I Broke Into My House … Safely

Sometimes it helps to be vertically challenged.

I’ll get to the B&E in a bit. This story popped into my head yesterday as I was conversing with a contact of mine in Ireland. Among other things, he and I were talking about the recent trend around mental-health first aid. I’m not going to get too deep into my thoughts about that topic. For one thing, it terrifies me to think that a safety cop barely qualified to access risk would be given licence to start poking at people’s brains. I do, however, think that mental health is a huge issue. One that should be addressed… by experts. (Safety & Health is too broad, find a specialty)

What he and I did agree on was that safety professionals take on a lot of pressure and stress. He said, and I agree, that his observation of those in our field is that we’re not nearly as guarded as we should be. We care (at least some of us), but we also set ourselves up for extreme loneliness and anxiety.

That’s what reminded me about my house

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you may recall that my wife left me to go be with her parents (on a trip… back in October, relax). For those who’ve been around even longer, you know that I don’t like clutter in my pockets. It’s for that incredibly petty reason that I don’t typically carry my wife’s car key on my key ring.

The day my wife was set to return, we came up with a brilliant plan. I was going to drive her car to work, take it to the airport, and then ask one of my friends to drive me back home at the end of the day. So, that morning, I grabbed her lone car key and rushed out with the kids in tow. We were running late, of course. All of that worked fine until I got home and realized my house keys were locked inside. My only option would be to have my friend drive me back to the airport to get my garage door opener.

I don’t like putting that much on others, so I sat and scratched my head about what to do. The crazy thing is that my friend Jake had just given me back the extra key I had loaned him when he checked up on the cat a few weekends prior. We sat there parked in my driveway for a few minutes until he asked if there were any open windows.

There were… I fixed it though so don’t get any ideas

Jake boosted me over the 6′ security fence that surrounds my back yard and then I let him in. That was the first step. Then we went to the small bathroom window that I remembered leaving open that morning after I had yelled at the dog to stop barking. Jake and I made a nice little step with some bricks the previous owner of my house had left and I stepped up onto it and peered into the bathroom. The floor on the opposite side of the window did not have a convenient brick step.

I considered my options and then squeezed into the opening. Reaching out, I braced against the pony wall that segregates the toilet from the rest of the room. Using that leverage I was able to pull one leg through the window and then sit mostly upright to pull the other through. My concern was falling onto, and breaking the toilet. That didn’t happen though. In the end I was able make it look somewhat gracefull (if I do say so myself).

So how are the two stories related?

The morning of the break in was a stressful one for me. I was going through some personal stuff, I missed my wife, my kids weren’t listening, and on top of all that I had to go to work and be a “safety guy.” If that description doesn’t resonate with you, just recall how you felt the last time your phone rang at 2:13am. Nothing good happens at 2:13am.

In spite of my detailed plans, I made a critical mistake when I grabbed the lone key instead of my ring with the house keys attached. Then I left the house via the garage and closed that same garage with an opener that I would later leave parked at the airport. None of those small details were a conscious choice. They were the result of my operating within a system I had designed without consideration for the diminished state I would be working in that morning.

We’ll all be there at some point, though. It will always serve you well to consider how you’ll act on a bad day. That’s one side of the solution for sure. The other part is guarding yourself as I mentioned at the beginning. At the risk of ruffling a few feathers I’m going to suggest a few brainshifts for you safety professionals:

  • Stop saying your job is to “save lives.” It just isn’t, none of us wear capes. Your job is to educate, learn, and provide tools and programs that will allow people to to do their jobs safely. No one needs the mental anguish that comes along with thinking their “job” is to prevent everything bad that could ever happen from actually happening.
  • Don’t take things personally. You’re going to see all kinds of crazy things if you stick around this profession long enough. Some of them are stupid, some of them are ignorant, a few are even malicious. But people aren’t doing those things to spite you. Many of us could benefit from being a little less self-important. Just spread your message. What people do with it is not your burden to bear (because you can’t control that).
  • Go do something else. Aside from the fact that your friends and family probably don’t want to hear you drone on about OSHA and reflective vests all the time, you need a break too. Being “on” 24/7 is a prescription for anxiety (trust me). Loosen up and go laugh at some irreverent humor. Or eat a whole pie. Maybe go out on a date and have more than one glass of wine while talking about your favorite Netflix show. Let yourself experience some indulgences now and then.
  • Find some friends. Real ones. There are two sides to this issue. You need “safety” friends who you can bounce ideas off of. But you also need “normal” friends who will tell you to shut up and drink a beer.

The bottom line is that you need to take care of you. Miserable safety people are just miserable people. If you have any tips or tricks for keeping yourself sane, please share them. We can all use the help now and then.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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Safety Debates Are Pointless: Belief

The internet is easier to get lost in than my wife’s purse…

A few days ago I did some routine blood work. It so happens that my wife works for my doctor. That is both a blessing and a terrible curse, because I have taught her how to be mean and dark like me.

“Your blood came back positive,” I heard her say. Color rushed out of my face as my mind began to race.

“For what?” I asked, hiding my mounting fear.

“Cocaine,” she answered. I waited for her to break back in and tell me she was kidding, but she didn’t.

“HOW? That’s not even… How?” I asked. Finally she burst into laughter.

“I’m getting really good at that. I was convincing wasn’t I?” She chucked. “We didn’t even test for that, dummy. Doc want’s to talk to you about your creatinine levels though. I can squeeze you in at 4:30 today.”

In the end I was scolded for not hydrating adequately and given an otherwise good report. That didn’t stop me from going down the rabbit hole on Web M.D. and convincing myself that I was in moderate renal failure. By the time 4:30 rolled around I was actively talking myself off the ledge of panic by willing myself to “believe” there was nothing wrong with me.

Then enlightenment struck

Call it fatalist, but I suddenly realized that no amount of belief would magically change my test results. The only thing I was doing was raising my blood pressure and giving myself nausea. I’d had a really good lunch, too, so it would have been a shame to loose it.

In that moment it occurred to me that we do the same in the safety profession. Even to the extent that it causes physical stress similar to what I was experiencing. We passionately, vehemently, sometimes even harmfully proclaiming belief in things to the point that people’s perception of us (and the safety profession) becomes negative. In essence, we become radicals rather than resources. I’m sure you can sense where I’m going with this.

All accidents are preventable – no they aren’t – yes they are – no they…

I challenge you to find a safety forum on LinkedIn where that debate doesn’t come up at least 17 times. It’s rampant. There are two camps, they both have what they believe are logical arguments, and they will likely never agree. That’s fine. Ours is a philosophical field by nature. But often we forget that people come before philosophy.

Just consider this one question: If there is just one worker on your site who could never be convinced that “all accidents are preventable,” is that mantra even worth saying to him/her? I wonder how much more progress we could make if we kept our beliefs to ourselves and instead tried to demonstrate them through our actions.

What do you think?

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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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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Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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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.

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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.

Kinda…

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?

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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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?

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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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).

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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.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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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:

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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Are You Looking For Safety In The Right Places?

Or are you getting distracted?

This sentiment isn’t too far off from “concerns” I’ve heard

I was recently invited to do a podcast with John Chapman on his Blue Collar Voices show. Check it out if you haven’t yet. It was a great conversation. John caught me off guard at one point, though, when he asked me if my experience and training made me constantly notice all of the hazards around me.

I had to think about my answer for a minute, because in some respects I suppose those of us in this field do notice more than the average person (not always though). But fixating on every hazard out there can easily lead to an existence of fear and irrationality. So what I told John is that I try to prioritize my observations and find the big things. That’s not to say we should ignore issues on our work sites, only that some deserve more attention than others.

Getting wrapped up in the trivial is what drives arbitrary rules, unjustified expenses, and encourages weakness in the name of preventing strains. It’s something I imagine every safety professional has tripped up on now and again. If for no other reason than genuinely trying to help someone.

Because safety is… emotional

How many times have you had a safety concern brought to your attention that just sounded scary? Or, even worse, how often has a fellow safety professional (maybe a superior) elevated a minor issue to a place of prominence when far greater issues exist? We should be prioritizing those issues instead. Sometimes that just means educating people on the differences between hazards and risks. When we don’t do a good job at that, workers roll their eyes at our “safety” programs.

And I can’t really blame them.

Craig strikes again!

A couple weeks ago I posted about a villainous construction superintendent who nearly created a riot in the site parking lot. He actually did a lot of things that put safety on perpetual rewind. Another of those episodes was his initiative to eliminate tripping.

At it’s core, the objective was actually a good one, but the correction was not commensurate with the risk. The issue was simple. Someone had stepped over (instead of ducking under) caution tape and tripped, resulting in a first aid injury. The fix was overkill. From that day forward, the mandate became that all temporary caution tape installations were to have a top and middle “rail,” and an entry gate.

Some would certainly agree that his “solution” solved the problem. I would argue that a little bit of personal responsibility and accountability would have done the same. What we ended up with was a whole lot of waste, extra work, and snide comments. I wonder what might have been missed while everyone was distracted by the fancy plastic barriers.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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I Failed A Hearing Test And Got A Brain Scan

Military hearing tests are not much different than civilian ones… except…

Time moves slower when you’re locked inside a dark metal box. In my estimation I was in that hearing booth for at least 30 minutes before ripping off my headphones and busting out. It actually wasn’t completely dark, but I take hearing tests with my eyes closed and try not to move. I’ve had mild hearing loss since experiencing a rash of ear infections as a kid. They culminated in three surgeries and, as one of my doctors put it, scar tissue that “looks like Freddy Kruger’s face.” The test is always stressful for me. This one would not end.

I looked around the room as my eyes adjusted and spotted the technician running my test. She looked startled, but appeared to know why I was out. During the test I kept hearing a strange, staticy “click click” sound followed by tones I had already heard and mashed my little red button to acknowledge.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You’re failing sir,” She replied.

“Ok, and?” I waited for a moment but she stayed silent. “Why isn’t it ending then?” She looked at me and blushed a little then cleared her throat.

“I’ve been restarting it. I need you to pass or you’ll have to see the doctor.”

“So, write that down that I failed and let me go see the doctor.” I said. Terror entered her eyes. She was about to object when I stopped her. “I’ll tell him I i insisted.”

She reluctantly complied, printed out my failed test, and told me to wait in the corner for the doctor.

Turns out my brain looks like everyone else’s… mostly

The “doctor” met me in a small, windowless room full of filing cabinets. He was a US Air Force officer, but he was clearly from somewhere else. I didn’t notice as he looked over my paperwork but then he spoke to me in a thick accent. I couldn’t place it, mainly because I was distracted by the fact that he only had three front teeth.

“Basically I do not want to do the paper works. They are a pain in my ass.” No exaggeration, that’s what he told me. “You come back tomorrow. You’ll pass.”

I most certainly did not pass. In fact, I rode my motorcycle to work just to make sure nothing was too quiet before the redo. My second test was identical, though: a 30 dB shift in my left ear only. That was alarming to every other doctor except Major Care-Less. I didn’t know it at the time but unilateral shifts that severe are really uncommon unless you have some known trauma… or a brain tumor. Hence the brain scan.

That showed nothing except a mild Chiari Malformation (my brain tissue extends into my spinal canal) . It doesn’t actually affect me any way, but I choose to believe it’s there because my brain was just too big to fit into a normal skull. In any case, no one could figure out what had caused my sudden hearing loss.

Then the light-bulb moment struck

Shortly after all of the tests and evaluations came up empty, I was reassigned from missile maintenance to the munitions safety and training office. As I was finishing packing up one day, I heard an all-too-familiar pop from behind the shop. Someone had just released the pressure on the storage tank of our mobile high-pressure compressor. It was something I’d done hundreds of times myself. The closest thing I can compare it to is a shotgun blast, followed by the high pitched hiss of compressed air.

The sound echoed through my skull and made my left ear throb despite the fact that I was inside. Then it hit me. I knew exactly what had caused my hearing loss. The compressor.

I replayed all of the times I had gone out to release the pressure on that unit in slow-motion. When all the tool kits were open and people were working in the shop it was easy to grab some ear plugs and a pair of ear muffs (both were required for that operation) and run to the back pad to release the air. But that’s not what typically happened.

Typically we would only run it for half a day and then turn off the engine. Inevitably we would forget the tank was still pressurized until all of the tools and supplies were inventoried and locked up for the day. No one wanted to sign anything back out at that point, so we (or at least I) had a habit of running to the pad and plugging our ears with our fingers. That meant one hand had to dislodge to pull the pin. I always used my left.

Protect yo selfs

I don’t usually get too technical in these posts, but you can’t grow your hearing back. Here are a few things to consider about hearing protection:

  • The goal for using hearing protection is to attenuate noise levels to a safe level. For example, if a worker is exposed to 95 dB, their hearing protector needs to provide either 5 dB (to meet the OSHA PEL) or 10 dB (to meet the NIOSH PEL) of protection.
  • The “best” hearing protection is the model you wear correctly and consistently.
    • Individual fit testing can aid in determining this for users.
    • An easy test for ear canal inserts is to cup your hand over your ear. If there is no change in sound when doing so, the protector is most likely inserted properly.
  • Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) found on hearing protectors are determined in a laboratory setting. Actual noise reduction depends on how it is used (see first bullet).
  • “Double” hearing protection through the use of ear canal inserts and the addition of ear muffs does not provide “double” the attenuation.
    • When both types are worn properly, the addition of muffs only adds about 5 dB of protection (for more information see http://www.caohc.org/)

Here’s the other thing

I have no excuse for plugging my ears with my fingers. I knew it was wrong. Procedures aren’t exactly negotiable in the military (as long as you didn’t get caught). I even knew that it hurt. But understanding risk isn’t always intuitive. I had no idea that a few seconds every day could cause permanent damage. Now that I know, it’s easy to say my actions were dumb. That goes for any stupid action by anyone, really.

But next time you start down that path just take a moment and consider how many times you’ve knowingly taken a risk, lost on that bet, and then thought “well that was dumb.” Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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Don’t Pass On The Right

It happens every night

On my way home from work, getting to my neighborhood requires turning left from a main highway. Every night as I signal my turn, pull to the middle of the lane, and slow down, the car behind me rushes past on the right. It’s a maneuver that saves maybe 0.02 seconds of commute time (we live in a small town, so “traffic” isn’t really a hindrance).

Every time it happens, I fight the urge to veer back into the middle of the road to thwart the impatient driver behind me. I’ve been hit from behind before, though, and I don’t want to go back to physical rehab for something stupid. So, I stay put and sigh at the ignorance.

What does safe actually mean?

I asked that question a few weeks ago and was met with the expected response: “going home the same way you came to work.” It’s the stock, standard answer I expected. My response? I Pulled out my phone.

Recently, my wife signed me up for one of those “snapshot” apps that monitors your driving to better determine what your auto insurance rate should be.

That shit is annoying by the way.

But, it served a pretty good purpose on the day of my class. In response to my student’s answer, I read him my stats.

“I looked at my phone three times, accelerated from a stop too fast twice, and braked too hard once,” I said. “But I made it to work without an accident. Was I driving safe?”

His blank stare answered my question

Obviously, I have some improvement to make as a driver. Likewise, our workers have opportunities to improve every day. It’s up to us to help them identify those issues and teach them how to get better. Outcomes don’t necessarily define our performance. That is a hard thing to come to grips with in today’s results-driven society.

But remember, just because you’re lucky today doesn’t mean you’re good for tomorrow.

So next time you consider passing on the right, imagine what would happen if the driver in front realized they had signaled the wrong turn and swerved back into the lane. Would your ability to adjust to that change indicate skill, or just dumb luck? I think that’s something worth considering.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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