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Let's Get Real About Safety

By Bridgett Morales

This week started with Father’s Day on Sunday and then my brother, Dave’s birthday on Monday.  He shares a birthday with my partner, Ron Clark, so I never forget Ron’s birthday.  Ron must think I really have a great memory when I wake up and send a Happy Birthday message first thing every year on the 17th of June.  The reality is that while I am excited to send my partner birthday wishes, I am desperately missing my brother Dave.  This year we would have celebrated his 45th birthday but instead we visited his grave where he’s been resting since 1998 after an incident that took his life.  Without getting into too many details or over-simplifying what happened, a man was at work and made a decision to violate his company’s safety policies and that decision resulted in death of my 24 year old brother. 

That incident happened about a year after I graduated from college. Ironically, I’d spent the years prior to that studying Occupational Safety and Health. I had chosen a career plan that I felt would “make a difference” where I could hopefully motivate others to work safely and look out for their fellow workers. The loss of my brother motivated me tremendously to make an impact on the workforce that I was able to reach.  I never wanted another family to go through what our family had experienced. I never wanted them to receive a call that their loved one would not be coming home. I never wanted them to have to decide what kind of casket, which pictures to display and what music they would play at the services to “celebrate the life” of their most precious person.  It lit a fire in me that I believe sets me apart as a safety person.  It inspired me to preach a message that Safety is Personal and our actions matter. 

Yesterday, I received messages from a few of our clients who were sharing the news of a fatality at one of their facilities. As I read the news, my heart sank and I immediately said a prayer for the man’s family.  The details, of course, have not been released but the most important detail is that a worker lost his life.  The other details matter.  They absolutely matter to the family who will be lost in confusion and disbelief that when their husband, father, brother or son last said goodbye to them, it was his last goodbye.  They will want to know each and every detail of how and why and when this happened.  Because as they try to make sense of it all, which may never happen, and they will want to know exactly what those details were. 

The details will also matter to the company.  They NEVER wanted to have a fatality and they likely took MANY steps to prevent incidents and fatalities from happening at their site.  They worked on their safety culture through the years. They trained their people. They engineered out as many hazards as possible. They put policies and procedures in place to try to keep their workers safe. And although all of those things were there, in the instant that this incident happened, something or everything failed to prevent this fatality.  The company will investigate and find the root cause and will likely never have another fatality due to that root cause again. 

So often in Safety, we hear that “these rules were written in blood”.  But do we stop to remember the names of those people whose blood wrote them?  It is easy to talk about strangers to teach people why SAFETY IS VITAL.  We often hear statistics like, in 2017, 5147 workplace fatalities occurred in the United States.  Every time I hear numbers like this, I think 5147 families lost their loved ones in 2017 due to workplace incidents.   How many people have to die for their jobs? Why does it still happen? OSHA will be 50 years old next year.  We have drastically changed the safety culture across the country in the past 50 years, but we obviously still have a long way to go.

SAFETY IS PERSONAL.  People do not always react logically. They react emotionally.  A good example of this is: What do you do if you catch on fire?..... If you said “Stop Drop and Roll” you were right.  But what do people actually do when they catch on fire?  They tend to flail about and run which fans the flames and makes the fire worse.  The thing is, everyone knows logically to stop drop and roll, but when faced with the emergency, they almost always instinctively do the wrong thing. 

 If it is your job (and it is everyone’s job) to instill the importance of safety at work, I believe that you must approach this responsibility from a personal perspective.  We must bring passion and compassion to the job to create a culture that refuses to ignore equipment that is malfunctioning, or poor housekeeping or employees who are observed doing unsafe acts or loose rungs on a ladder or missing guardrails.  These things matter.  It is the domino effect.  They are one domino in the formation of dominoes that when they start to fall will eventually lead to an injury or worse.  If one person takes action to pull that domino out of the formation, they can prevent the eventual incident, often without the realization that they have prevented something major with that small act of removing that hazard.  I have used this analogy with my employees for years.  In fact, I would give them a domino with their name on it to remind them that they can make a difference.

I recently got re-certified to teach the OSHA 10 and 30 Hour General Industry courses.  It was refreshing to be surrounded by other safety professionals.  We all focus most of our efforts on keeping workers safe. I kept thinking that if everyone had the attitude that we are all safety people, we could make a difference.  Workers often think of the safety department as a group of people in red hard hats whose job it is to keep the work place safe.  Thing thing is, a “safety person” shouldn’t care more about a person’s safety than that person does. Imagine if everyone believed that their individual actions would either prevent, or contribute to someone getting hurt on the job or on their drive home.  I have to believe that they would be more inclined to think before they act. They would take a little more time to eliminate unsafe conditions. They would more closely consider their own actions.

It is pretty simple really… We all want to get home safely to the ones we love. They all want us to come home safely to them. 

Bridgett Morales