take place.

Stick to reality. People will respect you more for doing that than they will if you pontificate about the likelihood about being struck by lightening indoors.

Face It, Your Safety Powers Are Limited

Wrap yourself up in bubble wrap and never leave home if you want to avoid all risk!

I had a supervisor once who would respond to absurd safety “prevention” methods with a similar statement. Sometimes I want to tell people the same thing. Then again… the bubble wrap would probably cause heat stress and skin irritation. But hey, Gatorade and Hydrocortisone cream aren’t Recordable, so bring on the bubbles!!!

One frustrating aspect of the safety profession is the constant second guessing and armchair quarterbacking that follows an injury. Or even a picture of a hazard. Just log on to any online safety forum and you’ll find a dozen or more “experts” who could have prevented any catastrophe or would never allow this or that behavior on their sites. Hang around this field long enough and you’ll meet them in real life, too (they’re super fun people).

My favorite is this line of questioning: “How will you guarantee this preventable injury never occurs again?” It’s even better when someone in safety asks it. Mainly because others try to answer that irrational question rationally.

The answer is YOU CAN’T! I can’t. We can’t. Humans are not that powerful. As long as we interact with risk we will be subject to our own fallibility and frailty. So why don’t we just give up?

“Stand for something, or die for nothing” -Rambo

I often hear the argument made that if you have a goal for anything less than zero accidents, you are condoning accidents. That type of non-sequitur logic has been used in safety for eons. It sounds righteous, so it must be right. Right?

Wrong. The answer is that you shouldn’t have goals based around accidents. Accident’s (and managing them) is not what what makes and breaks a safety program. I would even go as far as to say that those who only focus on what ALREADY happened are destined to fail. Band-aids and ice packs don’t make your people safer!

We have to dig ourselves out of the vicious cycle we’re in if we want to make things better for our workers.

The change we need

Safety Professionals have to quit living in the past. Our focus is far too limited to past actions and what we should have done to prevent something happened. “Shoulda” is a really weak business strategy, though. So here’s what I’m getting at: Realize that your powers are limited.

You can’t prevent accidents once they happen.

You can’t see the future.

You can’t change people’s behavior by telling them it’s unsafe!

So focus on what you CAN do!

You can help people work through their job plans.

You can help people learn effectively.

You can make sure that conditions will help guide desired behaviors.

YOU CAN FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS!

Remember this. Focusing on what matters doesn’t mean that you are automatically evil (unless you’re already evil) and will overlook the lessons and learning that comes from incidents. Quite the contrary.

Being proactive, directing energy toward what you can control, and helping people learn will ultimately bring results that no injury “goal” could ever achieve.

What will you tackle first?

How To Write Better Safety Messages: Condescension Edition

Bill still disprove of the way safety people write. Let’s fix it.

Emails don’t have tone, right?

Sure. Ice cream doesn’t have any carbs either.

I read an email recently that had been sent to an entire company. It was written by some corporate guy with some letters behind his name and a fancy safety title. That part wasn’t too offensive (I have some fancy letters too). I might have even been able to overlook the scores of grammatical errors. But I couldn’t get past the way it sounded as I read the words.

The email was supposed to be a safety lesson that crews could discuss and learn from. But it was so belittling and condescending, that I doubt many got to the point.

Don’t be as stupid as THAT guy…

The message was about as simple and straightforward as you can get. It’s author was encouraging everyone to think about their PPE selection when dealing with sharp objects, gloves in particular. To illustrate the point, the author retold a story about a worker who had cut himself while wearing Kevlar gloves. The worker had been shocked that he had still been cut even though he had been wearing “cut proof gloves” (his words). The rest of the email essentially made fun of the injured man for being so ignorant as to believe there actually was such a thing.

After reading the email I wouldn’t be surprised if the the author had responded to the injured worker, “They’re cut resistant, you idiot.”

Not everyone knows what you know

The whole point, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is that our people deserve better than being talked down to. Safety messages need to draw people in, teach them something valuable, and inspire them to act. They’re not a medium we should use to boast our superiority.

Think about that next time you send an email, write a safety message, or just talk to someone face to face. I’m pretty sure there was a time when each of us knew nothing about safety gloves and their limitations. Maybe we should realize that about other people too.

Breakfast With The Terminator

Let’s talk about DISCIPLINE

Admit it. That word just made you feel something. Some of you cringed. Others felt tingles in their happy place (don’t make it dirty, you know I meant inside your head).

I had a discussion this past week with a “leader” who was curious about some happenings on a project site. A serious near miss had occurred when an employee defeated a safety device. The “leader” (known by many as the Terminator) asked me first what had been done to discipline the employee. I honestly had no clue. I’m not in that business. No safety professional should be.

Next he asked me how I felt about the situation in general. My answer wasn’t what he wanted, so the conversation ended shortly after. I simply told him that there was more to it than the employee’s violation.

What made him think it was a reasonable risk?

How many times had he done it before without incident?

What expectations had he been given by his supervisor?

Why was the system designed in such a way that it could be easily defeated?

Those questions are all exponentially harder to answer (honestly) than simply identifying what the employee did wrong and punishing him for it. Sadly, in this case, discipline meant paperwork in the employee’s file. I doubt any of my questions will be answered.

What if it meant something different?

It’s easy to beat people with a safety stick. I’d wager that’s why so many organizations still do it. All that does, however, is create a culture of fear.

“But if people can’t follow the rules they need to be held ACCOUNTABLE!”

Sure. Maybe. Or maybe your organization needs new rules. Ever wonder why people continue to violate them even when they know better? You probably should.

Here’s a stark reality. It takes a lot more “discipline” for leaders to look in the mirror when things go wrong than it does to terminate an employee. That’s the kind of discipline organizations need. There’s ALWAYS more to the story than the stupid thing a person did. Unfortunately that information often walks out the door with the offender.

Let’s start learning

In my estimation, the discipline debate is one that will go on forever. That just means we have to prove there are better ways to “safety” than punishment. I’m up for the challenge.

If you’re one of the ones who felt the tingles at the beginning of this post, consider at least giving the alternative a try. Next time someone “violates” one of your rules, try to figure out why before you pull out your ticket book.

If it doesn’t work you can always go back to being a cop. I doubt you’ll need to though.

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