How To Write Better Safety Messages: Condescension Edition

How To Write Better Safety Messages: Condescension Edition

Bill still disprove of the way safety people write. Let’s fix it.

Emails don’t have tone, right?

Sure. Ice cream doesn’t have any carbs either.

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.

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Never Underestimate the Power of What You DON’T Say

Not everything is mutually exclusive

As you can imagine, I get a wide variety of comments based on the things I post here on Relentless Safety. Most of it is good, encouraging, and helps drive the conversation. Some people resort to personal attacks when they disagree. Especially when I’m feeling feisty and post things like THIS… or THIS. Don’t worry, no one has made me cry yet. I find it entertaining.

One recurring theme in the few (and I mean few in the sense that I haven’t yet had to start counting with my toes… fingers only) negative replies I’ve gotten over the past few months is that they tend to assume that because I’ve advocated for one particular thing I don’t support some other, unrelated thing. For instance, THIS POST covered my (not as controversial as I first thought) view on why we should stop measuring safety based on outcomes. In it I talked about why rates are a terrible measure of performance. One reader responded in disbelief because I “don’t care about the little things” even though that statement was never made.

My experience is people tend to jump to conclusions and make illogical leaps when they disagree but (presumably) don’t have a good rebuttal. The same thing happened after THIS POST that covers a certain type of flawed policy. The response that time was that I was advocating for a world with no safety rules at all.

Newsflash: I don’t have all the answers

Another common comment is that I don’t provide solutions to the problems I identify. Most of the time I have to refrain from replying, “did you actually read what I wrote?” Sometimes the solution is in the title (I’m sneaky like that). Do I write detailed blueprints for how to implement? No, of course not. That’s for each of us to do in our particular situation.

Aside from that, it would be incredibly vain and presumptuous for me to assume I know how to fix everything. If I find a solution that I think is particularly useful, I share it (case in point). We should all do that, but I digress.

Here’s the real meat and potatoes

Enough about me and my plight with keyboard warriors. Maybe one of them will click on some of these links and read with an open mind. I won’t hold out hope though. What I do hope is that someone will be able to take some of these lessons I’ve learned and apply them in a way that will improve their environment.

In my book, I briefly cover an episode with a supervisor who worked on a project I was a part of for a short period. He was a skilled tradesman, but a terrible leader. And not at all supportive of any worker safety initiative. I tried many times to coach him on it, but he was stuck. He would comply, that wasn’t the issue. His delivery sucked.

Every time a new requirement or program rolled out, he would roll his eyes and sigh as he delivered the message. I don’t recall every specific instance, but his delivery usually came out something like this: “OK, guys. Corporate is making us do this crap. Make sure you sign this sheet before you get to work. Otherwise you’ll just have to listen to it again.”

What he DIDN’T say was “this will make your work safer” or “I really support this.” He didn’t believe in it, so neither did his people. As an example, I would routinely find them huddled in the break room at the end of the day filling out their pre-shift JHAs. If it wasn’t so sad, it would have been comical.

One of them would scribe and try to recreate their day hour by hour:

“Hey, Jimmy,” he would say. “What were we doing at 2 pm? Oh, right… What PPE were you wearing? Got it.” You can probably imagine that conversation in vivid detail.

Eventually they found a better corner to hide in, but their practices never changed. All because of what their supervisor didn’t say.

It happens all the time

I’m not just knocking supervisory skill here. This is applicable anyone at any level of an organization. The point is that sometimes what goes unspoken is what we hear loudest. Think about every time you watch someone doing a task incorrectly or in an unsafe manner and then walk on without saying something. What does that action say to the person who’s doing it? I would assert that it clearly tells them what they’re doing is acceptable, maybe even expected.

That’s just one of many scenarios where we have the opportunity to communicate better. Safety would benefit a whole lot by meeting people where they are, not assuming they know what we expect, and giving clear direction. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. None of us will get it right every time, but it’s a worthy endeavor to put in some concerted effort.

Here’s to some meaningful conversations.

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.

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Are You Going To Salute Me, Son?

man-151816_640There’s a cat and mouse game every new military member struggles to learn. It’s one of those things that probably doesn’t matter all that much, but after hundreds of hours of customs and courtesies are drilled into your head, you tend to sweat the small stuff. Sometimes that’s the difference between life and death, so the game certainly has it’s place.

My wife (an Army vet) often reminds me that the other branches had bigger things to worry about (like not getting shot), but I still think the game is universal to some degree. I won’t keep you in the dark. The “game” I’m referring to is the mental chess match an officer and and an enlisted member play with one another as they cross paths out doors. For those who may not be aware, the enlisted party must initiate a salute whenever they meet a recognized commissioned officer. The game was played by determining just how close you could get before doing it (there is a specific instruction for distance, but to be honest I don’t remember and just don’t care enough to research it).

I only lost the game once…

I have many fond memories of salutes gone awry. Some were done so awkwardly that it was near impossible to maintain bearing, but those aren’t the subject of this post. They wouldn’t be all that entertaining to anyone who didn’t serve anyway.

The episode in question happened within the first few days of my assignment in South Korea. I had just finished work and was hastily making my way to the base post office to pick up a package from my parents. In those days work ended at 1630 (4:30 pm). That meant I had exactly thirty minutes before Retreat signaled and the National Anthem played. Retreat isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that you must stand at attention saluting the flag throughout the entirety of Star Spangled Banner. So you try not to be outside when it happens.

In my rush, I approached the final street before the small sloped driveway to the post office. I looked up and instantly felt a flutter of nervousness when I noticed the full-bird Colonel (one rank below Brigadier General) approaching me from the other side. Mentally I began preparing my salute.

In perfect unison we both stepped off opposite curbs and began the final paces toward our inevitable meeting. Then without warning he drew a deep breath and nearly screamed,

“Are you going to salute me, son?”

How’s this for a salute?

Instinctively I lifted my right hand and offered the most limp, confused salute of my career.

“Yes, sir.” I held my hand against the brim of my cover (hat) as we awkwardly gazed at each other and crossed the street together. “Good, how? Good evening sir?” I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even return the salute.

To add in insult to injury, the encounter slowed me down so much that I only made it to the driveway of the post office before retreat crackled over the base loudspeakers. The Colonel probably would have laughed at me if he hadn’t also been caught.

Contrasting leadership styles

I’ll come back to the over zealous full-bird Colonel in a bit, but first I want to flip to a different side of the same coin.

Months later I was assigned to a pack and ship detail. It is an exercise only done every few years. My job was “spotter” on a two man crew. Our task was to take loaded semi-trailers to a staging area. From there they would then be inspected and taken to port. It wasn’t complicated, but it required a bit of coordination to ensure the right material was shipped on the right boat. That equated to a whole lot of good ‘ol “hurry up and wait.”

The roads leading to the staging area were narrow and parking was at a premium. So, we learned quickly that we didn’t even want to depart the base until there was room for us at the stage. That meant finding a hiding spot for our forty-footer fully loaded down with munitions. My driver was excellent. He located a dead end alley/road in an obscure corner of the base and skillfully backed us in. My job was to signal him from outside the truck so he didn’t hit anything.

I did my job dutifully for the first week or so (the assignment lasted upward of three) until both the driver and I agreed getting out every time was just a waste of time. There were no hazards in the alley, and almost no chance of causing a scene. As a fail safe, I used the mirror on my side to alert him to any changing conditions.

Objects are closer than… well shit!

One afternoon we were nestling our transport back into its hiding place. It was just after lunch so there were a few more people meandering around behind us than usual. None seemed close enough to pose a risk as I peered through my mirror. I had twisted myself against my door as I did so in order to give myself maximal field of vision.

Then, violently, and without warning my door swung open. I grabbed my (buckled) seat belt as I started to spill out of the truck. At least I was doing one thing right.

“Why. The. FUCK are you not out spotting your driver?” The Silver Oak Leaf of the Lieutenant Colonel’s insignia glinted in the sun. Instinctively I tried to pop up a salute while steadying myself at the same time. “Don’t salute me! Get the hell out of this truck and do your job!”

“Yes, Sir,” I replied. As I exited he gave one last tidbit of knowledge.

“I better never see you warming a passenger seat again, Airman.” he looked up at my driver. “That goes for both of you!” With that he turned and walked away.

When we returned to our shop, we were both expecting hell to be unleashed. Nothing ever came of it though. The Lt. Col. hadn’t said a word to anyone but us. Over the remainder of the year we both saw him periodically in places like the chow hall or out on the street and always gave him his due respect. Not because he’d yelled at us, but because he had earned it. The orders he’d given us were based on doing the right thing, not obligation. The fact that he hadn’t told on us meant he trusted us to follow through. That was a trust neither of us was willing to break.

In contrast, I wouldn’t have even been able to pick the full-bird out of a lineup even two minutes after he’d yelled at me to salute him.

The safety “choice”

There’s a lot of pseudoscience going around these days about the “choice” a worker makes to be safe. This post is already far too long to broach that subject so I’ll get into that later. There is, however, a real safety choice that hardly anyone acknowledges. It’s the choice the safety professional has to act in a way that supports employees vs ordering them to do safety’s bidding.

Think of it this way: You can be like the full-bird and yell and scream for people to do things “because I (or God-forbid…OSHA) say so.” Or you can be like the Lt. Col. who coached us to do the right thing because it was the right thing to do… and then trusted us to do it! The latter is how you get an empowered workforce that wants to work safely.

Either way, it’s your choice.

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How to Stop Writing Sucky Safety Procedures: Understanding Edition

This post is the second in my series on writing better procedures

Bill still wants us to do better. How can you argue with the bard?

I miss the ridiculously simple instructions we had in the military. This weekend, amidst construction of the IKEA loft bed from hell, I longed for the days of reading “turn the screw on the left one-quarter turn.”

The bed wasn’t actually from IKEA, but it had enough parts to qualify. The “instructions” were pictures with basic directions such as “connect M (there were 79 of those BTW) to x using bolt #4 (105 of those).” It only took me four hours to get it together. Then a bonus trip to Home Depot to pick up some bolts to secure it to the wall (I am still a safety guy after all).

The agony was worth it though because my son is exceedingly proud of his new furniture. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my parents for getting it for him, too.

But back to my point about instructions. In the Air Force, we had Technical Orders (TOs for short since everything in the military is an acronym). If memory serves, they were all written at an eighth grade reading level. Not as an insult to service members, but as insurance that no one misinterpreted them. The IKEA bed reminded me of the one time we didn’t have those instructions available. Let’s just say a bit of good-spirited rebellion ensued.

If you’ve been reading along, you may recall from reading THIS EARLIER POST that I was a munitions maintenance technician. Near the end of my first duty assignment (a one year tour in South Korea), I was leading a crew of three other Airmen whose primary job was to maintain air-to-ground tankbuster missiles. One morning a beat up, corroded metal box containing a special missile showed up with an accompanying work order for a complete refurb. The missile was special because it was the last one of it’s kind.

The USAF had plenty of newer models…

The missile was manufactured in 1960. Someone had found it one squirreled away in a warehouse and decided to send it off in style. I don’t remember the exact occasion, but some high-ranking pilot was going to fire the relic. In order for it to be fit for that type of fanfare, it needed a fresh coat of paint (and a full function check, but why sweat that detail if it wasn’t shiny…).

When my crew and I removed it from the ancient casket we saw something extraordinary. It had the same shape as the newer models, but it was… ugly. Ugly to a scary degree since explosives aren’t typically something you typically want to see rusted and broken down. Then we received another surprise.

There were no instructions.

We thumbed through the hundreds of pages of that missile’s TO and came up blank. The missile, as it turns out, was so old that it’s work instructions were retired. All we could find was a tattered picture in one of the appendices.

The four of us stood around it scratching our heads trying to interpret the faded drawing. If you’re not familiar, marking requirements on military equipment (munitions included) are extremely prescriptive. We had to measure out exactly the right width for the color band (an indicator of what type of explosive), place labels and letters meticulously, and ensure that the exact mil-spec colors were used. I’m oversimplifying the process to boot.

“Should we paint it OD (olive drab) like the others,” one of the guys asked. I looked up at him and then back at the black and white sketch.

“No,” I said. “I’m pretty sure this one’s pink.” Another of the guys looked up at me and grinned. He paused for a beat before chiming in.

“It does look pink,” he agreed. “And I think it has purple tiger stripes on the tail” The other two were fully now fully aware of the plot that was forming.

“I think it has one of those shark faces at the front, too. What do you guys think?” I asked.

With that we were off and running. We started with the function check, then checked all the torques on the bolts. But then… the real work began. When we were finished, the Air Force was the proud owner of a pink polka-dotted, purple tiger-striped, shark face missile. It was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a real unicorn.

I know it’s not a missile. But… Shark Face! You get the picture.

The boss was not impressed…

Thankfully his boss was. In the end, the unicorn was shipped to the flight-line and fired with much more fanfare than the pilot was likely expecting. My only regret was that I didn’t get to see it.

At this point I hope you’ve figured out how the story relates to safety procedures. If not let me give you my takeaways.

The first is that people need meaningful instructions. I know that should go without saying, but it never ceases to amaze me how often leaders (safety or otherwise) assume that people know what’s expected. They might have a basic idea, but assuming they understand how to get the job done is a dangerous proposition. Plain and simple, if you want someone to do something tell them, then explain how to do it.

The second takeaway is that those instructions should be clear and concise. I’ll cover this in greater detail in the next post in this series. Until then, let’s just suffice it to say that copying an OSHA reg and calling it a procedure doesn’t fit the bill. If you want people to do something, tell them exactly what you want (turn the screw one-quarter turn…). No fancy words required.

There’s so much more to be said about this topic. It’s one that I believe is highly underrated. In the coming months, I’ll be developing a “Procedure Mastery Course” which will be available here at Relentless Safety. If that would be of interest to you, send me a note at jason@relentlesssafety and let me know what you’d like to see in a course like that.

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How I Found My Voice (and why I don’t care if you disagree)

First off, if you’re reading this, Thank You. Sincerely.

I spent years in fear of what others thought of me. Sometimes I sought my parents’ approval. Sometimes I wanted to be one of the cool kids. Sometimes I just felt ashamed for being me. Because “me” is different. I wasn’t OK with that until I was well into my thirties.

I don’t see the world the same way you do, and that terrified me for far longer than it should have. Anyone want to guess why?

BECAUSE NO ONE SEES THINGS THE SAME F^@#ING WAY!

As I began my safety “professional” career those thoughts of doubt shackled me. I didn’t believe all accidents were preventable. I didn’t subscribe to the theory that low accident rates = world-class safety performance. I was a black sheep. The problem was that I thought I was alone. I could not have been more wrong.

Relentless Safety was born of frustration. There’s no reason to deny that. I began writing posts on this site because I am tired of the status quo. I even wrote a book in the hope that I could help the next generation actually make a difference. While those things have been cathartic to be sure, I didn’t realize the gravity of what I have gotten into until today.

As I was reading responses to my Easter Sunday Post I was caught off guard by one comment in particular. The reader simply said, “I wish I could share this.” I probed to see if he would explain, but as you can imagine all I got in return was silence. That sent me into imagination spiral land.

If My Words Are Dangerous, Your Work Is Ineffective…

I can only imagine the reader who made that comment is somewhere in the throes of self-doubt that I was. It’s a heavy burden, so I’m not going to minimize it. Maybe sharing my post would put his job in jeopardy. Not many people are in a position to risk their employment for what they believe. Maybe he doesn’t want to be a black sheep. I don’t know but whatever the case it’s a sad statement about the way our society operates.

At the risk of bringing politics into this discussion, I’ll just say simply that people should be free to have open and honest discourse. Safety Professionals should talk and debate and challenge each other even if we never agree. But, I’m not naive enough to believe we all share that idea. Sadly, the fact that we don’t is a stark indication of why the profession of safety is stagnant.

The cold hard truth is this: people don’t want to improve because the status quo is pretty damn profitable. There are thousands of false safety prophets who would much rather cash their (hefty) paychecks than do something radical to prevent tragedy. That’s the state of industry today, like it or not.

It’s Time To Flip The Script

If this blog has taught me anything its that there are more out there who share my passion, drive, and ambition to make things better. We just need to speak up. It’s time to stop worrying about what people think of us and do what matters to protect the lives of the workers who break their backs to earn a living every day. One voice can be squashed, but many can rise up and make a change we are proud of.

Are you ready to pursue Relentless Safety?

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People Who Fall & Get Back Up are Idiots: A Different Safety Perspective

A Fat Kid Kicked My Leg In Half…

I got in a fight over $0.50 during my freshman year in High School. Were it to happen today it would certainly make it to Instagram. Maybe it would even go viral. Not because it was an epic fight, but because of how utterly stupid it was.

I had borrowed 50 cents from a classmate so I could buy a soda during lunch. After purchasing the drink, that classmate approached me and the group of kids I was standing with demanding I return his money. Obviously, I had no way to do that since I was drinking it. He wasn’t satisfied by that answer, however, and after a few escalating verbal exchanges things became physical. He grabbed the coke and pushed it into my face.

I should stop here and note that this kid was extremely large for his age. He weighed in at near 350 pounds compared to my tiny 120-pound frame. Aside from sheer size he had another extreme advantage over me. I had a broken leg. Stress fractured actually, but a crack is a crack.

In the preceding two or three weeks, I had actually been on crutches to support my wounded leg. It had come about due to excessive use during the cross country season, initially being diagnosed as shin splints. I had been running around on it for months until it finally decided to say no. That day just happened to be the regional finals race which we lost (I still beat three other runners as I limped to the finish line, please hold your applause).

Anyhoo… everyone at school knew about my leg. The giant who wanted his coke money back was no exception. After he doused me, I pushed him back. Then the “fight” broke out. He grabbed my right shoulder and swept my cracked left leg just below the fracture. Instinctively I dropped to the ground in an act of self-preservation.

It took a moment, but once I realized nothing bad had happened to my bum leg, my anger surged and drove me back to my feet. I tried to throw a punch but my foe’s baseball mitt of a hand clamped my shoulder again as his right leg swept my left. Harder this time. I dropped again. Still, nothing had happened.

The crowd was growing as I readied myself for a third attempt. I stood once more only to be met with the same offensive move. This time his tree trunk of a leg made contact with the crack in mine. Everyone heard the crunch as I crumbled to the ground with an extra joint in left my leg (not really, he only broke the larger tibia bone). It was a sickening sound that was only drowned out by the flood of searing pain that followed.

How Could Someone Be So Stupid?

I’ll come back to my broken leg in a bit, but let’s shift the conversation for a moment. Consider any industrial environment. Maybe even yours. Let’s say, for the sake of this conversation, that this site hires new employees regularly. Some are skilled and experienced tradespeople, others are right out of High School starting their first job. This site, just as all the others like it has hazards unique unto itself. As a matter of due diligence, you conduct orientation training with each of these new employees about those hazards.

One of those hazards presents itself in a task these new workers will have to do daily. They will have to connect piping and tubing which will carry highly caustic chemicals through a system and clean it. In orientation, you explained in detail that the chemicals inside are extremely dangerous. You explained that they need to wear chemical resistant PPE from head to toe. You even explained that tearing these systems apart requires detailed Lockout/Tagout procedures. All of your new employees nod along in agreement and graduate your training with honors.

A few days later one of those new employees is working on the production floor and has been given a bit of freedom. He hooks up the supply lines just as he was instructed and then initiates the process, filling the piping with a mixture of chemical and water. As the lines pressurize he notices a couple leaks and immediately turns off the pumps. He goes to the leaks and loosens a clamp or two so he can replace them and get a proper seal. In doing so the residual pressure in the system sprays him with the diluted solution. Thankfully he’s got on his protective bib overalls, so nothing a actually gets on his clothes. He then restarts the pumps.

Once again the leaks spring up. There are fewer this time, but he repeats the process. Again he’s sprayed, but nothing contacts his skin. Upon starting the pumps the third time, he notices there is only one remaining leak. Feeling as if he’s made great progress and is proving himself as a hard worker, he turns off the pumps, loosens the clamp and is DOUSED from head to toe due to the pressure. Caustic covers his face and gets into his eyes, immediately beginning to burn and threatening his future vision unless he’s provided with prompt medical care.

Perspective Isn’t Universal

Both of the stories I’ve told here are examples of people taking unnecessary risks. Some might consider them examples of unsafe, perhaps even stupid behavior. There’s really no point in arguing that. But we would be remiss if we ended the discussion there. Let’s take them one by one.

In my case, there was an adrenaline-filled fifteen-year-old who had run hundreds of miles on a broken leg and survived. Sure I had a hairline crack in my leg, but I could walk without pain and felt invincible. When I entered the fight my resolve was strengthened by the fact that my broken leg had been kicked not once, but twice by a human fence post. It hadn’t broken either time. Not only that, but I could see the other guy getting more and more nervous each time I stood up. I was fine… until I wasn’t.

In the case of our new worker, I have to imagine he had very similar feelings. The inherent dangers of the chemical may have crossed his mind (you told him after all). But with no practical experience dealing with the gravity of that hazard, he had no reason to believe he was in harm’s way. Then he “proved” to himself that nothing bad was going to happen. Twice.

Experience is a powerful teacher. But it can also be a catalyst for complacency for those using it to teach. Next time you’re in a position to convey your experience to someone else, be sure you don’t fall into the trap of believing that person will understand what you’re teaching in the same way you do. That person doesn’t have the same perspective as you. Keep that thought in the back of your mind. Then show them how to do the task, make them repeat it, and check their performance often.

My leg healed completely from my stupid incident, but there was no guarantee of that at the time. If you had the opportunity to keep someone from that type of ordeal, how successful do you think you’d be?

As always, thanks for reading. Please like, subscribe, and share with all your friends. Together we can reach thousands hundreds tens of people with a new way to think safety.

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Bobcat Induced Faceplant!

Thanks to my friend Kevin for letting me use this and showcase his skillz

I distinctly remember thinking “Holy Shit! That guy just died!!” I had just watched a mini excavator with a bucket attachment swing around and knock a laborer in the hard hat with full force. The laborer dropped faster than a safety guy who hears there are free donuts in the break room, his limp body hitting the ground with a hollow thud. Thankfully he came to as I hurried over to the scene.

Aside from the fact that (thankfully) the guy didn’t die, the most amazing thing about the incident was that the operator didn’t even notice until everyone around him came running over to “help.”

He and the laborer had been working together to excavate a small trench near an existing utility building. The operator would delicately break some soil loose and then wait just long enough for the laborer to remove the spoils with a shovel. They were doing their best not to strike any underground installations.

The two had worked in such perfect synchronization that hardly anyone took notice, let alone realized that their work was particularly dangerous. I was just as guilty as anyone in my complacency. Add to that the fact that the tiny little machine seemed innocuous and borderline cute, and we had a recipe for disaster. Any other heavy equipment on that site would not have even been allowed to be operated with an unprotected human nearby.

There are plenty of takeaways from that little episode. In hindsight, I reflected on a fatality that had occurred involving a slightly larger skid steer just a few months earlier. I kicked myself for not recognizing the danger that had been right in front of me. In speaking to the operator and laborer afterward, they both admitted that they had assumed the other knew what each man was doing and had failed to communicate. But no one recognized the risk.

It’s easy to pinpoint poor behaviors and blame the actions someone takes after an incident occurs. That’s why there are so many safety cops and “investigators” that hang their hats on doing just that. But, it becomes much harder to do when you have to look in the mirror and admit that you made the same error in judgment as the person who “caused” an event.

The next time you walk through your site, wherever that might be, try this: Look for the “normal” practices that are waiting to smack someone in the head (figuratively or literally). You may find some workers who are taking unnecessary risks but get over it. Identify what those risks are and then figure out why they are taking them. You might be surprised when you figure out why you never noticed the potential for harm. It may well be because you underestimated the risk just like everyone else.

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.

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Mom made me do something REALLY dangerous!

A while back I conned convinced my wife that it was time to upgrade our TV. I mean, it was completely justified since we hadn’t bought one for almost 8 years (don’t ask me if the old one still works, that’s irrelevant). In any case, she let me go to the store (alone no less) and sent pictures representing different size TVs so I could make an informed decision.

As soon as I got home my daughter ran up and grabbed my hand, pulling me into the corner and whispering “Dad! Mom made me do something REALLY dangerous!” Since I’d seen the pictures already, I knew she was talking about having stood on the TV stand (you know, the thing designed to support a 100 lb TV). 

I thanked my daughter for letting me know and then we talked about it for a minute. I asked her to explain why she thought it was unsafe and what she would have done differently. In the end, she came to the conclusion that what had been done was OK. The key is that she now knew why. I know not everyone would agree that letting her do that was a safe activity, but the alternative would have been to have her stand on a ladder (a tool she’s not all that familiar with) and try to balance while holding the tape measure. That’s a bit riskier in my mind. 

I run into things like this all the time when I’m working in the field. An employee will rush up to me in a frenzy and explain the egregiously unsafe thing the are expected to do. After evaluation, though the task may seem weird, it’s actually not a big risk. Part of our jobs as Safety Pros is to make those calls and help people understand why that HUGE THING (at least in their mind) isn’t. Never discourage those conversations or blow them off though. They are the perfect opportunity to help people understand the difference between something annoying and something that will kill you. 

Here’s to a great weekend, everyone. Recharge and relax. Next week’s challenges await.  

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