Make sure you LOOK safe

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?

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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.

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Never Underestimate the Power of What You DON’T Say

Not everything is mutually exclusive

As you can imagine, I get a wide variety of comments based on the things I post here on Relentless Safety. Most of it is good, encouraging, and helps drive the conversation. Some people resort to personal attacks when they disagree. Especially when I’m feeling feisty and post things like THIS… or THIS. Don’t worry, no one has made me cry yet. I find it entertaining.

One recurring theme in the few (and I mean few in the sense that I haven’t yet had to start counting with my toes… fingers only) negative replies I’ve gotten over the past few months is that they tend to assume that because I’ve advocated for one particular thing I don’t support some other, unrelated thing. For instance, THIS POST covered my (not as controversial as I first thought) view on why we should stop measuring safety based on outcomes. In it I talked about why rates are a terrible measure of performance. One reader responded in disbelief because I “don’t care about the little things” even though that statement was never made.

My experience is people tend to jump to conclusions and make illogical leaps when they disagree but (presumably) don’t have a good rebuttal. The same thing happened after THIS POST that covers a certain type of flawed policy. The response that time was that I was advocating for a world with no safety rules at all.

Newsflash: I don’t have all the answers

Another common comment is that I don’t provide solutions to the problems I identify. Most of the time I have to refrain from replying, “did you actually read what I wrote?” Sometimes the solution is in the title (I’m sneaky like that). Do I write detailed blueprints for how to implement? No, of course not. That’s for each of us to do in our particular situation.

Aside from that, it would be incredibly vain and presumptuous for me to assume I know how to fix everything. If I find a solution that I think is particularly useful, I share it (case in point). We should all do that, but I digress.

Here’s the real meat and potatoes

Enough about me and my plight with keyboard warriors. Maybe one of them will click on some of these links and read with an open mind. I won’t hold out hope though. What I do hope is that someone will be able to take some of these lessons I’ve learned and apply them in a way that will improve their environment.

In my book, I briefly cover an episode with a supervisor who worked on a project I was a part of for a short period. He was a skilled tradesman, but a terrible leader. And not at all supportive of any worker safety initiative. I tried many times to coach him on it, but he was stuck. He would comply, that wasn’t the issue. But his delivery sucked.

Every time a new requirement or program rolled out, he would roll his eyes and sigh as he delivered the message. I don’t recall every specific instance, but his delivery usually came out something like this: “OK, guys. Corporate is making us do this crap. Make sure you sign this sheet before you get to work. Otherwise you’ll just have to listen to it again.”

What he DIDN’T say was “this will make your work safer” or “I really support this.” He didn’t believe in it, so neither did his people. As an example, I would routinely find them huddled in the break room at the end of the day filling out their pre-shift JHAs. If it wasn’t so sad, it would have been comical.

One of them would scribe and try to recreate their day hour by hour:

“Hey, Jimmy,” he would say. “What were we doing at 2 pm? Oh, right… What PPE were you wearing? Got it.” You can probably imagine that conversation in vivid detail.

Eventually they found a better corner to hide in, but their practices never changed. All because of what their supervisor didn’t say.

It happens all the time

I’m not just knocking supervisory skill here. This is applicable anyone at any level of an organization. The point is that sometimes what goes unspoken is what we hear loudest. Think about every time you watch someone doing a task incorrectly or in an unsafe manner and then walk on without saying something. What does that action say to the person who’s doing it? I would assert that it clearly tells them what they’re doing is acceptable, maybe even expected.

That’s just one of many scenarios where we have the opportunity to communicate better. Safety would benefit a whole lot by meeting people where they are, not assuming they know what we expect, and giving clear direction. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. None of us will get it right every time, but it’s a worthy endeavor to put in some concerted effort.

Here’s to some meaningful conversations.

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Merry Chri… Happy 4th of July! Don’t Break Your Toe…

If you want your toe to be super bendy try this.

Celebrate your freedom, risk included

People are going to do all kinds of crazy things today in the name of celebration. Rightfully so. Independence Day is a huge deal in the States. Most of those crazy things will include some level of risk. I’m not going to give you the stereotypical “be safe around fireworks” spiel. Just be sure you keep your face out of the line of fire and bring an extinguisher. And never forget that your freedom came from some people who were willing to take great risks to win it.

I had a brief exchange online this week after a post encouraging others to do something that terrifies you. I had to drop it, because it’s not worth arguing with safety zealots (I talked about them extensively in my last post). My point, although entirely missed, is that avoiding all risk comes with a near perfect guarantee of little success.

That idea popped into my head earlier this week when my wife let me know that she has decided to try out for a local roller-derby team. I’ve been giving her a hard time about it, but in all truth, I think it’s awesome. She reminded me about the picture at the top of this post and asked me “if I’d be mad if she hurt herself.” My response to that (after thinking that I really must come off as a jerk sometimes) was to buy her some skates and tell her to go for it. Although I may have done that due to mild heat stroke because my air conditioning has been out all day and it’s 90+ in my house right now.

If you’ve ever wondered what 35 lbs falling on your toe feels like, ask my wife

She squeaked when it happened. Not exactly like a mouse or a dog’s chew toy, but it was a definite squeak. We were setting up for deadlifts at the gym and as she slid the 35 lb plate off of the rack, she looked up at me. When it reached the edge of the peg, her grip wasn’t firm enough and the plate guillotined her right big toe… SQUEAK.

Two things happened in the aftermath: First, the gym staff FREAKED out because they had never experienced a medical emergency of that scale (god help them if anything worse ever happens there). Second, Christmas was ruined (at least for my wife).

In turn, there are two things that I realized were directly related to safety success when you engage in a risky activity. As long as people lift weights, join roller-derby teams, and/or do fireworks there will be risk of injury. How you manage those risks to minimize consequences and how you respond to those consequences (if something bad happens) makes all the difference.

I’ll keep it short. Enjoy your risky Holiday fun.

At least have a plan, though. Whatever you’re doing this season, think through it and plan for the worst. I wish you the best and hope there will be no trips to the emergency room in your future. But if you think it through, at least you’ll know where the nearest one is. And don’t forget that fire extinguisher either.

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How to Stop Writing Sucky Safety Procedures: Understanding Edition

This post is the second in my series on writing better procedures

Bill still wants us to do better. How can you argue with the bard?

I miss the ridiculously simple instructions we had in the military. This weekend, amidst construction of the IKEA loft bed from hell, I longed for the days of reading “turn the screw on the left one-quarter turn.”

The bed wasn’t actually from IKEA, but it had enough parts to qualify. The “instructions” were pictures with basic directions such as “connect M (there were 79 of those BTW) to x using bolt #4 (105 of those).” It only took me four hours to get it together. Then a bonus trip to Home Depot to pick up some bolts to secure it to the wall (I am still a safety guy after all).

The agony was worth it though because my son is exceedingly proud of his new furniture. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my parents for getting it for him, too.

But back to my point about instructions. In the Air Force, we had Technical Orders (TOs for short since everything in the military is an acronym). If memory serves, they were all written at an eighth grade reading level. Not as an insult to service members, but as insurance that no one misinterpreted them. The IKEA bed reminded me of the one time we didn’t have those instructions available. Let’s just say a bit of good-spirited rebellion ensued.

If you’ve been reading along, you may recall from reading THIS EARLIER POST that I was a munitions maintenance technician. Near the end of my first duty assignment (a one year tour in South Korea), I was leading a crew of three other Airmen whose primary job was to maintain air-to-ground tankbuster missiles. One morning a beat up, corroded metal box containing a special missile showed up with an accompanying work order for a complete refurb. The missile was special because it was the last one of it’s kind.

The USAF had plenty of newer models…

The missile was manufactured in 1960. Someone had found it one squirreled away in a warehouse and decided to send it off in style. I don’t remember the exact occasion, but some high-ranking pilot was going to fire the relic. In order for it to be fit for that type of fanfare, it needed a fresh coat of paint (and a full function check, but why sweat that detail if it wasn’t shiny…).

When my crew and I removed it from the ancient casket we saw something extraordinary. It had the same shape as the newer models, but it was… ugly. Ugly to a scary degree since explosives aren’t typically something you typically want to see rusted and broken down. Then we received another surprise.

There were no instructions.

We thumbed through the hundreds of pages of that missile’s TO and came up blank. The missile, as it turns out, was so old that it’s work instructions were retired. All we could find was a tattered picture in one of the appendices.

The four of us stood around it scratching our heads trying to interpret the faded drawing. If you’re not familiar, marking requirements on military equipment (munitions included) are extremely prescriptive. We had to measure out exactly the right width for the color band (an indicator of what type of explosive), place labels and letters meticulously, and ensure that the exact mil-spec colors were used. I’m oversimplifying the process to boot.

“Should we paint it OD (olive drab) like the others,” one of the guys asked. I looked up at him and then back at the black and white sketch.

“No,” I said. “I’m pretty sure this one’s pink.” Another of the guys looked up at me and grinned. He paused for a beat before chiming in.

“It does look pink,” he agreed. “And I think it has purple tiger stripes on the tail” The other two were fully now fully aware of the plot that was forming.

“I think it has one of those shark faces at the front, too. What do you guys think?” I asked.

With that we were off and running. We started with the function check, then checked all the torques on the bolts. But then… the real work began. When we were finished, the Air Force was the proud owner of a pink polka-dotted, purple tiger-striped, shark face missile. It was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a real unicorn.

I know it’s not a missile. But… Shark Face! You get the picture.

The boss was not impressed…

Thankfully his boss was. In the end, the unicorn was shipped to the flight-line and fired with much more fanfare than the pilot was likely expecting. My only regret was that I didn’t get to see it.

At this point I hope you’ve figured out how the story relates to safety procedures. If not let me give you my takeaways.

The first is that people need meaningful instructions. I know that should go without saying, but it never ceases to amaze me how often leaders (safety or otherwise) assume that people know what’s expected. They might have a basic idea, but assuming they understand how to get the job done is a dangerous proposition. Plain and simple, if you want someone to do something tell them, then explain how to do it.

The second takeaway is that those instructions should be clear and concise. I’ll cover this in greater detail in the next post in this series. Until then, let’s just suffice it to say that copying an OSHA reg and calling it a procedure doesn’t fit the bill. If you want people to do something, tell them exactly what you want (turn the screw one-quarter turn…). No fancy words required.

There’s so much more to be said about this topic. It’s one that I believe is highly underrated. In the coming months, I’ll be developing a “Procedure Mastery Course” which will be available here at Relentless Safety. If that would be of interest to you, send me a note at jason@relentlesssafety and let me know what you’d like to see in a course like that.

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It’s Pronounced “Workers”

As in worker’s compensation…

I stared blankly at Dr. Dickhead (honestly I can’t remember his name and he was one, so…). The site I worked on at the time employed a full-time medical provider and I had just pitched an idea to him. Rather than respond to my pitch, he keyed in on that particular word.
“That’s what I said, doc.”

“No, you said ‘workman’s.’ It’s pronounced ‘workers.'” This was going nowhere.

“Ok,” I said slowly enough for him to understand. “I think this could really help reduce our WORK-ER’s compensation cost. It helped me get off all of the pain treatments I’d been on for years.”

“Well, you’re just a case study of one. That’s no reason to believe something like that could work.” With that the doc turned and walked out of my office. Apparently our conversation had ended.

The idea I had pitched to him was something that I later found huge success in implementing at two different locations. It was an early intervention program for soft tissue injuries called Active Release Techniques. If you’ve never heard of it, do yourself a favor and click that link. For me and countless others, the method has been a life changer. But that’s not the point of this post.

Why wouldn’t we do what works?

My conversation with Dr. D has been seared into my memory for years because it is one of the best examples I’ve ever experienced of people resisting change. In my experience, even people who say otherwise don’t want to venture outside of their comfort zones. But that’s what it takes to change. And change is something this industry desperately needs.

I read an inspiring article about that earlier today and it got me thinking about the goals I’ve given myself. This came after having to chew on my tongue for the last several days rather than spend them in constant debate with someone who wouldn’t have played fairly anyway. As I said, there’s real resistance to change in the field of safety that defies basic logic. It will take more than a few courageous people to change it.

This brings me to another story: one of my first experiences hearing about the term Human Performance Improvement (some now label it HOP among other things). The concept is simple though, fix the system, not the human. Humans are fallible. We will make mistakes, errors, missteps, and incorrect decisions. The presenter was none other than Dr. Todd Conklin.

His presentation was centered on the human performance version of accident reconstruction (as opposed to typical root cause analysis). A coworker and I sat through the workshop and became energized by the ideas presented. It was a whole new way of looking at the world and it just made sense to me. There are zealots out there who still dismiss the ideas outright just because it isn’t what we’ve always done. Or worse, because it isn’t BBS (don’t get me started).

Let’s double down instead, that will work…

Our excitement spilled over and my co-worker and I went to our manager. We explained how simple, yet effective the process was and advocated for trying it out. His response?

“We’re not even good at the process we have now. We can’t start something new.” There was no budging him from that opinion.

And it wasn’t just him. The safety profession is plagued by insane re-branding and reissuing of the same ineffective initiatives that have never worked. In the hope that maybe, just maybe this time will be different. It’s mind-boggling.

  • Not driving compliance for a PPE policy?
  • Having issues with soft tissue injuries?
  • Still experiencing a rash of soft tissue injuries?
    • Limit the amount your employees can lift to less than 10 lbs and buy them all back braces (don’t you dare think about teaching them how to get stronger)!
  • Having problems with high injury rates in general?
    • Make more rules, and chastise the employee’s poor behavior when they get hurt to discourage others from doing the same.

If you aren’t picking up my sarcasm, well, just go ahead and do everything I just listed. There’s no hope for you.

I’ve said it before, do what matters!

If you’re a sensible person, let’s agree to do better. For me, that means I’m going to quit asking for permission so much (thanks Kevin). There are enough of us out there to make some real impacts in this field, but we have to get the idiots out of the way first. Let’s to that by outplaying them at their own game.

If someone thinks that write ups for violations is the way to go, prove them wrong by coaching and then figuring out how the system failed (then fixing it). Maybe you’ll have the opportunity like I did to implement something incredible like ART. Whatever you do, promote it in spite of the naysayers. In the end, they’re only screaming because they know your efforts will prove theirs were ineffective.

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The Dark Place

I shouldn’t be alive

This is a story I’ve tried to write for years. It’s cloudy, hurtful, and dark. And though it’s a slight departure from my usual posts it’s something that needs to be read. If even by one person. Please share this one if you share any.

The safety part of this story is something that affects someone you know. You may not know who or how badly, but he or she is out there. I know because I was one of them. Until I found myself outside of my body with my four month old son screaming in his baby rocker beside me. I couldn’t hear him, but I knew he was there. In my chair, I was awake but asleep… and looking at myself from above.

All of that sounds mystical and surreal, but I warned you this story was cloudy. The truth is I don’t remember what was going on. I just remember feelings. And I know my son was screaming. I had overdosed on completely legal, prescription medication. Medication which was designed to be taken for two weeks. I’d been given them daily for nearly four years.

I’ll tell the story of my injuries in a future post, but the long and short of it was that I messed up my foot, knee, and right side of my rib cage while serving in the USAF. It actually ended my career. But that’s not what’s important in this story.

To keep anyone from getting any ideas, I’m not going to tell you what I had taken or how, but suffice it to say that 16 is too many of anything. Then it was dark.

At some point, hours… minutes… seconds later my wife shook some life back into me and pulled me out of the chair. I mumbled something and stumbled to bed, but I should have died. No one, not even she, knew how dark my life was at that moment.

They own you…

I hadn’t been me for years. Because the pills own you. They change you. And unless you’ve been there, you don’t know how powerless you can be. Judge if you want, but you don’t know.

My pills taught me to play games. I wasn’t ballsy enough to find the dark corners of the internet and get more or stronger stuff, so I “strategized.” In those days my wife left for work before I did so I would play possum until she was gone. Then I’d take the sheets off of our bed and divvy up my stockpile. I would put the combinations together based on what I had to do from one day to the next. My rationale was that some days would suck (I would abstain for days at a time), just so I could have one really good day.

On those days I would carry my little pill pouch in the coin pocket of my jeans until just the right moment, then take them all at once. My strategy never worked, and inevitably I would run out before my next appointment with my dealer (doctor).

All of the games were because nothing worked. The pills didn’t work, the games didn’t work, the pain “procedures” didn’t work. Nothing. Until that day outside of my body. That day I made a choice to live, if for nothing else than to see my son grow up.

Don’t follow my example…

I woke up the next morning from my coma and flushed everything I had (yes I know you’re not supposed to do that, save your piety) and quit cold turkey (I also know you’re not supposed to do that). That didn’t end my pain, though.

Truth be told, I still have pain. I still have nerve damage in my rib cage. I still have garbage knees. What I don’t have is tolerance for letting those things rule my life. That’s the only choice any of us have when dealing with pain. You rule it, or you let it rule you.

I made it to the other side

I don’t tell this story to glorify myself. The only reason I made it out was because I was lucky. Stupid and lucky. I quit wrong. I didn’t have a plan. Odds were not in my favor (over 130 people in the US die every day from opioids). And guess what? Almost no one cares.

But some of you reading do. You wouldn’t be reading a safety blog if you didn’t. Know that there is probably someone in your life who is struggling with the same things I was. I hid it well, they likely do too. But there are always signs. If you see them, don’t turn a blind eye. Engage.

You may not get them to stop. The truth is you don’t have that kind of power. But you may help them find their reason. For their sake, I hope you do.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact the National Drug Helpline for more information. If you wait for someone else to do it, it may be too late.

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You Call That Safety Training?

My good friend Rich and I sat in the back of a crowded community college classroom on a sunny day in December. We were there to complete what someone had inaccurately advertised as safety training. It was actually an OSHA 511 outreach course. Neither of us wanted to be there. I’ll admit we both had a bit of a chip on our shoulders since we’d both been CSPs for years at that point, but the main reason we didn’t want to be there? The instructor. She was about two happy meals sort of half a happy meal.

This topic was suggested by a reader named Max. A few weeks ago he wrote in and asked if I would address the idea that “management doesn’t make time for their people to attend safety training.” It’s a common problem for safety practitioners, no doubt. So I got to thinking. Why is it such a problem? Then I remembered that day and something occurred to me. It’s our fault.

Training is always a mixed bag. Sometimes you get someone who’s fun and engaging and really understands how to impart knowledge. Other times you get the instructor who reads every word on a PowerPoint slide filled with 8 point comic sans font. Instructors often faced with one common problem, though: no one wants to be there.

Sometimes I should just keep my mouth shut…

Such was the case with Hamburglar the OSHA 511 Instructor. I recall Rich had “excused” himself from one of the modules and was no doubt enjoying a nice, relaxing extended lunch while he left me to suffer. The instructor clicked forward on her laser pointer and the title “Introduction to Confined Space Entry” popped onto the screen.

“Can anyone tell me if that trash can in the corner is a confined space?” she asked her victims students. I voraciously shook my head no and then looked around the room to notice that everyone else was doing the opposite.

“That’s right,” she affirmed. “It is a confined space.”

My subconscious overpowered my ability to keep quiet. “How is that a confined space?” I blurted out.

“It’s a confined space because you could put your head in it.” It was a 13-gallon trash can, mind you.

“You can stick your head in a toilet, too. That doesn’t make it a confined space. It makes you an idiot with wet hair.”

We went back and forth for quite a while about it until she’d had enough and played the “we’ll just have to agree to disagree” card. I’m sure I sounded like a pompous know-it-all throughout the episode, but I have a huge problem with safety “professionals” spouting nonsense and then standing behind their imaginary moral high ground when corrected. It’s not that the act of being wrong is a problem, it only becomes one when we believe our words are absolute truth.

Teach what you know, or learn until you do…

Everyone gets it wrong, especially those who train. I’ve been called on my mistakes and lack of knowledge many times. There’s nothing wrong with that. The key is accepting your mistakes and shortcomings and using them to make you better.

So here’s what it boiled down to in my 511 class. I was combative and defensive because most of the other students (except my friend Rich) were not like me. They were actually there to learn the basics of OSHA. Some of them were hoping to use the course as a springboard to break into the profession. Many had even paid their own way to be there only to be taught by someone who didn’t know the difference between a confined space and the empty chasm between her ears.

That takes me back to Max’s topic suggestion. Perhaps the reason managers won’t make time to send their people to training is because they find no value in what we have to say. If you find yourself dealing with that predicament, do some serious self-assessment. No one expects you to know everything, but you should at least know what you’re talking about. Think about it this way, would you pay to hear you give a safety presentation?

It’s OK if you can’t answer that affirmatively, but you need to accept that and work on it. Once what your words are worth it, people will come.

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You Didn’t Sign Up To Die For Your Company!

Throughout my career, I’ve met some truly extraordinary people and exceptionally hard workers. As you might imagine, however, I’m not going to talk about them in this post. This one goes out to all the jackwagons who think they’re hot shit for getting the job done at all costs.

At one point in my career, I had safety oversight for 20 or so facilities scattered throughout a roughly 45 square mile mountain region. One of those facilities was a motor repair shop. They were extremely good at their work, most of the employees there having spent at least 25 years in their trade. The shop had every machining instrument you can imagine and could rebuild everything from a small electric motor to a giant gas turbine.

One Friday afternoon I received a call from one of the machinists. He was gravely concerned that he had been poisoned on the previous Friday. Alarm bells went off in my head as I probed deeper. This was the first I’d heard of any such incident. I got the 30,000 ft. rundown from him and let him know I’d be at their shop as soon as I could. He and his foreman arranged for a meeting in their break room… without their supervisor. We’ll call the supervisor Craig.

When I arrived, I was met by the entire crew, sans Craig. And they were PISSED. As it turned out, the previous Friday had been quite eventful.

Never A Dull Moment

One of the more common activities in the shop was the repair of motor stators. Once they were wound, they were dipped in a vat of epoxy and then baked in a large kiln overnight to cure. Typically only a half dozen or so were baked at a time. Since the operation was done overnight, no workers were exposed to the potential hazard of the epoxy off-gassing during the curing process.

There was a particularly nagging issue posed by this epoxy process. The epoxy was stored in a giant vat in the center of the shop. As the level in the vat dipped, employees would add drums of the epoxy into the already used material in the vat. Over time, this practice caused the epoxy to become unstable and no longer suitable for use. As a result, the vat was emptied about every six months and filled with new product. By regulation, the old material had to be disposed of by an abatement company at extreme cost to the company.

Craig, being the industrious supervisor he was, voraciously looked for ways to cut cost in his organization. The epoxy disposal was always a glaring line item on his books until one day when he had a stroke of genius (it may have just been an actual stroke, wait till you hear this stupidity).

You Can’t Make This S#!$ Up!

Using his infallible logic, Craig surmised that he could eliminate the entire cost of disposal. He had been trained over the years (mostly correctly) that chemicals such as paints or adhesives could be legally disposed of in the trash as long as they were consumed or completely cured and dry. In his mind, it made sense that his epoxy material could be treated the same way. The problem was that he had 100 gallons of it.

So he bought 100 empty one-gallon paint cans, filled them with the chemical, and proceeded to bake them. During normal operations, the maximum amount of material that would be cured would never exceed a gallon. Knowing this, Craig decided to take extra precautions and bake his 100 gallons during the day shift. “Just in case something went wrong.”

That statement was obviously meant for the protection of equipment, because something was certainly wrong with the whole scenario. As soon as heat touched the epoxy, thick noxious vapor began seeping from the kiln. The technician operating the kiln was the first to experience a headache, but the rest of the crew soon followed. Then came the nausea. None of them vomited (at least as far as I was told), but everyone wanted to… FOR THE NEXT EIGHT HOURS!

At one point, the kiln operator became worried that something was indeed “wrong” and cracked the doors open. Plumes of black chemical smoke rolled out and just about knocked him on his butt. He quickly shut it and then told another employee to open all the doors. But still they stayed. Diligently working on their assigned machines until their shift was up. Craig never admitted it, but I’ve always suspected he had threatened their jobs if they left that day (or reported anything fishy).

They Wouldn’t Take A Bullet For You, So…

During our investigation we never got a good, logical answer from any of the crew as to why they had stayed. They never even completely explained why it had taken a week to tell anyone. Except for the fact that one or two had become fearful of long-term health impacts related to the event, we may never have known. At one point, in my frustration I scolded the entire crew.

“Why the hell did you stay? You didn’t enlist in the army of (company x). Why would you be willing to die for them? If Craig had done that to me I would have waived at him with two middle fingers and walked straight to HR to report his ass.”

My questions were met with blank stares.

It never ceases to amaze me how many craptastic “leaders” there are out there. That almost goes without saying. I think what amazes me most, though, is that there are so many people who are willing to follow them off the cliff. In my mind, no job is worth keeping if someone is going to require me to risk my life for it. Being exposed to an unknown, or underestimated risk is one thing. Being asked to die for my company is an entirely different animal.

The Only Thing I know Is I Know Nothing

I understand that there are all kinds of external and internal factors influencing workers to keep their mouths shut and soldier on. Everyone has bills to pay, families to feed, and roofs to keep above their head. There are all kinds of heavy burdens which are exploited by unscrupulous supervisors and managers who want to maximize profits and keep production moving. It’s the ultimate fear tactic, and it’s pervasive. These cretins know that most people won’t stand up and say no and they get away with it time and again. So it continues.

We have to get better at weeding out bad actors and empowering people to speak up. In just the last few days that theme has been present in more than a few of my conversations with workers. One place to start is how we communicate. No matter your industry, pace often dictates that people are ill-informed of their rights, and their responsibilities. When you’re out and about at your place of business in the coming days, take things back to the basics. Too often we assume people know what we know without asking to verify.

So do just that. Ask them if they know what to do when a hazard crosses their path. Ask them if they’re comfortable talking to their supervisor about those things. You may learn that everything’s fine. But you’re more likely to find at least one thing worth fixing.

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How I Found My Voice (and why I don’t care if you disagree)

First off, if you’re reading this, Thank You. Sincerely.

I spent years in fear of what others thought of me. Sometimes I sought my parents’ approval. Sometimes I wanted to be one of the cool kids. Sometimes I just felt ashamed for being me. Because “me” is different. I wasn’t OK with that until I was well into my thirties.

I don’t see the world the same way you do, and that terrified me for far longer than it should have. Anyone want to guess why?

BECAUSE NO ONE SEES THINGS THE SAME F^@#ING WAY!

As I began my safety “professional” career those thoughts of doubt shackled me. I didn’t believe all accidents were preventable. I didn’t subscribe to the theory that low accident rates = world-class safety performance. I was a black sheep. The problem was that I thought I was alone. I could not have been more wrong.

Relentless Safety was born of frustration. There’s no reason to deny that. I began writing posts on this site because I am tired of the status quo. I even wrote a book in the hope that I could help the next generation actually make a difference. While those things have been cathartic to be sure, I didn’t realize the gravity of what I have gotten into until today.

As I was reading responses to my Easter Sunday Post I was caught off guard by one comment in particular. The reader simply said, “I wish I could share this.” I probed to see if he would explain, but as you can imagine all I got in return was silence. That sent me into imagination spiral land.

If My Words Are Dangerous, Your Work Is Ineffective…

I can only imagine the reader who made that comment is somewhere in the throes of self-doubt that I was. It’s a heavy burden, so I’m not going to minimize it. Maybe sharing my post would put his job in jeopardy. Not many people are in a position to risk their employment for what they believe. Maybe he doesn’t want to be a black sheep. I don’t know but whatever the case it’s a sad statement about the way our society operates.

At the risk of bringing politics into this discussion, I’ll just say simply that people should be free to have open and honest discourse. Safety Professionals should talk and debate and challenge each other even if we never agree. But, I’m not naive enough to believe we all share that idea. Sadly, the fact that we don’t is a stark indication of why the profession of safety is stagnant.

The cold hard truth is this: people don’t want to improve because the status quo is pretty damn profitable. There are thousands of false safety prophets who would much rather cash their (hefty) paychecks than do something radical to prevent tragedy. That’s the state of industry today, like it or not.

It’s Time To Flip The Script

If this blog has taught me anything its that there are more out there who share my passion, drive, and ambition to make things better. We just need to speak up. It’s time to stop worrying about what people think of us and do what matters to protect the lives of the workers who break their backs to earn a living every day. One voice can be squashed, but many can rise up and make a change we are proud of.

Are you ready to pursue Relentless Safety?

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