HOW Matters… Leading Safety Takes, Well… Leaders

HOW Matters… Leading Safety Takes, Well… Leaders

Round tables are great, but sometimes the King needs to speak

Not long ago, I sat around an oval table (maybe that was the problem) with a group of people who DID NOT agree. I’m sure most of us will sit around that table at some point. Or have already. It’s part of life.

In those moments someone needs to direct the circle. Not to agreement, but to action. A good leader will recognize those moments of distension and do three critical things: listen, process, then take action. It won’t please everyone in the group, but it also won’t produce a standstill.

The meeting I was sitting in, however, did not transpire like that. Our leader listened and processed. At least he seemed to based on the note taking. But then he opened the floor to further disagreement with a single statement:

“We all want the same thing, but how we get there isn’t important.”

Sooo… Let’s talk about basketball hoops

My family is incredibly short (those who have read my book know just how short I am). Regardless, my son believes that if he tries hard enough, a short person can be an NBA superstar someday. I went down that rabbit-hole when I was a kid and drew a different conclusion, but I’m also not a dream smasher. So, I bought and assembled a driveway hoop for him this weekend. It was his Christmas present. And my Christmas torture…

First off, who ever “designed” that shit needs to go into hiding. I wanted to throat punch everyone who had any involvement in that “easy to install” system. Pictures DO NOT explain how to put things together. Also, it’s not advisable to get your inspiration for designing instructions from IKEA.

I’ll keep the long story short

Here’s the thing: despite the terrible instructions and hours of profanity (my neighbors probably think I kill people in my garage… I don’t… Promise:), I had to assemble, disassemble, and then (correctly) reassemble that hoop three #^@*!$& times. THREE! That might not seem significant, but the little nicks and scrapes on my hands say otherwise.

What does that have to do with how we do things? Glad you asked.

The hoop is one of those adjustable ones that goes from 7-10 feet. As I mentioned before, my family is short. But I’m not a dream smasher. If there’s even a chance my son might become the next Pistol Pete, I want him to pursue it. Soooo, the hoop adjustment needs to work. The problem I ran into was trying to get these two little plastic flappy things (the “instrukshins” called them guards) to line up with a ridged piece of bur-coated metal and pin them all together with a bolt that was too large for any of their pre-drilled holes. The how-to document just said to assemble them with a picture that didn’t clearly identify their order. In my case, that meant a lot of bloody-knuckled trial and error.

I just wonder how much blood I would have saved if, say, the pieces had numbers on them and the instructions said something like: place 1 inside of 2, then wrap 3 around both and secure with the 7″ bolt. The point is incredibly simple. How matters. A lot.

Meanwhile, at the oval table…

Nothing much was ever accomplished at the table when how didn’t matter. We just kept fighting because everyone thought they knew better than the person next to them. The funny thing about it, though, was that only one subject was ever approached in that fashion. Every other area of the business had a plan for how. Operations had a plan, utilities had a plan, maintenance had a plan, but for some reason it didn’t matter how safety was accomplished.

I have seen more than a few organizations struggle with this issue unfortunately. I think (although I can’t say for sure) that managers feel pressured to think they need all the safety answers. Because no good manager wouldn’t know how to do safety, right? Wrong. None of us have all the answers.

But there are quite a few places that have some amazing resources. They’re called safety professionals. If you’re not sure who that is in your organization, go find the weird guy that collects gloves and safety glasses and has a bunch of weird looking climbing gear in his office. Then take the (metaphorical) handcuffs off of him and let him help you plan some work. Preferably before it starts.

Of course, most of you reading this are that weird guy (or girl). If you’re stuck in an organization that doesn’t value your input, get from under your pile of glasses and gloves and go prove your worth. But start with the workers. The people sitting around tables aren’t the ones getting it done anyway.

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Fevers and Fall Protection

Is common practice… common sense?

I know, I know. There’s no such thing as common sense. I can already hear the trolls taking a deep breath to strike me down with their intellectual superiority at the mere mention of something so banal. (Pretty sure most of them just had to look up that last word as well)

Well, guess what? I don’t believe in common sense either. Save your breath ye dwellers of bridge underbellies… I’m not here to debate either side of that argument. I’m here to ask higher questions. For example, why is it that commonly known unacceptable risks are still common practice?

That thought has weighed on my mind today as I sit at home with my daughter who was sent home from school with a fever. There are several active construction sites near the school, so I glance at the conditions every time I go. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t noticed several workers standing on roofs with no protection.

Before I get too far with that, peruse the LinkedIn post from my friend Nathan. It’s the perfect setup for the question:

Who are the lucky ones?

The video in the post above appears to be from another country (as in not the US), but the workers seem to have some sense about safety considering their attire. Or maybe orange reflective clothing was the only thing left at the department store after the winter rush. Who knows? Origin doesn’t really matter though. As I mentioned earlier, I saw the same thing happening today in my town at four separate construction sites. So, it happens. Americans aren’t any more inherently “good” at safety than anyone else from what I can gather. Perhaps those of us who are tempted to think otherwise are just lucky to work for organizations that value and implement better practices….

Or is it the worker who climbs unprotected who is lucky?

However you look at it, the question remains. Why is it so common for people to take unacceptable risks? I’m not going to jump down the rabbit hole (for now) and try to answer that. But I will offer some possibilities and things do need to change.

Maybe we need more education.

Maybe we need better equipment.

Maybe the potential consequences don’t seem real (because they don’t happen to everyone and/or often).

Maybe companies focus more on profit than people.

The answer is undoubtedly multi-faceted. But that fact brings another question.

What are we doing to make it better?

Curious to know your answer to that one. Join the conversation on LinkedIn and use the hashtag #relentlesssafety. Let’s learn from each other.

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We’re No (SAFETY) Heroes

But the bigger you are, the bigger the target on your back

When I started writing on this site I had a lot to say. The path to making those statements has become much clearer over time. But not because my ideas were so brilliant and I’m more self-aware than most (as much as I’d like to believe that I don’t think it’s true). My learning has come from the emails, phone calls, and online interactions with the people who read these posts. Almost all of those engagements have been positive… Almost.

There has been, and will likely always be, polarization about any given topic. I admit I’ve been deliberately provocative at times in regard to my views on safety. But I’ve never believed it is mission to convince the rest of the world to agree with my ideas. I’m not nearly responsible enough to wield that kind of power anyway. Seriously, you would not enjoy being my unwitting subjects (not everyone enjoys T. Swift as much as I do).

My goal has always been to start conversations. Not hate-filled internet insult tournaments. Most everyone I come into contact knows that. Some people just want to fight though. That has never been more noticable to me than it has in the last few weeks.

Enter the SJL..

A couple months ago five acquaintances on LinkedIn started chatting together about collaborating on content. I don’t think any of us had any idea if it would even work. Then roughly a month ago we strung together a few clips of us giving our perspective on some common safety questions. The result was pretty amazing. I found myself learning from each of the others more than I could have imagined (we don’t collaborate answers, only the questions).

The conversations these little clips have started have been nothing short of awe-inspiring. Not only have we offered answers, we’ve been given some incredible ones as well. Proof that there is a wealth of information in the safety pro community that can (and should) be shared. I’ve also gained four amazing friends through the process. But that’s not what I’m getting at here.

One of the early comments on our #AskASafetyPro clips made mention (in light-hearted fashion) that we all had great individual content, but we are “like the Justice League of Safety” when we team up. In jest, I changed the name of the ongoing group chat to #SafetyJusticeLeague. It stuck. But we’re no heroes. We’re just like all you average citizens 🙂

The name has been a positive identifier for our group. From what I gather, most people understand it’s not meant to be taken as a self-righteous statement of our superiority. A small minority, though, has used it to scoff. That’s fine. We’re not here to change minds, we’re here to start those conversations I mentioned earlier. Anyone is welcome to join. My hope (and I believe I can speak for the group) is that we all learn something in the process.

Secret identities don’t change the world

As my friend Phil La Duke told me earlier on in this process, the target on your back gets bigger along with your name. Phil has lived that more than most, I imagine. Anyone who shares their true identity with the public is subject to personal attacks and just plain nastiness. It’s a weird world online. I really don’t understand how words someone types on their phone or laptop can elicit such hate. But I’ll keep being myself and offering up my experience in spite of it because the message is what’s important (even if it only helps one person). The post below from Shay Rowbottom is a good reminder of that.

Now we can return to our regularly scheduled program

Next week I’ll be back with my usual snarky humor and obscure observations. This stuff has just been on my mind lately. The last thing I’ll say about it is this. Be nice to people online. You probably don’t know them well. Assumptions, accusations and insults don’t further any conversation.

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Do YOU have what you need?

There are plenty out there who don’t

Full Disclosure: this isn’t my dog.

OK, so I’ve started this post four separate times now. One was philosophical, one was analytical, one was statistical, one just sucked. So rather than try to solve the world’s grand problems and offer profound insight I’m going to address this topic with two perspectives: What I need/What my dog needs. Simple enough even I can tackle it.

It’s a bit of a broad topic, but one that has huge implications. So, do your employees have what they need? You can take that question in a thousand different directions… But only if you ask it.

In my observation, many leaders are terrible at asking questions about needs. Maybe they’re scared of the answers, or maybe it’s just a hard thing to address. Like I said, a thousand directions. So let’s look at two.

What do I need?

Lavish praise and adoration… and millions of dollars (you can Venmo that part to me). I joke (only a little), of course, but positive affirmation is always nice. What I actually need, though, is a little deeper. I need fulfillment. Or, in other words I need to feel as though my work has meaning. Since I work in the safety profession, that means I need to know that my work has actually contributed to someone’s safety (if even one). That’s why I have such an aversion to pointless activities done in the name of safety.

Not everyone is motivated like I am though. Some need to make a good living so they can afford nice things for their family. Some may need to work hard with their hands (body) to get that same sense of accomplishment. A little perspective can help, but the best thing you can do as a leader is ask (then actually listen). And that leads me to my dog.

What does my dog need?

Aside from the obvious choices (food/water), my particular dog NEEDS to have her ball thrown. I’ll fully admit that I’m not a huge dog person, but Snickers has grown on me over the years in spite of her needs. To me that’s a funny thought, because growing up I always thought the reason I wasn’t into dogs is that I never had one that liked to play fetch. Now that I have one, I can empirically state that was definitely NOT the reason.

When it comes to fetching, Snickers is the most persistent creature I’ve ever met. If the ball isn’t in her mouth, it’s sitting at someone’s feet as she nudges it with her nose. She’ll then look up at you as if to say, “there’s my ball, I brought it to you, why aren’t you throwing it, it’s right there, pick it up, it’s not hard, do it, it’s a ball, see, it’s the round orange thing with slobber on it, come on…” You get my point.

That dog WILL NOT leave until the ball is thrown. Even if it means she goes and finds someone else to throw it. People do the same thing (and no I’m not comparing us all to dogs… only some). For me, the lesson to learn is that people won’t stick around without getting what they need. That’s as true at home as it is at work.

So, I’ll ask again, do your people have what they need?

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