And Now… For Something Entirely Different

And Now… For Something Entirely Different

Relentless Safety is a journey, not a number (metric)

Is your safety an illusion?

Throughout my writing on this site (and my book) I’ve explored themes of poor safety practices (Fox Paws) pretty extensively. One area where I hope I can influence some change is the idea that good rates is equivalent to good safety. It’s just false logic. And it blinds us to the real issues our people face.

I’ve written several posts about this topic. You can check out a few HERE, HERE, and HERE. But this week I wanted to do something different.

SOOOOO, I present to you, my first audio blog. It’s based on THIS ORIGINAL POST from a few months back. Let me know if you like it. I could probably be persuaded to do more…

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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My Wife Tried To Murder Me… With MURDER Scrub!

Coconut oil scrub to be exact, but first things first…

I’m a magnet for strange. Anyone who’s read many of my stories or my book knows that. In particular, I find that more strange things happen to me in public bathrooms than most. Take that as you will.

As proof, I could offer up THIS STORY about that one time I had to break into my house from a bathroom window. Or THIS ONE about a time when I saved a bee’s life in the most unexpected of ways.

I could even tell you about a time very recently when I visited a restroom and was interrupted by the patron in the stall next to me. Ordinarily I can get in “the zone” when I have business to attend to, but this interruption was legendary. Few sounds are as alarming to hear in a throne room than those of deep, guttural… snoring.

As you can see, I speak from a high level of authority when it comes to weird stuff (and bathrooms). Even if those stories don’t make my case, I’ve got more.

Let’s dig into my wife’s nefarious plot to bring about my demise

Let me start by saying, I love my wife. She is spectacular.

BUT…

If I end up dead/murdered (even though it would be the direct result of my antics) no one should ever consider it a mystery. I preemptively confess that my relentless pursuit (see what I did there?) of bigger, better, and funnier drove an otherwise rational and kind woman to rid the world of my idiocy.

And it’s not like she hasn’t come close before.

I swear it wasn’t me!

As it happens, she’s almost succeeded… accidentally. God help me if she ever tries.

At one point before the spawns were born (see HERE or HERE for more info) she was quite the crafter.

At that point in our marriage I had no reason to suspect any ill intent. We were still newly-wed-enough to believe married people like each other. Anyhoo…, when she proclaimed one day that she was going to start making sugar scrubs I told her she had my full support. They sounded delicious (I was wrong about that…). But they smelled nice and really do help with exfoliation.

Then I took a shower!

There was no Norman Bates in this story. The plot was much more simple. As it turns out, sugar scrub is MOSTLY made of coconut oil, not sugar!

Following her first foray into this new project, my wife had indulged in the exfoliating and moisturizing experience that is F@#$%&! sugar scrub for an undetermined amount of time. Once fully moistfoliated, she exited the shower and let me know it was my turn.

I don’t remember much after that except that I learned three things that day:

  1. Coconut oil is slippery as fuck!
  2. I can perform the splits.
  3. My wife is going to live much longer than me.

She totally wasn’t trying to kill me though. I think

Here’s where it gets… uh… slippery

If I replaced a few elements from that story with a few from your work environment, would your judgement of the circumstances change as well?

Let’s try:

  • My wife = trades-person (employee)
  • Sugar scrub in the shower = unapproved process (violation)
  • Me = “Safety Guy”

Now the story reads: “An employee was observed violating plant safety policy 2097.00987879.00887790880.xxv2 when she used an unapproved chemical to clean equipment. This resulted in a very serious near miss when the Safety Guy slipped in residual chemical. Disciplinary action is recommended.”

Maybe that’s a little far fetched… Maybe not.

What do you think?

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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Safety Isn’t Good (at) Business

Thanks to Dave Collins for this pic

But we’re really good at pointing at things…

You haven’t lived until you have a conversation like they one I’m about to share with you. To set the mood, let me take you back to 2008…

The Black Eyed Peas just told you that tonight’s gonna be a good night. You just texted your girlfriend from your Motorola Razr about the Spaghetti Cat bit you watched on The Soup last night. Then, as you set aside thoughts of redesigning your MySpace page, your boss walks over and gives you the news. Today is going to suck regardless of how tonight turns out.

The boss just informed you that your assignment for the day is to walk the contractor safety reps around a 2-million square foot construction site to show them safety hazards. More specifically, electrical ones.

This particular site had been deluged by unexpected monsoon weather and more than a few things were under water. As it happened, one of those “few” things just so happened to be… the entire bottom floor and basement of the facility. The GC on that job had bet on their expectations of good weather and begun finishing interiors before the building had a roof. They had lost in a MAJOR way. To say there was tension in the air would be… accurate.

And THEN… Safety arrived to save the day… point at extension cords

Some very concerned administrative folks who’d been riding along that morning on the Project Manager’s windshield tour of the damage had informed us that there were… wait for it… Extension cords sitting in water.

Now, I’m going to make light of this hazard for the rest of this post. I’m not going to say it wasn’t a real hazard, but seriously… bigger fish. If you’re not comfortable with that, I suggest you go listen to Episode 100 of the Drinkin’ Bros Podcast to find out what uncomfortable really feels like.

In general, the idea of extension cords being immersed in water, though not something I would advise, does not rank incredibly high on my pucker meter. I’m sure there will be more than a few who disagree with that, and that’s fine. You being wrong doesn’t change the message of this little story.

The issue in this story doesn’t have as much to do with the magnitude of the hazard as it does the reasoning for which the hazard needed to be removed. That reason, as you might guess, was “because OSHA said.” To the contractors who were already dealing with the water crisis in other ways that only meant diverting time and resources to something that just wasn’t the issue of the day. Safety hadn’t changed that opinion based on the four letter “O” word.

So, I spent the rest of that day (minus the 25 minute lunch break I took to run home and get dry pants), trudging through nearly foot-high water pointing at every extension cord covered by H2O. Oh, and don’t think I forgot about that little “conversation” I mentioned at the beginning. It went like this (hundreds of times that day):

Me (pointing at a submerged extension cord): That one.

Contractor: Why?

Me: Seriously?

Contractor: Yeah.

Me: IT. IS. UNDER. WATER.

Business… we’re seriously not good at it

Ok, that’s a broad generalization, but I’m standing by it. Because even the best among us… the Safety Pro who can sell safety based on an iron-clad ROI. That guy. Even he has missed one key ingredient at least once. We all have.

We’re all guilty of pulling safety out of the work process at least once. How many administrative processes have we thrown in people’s faces “just to ensure” they do the “safety” step? How many unnecessary forms have we created and required without knowing how the work works? Which revision of the site safety manual are you currently updating to distribute to the workforce along with a sign-off sheet they have to sign for acknowledgement?

Now ask yourself two questions: How many of those things made someone safer? & How much more effective might those endeavors have been if you could show your organization how to accomplish safety without impeding their work? Think about what that ROI would look like with that little detail included.

In the case of the watery extension cord saga, the contractor was pretty well justified in considering the wet cords a risk worth taking. According to Safety the only thing at stake was the remote possibility someone would get shocked and the even remoter possibility that OSHA would magically appear and unleash the fury at that very moment.

But what if we had helped them with their problem in exchange for some help with ours? Better still, what if we had shown them that their work could be done more safely and efficiently if they corrected the hazard?

How do we get better?

Think about it like this. Have you ever seen an extension cord explode, electrocute a puppy, burn down a building, or turn an average Joe into a super villain because it got wet? I haven’t. And I’ve seen a shit-ton of them (see above). Does that mean they’re not hazardous? Of course not. But it’s not one of the risks that makes me loose sleep. I doubt someone who’s job isn’t SAFETY even thinks about it. If they do, it’s highly likely they consider it a costly nuisance.

So here’s the challenge: If your job requires you to convince someone to do something they think will cost them [anything], you need to find a better way to persuade than telling them they might (in some non-quantified way) experience some level of undesired consequences up to and including death or termination (whichever comes first). Rather than adding roadblocks to the work, find a way to add value. That’s what I think every time I see an extension cord.

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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Safety Whack-A-Mole… Blindfolded

Sorry, Jason. She’s going to need bed rest!!!!

I’d been sitting in a crowded waiting room for hours with Julie, one of the executive assistants on my project. Julie was a sweet woman with a mean streak. I learned early on that it was best to stay on her good side. And I always did… which was why I was the one sitting with her that particular day.

At the time, I was fresh out of the Air Force and still learning what safety was about in the “real world.” The company I now worked for had been serving as “agent for the client” at my location for over 27 years. The project spanned six phases of construction worth billions. Our people rarely experienced injuries on that project so when Julie strained her back picking up an ice chest full of soda everyone was very “concerned.”

I’m sure the concern had nothing to do with the fact that the project proudly boasted about no lost time accident in nearly 17 years…

So, there Julie and I waited. She was tough but I could tell she was in a lot of pain. Finally, the medical assistant called her back and I walked to the door with her. I had two reasons for doing so: First I asked if I could consult with the doctor to let him know what Julie’s role was and what kind of accommodations we could make if he determined that her duties needed restrictions, and second I really (and I mean really) needed to pee.

The MA let me into the back as she shuttled Julie into an exam room. I walked to the restroom and tried the knob but found it locked. So I waited. Standing there, I watched the doctor follow Julie and the MA into the room and close the door. So much for my consult, I thought.

But then, the doctor emerged just as quickly as he had gone in. He headed straight for me.

“I know what you’re after, Jason and I hate to give you bad news. But she’s going to need at least three days of bed rest.” His lightning fast diagnosis was perplexing to me.

“She needs bed rest for a back strain?” I asked.

“That’s what she needs. I’m afraid so,” he answered.

I’m sure I was glaring at him, but I didn’t ask any more questions. He walked away and I forgot about my urgent need. I walked back out to the waiting room to call my boss and deliver the news. Our record was about to end.

My boss handled it well. He accepted the news and told me to “just make sure she’s taken care of.” I hung up and sighed with relief as my bladder reminded me it also needed to be taken care of. So, I headed back to the restroom once again.

Great news!!!

I emerged a few minutes later to see the doctor once again leaving Julie’s room and heading toward me. He looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Great news Jason! No restrictions or time off!?!! Julie can return to work today.” His look was shifty and nervous. Again, I agreed and let him move on.

As he walked away, Julie exited the room with a devilish smirk on her face. I can only imagine what she told him when he tried to give her time off. She told me on the ride home that she wasn’t going to be the one to break a 17 year record. At the time I considered it a victory. I didn’t know any better.

“No lives were ever saved in retrospect” – PLD

The aftermath of Julie’s incident was filled with corrective actions, new office policies, and worker training. It was as typical as any post accident ritual at any company. We spent hours determining the root cause of her injury (ahem… her back was not strong enough to perform that task in that position). We interviewed the co-worker who had been helping with the coolers. The project manager even made the decree that canned beverages were not to be carried in any greater quantity than a 12-pack (seriously).

All of it was done under the auspices of “prevention.” Which… would have been fine if it prevented anything. The problem, as with most reactionary safety, is that circumstances are rarely, if ever, duplicated. In this case, the project had similar injury when Julie’s counterpart picked up a cooler filled with ice not six months later. But, hey, she hadn’t violated the 12-pack rule.

I’m not trying to say that figuring out what can be learned from an injury is a bad thing. Those are lessons we need to learn. What I am getting at is that we spend far too much time reacting because of a consequence instead of trying to avoid that consequence in the first place. You can read between the lines of this story and get a pretty clear idea of why organizations do it, but those subjects are for another post.

The constant rear-view mentality of safety has created a mob of over-paid band-aid dispensers who no nothing more than try to prevent something that ALREADY happened. Most of them fool themselves into believing that will magically change the future. We should do better…

  • We should stop telling people that their safety is determined by a number
  • We should find ways to investigate and replicate successful work
  • We should engage with our people to find out what little things make their jobs more difficult than they need to be
  • We should look beyond yesterday and try to figure out what will kill and maim today.

Until we do, we’ll just keep playing blindfolded whack-a-mole safety.

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Welcome To 2020… Lets Talk Safety… And Prostate Exams?

Don’t get squeamish yet, I won’t start there

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?

The answer may surprise you (and no, you can’t control everything).

How misguided are you?

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.

Lastly…

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.

Please follow and share Relentlessly:

I Broke Into My House … Safely

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.

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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“Safety” Doesn’t Make Sense

Don’t get angry when no one does it

Over the past few days I’ve spent a good amount of time working with employees who were preparing demonstrations for an annual safety committee exhibition. One group of maintenance technicians put together a crazy-good display that demonstrated how to properly use fall arrest systems and select adequate anchor points for tie off. In planning for it, we had some great conversations about falling. They were eye opening for everyone.

One of the newer mechanics recounted a fall he’d taken at a former employer. His story was pretty incredible considering the company didn’t provide any fall protection for him. He’d been working on a steel structure for days without any. For some reason, however, he decided to bring his own from home the morning of the fall. Before climbing onto the steel that morning he cinched down the leg straps of his harness. Then he loosened them a notch because they were uncomfortable. Minutes later he was dangling in the air realizing that he’d have died if it had happened any day prior.

Most of the guys cringed as their coworker then graphically described why he regretted loosening his leg straps. Use your imagination, but just know he had problems walking for the next few days. His story completely trumped my parasailing misadventure (let’s just say one of my “boys” got caught in the harness… it was less than majestic).

Why do we use the last defense first?

Fall protection is PPE. It should be the “last line of defense.” It’s amazing to me how many people take that for granted. Employers and employees throw harnesses on without thinking (and often without knowing how) just because. What we should be doing first is asking one all-important question: what happens when (not if) I fall?

  • Will I hit the ground and bounce because my arrest device is too long and won’t work?
  • Will I swing into a piece of equipment and knock myself out because I’m too far away from my anchorage?
  • How will I get down from mid-air before all the blood pools into my legs and becomes septic (suspension trauma), potentially killing me?
  • Should I even be wearing a harness or is there a better way to do this job?

Then they started asking really smart questions

We kept discussing the very serious implications and planning needs for fall protection as the group started recounting all of the times they had “tied off” and it really hadn’t been more than a show. One of them (wisely) asked “why do we have to tie off when we’re on ladders?”

“Do you?” I asked in response.

We had a long discussion about that issue, but the long and short of it is that they don’t under normal circumstances. I explained to them that many times additional risk is added to the task when they do. They climb up higher than needed just to attach a lanyard that not only gets in their way, but wouldn’t actually arrest their fall. Once informed of the fact that OSHA doesn’t require fall protection on work platforms (which is what portable ladders are), the group agreed that the “requirement” had never made sense to them in the first place. For my money when it comes to ladders, I’d rather trade a broken bone or two for a dead body dangling in a harness.

I’ve always had a profound respect for work at height. I’ve seen great practices that saved lives and the terrible opposite. Both happen in an instant. But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that we shouldn’t cloud something as important as falling to one’s death with trivial, arbitrary rules. Every time we do it turns something vital into a joke that our workers don’t place any real value on.

So what’s the remedy?

Pragmatic policies, training for understanding, and thoughtful planning. Does it need to be more complicated that? The alternative is just getting angry when no one wants to follow your stupid rules.

What do you think?

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You Can’t Manage Safety With Chaos

Shameless plug time: This is a topic I harped on for pages in my book. If you like these posts (or even if you don’t but you’re willing to consider a different opinion), I think you’ll enjoy it. A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit is available at Amazon (affiliate link), Barnes & Noble, CRC Press, and tons of other obscure websites I’ve never heard of (don’t get a virus).

My son is a master the False Dilemma

“Dad, can I play on my tablet before dinner?”

“No, you need to finish your homework.”

“So you’re saying I can’t watch TV before bed?” He responds.

I imagine part of his questioning is a clever ploy to get me to commit to the latter activity. But on the surface, at least, those two topics have nothing do do with one another. One certainly doesn’t guarantee the other. He might also know that his homework will take much longer than he told me it would, but I digress. Here’s another good one.

“AJ, you need to clean your room before you go to your friend’s house.”

“What?” he asks somewhat hysterically. “You mean we’re not getting ice cream tonight?”

Safety arguments are often the same

The argument that I’m alluding to, of course, is that safety performance can be measured by rates. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

As you can tell, I’ve kicked this dead horse several times, but it keeps resurrecting itself like an undead zombie pony. Ponies are evil. This one needs to be dispatched for good. Not just because it’s wrong, but because it’s harmful. Harmful you ask? Yes, for two reasons:

Pick up the pieces and move on

Too often we get caught up in creating “corrective actions” based on events in order to prevent something from ever happening again. While that is often a prudent measure, it’s easy to get over zealous in that activity. No one can guarantee that something will never happen again. There are too many variables. Going overboard can lead to sitting around waiting for the next bad thing to happen before you do something. That’s equivalent to playing whack-a-mole blindfolded.

When something happens correct what’s reasonable, but then go and seek out the things in your environment that are going to fail. Fix them before they do. In the absence of action that actively eliminates hazards before they harm, we’re just begging for chaos.

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Is Your Safety Motivation From Four-Letter Words?

More specifically, the “O” word…

Don’t be this guy’s backside.

For some, this might seem like preaching to the choir. Others have made a safety career out of fear mongering through the threat of legal action from OSHA. Since that statement alone is likely to garner some hate, let me just say this: If someone’s best argument for why safety should be done is because “OSHA says so,” they probably don’t have a very good grasp on what makes people tick.

It shouldn’t even need to be said, but unfortunately the zealots are still out there in droves. Every day I here something along the lines of this or that “is required by law.” That statement is about as obvious and unnecessary as me stating that I would be taller if my legs were longer.

Of course we have to comply with the law. No one is arguing that. What I’m driving at, however, is that using that reasoning to influence people is just plain ineffective. People need to know why beyond compliance. As in, how will this keep me alive and out of the hospital?

I get it. It’s easy to forget our own humanity and get wrapped up in rules and regulations. Just make sure you bring yourself back to reality once and a while and remind yourself that there is really only one four-letter-word that should matter when talking safety: LIFE.

Believe it or not, safety existed before OSHA

If you’ve never read up on the construction of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and it’s lead engineer Joseph Strauss, it’s worth the time. The project had some low points for sure (11 fatalities), but it was also revolutionary in many ways. The point is that they did safety because it was the right thing to do, not because the government told them to. Check out the clip below to see what I mean:

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Park Backward… Or Else: How to Incite Maliciously Compliant Safety

Read and heed if you want to avoid death threats

Everyone who’s worked on a construction site has met the iron-fisted superintendent in this story (figuratively at least, I’m sorry if you’ve ever met the real guy). We’ll call him… Craig. Just like the villain in some of my previous posts. My apologies to any nice guys named Craig.

Anyhoo Craig, as you can imagine, was a special kind of awful. He was tall, massively built, and intimidating. But only in a physical sense. Intellectually he was a rather small man. His authority was borne only from the fear of being walked out the gate should you test him.

He and I didn’t cross paths much because I worked on the operational part of that particular plant. His crew was in the commissioning phase of the project and due to mobilize out within a year or so. I mostly just rolled my eyes whenever I happened upon him belittling someone or making some stupid, arbitrarily rule. Seldom did his reign of terror affect my team.

Until one day…

Craig’s administrative assistant was walking in the parking lot (looking at her phone), when a car reversed out of it’s spot. You guys, she totally, almost, DIED! According to her. To be fair, I didn’t see it happen, but I imagine it was not the near death experience it was made out to be.

Over the next several weeks parking lot safety was the thing. There were reports of similar occurrences and a band of do-gooders rallied for change before someone was killt (not the garment). Then came the all too familiar “solution” when one of Craig’s henchmen suggested that “people always back into parking spots” where he came from (which may as well have been Narnia as far as I’m concerned).

So parking backward (backing in) became policy… lest ye be written up. It was one of those perfect examples of trying to eliminate a hazard by creating more. Because, to put it lightly, we SUCKED at parking backward. What had been a relatively calm patch of dirt with rows marked by railroad ties became a thunder-dome of horns, thirty-point turns, and screeching brakes.

So Craig did exactly what you’d expect he’d do

He doubled down. And I don’t mean just a little. The backward parking remained and a new requirement was added. Beginning one Monday at 5 PM, only one row of cars was released at a time. It started the at the front of the lot (at least that part was fair considering they got there first) and went row by row. After one day of it union grievances began flooding in for all of the unpaid time people sat parked in their cars after they had clocked out.

That’s where I got tied up in the mess. And I don’t regret it one bit… because it was hilarious. At the time, I was making a series of safety videos for the operations team. With my manager’s permission, Craig sequestered my services to film the exodus. His intent was to dismiss the grievances, but it had exactly the opposite affect.

I perched myself on top of a tower overlooking the parking lot with enough time to capture the guards take their places. At quitting time, the herd rushed out in a flurry of middle fingers and foul language as Craig stood on a balcony just below me. I was too far up to be noticed, but even if anyone saw me I don’t think they cared. They all wanted to murder Craig. No one was shy about voicing that desire either.

In the end money won

Craig lost his grievances with the union. Apparently my two-hour video of cars waiting to leave a parking lot was not proof of fair treatment (go figure!?!?). The backing rule was never “officially” reversed, but it was never enforced again. Soon no one remembered. But safety took a huge nosedive in those final months of the construction phase. It was something the workforce had to do, not something they wanted to.

I’ve stated many times before that legal compliance and people safety are two distinctly different objectives. Craig was a perfect case study for that. Compliance is required… no one’s arguing that. But OSHA isn’t what keeps the average worker awake at night. Having a life is. Figure out what that life is about, invest some time in teaching them why safety will make it possible, and help them understand when risk is unacceptable. That’s how real safety works.

As an added bonus, far fewer people will want to punch you in the throat.

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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