Fevers and Fall Protection

Fevers and Fall Protection

Is common practice… common sense?

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.

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What Game of Thrones Taught Me About Safety

Hopefully my writing is better than Season 8… Jus’ sayin’

Prepare for the end!

Since I haven’t mentioned it in this blog before (or if you’re not one of my ten regular readers), I should mention that I’m a pretty huge Game of Thrones fan. I’d rate myself a 7 on a 1-10 scale of Westerosi geek. And just for honesty’s sake I’ll come clean and admit I’m not a fan of books, they gave me anxiety. So, you can take my analysis with a grain of salt if you’re a more die-hard fan than I am.

Specifically, I have been a fan of the HBO TV show for the past few years, having gone through the first seven seasons three times. For me, the allure was in the writing, cinematography, and subtle nuance the show-runners put in every episode. It was one of those shows that transported you to another place. Was being the operative word.

Don’t worry… there won’t be any spoilers in this post. I prefer to let anyone who hasn’t watched the final season imagine how bad it might be for themselves. Doing that will provide you with more entertainment than any of this season’s episodes that have aired thus far. Anyway, it all ends tonight (thank God).

But I just want to keep going…

Yesterday I was clicking through recent videos on my YouTube subscription list and happened upon one of many GoT finale prediction videos. The creator mentioned with some sadness that he hoped to continue making videos after the show ended but didn’t know what that looked like. Since his channel is entirely devoted to the show, it seemed like a hopeless proposition. Believe it or not, though, I can relate to the feeling. Perhaps you can too.

What I’m getting at is the idea of keeping safety “fresh.” I mean, there’s not all that much new material out there in this field. Sure, OSHA updates a regulation on crystalline silica once every 30 years or so, but that’s not really something that excites the average Joe.

The YouTuber who’s struggling with trying to come up with new material is only just now experiencing what every safety professional has been plagued with for years. The only difference is that “safety” doesn’t have a finite, predetermined ending (that’s a good thing by the way).

I’m talking, no one’s listening

One of my earliest experiences in this field was on a construction “mega project.” I was young, ambitious, and inexperienced. In spite of that fact, I was told to go out on site and lead a weekly safety walk. The process dictated that I was to kick off the walk each week with a focus topic.

Within two weeks of the assignment, I came to loathe the task. The first problem was solely a personal one, given that I didn’t believe I had a worthwhile message to share with people who had far more experience than me. That insecurity was impossible to mask. It was also a chip on my shoulder that I needed to get over before I could realize my real potential (maybe you’re in the same boat).

The second problem was the task itself: talking about something new every week. I didn’t realize until years later that very few others gave nearly as much consideration to the topics as I did. Had I known that, I may have mustered more confidence. But, I digress. I put a great amount of emphasis on making an impact. Identifying topics that supported that endeavor was a huge challenge (and still is).

So here’s what I’ve learned

Since I started this post about Game of Thrones, I’d be remiss if I didn’t connect the dots. Here’s what the show taught me about safety:

  • Be consistent:
    • Like it or not, people crave stability. The truth is you don’t have to make safety new or fresh. It just has to be impactful. GoT had impact until it’s final season. People are giving up because (my opinion) the writers got lazy with the end. The same thing will happen if we get lazy with our safety programs.
  • People who aren’t invested don’t care:
    • THIS ARTICLE is an example of just how much people don’t care. If you don’t get personal investment in safety, the result will be similar. How many outspoken “crusty old guys” have you met in your career who want to argue non-stop about how pointless safety is and try to prove their case by stating they’ve never gotten hurt before?
  • People want to feel connected:
  • No one lives up to the hype
  • Execute those who betray you: No, sorry. That’s for a different blog.

So that’s it for now. If the episode lets you down tonight, at least you’ll have something else to talk about with your viewing party guests. Who doesn’t enjoy a nice intellectual conversation about safety on a Sunday evening, right? In any case, have a great week.

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Ridiculous Claims of Safety

It’s time to let the cat out of the bag…

I’m the greatest boxer of all time! Some of you are reeling from that revelation, I know. It’s true! I’ve never fought, but I’m sure I’m the best. I mean, I can bench 295 (315 next month baby) pounds, so it stands to reason I can hit really hard too.

Maybe you don’t buy it, but I am the safest boxer of all time, though. Who else can claim that they’ve avoided getting punched in the face for their entire career? (although according to my wife, that streak won’t continue if I keep up with this blog)

Since I’m in the mood to talk about ridiculous claims, let’s kick around one of the most frequently made in the name of safety. Say, for instance, the idea that a low injury rate somehow equates to high performance in safety.

But you have to have a low rate to get a VPP Star!

You also have to eat in order to get food poisoning, what’s your point? Of course OSHA would require a low rate in order for entry into their program. There’s no other regulatory “measure” for safety. As with all things OSHA, rates have their place, but they’re hardly a measure of performance. I’ll put it this way; if you need the government to give you a gold star in life, you’re missing the whole point of living. Safety should just be part of who each one of us is. Simple (but not easy).

Instead, we’ve let it become a task we have to check off a list. This is where safety pros and average Joes both get it wrong. Safety tells people to do it because OSHA said, which means nothing. Many of those people, in turn, just check it off to make Safety go away. Then we all hope for the best and pray no injuries occur. Because if nothing happens, we’re good at safety, right?

That makes about as much sense as saying that KFC tastes good because it’s not made with grapefruit. Or that people from the south sound funny because they’re not from California.

But doing something is hard…

There are far too many who would debate, argue, and cry for days about how incident rates are the best benchmark we’ve got. That’s because measuring nothing is easy. People who would argue just want to cash paychecks. It’s much harder to measure action and see meaningful results. But that’s what moves the barometer. Not inaction and hope.

The good news is that there are visionaries out there who are making impacts. They’re building safety into their processes. In order for real change to take place, though, we have to start educating our leadership about what real progress in safety means. It’s not removing all the bumps and scrapes that lead to OSHA recordables. It’s sending our people home every night to the lives they work so hard to support.

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Safety is KILLING us!

Workers Deserve Better

The data used in this post was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) news release dated December 18, 2018. The numbers are staggering, but so is Industry’s response. And not in a good way. We can do better.

Workers Deserve Better

In December 2018 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that from 2016 to 2017 worker fatalities were “down slightly” from 5,190 to 5,147. They went on to describe that only 3.5 workers per 100,000 died at work in 2017 as opposed to 3.6 in 2016. I’m not going to beat around the bush on this, those numbers are appalling. The fact that anyone saw fit to even try to cast a positive light on 5,147 human beings being killed while they try to provide for themselves and their families is downright disgusting. And all of it is our fault.

Let me explain what I mean by that. I’ve spent my career working in Industrial Safety & Health. We call ourselves Safety Professionals, but we are known by many different titles: Safety Officer, Safety Manager, Health & Safety Coordinator, Safety guy/girl, you name it. Most everyone who has held a job in this country has at least had a loose connection to someone in my field. We’re the ones who write all the safety rules, tell people they’re not wearing their safety glasses, fire people for violating OSHA requirements, and on and on. But we should be the ones protecting people.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many who strive day in and day out who do just that. But even the best among us have fallen into what I call the “compliance trap.” We get so wrapped up in the rules we make (or the ones our companies are required by law to abide by), that we forget about the people those rules are designed to safeguard. Not too long ago, I was told that a company can’t even begin to get “good” at safety until it is great at (OSHA) compliance. I find that fundamentally backward and potentially life-threateningly harmful to employees.

There are two distinct issues at play here. The first is legal compliance. The second is actual worker safety. Let’s start with compliance.

While I would never argue against being OSHA (or any other governing agency) compliant, I will argue until I turn blue that complying with their laws does not directly correlate with worker safety. Compliance is required, that’s without question. But compliance needs to rest on the shoulders of organizations, not individual workers. There are three things people miss when trying to sell compliance as a fatality prevention measure:

  1. OSHA enforcement is directed toward companies, not workers. An employee rarely has any personal motivation to comply.
  2. OSHA regulations are laws and written as such. Even if a worker was motivated enough to read them, there is nothing within them to envoke an emotional response powerful enough to make someone want to buy in. The rules may tell someone what they can or cannot do, but they don’t explain why (or how).
  3. Compliance “feels” oppressive. No one wants to be told what to do. Workers need a reason to invest their energy and will likely resist if they feel forced.

Now let’s look at what real worker safety means. I mentioned already that compliance is the organization’s responsibility. It would be easy to read into that statement and assume that I mean to say the worker is absolved of responsibility, but that is entirely false. Workers have the personal responsibility to perform to their safest ability while working within the compliant environment their organization owes them. The trick is getting them to buy in. Someone like me can yell OSHA at a worker all day long like its some four-letter curse, but the truth is OSHA just doesn’t mean anything to most people. Most people only care about what matters to them. For some it’s family, for some it’s fishing, but everyone has a vested interest in not dying. Meaning most of us enjoy living.

If companies would invest more time in figuring out what it is that people live for, appeal to those things, and then show them why working safely will allow them to continue those activities, we might actually see worker deaths decrease. My point is simple: compliance is required and safety is required but they’re distinctly separate things. Help me spread that message and actually make a difference in the lives of American workers. It’s far past time we do.  

If you’re looking for a practical way to help jumpstart the process, check out THIS POST

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