I mentioned my friend Rich in my last post. What I failed to mention is that he is like, super old. Not really, but he is 11 years older than me though. None of that has anything to do with this story except that it may be the reason we’re competitive with each other.
At one point in time, he and I were both Regional Managers at a nationwide company. Our regions were fairly close geographically, so Rich invited me to come along with him on a site assessment. It was the first time we’d met in person, so we were both sizing each other up (that didn’t take him long in my case, I’m really short).
Anyway, we ended up actually enjoying hanging out together. We spent the evening before the assessment drinking pitchers of Shock Top at a rundown Applebees. The first lesson I learned about Rich is that I cannot keep up with him when beer is concerned. Or walking for that matter…
When we left the bar to head back to our hotel Rich bounded in front using his normal size legs to take two steps for every one of mine. I finally ran out of steam and steadied myself on a lamp post as I yelled out.
“Dude! You hafssta slow down. Look at the size of your legs and looog at thfu ingSize of mine!” As I finished slurring that to him he busted up laughing and has never since missed an opportunity to remind me of that night.
Over the years we’ve worked on quite a few things together and come up with some pretty cool ideas. I may even share some of them here. One thing that made us become such good friends, has been our common belief that the safety profession is missing way too much pragmatism. That’s driven us to look for ways to get the message out that no one else uses.
Recently, Rich branched out and decided to start his own home-repair business. The other day he called and told me about an article he’d read. It was about how it’s better to prevent problems than fix mistakes. That’s a concept that goes beyond safety, but Rich told me it had resonated with him now that he was working for himself. He has no safety net if he gets hurt. Now, it isn’t just a slogan, safety really is his responsibility.
As long as both of us have worked in safety, getting people to realize that fact has always been a challenge. In contrast, I can remember sitting in a safety meeting when participants were asked to talk about when safety was at it’s best. The first answer was something along the lines of, “they used to give out prizes and rewards.”
That version of safety has always perplexed me. Why is it that people need an incentive to work safely, stay healthy, and go home to the lives they enjoy? It’s because we’ve de-humanized safety and made it a nuisance task. Worker’s don’t view it as something they should do to protect themselves, they view it as something they have to do before they can get to the real work.
The proverbial “they” in that worker’s response is a problem as well. An employer has a huge responsibility and certainly owes their employees a safe place to work. But so often we forget (and fail to mention) the worker has a responsibility to work safely within that environment. OSHA even calls that out in the General Duty Clause. It’s a stupid simple concept and one that doesn’t need to be over-complicated with games and gimmicks.
If someone doesn’t value their limbs staying attached to their bodies, no raffle for a low-end 32″ TV will change that. Instead of dangling useless carrots, we should invest time and energy in knowledge and empowerment. For me that means three things:
- Train hard, and verify knowledge. You don’t need to use fear tactics, but people need to know the gravity of the risks they deal with.
- Give people the expectation that they must identify hazards and refuse to work in spite of them.
- Do something about what your people identify. Any safety program that doesn’t is just lip service.
So I’m sure you’re wondering what the story at the beginning has to do with all of this. Rich was too. Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with risk. I just find it funny. Hopefully you did to. And if we ever go drinking together, just make sure you slow down for me and my short legs.