When Ron Gantt Ate A Frito Pie: On Safety & Common Sense

When Ron Gantt Ate A Frito Pie: On Safety & Common Sense

Who doesn’t love a Frito Pie?

Well for starters, Ron Gantt didn’t until recently. I can say that with a high degree of certainty because prior to February 28th of 2020, he’d never had one. Let me back up a bit…

Before the world went completely bats#!t crazy I had the honor of having lunch with Ron along with Marc Yeston and the one and only Dr. Todd Conklin. I’d never been to the restaurant before, so on my way into town I stopped to gas up and call Ron for directions. When he picked up, the first thing I heard was Todd loudly proclaim:

“Ron’s never had a Frito Pie. We need to fix that!”

So, I ended up at a nice diner in downtown Santa Fe where Frito Pie was a staple. It was a great lunch.

Then I got to thinking

“Common Sense” could easily lead someone to think that a snack food as quintessential as Frito Pie would be known to most adults living in this country in the year 2020. The thing is, that version of “Common Sense” is only valid to someone who has eaten a pile of corn chips smothered in chili and cheese.

Believe it or not, that thought has been stuck in my head since that day. Ron and I have discussed it a few times since and it strikes me that eating Frito Pie is a lot like work. And not simply because of the “chore” that becomes necessary shortly after you eat one. Its a representation of perspective, communication, and understanding.

Experience may does vary

One of the most common pitfalls in human communication is assumption. We’re hard wired to do it though… Think about it. How many times have you had a conversation with someone who is ten topics ahead of you yet provided no context to what they are talking about? My wife and I do it to each other so often that we’ve gotten in the habit of telling the other “I’m not in there” (as in, inside your brain).

The truth is everyone sees, feels, smells, hears, and touches the world through their own, unique lens. Even experiences shared amongst close friends and loved ones are perceived differently by every single participant. You will never know how I see the world, nor will I you. That’s part of what makes us great. But its also what makes us cynical.

Enter work…

Here’s where this idea gets interesting. It’s such a simple concept, but it is so so hard to practice. If it’s true that every person’s experience is unique, then everyone you meet knows things you don’t. That part is easy enough to digest… But think about it the next time someone does something undesirable at work. It could be anything: performing a task sub-optimally, breaking a rule, triggering an incident (with or without injury). If that person’s life experience is truly different than yours (and it is), then you have NO IDEA why that person behaved a certain way in a certain circumstance. Chances are you will never find out why if you simply believe the person should have known better.

Allow yourself to reflect on that for a while. Then ask yourself if your judgement of the actions of others really fits the context they were living in before the undesirable thing happened. It may just change the way you look at the way work (and maybe even the world) works.

But wait… There’s more!!!

Ron and I recorded a really great conversation about work a while back. It’s something everyone in the safety field should take a listen to. Check it out and let me know what you think (don’t forget to like, subscribe, and share)!

If you’re new to this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Jason. I’m a safety professional, podcast host, author, and world-renowned origami artist (that’s a lie). If you’re NOT new to this blog, go buy my book… it’s like this but multiplied by the power of unicorn tears. In any case, I hope you enjoy the content here. Please like, share, and join in the discussion as we all pursue Relentless Safety.

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Inigo Montoya: Safety Philosopher

Time for some real talk…

I sat in my bosses office that morning for my regularly scheduled weekly one-on-one. It was a big day. I had just spent the prior month writing, editing and designing a three hour leadership (not safety leadership, CLICK HERE TO SEE WHY) and was about to deliver it to him.

Which I did.

Then came the feedback.

“Jason, you’re a really great big idea guy,” he began. It was familiar territory. “But I really need to to work on follow through. An idea is only 2% of the work…” I’d heard it all before.

Now don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t completely off base. I’m big enough to admit that. But the irony (in a real sense, not the Alanis Morissette kind) of being told that after just delivering a completed project was kind of mind boggling in that moment.

That got me thinking

And listening.

The message didn’t line up with what was actually happening, so I decided to start listening to my boss a little more carefully. It was an experiment that I postulated only had two likely outcomes. I would either learn more about his style and grow to respect him or I would not. The result was the latter.

What I began to notice were his undertones. There was always something else in his message beside the message. For example, when a leader genuinely thanks workers for all their sweat and sacrifice in order to acknowledge that times are stressful, one does not need to end that thought with “but we have a business to run.”

Or justifying the decision to drug screen an employee for an incident by stating “well probably half of them are on drugs anyway.”

One of my favorites was “I don’t mind you doing all this writing stuff, but I don’t want you talking about anything at work.” That one made me giggle.

There were more examples of course, but I’ll leave it at that. The guy’s greed and slanted view of the people who worked for him was just gross. It doesn’t warrant the publicity.

Safety does it too

Think about your words next time there’s a “safety event.” Do you really care if someone’s in pain or are you just mad because of the extra work they just caused you? Are you interested in finding out what happened or is the employee just stupid enough to have let Darwin win? What about all those times that a leader really cares about safety by telling people that their incentive is being taken away because of a “bad” injury rate.

The long and short of it is that your intentions will always betray your words if the two aren’t aligned. Come to think of it, maybe that’s how they came up with the idea that actions speak louder.

We can always do better. Who’s with me?

If you’re new to this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Jason. I’m a safety professional, podcast host, author, and world-renowned origami artist (that’s a lie). If you’re NOT new to this blog, go buy my book… it’s like this but multiplied by the power of unicorn tears. In any case, I hope you enjoy the content here. Please like, share, and join in the discussion as we all pursue Relentless Safety.

DON’T MISS THE LATEST SJL PODCAST!

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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. 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.

If you’re new to this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Jason. I’m a safety professional, podcast host, author, and world-renowned origami artist (that’s a lie). If you’re NOT new to this blog, go buy my book… it’s like this but multiplied by the power of unicorn tears. In any case, I hope you enjoy the content here. Please like, share, and join in the discussion as we all pursue Relentless Safety.

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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.

If you’re new to this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Jason. I’m a safety professional, podcast host, author, and world-renowned origami artist (that’s a lie). If you’re NOT new to this blog, go buy my book… it’s like this but multiplied by the power of unicorn tears. In any case, I hope you enjoy the content here. Please like, share, and join in the discussion as we all pursue Relentless Safety.

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