If you’re not caught up on the story, YESTERDAY’S POST will get you there. It’s important… READ IT!

Most would have been satisfied with a job well done and a hard-fought victory after having rid the site of those awful step things. But that would have required that one never go back out onto the site and look at that condition of the scaffold that had replaced all of the franken-lifts. It was awful. And I don’t mean just a little awful, it was reaching onto the table to grab your water bottle and instead accidentally swigging a mouthful of undiluted vinegar awful (laugh if you will, my son actually did that today… I won’t judge, I laughed too). This was the most broken down, rusted out, dried out, split board scaffold ever erected on a construction site. The conditions weren’t our primary beef though. We chose to hang our hats on an OSHA compliance issue: daily inspection.

Even now looking back and citing 29 CFR 1926.451(f)(3) – Scaffolds and scaffold components shall be inspected for visible defects by a competent person before each work shift, and after any occurrence which could affect a scaffold’s structural integrity seemed like a pretty solid regulatory bet.

Sometimes I wish they let us carry swords… it would make debates more interesting.

The argument was simple. The contractor postulated that daily inspections (actually pre-use inspections) were only required if the scaffold were to be used on a given day. Our position was that every scaffold needed a pre-use inspection every day regardless of use. This may have been a stretch of the compliance language, but we did it because we knew our enemy (that’s right, I just went Sun Tzu on ya). We knew that they didn’t want to waste the manpower doing “meaningless” inspections. We also knew that every single scaffold was actually being used every day because no penny-pinching GC worried about wasting time on inspections would actually waste real money to rent scaffold that wasn’t being used. That and we had caught numerous people on the uninspected scaffold.

Lines were drawn in the sand and we took our sides. The client, always the opportunist decided to side with our GC. We did our due diligence though and prepared case studies, photographs of the rundown scaffold components, “examples” of people using uninspected scaffolds, you name it. The issue became so heightened that the GC went as far as to enlist the local OSHA consultation division as their expert resource and standard interpreter. I won’t go as far as to document my speculations about backdoor dealings (wait, did I just do that?), but the whole thing got… dirty.

When it all came to a head, Nick was summoned to a meeting with all of the highest stakeholders. The owner of the GC and their OSHA Representation, the client, and our VP were all in attendance. We sent him into battle armed to the teeth with an infallible case. But it was all for naught. The decision had been made before he had even set one foot into that room. What was supposed to be a civil debate, was a violent debasing. Nick had been all but tarred and feathered by the time he left the room. 

The three of us who made up Nick’s team were sitting at our traditional meeting place (the Safety Table) waiting for him to return. He stormed in like the 6’4” 70-year-old tornado he was.

“That is the last time I will ever walk into a room with those people and fight a losing battle like that,” He was red-faced and furious. “You guys set me up!” The other two sat in disbelief of what they had just heard as I instinctively replied.

Always wear wristbands when yelling

“That’s bullshit, Nick,” I yelled. “What about all that ‘I’ll back you guys up, crap?” The rest of our conversation isn’t worth repeating, but let’s just say it devolved into a screaming match between me (the lowest ranking member of the team) and our Sr. Safety Manager, with the latter storming off in anger when we hit a standstill.

The team was still reeling when he returned after cooling off a few minutes later. I vividly remember still being angry as “Mr. K”  was “coaching” me about how inappropriate it had been to argue with the boss the way I had. Not surprisingly, though, Nick walked in during his speech and stopped him mid-sentence.

“No, Jase was right. I’ve always told you guys I would back you up and I didn’t do that today,” Nick was a hard man, but also incredibly wise and humble. “You deserve better than that and I’m sorry.”

There are numerous leadership lessons I’ve carried with me since that exchange. For one I learned that sometimes it’s ok to yell at your boss. On the other hand, you better be ready to take what comes your way when you do.

The most important thing was realizing that my heroes are human. They get things wrong just like we all do. But the leaders who can rise beyond their mistakes and admit when they are wrong are the ones people choose to follow into battle and trust with their lives.

How often have you heard, seen, or even just felt that a leader (maybe even you) simply says the right things with no intention of backing them up? That leader may never be put to the test the way Nick was, so you may never know their intentions. Even less likely is the chance that person will be called to the carpet when they don’t measure up (most people have a better filter than I do and would have kept quiet). The trick is this, however: to be a good leader you have to figure out how to prove your intentions. Words are just that. As trite and cliche as it may sound, actions are an entirely different thing.

Think about it this way. If someone who worked for you today was asked to explain the thing that most impressed them about your leadership would they have a story to tell? Would it be a good story? Or, would they just remember your favorite leadership buzzwords?  

Safety Professionals must get better at leadership. Not for the reason’s you might think, though. We’re not the ones who will change the tide and create cultures that actually make worker’s safer, our leaders will do that. We need to be equipt to teach them how to do it. There’s much more on that to come. In the meantime, be like Nick and do what you say you’ll do.

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