Safety Is A Ghost

Safety Is A Ghost

Just in time for Halloween…

My wife is gone. She left in a packed car and drove back to Tennessee to be with her parents.

Until Tuesday. And the car wasn’t hers. She’s just helping out a friend get back on her feet after a rough breakup (my wife’s a much better person than I could ever hope to be). It just so happens that her friend’s parents also live in Tennessee. So, she got to help her friend, and see her family.

What that means for me is that I have until Tuesday to clean up the mess that the kids and I have left scattered around the house. If not she might actually pack up her car and leave. Seriously. It looks like we’ve been robbed by someone covered in glitter and tiny scraps of construction paper.

Aside from highlighting my lack of housekeeping skill, the alone time has given me the chance to do two things: 1) watch terrible horror movies my wife won’t tolerate & 2) finally learn how to put my daughter’s hair in a ponytail (I’m pretty proud of that one).

I started the movie binge last Friday night when I stayed up after everyone else had gone to bed. Having spent the early part of the evening Tetrising all of my wife’s friend’s belongings into her tiny Mazda, I chose to unwind by watching Jigsaw. I regret every minute of that decision.

The movie was terrible, but it got me thinking

Anyone who’s ever suffered through a Saw movie knows that they revolve round an evil genius who puts immoral people (his opinion) through grizzly tests designed to get them to confess their sins. I couldn’t help but see the safety parallels. And not just the obvious ones like how putting your face into a rotary saw is not a smart decision.

My thoughts drifted away from the laughably terrible movie as the hours droned on. In it’s place I started to think about all of the times people find themselves up against insurmountable obstacles. In those times, as in the movie, safety is not guaranteed. Only the resilient make it through. The weak are subject to a collar of lasers that will flay their heads into something resembling the tendrils of an octopus (seriously, it’s a terrible movie, don’t waste your time).

At the end of this particular movie (spoiler alert), no one is left in a good position. Everyone except the bad guys dies. It was a glum way to end a Friday night, but the thought occurred to me that life is eerily similar. No one gets out alive.

On that positive note… Happy Halloween everyone!

OK, so the movie sucked. Hopefully you’ll take my word for that. There was a good takeaway though. It reminded me how immeasurable safety is. Stick with me on this one.

No one in the film had a guarantee of survival, right? They were all captured by a madman and put through some awful trials designed to test their resolve. But the riddles were beyond reason. Essentially, if a character didn’t understand what the antagonist was after, they were doomed to die. Safety was only available to those who exercised precise judgement at the precise time it was required. And no one had the knowledge or skill to make those judgments.

Regardless of the nonsensical nature of the movie, that principle is a pretty accurate representation of how safety really works. It’s only available at the one point in time you need it. It’s a present state of being. Put another way, safety only truly exists (or ceases to) in the moment. Any attempt to measure safety is just describing a ghost from the past.

If more people thought about it in that manner, how might our organizations do things differently? Would we invest more in the tools and knowledge our workers need in order to make those precise judgments? Or would we keep chanting about how we’re so awesome because our injury rates are low? I’d like to hope for the former.

Oh and by the way… wish me luck. I just realized it’s Tuesday!

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Safety Positive: Good Stuffs Vol. 4

You are not alone

I’m not sure when, but in my early days of experimenting with social media I tried to start a provocative conversation on LinkedIn. I had made a fair amount of connections, most of them in the safety field. So, I decided to pose a question. It was something along the lines of:

As a safety professional, do you ever feel like a man/woman without a country?

If I was feeling that way at the time, I don’t remember. But anyone who says this career field isn’t (at times) lonely, draining, and demoralizing is lying to you. There are some huge rewards when you know you’ve made a difference, but those moments are spread between miles of thankless slogs through the barren wilderness.

The responses to my “provocative” question above were less than earth shattering. One guy asked me if it was a cry for help and I felt like I needed to talk. Another couple proceeded to tell me about how great their companies were and that safety was the number one value, priority, absolute zero tolerance, most bestest, super-awesome thing ever. I’m pretty sure one of those guys mentioned he rode a unicorn to work, too… Good for them.

What I know is that every good safety professional I’ve ever met has wanted to quit and wondered if what we do is worth it. That’s understandable when you consider that we often eat our own while simultaneously being bombarded by the pressures of profitability and corruption that will likely never go away.

How am I doing on this positive post so far?

Not good? Fair enough. My point is that there are low points. Where we choose to go when standing in those valleys determines our success. In my experience it’s hard to go to any good places without good people to back you up. This week in “Good Suffs,” I’m proud to share a connection of mine (although recent) who is passionate about doing just that.

Rosa Antonia Carrillo is a trailblazer in the field of leadership and team development. She speaks regularly around the world about the power of building relationships. In particular, how those relationships will drive safety performance in a positive direction. If you’re not following her or are unfamiliar with her work, do yourself a favor and get up to speed. Here’s a snippet:

As you probably noticed, Rosa recently published what I believe will be one of the defining works regarding relationships and safety. It’s called The Relationship Factor in Safety Leadership and you should get your copy now! I’m currently engrossed in it and can tell you without a doubt that it is the direction this profession needs to head.

(Affiliate Link)

The safety profession won’t grow unless we change. And we can’t change if we don’t support those who are blazing new paths. Rosa is one who deserves our support.

Use this code for Rosa’s new book: The Relationship Factor in Safety Leadership
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How My Couch Taught Me Better Safety

*This post contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Reminded me to follow my own advice might be a better description

Around the time my son turned two and my wife and I found out we were expecting another spawn, we began evaluating our expenses. The first thing to go was an easy target: overpriced cable TV. Aside from cost, the cut was also due in no small part to the transformative powers “Micky Mouse Clubhouse” (although I’m sure they call it something more sinister in hell) had on my son.

Scoff if you want, former Mouseketeers. You’ve been brainwashed. One day you’ll be called upon by the dark lord to do his bidding. It will probably have something to do with matching colors and shapes.

In the aftermath of the purge, we realized that kids are never quiet unless possessed by the demonic creations of Disney. So, we did what all reasonable parents do these days. We replaced our cable with Netflix and an Amazon Prime subscription. As it turned out, there are much worse things on TV than Mickey. And we have them all on-demand.

Mo couch, Mo problems

After our latest move, we considered reinstating the cable since our kids are older and more “responsible” now. That idea was a bust. Instead, we opted for a new TV and couch. Luckily we were able to get a great deal. I got the electric reclining feature I’d always wanted and my wife got (uggghhhh)… leather. Despite my doubts about sticking to the chair all the time, it’s actually the nicest couch we’ve owned. With one exception.

It eats remotes. The manufacturer apparently knew this and even installed a Velcro “stomach” release in the back. I’m pretty sure more Fruit Loops have fallen out of there than have ever entered my daughter’s mouth. Along with those treasures, one of the four (yes four) remotes we use on a daily basis typically finds it’s way to the couch’s backside. Someone then has to squeeze behind it and perform the couch colonic. Most times everything comes out nicely.

Then one day about three months ago, we lost the remote to our Amazon Fire Stick. It wasn’t expelled from the flap on either side of the couch. So, we broadened the search, thinking someone may have inadvertently taken it with him or her to the bathroom (not something I would ever do, though). After a day passed, we still held out hope. Then another passed. And another. My wife and I got over the anger and assumed it had fallen in the trash and been taken out. I was about to order a new one, when my son tried out the remote to our TV and found, surprisingly, that it controlled the fire stick. We were back in business.


Though “Smart TV” is a popular term these days, no one really raves about the intelligence of their remotes. The one for our Visio does indeed control all of the things connected to it, but not as intuitively as the manufacturers of those other units may have intended. For example, the Fire TV remote has a rewind button (that’s key). The Visio remote does not. That means that in order to rewind or go back to the last menu, we had to figure out through trial and error that the “back” button performs both of those functions.

That small nuisance alone was not enough to warrant buying a new Fire remote, so we suffered through it (1st-world problems, I know). All was well at first, but then strange things began happening. In particular, shows began to randomly rewind themselves. I should have also mentioned that the Visio remote doesn’t have a “play” button either. So, the first time “ghost rewind” happened, I had to scramble to figure out what to do.

One Saturday, my daughter asked me to watch her horse show with her. I obliged, found the episode she wanted and pressed “select” (play) on the Visio remote. Once she was situated with her blanket and five obligatory stuffed animals, I pushed recline on the couch. And… the show rewound itself. A light-bulb turned on so I crawled off the chair while the legs were still up. Clicking the light on my phone I looked carefully for the lost Fire remote… Nothing.

So, I sat back down, clicked “select” again, and resumed watching the show. My angle was off, though, so I tilted the chair back a little more… GHOST REWIND! That settled it. I knew then that the Fire remote wasn’t lost. It was stuck. But I COULD. NOT. FIND. IT! For weeks.

So, I stopped sitting on the couch

After realizing the couch had actually eaten the remote this time, I figured out that I was the only one heavy enough to make it do anything. My answer was to either sit on my recliner, or lay on the floor while watching TV. Because taking couches apart is hard… And mostly because I was being lazy. Plus I figured the battery would die someday.

In the end, the battery didn’t die. I sat on the couch one too many times, ghost rewound my shows in growing frustration, and finally got annoyed enough to do something about it. The remote had lodged itself into a perfectly camouflaged corner under the arm where one of the extendable joints of the leg rest was able to mash into the rewind button. The remote now bears a permanent scar from it’s time in exile:

Yes, I know my hands are tiny. Focus!

Back to the point: Remove the ghosts from the machine

Hopefully I haven’t lost anyone who was wondering what the takeaway from this overly-dramatized episode is. I’m sure both of my regular readers knew all along that there was some sort of punchline, so here it is: I knew there was a problem and chose to work around it anyway.

How often do your workers do the same?

How often do you tell them not to?

Or better still, have you ever told them to stop when something’s wrong with the system?

Do they even know how to identify what those issues might be?

I could go on with this line of questioning indefinitely. That’s not the point though. The point is that bad things don’t go away if we pretend they aren’t there. Even though my case study is pretty silly, my “work around it” mentality could have huge implications if allowed on a work site. What if my remote was a critical point of failure that could cause serious injury or death? Would your people speak up and refuse to work around that risk?

Let me put it another way. Have you given your people the expectation that unacceptable risk is… unacceptable?

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Safety Only Matters 6% of the Time

Get out your pitchforks. This post is full of heresy…

Someone should totally write him up for violating good ergonomic practices…

Recently I taught a leadership class for supervisors. Knowing that most safety training is awful, or at the very least received poorly, I do my best to facilitate instead of talk. Some groups are harder to warm up than others, but people generally appreciate when you include them in the process. This class in particular is fun for me, because I get to teach leadership from a safety perspective. If you contrast that idea with the currently hip trend of teaching safety leadership (I’m not really sure what that even means), some pretty incredible conversations take place.

Years ago I designed a “safety leadership” course that I thought was provocative and engaging. It tanked. Spectacularly. No one participated and my material certainly didn’t elicit the paradigm changing discussions I just knew it would.

Fortunately I learned my lesson. My mistake was assuming I knew what the answers would be. So, my questions were all shaded with my opinions and point of view. I didn’t give anyone the opportunity to question or challenge or even add a new perspective. When you couple that with the fact that no one really wants to go to a mandatory safety training, it was a recipe for a torturous few hours (just as much for me as them).

What are we really after?

These days when I facilitate leadership training, it’s just that. Of course I speak from my experience as a safety and health professional, but leadership is leadership. There’s no reason to pull safety out of any process and make it something different or additional to the core of the business. With that thought in mind, the first thing I ask is this: What is the definition of safety?

Of course it is. But that’s how discourse happens. Inevitably someone in the group hurriedly answers: No injuries!

I mix things up now and again, but my response to that answer is always a challenge: “If I drive to work speeding, run two stop signs, and text the whole way, but I make it to work on time without getting in a wreck was I driving safe?”

It’s time we get real

The next thing I do in my leadership courses is show the following clip by the one and only Dr. Todd Conklin. Invest five minutes in it, you can thank me later:

In my most recent class, one supervisor was furiously writing notes throughout the clip. When it finished I asked what everyone thought. Almost everyone was silent, but I could see wheels turning.

“What are you thinking Leann?” I asked.

“I guess… I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around what he said,” she replied. “Safety isn’t the absence of an accident.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“Right,” I said. “Real safety is about what we do, not what didn’t happen.” She thought for a minute before responding.

“So, are you saying that we shouldn’t do accident reviews?” she asked.

“Not as often as you do,” I grinned. I had done my homework on the organization and knew something no one else in the room did about their accidents. On average, without taking event severity into consideration, this particular facility experienced injuries about 6% of the days in a given year (averaged over several years). Despite that relatively low rate of occurence, the only “safety” communications that were ever shared were those accidents.

No one celebrated the little wins when a hazard was removed, no one advertised the big capital projects that improved safety conditions, no one had anything to say about safety unless it was in the negative light of an injury. Obviously those lessons needed to be learned, but excellence can never be achieved from 6%.

Investment requires guarantee on return

No investor would put their money down on a product that only guaranteed a 6% return. They would bet on the 94%. Why is it then, that we bank all of our safety on the smallest minority of what happens in our organizations? No one wants accidents or injuries, but waiting for them to happen and then trying to prevent all future occurrences is just plain lazy. It’s time we get out into the field, get dirty, and start finding places to invest that will actually move the dial in a positive direction. Don’t take my word for it though. If you don’t believe proactive investment in fixing weak systems is worth the time and effort, go spend a weekend in Vegas and bet your life savings on black. Let me know how that turns out for you.

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“Safety” Doesn’t Make Sense

Don’t get angry when no one does it

Over the past few days I’ve spent a good amount of time working with employees who were preparing demonstrations for an annual safety committee exhibition. One group of maintenance technicians put together a crazy-good display that demonstrated how to properly use fall arrest systems and select adequate anchor points for tie off. In planning for it, we had some great conversations about falling. They were eye opening for everyone.

One of the newer mechanics recounted a fall he’d taken at a former employer. His story was pretty incredible considering the company didn’t provide any fall protection for him. He’d been working on a steel structure for days without any. For some reason, however, he decided to bring his own from home the morning of the fall. Before climbing onto the steel that morning he cinched down the leg straps of his harness. Then he loosened them a notch because they were uncomfortable. Minutes later he was dangling in the air realizing that he’d have died if it had happened any day prior.

Most of the guys cringed as their coworker then graphically described why he regretted loosening his leg straps. Use your imagination, but just know he had problems walking for the next few days. His story completely trumped my parasailing misadventure (let’s just say one of my “boys” got caught in the harness… it was less than majestic).

Why do we use the last defense first?

Fall protection is PPE. It should be the “last line of defense.” It’s amazing to me how many people take that for granted. Employers and employees throw harnesses on without thinking (and often without knowing how) just because. What we should be doing first is asking one all-important question: what happens when (not if) I fall?

  • Will I hit the ground and bounce because my arrest device is too long and won’t work?
  • Will I swing into a piece of equipment and knock myself out because I’m too far away from my anchorage?
  • How will I get down from mid-air before all the blood pools into my legs and becomes septic (suspension trauma), potentially killing me?
  • Should I even be wearing a harness or is there a better way to do this job?

Then they started asking really smart questions

We kept discussing the very serious implications and planning needs for fall protection as the group started recounting all of the times they had “tied off” and it really hadn’t been more than a show. One of them (wisely) asked “why do we have to tie off when we’re on ladders?”

“Do you?” I asked in response.

We had a long discussion about that issue, but the long and short of it is that they don’t under normal circumstances. I explained to them that many times additional risk is added to the task when they do. They climb up higher than needed just to attach a lanyard that not only gets in their way, but wouldn’t actually arrest their fall. Once informed of the fact that OSHA doesn’t require fall protection on work platforms (which is what portable ladders are), the group agreed that the “requirement” had never made sense to them in the first place. For my money when it comes to ladders, I’d rather trade a broken bone or two for a dead body dangling in a harness.

I’ve always had a profound respect for work at height. I’ve seen great practices that saved lives and the terrible opposite. Both happen in an instant. But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that we shouldn’t cloud something as important as falling to one’s death with trivial, arbitrary rules. Every time we do it turns something vital into a joke that our workers don’t place any real value on.

So what’s the remedy?

Pragmatic policies, training for understanding, and thoughtful planning. Does it need to be more complicated that? The alternative is just getting angry when no one wants to follow your stupid rules.

What do you think?

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Safety Positive: Good Stuffs Vol 3

Mentors make careers meaningful… Michael King is bringing them to you!

I was extremely blessed to have a mentor early in my safety career who taught me to question everything. Not for the sake of being obstinate, but for the sake of learning. That’s a sentiment my friend Nathan Braymen (featured in good stuffs vol 2) talks about a lot in his #RedBeard videos.

In any case, my mentor Nick, was a huge part of my life for quite a few years. Even when I no longer worked for him, he was a sounding board and a source of encouragement. He often told me I was more talented than he could ever hope to be. I don’t know if that was true, but it sure made me want to live up to that high bar.

The most impactful thing he gave me, however, were his stories. They were amazing. And even when he told me one I’d heard a thousand times, I listened. His wisdom, humor, and ability to deeply (and objectively) analyze himself and others are skills I have tried to adapt and make my own since first working with him in 2008.

Unfortunately, Nick passed away due to cancer in 2016. Since then I’ve met some great peers, but no one has been able to match the guidance he provided me. In large part, that was what drove me to write A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit. Several of his stories are included in it. This post isn’t about me, but please do check out the book.

Then do yourself a favor and check out

Michael King has a passion for mentoring people. Whether helping out at-risk teens, coaching sports, or helping new safety professionals grow, Michael is working to make the world better one person at a time.

His website ( is a unique resource for safety professionals at any point in their career. It’s aimed at finding great mentors then helping others find them. Let’s do all of ourselves a favor and help support Michael in this endeavor. You never know how much impact it might have on you.

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You Can’t Manage Safety With Chaos

Shameless plug time: This is a topic I harped on for pages in my book. If you like these posts (or even if you don’t but you’re willing to consider a different opinion), I think you’ll enjoy it. A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit is available at Amazon (affiliate link), Barnes & Noble, CRC Press, and tons of other obscure websites I’ve never heard of (don’t get a virus).

My son is a master the False Dilemma

“Dad, can I play on my tablet before dinner?”

“No, you need to finish your homework.”

“So you’re saying I can’t watch TV before bed?” He responds.

I imagine part of his questioning is a clever ploy to get me to commit to the latter activity. But on the surface, at least, those two topics have nothing do do with one another. One certainly doesn’t guarantee the other. He might also know that his homework will take much longer than he told me it would, but I digress. Here’s another good one.

“AJ, you need to clean your room before you go to your friend’s house.”

“What?” he asks somewhat hysterically. “You mean we’re not getting ice cream tonight?”

Safety arguments are often the same

The argument that I’m alluding to, of course, is that safety performance can be measured by rates. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

As you can tell, I’ve kicked this dead horse several times, but it keeps resurrecting itself like an undead zombie pony. Ponies are evil. This one needs to be dispatched for good. Not just because it’s wrong, but because it’s harmful. Harmful you ask? Yes, for two reasons:

Pick up the pieces and move on

Too often we get caught up in creating “corrective actions” based on events in order to prevent something from ever happening again. While that is often a prudent measure, it’s easy to get over zealous in that activity. No one can guarantee that something will never happen again. There are too many variables. Going overboard can lead to sitting around waiting for the next bad thing to happen before you do something. That’s equivalent to playing whack-a-mole blindfolded.

When something happens correct what’s reasonable, but then go and seek out the things in your environment that are going to fail. Fix them before they do. In the absence of action that actively eliminates hazards before they harm, we’re just begging for chaos.

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Is Your Safety Motivation From Four-Letter Words?

More specifically, the “O” word…

Don’t be this guy’s backside.

For some, this might seem like preaching to the choir. Others have made a safety career out of fear mongering through the threat of legal action from OSHA. Since that statement alone is likely to garner some hate, let me just say this: If someone’s best argument for why safety should be done is because “OSHA says so,” they probably don’t have a very good grasp on what makes people tick.

It shouldn’t even need to be said, but unfortunately the zealots are still out there in droves. Every day I here something along the lines of this or that “is required by law.” That statement is about as obvious and unnecessary as me stating that I would be taller if my legs were longer.

Of course we have to comply with the law. No one is arguing that. What I’m driving at, however, is that using that reasoning to influence people is just plain ineffective. People need to know why beyond compliance. As in, how will this keep me alive and out of the hospital?

I get it. It’s easy to forget our own humanity and get wrapped up in rules and regulations. Just make sure you bring yourself back to reality once and a while and remind yourself that there is really only one four-letter-word that should matter when talking safety: LIFE.

Believe it or not, safety existed before OSHA

If you’ve never read up on the construction of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and it’s lead engineer Joseph Strauss, it’s worth the time. The project had some low points for sure (11 fatalities), but it was also revolutionary in many ways. The point is that they did safety because it was the right thing to do, not because the government told them to. Check out the clip below to see what I mean:

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Why You Should Manage Safety With CPR

Just not the mouth to mouth part… HR won’t approve

“Jason!” our new safety manager, Wally, hovered over my desk and studied my name tag. “Your name sounds familiar.”

In my mind I flashed back through the half dozen or so times I had introduced myself to him at various company events through the years. At least one of those times he had spilled his gin and tonic on me, so his lack of recollection wasn’t any surprise.

“We’ve met, Wally.” I said. Then I bit my tongue and decided against saying anything else.

Wally was a corporate guy who had outlasted his usefulness. The company had closed his region and needed a place for him. Our project was a nice, quiet corner to tuck the old drunk into. As a bonus perk his best drinking buddy (The Tongue) was already there.

Shortly after our “introduction,” Wally assembled the staff for a meeting and announced there would be substantial changes to our operation. At the end of his speech on of the clerks raised her hand and asked when we could expect the changes to start. He didn’t need to take any time considering his answer.


We all thought he was joking. As it turned out, the joke was on us. Wally reassigned everyone in the department, demoted our supervisor, and put his drinking buddy in charge of the safety team. It was a nightmare.

In the span of just a year, the changes he’d made proved so damaging that nearly 60% of the staff had left to find new jobs. All of us were actively looking, too. It was a shame, because we worked for one of the best companies around. I eventually left as well ( that crazy story is in my book, and worth getting a copy just for that one section)

Any decent leader knows that going into a new environment guns blazing isn’t a great proposition. Still many think they know more than everyone else and feel the need to assert their dominance. Every time I’ve seen that done it’s been a sure path to poor performance.

There’s a better way though.

Look, Listen, Feel

If you’ve been through the American Heart Association’s CPR training, you’ll likely recall that mantra. It’s what you do when you find a victim who potentially needs resuscitation. First you look to see if the person’s chest is rising (are they breathing?). Next you listen for sounds of that breath. Then you feel for air movement. Finally you (firmly) tap them on the shoulders and loudly ask “are you OK?” It’s a simple way to distinguish between passed out drunk or dead.

The idea also works for leadership. When you take over a new area of responsibility figure out what’s happening and how your style fits. Here’s how:

  • LOOK at the way things happen in your new environment. Be critical, but keep your mouth shut so you can do the next thing on the list.
  • LISTEN to the things your people say. Are they negative, positive, apathetic, passionate? If you take the time to listen, make sure you actually hear what they are saying.
  • FEEL your way into your new role (figuratively… don’t be creepy). Ask around about what people expect, but more importantly what they need.
  • ASK your new crew how they’re doing and how you can deliver on what it is they need.

Wally was an ass, don’t be like Wally

If you’ve never had a gung-ho know it all manager like Wally, count your blessings. But also do your best not to become him. You might have the greatest ideas in the world, but if no one respects you, they’ll never get any traction. Build relationships first, then use them to change the world.

Being on good terms with your staff will also make it more likely they won’t hold it against you when you spill your drink on them and forget their name. Here’s to being good leaders!

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