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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