Sometimes It’s The Little Wins- Finding Success When Safety Sucks

I know the pic doesn’t really match the topic, but if you played baseball the way I did (terribly), making it home was a HUGE “little win.”

There are too many zealots out there

I had a great conversation about that very topic yesterday while making some exciting plans for an upcoming podcast. I’m going to keep that under wraps for now, but the conversation was refreshing.

Every so often I talk to someone of like mind and realize that I’m not the only one pushing the kind safety I advocate for in this blog. That’s actually an understatement, because I know there are a lot of people out there making an impact. Sometimes, though, our voices are drowned out by the constant barrage of old school safety cops. If I haven’t been transparent enough about my thoughts on that, here it is: Compliance based safety doesn’t work (on humans).

It’s not going away any time soon though, so my message to all of you who are trying to flip the script is to just stick with it. There are going to be a lot of terrible days and times when you feel like you’re on an island prison being hunted by cannibals where only a young Ray Liotta can save you (if anyone reading that gets that reference, you deserve praise… maybe I’ll send you an “Relentless Safety Snake Shirt”).

Don’t blame them, it’s not their fault

So many of those “safety cops” are just doing what they’re told. I get that. They’re reciting verses from the holy texts and truly believe what they’re doing is right. Their sense of self fulfillment is based on their ability to enforce and control, because that’s how industry has defined Safety. If at the end of those exercises the result is low injury rates, that person has been conditioned to believe they’ve accomplished something.

The problem with that thinking, as I’ve covered in previous posts as well as extensively in my new book, is that rates rarely correlate (regardless of weather they’re good or bad) with process. When we lack that understanding, the natrual reaction to a “bad” week, month, year, etc. is to push harder on compliance. We do the same things and expect different results. But don’t question us because it’s… “SAFETY.”

I read an exchange just yesterday on a LinkedIn post that was a perfect representation of this phenomenon. A contact of mine posted about his distaste (he called it annoying) with the scores of posts of “out of context” photos along with the challenge to “spot what’s wrong here.” Safety people eat that bait hook, line, and sinker every time. But I tend to agree with my colleague. The practice is misguided (I actually wrote an article on LI about it quite a while ago… You can read it HERE).

Que the keyboard warriors

Within minutes of that post going live, someone jumped on the thread and ranted for about three paragraphs (bulleted items included) about how he didn’t care about “annoying” anyone for the sake of safety. It amounted to saying that he would force safety as hard and long and annoyingly as he deemed necessary. OSHA would be proud.


Like I said, there are too many of them. While that sentiment may sound noble, it’s not one that resonates with people. It just perpetuates the belief that safety’s extra. The alternative is being a normal human who can look at the world pragmatically. It’s not easy, it’s not usually loud or outspoken, and it doesn’t come with a lot of praise.

There is hope, though

Two small things happened to me last week that helped reaffirm at least some of what I do and say makes an impact. There were bigger things, but those were accompanied by meetings, debates, and compromises. The little things were unexpected and unprompted (by me at least).

A worker stopped me in the hallway at my facility. It’s not an uncommon occurrence, but she surprised me. She asked for my advice on hearing protection for a new job. But before she asked about that, she said: “Jason, I really value your opinion and like the way you think about safety.” I thanked her for that, but in reality I don’t believe she’ll ever know how much I appreciated hearing it.

Look for those moments. They’ll help you keep at it even when you don’t want to

The second event was even more surprising. A new employee stopped me in the hallway and put out his hand. I’d only met him once in orientation a few weeks prior, so I shook his hand and he reintroduced himself. “I followed you on LinkedIn last night,” he said. “I really like your articles.” Again, I thanked him for his kind words.

That might not sound all that weird as you read this, but it does when you consider that I make a concerted effort to keep my writing and my day job separate. It meant that he had to find me on his own. Through our conversation I realized that he did it because he liked what I had said during his first day orientation and wanted to know more. I took it as a huge complement.

It all adds up in the end

I’ve written many times about how the safety profession can be a thankless vocation, but there are definite high notes. There are also little glimmers that can help get you through the dark days and affirm you’re there for the right reasons. If you can’t find any, maybe you’re just annoying. Either way, looking for the little wins will help.