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.
What does that even mean? Well… truth be told, my son AJ helped me out with the title of this post. It’s actually been sitting in my “to be written” file since October 19th. But now’s the time.
Since around that time in October, I’ve been taking a really hard look at everything I want to do on this blog and my other social media outlets.
The one constant has been to continue trying to question status quo and make work safer. Let’s be honest, we’re not where we should be. But there are a TON of great ideas right now. They just need a voice… a platform.
That’s the part I’m most excited about…
Remember that Safety Justice League thing I posted about a few months ago? Well, if you don’t, I don’t blame you. Every time we blink these day’s there’s lifetimes to miss. But I hope you don’t miss out on this.
ON MARCH 4th, SAFETY JUSTICE LEAGUE BECOMES THE PLATFORM
Let me explain. I don’t actually hate the existence of cooling towers. I hate that they break down and fail sometimes. If you’ve read my book, you likely remember why I’m so sensitive about it (and if you haven’t read the book, you probably should). In the meantime, while you’re waiting for your new copy to arrive, I’ll get you up to speed.
Some people like to grandstand. It’s a part of life I should be used to by now. I’m not though. I still get riled up when it happens.
So here’s the scoop… Someone emailed me last week with a very accusatory tone (admit it, you know emails have tone). The message was from a VP who was very concerned about a NEAR MISS that had happened at a construction site at one of her facilities. Her contractors were very shook up about the nearly fatal event and wanted to know what was going to be done to ensure their safety at the site.
What actually happened was this: Some equipment failed and a some plastic fell off of a roof onto the ground at an unoccupied construction site where no one was working. Problem? Yes. Serious near miss? Not quite.
What if there had been people there?!?! (Gasp). What if more equipment fails in the future and bigger chunks of material come careening down to earth in flaming fireballs? What if there was a bus full of children on their first school field trip who were there to see their first construction site? All of that could happen. Doesn’t that qualify it as a near miss?
None of it actually happened. A piece of equipment failed. That equipment needs to be addressed. Hopefully we’ll learn something about preventing damage like that in the future, but the incident was not more than it was.
Safety people need to stop making things up to sell the importance of safety. It makes us look foolish. Instead, we should be using events like the one I described to partner and work on solutions. No one needs to be imaginarily sliced into human confetti in order for action to take place.
Stick to reality. People will respect you more for doing that than they will if you pontificate about the likelihood about being struck by lightening indoors.
Wrap yourself up in bubble wrap and never leave home if you want to avoid all risk!
I had a supervisor once who would respond to absurd safety “prevention” methods with a similar statement. Sometimes I want to tell people the same thing. Then again… the bubble wrap would probably cause heat stress and skin irritation. But hey, Gatorade and Hydrocortisone cream aren’t Recordable, so bring on the bubbles!!!
One frustrating aspect of the safety profession is the constant second guessing and armchair quarterbacking that follows an injury. Or even a picture of a hazard. Just log on to any online safety forum and you’ll find a dozen or more “experts” who could haveprevented any catastrophe or would never allow this or that behavior on their sites. Hang around this field long enough and you’ll meet them in real life, too (they’re super fun people).
The answer is YOU CAN’T! I can’t. We can’t. Humans are not that powerful. As long as we interact with risk we will be subject to our own fallibility and frailty. So why don’t we just give up?
“Stand for something, or die for nothing” -Rambo
I often hear the argument made that if you have a goal for anything less than zero accidents, you are condoning accidents. That type of non-sequitur logic has been used in safety for eons. It sounds righteous, so it must be right. Right?
We have to dig ourselves out of the vicious cycle we’re in if we want to make things better for our workers.
The change we need
Safety Professionals have to quit living in the past. Our focus is far too limited to past actions and what we should have done to prevent something happened. “Shoulda” is a really weak business strategy, though. So here’s what I’m getting at: Realize that your powers are limited.
Remember this. Focusing on what matters doesn’t mean that you are automatically evil (unless you’re already evil) and will overlook the lessons and learning that comes from incidents. Quite the contrary.
Being proactive, directing energy toward what you can control, and helping people learn will ultimately bring results that no injury “goal” could ever achieve.
I read an email recently that had been sent to an entire company. It was written by some corporate guy with some letters behind his name and a fancy safety title. That part wasn’t too offensive (I have some fancy letters too). I might have even been able to overlook the scores of grammatical errors. But I couldn’t get past the way it sounded as I read the words.
The email was supposed to be a safety lesson that crews could discuss and learn from. But it was so belittling and condescending, that I doubt many got to the point.
Don’t be as stupid as THAT guy…
The message was about as simple and straightforward as you can get. It’s author was encouraging everyone to think about their PPE selection when dealing with sharp objects, gloves in particular. To illustrate the point, the author retold a story about a worker who had cut himself while wearing Kevlar gloves. The worker had been shocked that he had still been cut even though he had been wearing “cut proof gloves” (his words). The rest of the email essentially made fun of the injured man for being so ignorant as to believe there actually was such a thing.
After reading the email I wouldn’t be surprised if the the author had responded to the injured worker, “They’re cut resistant, you idiot.”
Not everyone knows what you know
The whole point, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is that our people deserve better than being talked down to. Safety messages need to draw people in, teach them something valuable, and inspire them to act. They’re not a medium we should use to boast our superiority.
Think about that next time you send an email, write a safety message, or just talk to someone face to face. I’m pretty sure there was a time when each of us knew nothing about safety gloves and their limitations. Maybe we should realize that about other people too.
Admit it. That word just made you feel something. Some of you cringed. Others felt tingles in their happy place (don’t make it dirty, you know I meant inside your head).
I had a discussion this past week with a “leader” who was curious about some happenings on a project site. A serious near miss had occurred when an employee defeated a safety device. The “leader” (known by many as the Terminator) asked me first what had been done to discipline the employee. I honestly had no clue. I’m not in that business. No safety professional should be.
Next he asked me how I felt about the situation in general. My answer wasn’t what he wanted, so the conversation ended shortly after. I simply told him that there was more to it than the employee’s violation.
What made him think it was a reasonable risk?
How many times had he done it before without incident?
What expectations had he been given by his supervisor?
Why was the system designed in such a way that it could be easily defeated?
Those questions are all exponentially harder to answer (honestly) than simply identifying what the employee did wrong and punishing him for it. Sadly, in this case, discipline meant paperwork in the employee’s file. I doubt any of my questions will be answered.
What if it meant something different?
It’s easy to beat people with a safety stick. I’d wager that’s why so many organizations still do it. All that does, however, is create a culture of fear.
“But if people can’t follow the rules they need to be held ACCOUNTABLE!”
Sure. Maybe. Or maybe your organization needs new rules. Ever wonder why people continue to violate them even when they know better? You probably should.
Here’s a stark reality. It takes a lot more “discipline” for leaders to look in the mirror when things go wrong than it does to terminate an employee. That’s the kind of discipline organizations need. There’s ALWAYS more to the story than the stupid thing a person did. Unfortunately that information often walks out the door with the offender.
Let’s start learning
In my estimation, the discipline debate is one that will go on forever. That just means we have to prove there are better ways to “safety” than punishment. I’m up for the challenge.
If you’re one of the ones who felt the tingles at the beginning of this post, consider at least giving the alternative a try. Next time someone “violates” one of your rules, try to figure out why before you pull out your ticket book.
If it doesn’t work you can always go back to being a cop. I doubt you’ll need to though.
Monday was my first morning gym session after a couple months of sporadic workouts after work. Most of my inconsistency was due to my own lack of motivation but kicked into high gear when my workout partner, Kevin (first mentioned in THIS POST), transitioned to night shift. As a result, both of us went on a bit of a hiatus. That isn’t really that big of a deal for a couple of guys who’ve both lifted for over 20 years. But lack of discipline will catch up to anyone eventually.
Since neither of us are under the illusion that we’re still in our 20’s, we took things easy that morning. Not everyone in the gym is as wise (or old) as us, though. So, as we set up for some light squats I glanced over at the three guys in the rack next to us. They probably weighed 180 lbs combined, yet had their loaded bar with 405 lbs. I watched as the first of them got under the bar and unracked it. Then he staggered backward to a box behind him to risk his life for some box squats. I’m sure I was frowning at him the whole time (or as my wife says, using Resting A$$hole Face). My disapproval turned out to be warranted, though, because when he sat down on the box he COULD NOT stand up again. Nor could he figure out how to get his arms off the bar behind him in order to dump it without dislocating something. The trio hadn’t set their safety bars high enough either, so any attempt to fall forward or backward would have been disastrous.
For a few tense moments, he and his “bros” wrestled it back to the rack just before (I assume) his spine collapsed or he soiled himself. It was scary and cringe-worthy. But… he didn’t die.
Everyone needs an exit strategy
People in gyms are easy to pick on. I typically don’t because I realize very few aspire to be elite athletes (and I’m not a complete d!@#). Good on anyone who pursues better health and wellness. I can’t look down on that. But, I’ve observed that very few enter a gym with a for plan their exit. And, by exit, I don’t mean returning to your car after frolicking on the treadmill for 30 minutes. I mean figuring out what to do when things go wrong before they do. How will you dump that bar that outweighs you three times over? How will you drop the weights that are forcing your shoulder out of it’s socket?
Safety is uncannily similar. We’re often so focused on what has already gone wrong that we’re blinded to the failures of the future. Thus we fail to plan our exit. But that’s where the money is.
What part of your process could create real chaos?
How much of that chaos can you control before it gets out of hand?
I’ve told the story of my ill-fated hospital visit in 2016 before (see THIS POST if you missed it), so I won’t rehash all of it now. But the most memorable point of that 36-hour ordeal was laying in the ER bed shortly after being told I would be admitted to the hospital for Atrial Fibrillation (a heart condition). While waiting for my new room, a doctor walked in and asked me if I was ready for my prostate exam. Since I consider the heart and the prostate to be two distinctly different issues, I thought he was joking.
HE. WAS. NOT.
In the years since that event I’ve reflected quite a bit. It occurred to me somewhere along the way (ahem… IMMEDIATELY) that getting a prostate exam for a heart condition was a bit… misguided. I realize I’m not a doctor, but nothing in my WebMD searches has led me to the conclusion that I needed that particular “probe” at that moment in time.
You might not be making the same connection I am, and I fully understand that. I didn’t reach this conclusion through the use of any logic. It simply occurred to me while watching the gym bros that I never want to go to the hospital again and get an unexpected cavity search. So, being twisted as I am, I related all of that back to safety. That got me thinking about all the plans we make (or don’t make).
Reactions only get you so far
In the gym I plot out my activities. There’s a plan for execution, a mental thought process before executing, and a contingency for when things go wrong. Safety should be the same, yet too often we get stuck analyzing incident rates and trying to identify root causes for sprained ankles. Those things deserve some attention, but I would submit to you that your time is better spent planning work.
If we’re good at our jobs it seems to me that good planning, and a clear exit strategy should result in less need to analyze those rates we all seem to love.
My final point is this: Don’t give your safety program a prostate exam (figuratively speaking), when it has a heart issue. Practically speaking all that really means is focus on the real issues that are causing big problems (or have the potential to). Most likely those big problems aren’t bumps and scratches. Take care of those by all means, but look deeper.
What is out on your site that could kill someone today? If you don’t know, find out. Then do something about it.
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.
Round tables are great, but sometimes the King needs to speak
Not long ago, I sat around an oval table (maybe that was the problem) with a group of people who DID NOT agree. I’m sure most of us will sit around that table at some point. Or have already. It’s part of life.
In those moments someone needs to direct the circle. Not to agreement, but to action. A good leader will recognize those moments of distension and do three critical things: listen, process, then take action. It won’t please everyone in the group, but it also won’t produce a standstill.
The meeting I was sitting in, however, did not transpire like that. Our leader listened and processed. At least he seemed to based on the note taking. But then he opened the floor to further disagreement with a single statement:
“We all want the same thing, but how we get there isn’t important.”
Sooo… Let’s talk about basketball hoops
My family is incredibly short (those who have read my book know just how short I am). Regardless, my son believes that if he tries hard enough, a short person can be an NBA superstar someday. I went down that rabbit-hole when I was a kid and drew a different conclusion, but I’m also not a dream smasher. So, I bought and assembled a driveway hoop for him this weekend. It was his Christmas present. And my Christmas torture…
First off, who ever “designed” that shit needs to go into hiding. I wanted to throat punch everyone who had any involvement in that “easy to install” system. Pictures DO NOT explain how to put things together. Also, it’s not advisable to get your inspiration for designing instructions from IKEA.
I’ll keep the long story short
Here’s the thing: despite the terrible instructions and hours of profanity (my neighbors probably think I kill people in my garage… I don’t… Promise:), I had to assemble, disassemble, and then (correctly) reassemble that hoop three #^@*!$& times. THREE! That might not seem significant, but the little nicks and scrapes on my hands say otherwise.
What does that have to do with how we do things? Glad you asked.
The hoop is one of those adjustable ones that goes from 7-10 feet. As I mentioned before, my family is short. But I’m not a dream smasher. If there’s even a chance my son might become the next Pistol Pete, I want him to pursue it. Soooo, the hoop adjustment needs to work. The problem I ran into was trying to get these two little plastic flappy things (the “instrukshins” called them guards) to line up with a ridged piece of bur-coated metal and pin them all together with a bolt that was too large for any of their pre-drilled holes. The how-to document just said to assemble them with a picture that didn’t clearly identify their order. In my case, that meant a lot of bloody-knuckled trial and error.
I just wonder how much blood I would have saved if, say, the pieces had numbers on them and the instructions said something like: place 1 inside of 2, then wrap 3 around both and secure with the 7″ bolt. The point is incredibly simple. How matters. A lot.
Meanwhile, at the oval table…
Nothing much was ever accomplished at the table when how didn’t matter. We just kept fighting because everyone thought they knew better than the person next to them. The funny thing about it, though, was that only one subject was ever approached in that fashion. Every other area of the business had a plan for how. Operations had a plan, utilities had a plan, maintenance had a plan, but for some reason it didn’t matter how safety was accomplished.
I have seen more than a few organizations struggle with this issue unfortunately. I think (although I can’t say for sure) that managers feel pressured to think they need all the safety answers. Because no good manager wouldn’t know how to do safety, right? Wrong. None of us have all the answers.
But there are quite a few places that have some amazing resources. They’re called safety professionals. If you’re not sure who that is in your organization, go find the weird guy that collects gloves and safety glasses and has a bunch of weird looking climbing gear in his office. Then take the (metaphorical) handcuffs off of him and let him help you plan some work. Preferably before it starts.
Of course, most of you reading this are that weird guy (or girl). If you’re stuck in an organization that doesn’t value your input, get from under your pile of glasses and gloves and go prove your worth. But start with the workers. The people sitting around tables aren’t the ones getting it done anyway.
I know, I know. There’s no such thing as common sense. I can already hear the trolls taking a deep breath to strike me down with their intellectual superiority at the mere mention of something so banal. (Pretty sure most of them just had to look up that last word as well)
Well, guess what? I don’t believe in common sense either. Save your breath ye dwellers of bridge underbellies… I’m not here to debate either side of that argument. I’m here to ask higher questions. For example, why is it that commonly known unacceptable risks are still common practice?
That thought has weighed on my mind today as I sit at home with my daughter who was sent home from school with a fever. There are several active construction sites near the school, so I glance at the conditions every time I go. There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t noticed several workers standing on roofs with no protection.
Before I get too far with that, peruse the LinkedIn post from my friend Nathan. It’s the perfect setup for the question:
Who are the lucky ones?
The video in the post above appears to be from another country (as in not the US), but the workers seem to have some sense about safety considering their attire. Or maybe orange reflective clothing was the only thing left at the department store after the winter rush. Who knows? Origin doesn’t really matter though. As I mentioned earlier, I saw the same thing happening today in my town at four separate construction sites. So, it happens. Americans aren’t any more inherently “good” at safety than anyone else from what I can gather. Perhaps those of us who are tempted to think otherwise are just lucky to work for organizations that value and implement better practices….
Or is it the worker who climbs unprotected who is lucky?
However you look at it, the question remains. Why is it so common for people to take unacceptable risks? I’m not going to jump down the rabbit hole (for now) and try to answer that. But I will offer some possibilities and things do need to change.
Maybe we need more education.
Maybe we need better equipment.
Maybe the potential consequences don’t seem real (because they don’t happen to everyone and/or often).
Maybe companies focus more on profit than people.
The answer is undoubtedly multi-faceted. But that fact brings another question.
What are we doing to make it better?
Curious to know your answer to that one. Join the conversation on LinkedIn and use the hashtag #relentlesssafety. Let’s learn from each other.
But the bigger you are, the bigger the target on your back
When I started writing on this site I had a lot to say. The path to making those statements has become much clearer over time. But not because my ideas were so brilliant and I’m more self-aware than most (as much as I’d like to believe that I don’t think it’s true). My learning has come from the emails, phone calls, and online interactions with the people who read these posts. Almost all of those engagements have been positive… Almost.
There has been, and will likely always be, polarization about any given topic. I admit I’ve been deliberately provocative at times in regard to my views on safety. But I’ve never believed it is mission to convince the rest of the world to agree with my ideas. I’m not nearly responsible enough to wield that kind of power anyway. Seriously, you would not enjoy being my unwitting subjects (not everyone enjoys T. Swift as much as I do).
My goal has always been to start conversations. Not hate-filled internet insult tournaments. Most everyone I come into contact knows that. Some people just want to fight though. That has never been more noticable to me than it has in the last few weeks.
Enter the SJL..
A couple months ago five acquaintances on LinkedIn started chatting together about collaborating on content. I don’t think any of us had any idea if it would even work. Then roughly a month ago we strung together a few clips of us giving our perspective on some common safety questions. The result was pretty amazing. I found myself learning from each of the others more than I could have imagined (we don’t collaborate answers, only the questions).
The conversations these little clips have started have been nothing short of awe-inspiring. Not only have we offered answers, we’ve been given some incredible ones as well. Proof that there is a wealth of information in the safety pro community that can (and should) be shared. I’ve also gained four amazing friends through the process. But that’s not what I’m getting at here.
One of the early comments on our #AskASafetyPro clips made mention (in light-hearted fashion) that we all had great individual content, but we are “like the Justice League of Safety” when we team up. In jest, I changed the name of the ongoing group chat to #SafetyJusticeLeague. It stuck. But we’re no heroes. We’re just like all you average citizens 🙂
The name has been a positive identifier for our group. From what I gather, most people understand it’s not meant to be taken as a self-righteous statement of our superiority. A small minority, though, has used it to scoff. That’s fine. We’re not here to change minds, we’re here to start those conversations I mentioned earlier. Anyone is welcome to join. My hope (and I believe I can speak for the group) is that we all learn something in the process.
Secret identities don’t change the world
As my friend Phil La Duke told me earlier on in this process, the target on your back gets bigger along with your name. Phil has lived that more than most, I imagine. Anyone who shares their true identity with the public is subject to personal attacks and just plain nastiness. It’s a weird world online. I really don’t understand how words someone types on their phone or laptop can elicit such hate. But I’ll keep being myself and offering up my experience in spite of it because the message is what’s important (even if it only helps one person). The post below from Shay Rowbottom is a good reminder of that.
Now we can return to our regularly scheduled program
Next week I’ll be back with my usual snarky humor and obscure observations. This stuff has just been on my mind lately. The last thing I’ll say about it is this. Be nice to people online. You probably don’t know them well. Assumptions, accusations and insults don’t further any conversation.