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Bringing Human Factors to Life with Marty Ohme

Bringing Human Factors to Life with Marty Ohme

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There’s a safety decision behind every chain of events. We invite you to join us for a captivating episode of The Safety Guru featuring Marty Ohme, a former helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy and current System Safety Engineer. Don’t miss this opportunity to gain from Marty’s extensive expertise and insights on system factors, organizational learning and safety culture, and effective risk management to mitigate future risks. Learn from the best practices of the U.S. Navy, as Marty brings human factors to life with real-world examples that can make a difference in your organization.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today, I’m very excited to have with me, Marty Ohme. He’s a retired naval aviator, also a system safety engineer. He’s got some great stories he’s going to share with us today around human factors, organizational learning. Let’s get into it. Marty, welcome to the show.

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with you and share some interesting stuff with your audience.

Yeah. Let’s start maybe with your background and your story in the Navy.

Sure. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering. I’ve been fascinated with flight and things that fly since a very young age, so that lined up nicely for that. I went on to fly the H-46 Delta and the MH60 Sierra to give your audience an idea of what that looks like. The H-46 was flown for many, many years by the Marine Corps and the Navy. It looks like a small Chinook, the tandem motor helicopter. Then the MH-60 Sierra is basically a Black Hawk painted gray. There are some other differences But both aircraft were used for missions primarily for logistics and search and rescue. Then we did a little bit of special operations support. There’s a lot more of that going on now since I retired than I personally did. Then I also had time as a flight instructor at our helicopter flight school down in Florida. After my time as an instructor, I went on to be an Airbus on one of our smaller amphibians’ ships. Most people think of the Airbus on the big aircraft carrier. This is a couple of steps down from that, but it’s a specialty for helicopter pilots as part of our career. Later on, I went to Embry-Rural Aeronautical University, and they like to call it the Harvard of the Skies to get a master’s in aviation safety and aviation management. That was a prelude for me to go to what is now the Naval Safety Command, where I wrapped up my Navy career. I served as an operational risk management program manager and supported a program called the Culture Workshop, where we went to two individual commands and talk to them about risk management and the culture that they had there in their commands. Since retirement from the Navy, I work as a system safety engineer at APT We do system, software, and explosive safety. If you want to figure out and understand what that means, the easiest way to look at it is we’re at the very top of the hierarchy of controls at the design level. We sit with the engineers, and we work with them to design the things out or minimize the risk and the hazards within a design. You can do that with hardware, you can do that with software. And then explosives is a side to that. I don’t personally work in the explosives division, but we have a lot of work that goes on there for those things.

That’s Marty in a nutshell.

Well, glad to have you on the show. Tell me a little bit about organizational culture. We’re going to get into Swiss cheese and some of the learning components, but culture is a key component of learning.

Absolutely. So military services, whatever country, whatever environment, they’re all high-risk environments.

Absolutely. Specific to the Navy, my background, if somebody’s hurt far out at sea, it could be days to reach high-level care. It’s obviously improved over time with the capabilities of helicopters and other aircraft, but you may be stuck on that ship for an awfully long time before you can get to a high level of care. That in and of itself breeds a culture of safety. You don’t want people getting hurt out at sea because of the consequences of that. When I say culture of safety, in this case, a lot of people hear culture, and they think about language like English or Spanish or French or whatever the case may be. What food people eat, what clothes they wear, those kinds of things. Here, what we mean is how things get done around here. There’s processes and procedures, how people approach things, and the general idea. In fact, the US Navy is in the middle of launching a campaign called What Right Looks Like in order to try to focus people in on making sure they’re doing the right kinds of things. Something that’s been around the Navy for a long time and is specific to safety is using the word mishap instead of accident.

Sure. Because in just general conversation, most people will think, well, accidents happen? Really, we want a culture where we think of things as mishaps and that mishaps are preventable. We really want to focus people on thinking how to avoid the mishap to begin with and reduce that risk that’s produced by all the hazards in that high-risk environment.

In an environment like the Navy, it’s incredibly important to get us tight. You talked about what right looks like. But you’ve got a lot of very young people joining a very young age who can make very critical decisions at the other end of the world without necessarily having the ability to ring the President for advice and guidance at every call that happens. But tough decisions can happen at any given point in time. Tell me a little bit about how that gets instilled.

Sure. Organizations have to learn, and they have to learn from mistakes. These high-risk environments, you have to… When something goes wrong, because it will, you need to ask yourself what went wrong and why. In these kinds of environments, and you think about it, then that’s what leads to a mishap investigation. Then in order to do that learning, you have to really learn. You’ve got to apply the lessons that came out of those investigations. Then that means you have to have good records of those mishaps. I mentioned the naval safety command. That’s part of the responsibility of naval safety command is to keep those records and make them useful to the fleet.

Sure. We’ve just touched a little bit on building a culture of learning, how the Navy does it. Let’s talk a little bit about Swiss cheese. We’ve touched on Swiss cheese a few times on the podcast, so most listeners are probably familiar with it, but I think it’s worthwhile to have a good refresh on it.

Absolutely. As I mentioned about having good records, if the records aren’t organized well or structured in a way to make them effective, then it’s going to be very difficult to apply those lessons. As an example, if there’s a vehicular mishap, commonly referred to as a car accident, but we’re going to use the mishap virology here. If you have three police officers write a report on a single vehicle mishap, they’re all going to come out different, probably. One of them might say the road was wet, one of them might say there was a loss of traction, the third one might say that the driver was going too fast. It’s a lot more difficult to analyze the aggregated mishap data if every investigator uses different terms and different approach. This is where Swiss cheese comes into play, and it’s the follow-on. The follow-on works. Dr. James Risen provided a construct that you can use to organize mishap reporting with the Swiss cheese model. In his model, the slices of cheese represent barriers to mishaps. He also identified that there are holes in the cheese that represent the holes in your barriers. Then he labeled them as latent or active failures.

Latent failures are existing, maybe persistent conditions in the environment, and active failures are usually something that’s done by a person, typically at the end. His model has four layers of cheese, three with latent failures, and one with active failures. So, no barriers, perfect. If we look at our vehicle mishap in that way, if you start at the bottom, let’s say it’s a delivery driver. They’ve committed an unsafe act by speeding.

Sure.

Why did they do that? Well, in our scenario, he needs a delivery performance bonus to pay hospital bills It’s because he has a newborn baby. He’s got this existing precondition to an unsafe act. Sure. Well, prior to him going out for the day, his supervisor looks at his delivery plan, but he didn’t really do a good job reviewing it and see that it was unrealistic. Sure. The thing is that the supervisor sees unrealistic delivery plans every day. It’s ingrained in him that this is normal. All these people are trying to execute unreasonable plans because the company pay is generally low and they give bonuses for meeting the targets for a number of deliveries per day. The company, as an organization, has set a condition to encourage people to have unrealistic plans, which the supervisor sees every day and just passes it off as everybody does it. Then we roll down and we have this precondition of, I need a bonus because I have bills to pay. This is the way that the Swiss cheese model is constructed. A little bit later on, Dr. Chapelle and Wegman developed the human factors analysis and classification system or HFACs.

They did that by taking reasons for slice of cheese, and they named the holes in the cheese, the holes in the barriers, after they studied mishap reports from naval aviation.

Tell me about some of those labels that they identified.

Some specific ones that they came up with are things like there was a lack of discipline, so it was an extreme violation due to lack of discipline. Sure. That would be at the act level. A precondition might be that someone was distracted, for example. Sure. A supervisory hole would be that there was not adequate training provided to the individual who was involved in the mishap. Then overall organizational culture, it might just be that there’s an attitude there that allows for unsafe tasks to be done. That sets everything up and through all the barriers to put our individuals, sets them up for failure and the mishap. We You see that in our delivery driver rec example where there’s all decisions, everything at every level, there’s a human decision made. There’s a policy decision. There’s a decision made to accept all these unreasonable plans. There was a decision that, okay, I must have this bonus. Now, that one, you saw if you could argue that one back and forth, but there was also a decision made to violate the speed limit, and that’s your active one down at the bottom. Yeah.

These helped essentially a taxonomy so that there is more standardization, if I’m hearing you correctly, in terms of incident investigations and classifications of learnings.

That’s correct. The decisions in this stack and the Swiss cheese come together. As you’re alluding to, there’s a taxonomy. So, Chapelle and Wegman, after, I think it was 80 mishaps in naval aviation that they were able to assign standardized labels. Those are the labels that became the names for the holes in the cheese. Once they put it in that taxonomy, they found 80% of the mishaps involved a human factor of some sort. I personally argue that there’s a human factor at every level, even if you go back and look something like United Flight 232 that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, it all rolled back even to where there was a flaw in the raw metal that was used to machine the turban blade that ultimately failed. Sure. Did they make a decision not to do certain inspection on that block of metal before, and then it just keeps going down the way. There’s a decision in every chain of events.

Also, no redundancy in terms of the hydraulics, from what I remember in that incident.

Right. A design decision.

A design decision, exactly. That’s a great one. I like to use that as an example for many things, but we won’t pull that thread too hard today. But all these human factors, all these decisions, this is why in the US, the Department of Defense, uses HVACs as a construct for mishap and reporting so that aids in organizing the mishap reporting and the data so we can learn from our mistakes. It makes actionable data. There are other systems that also have taxonomies. Maritime Cyprus collects data. I ran across it when I was preparing for something else. Their number one, near miss, shows situational awareness as a factor in those things.

Situational awareness is a tough one to change and to drive.

It is. It’s a lot of training and a lot of tools and those kinds of things. I bought a new vehicle recently, and it likes to tell me to put the brakes on because thinks I’m going to hit something because it thinks it’s more aware than I am. It did it to me this morning, as a matter of fact. But it can be an interesting challenge.

Yes. Okay. Let’s go through some examples. I know when we talked about You had a couple of really interesting ones, Avianca, Aero Peru. Maybe let’s go through some of those examples of human factors at play and how they translate into an incidence from an aviation standpoint.

Sure. Avianca Flight 52 was in January of 1990. The aircraft was flying up to JFK out of Medellín, Colombia. The air crew received their information from dispatch about weather and other conditions as they were getting ready to go out on their flight. The problem was dispatch gave them weather information that was 9 to 10 hours old. Also, they did not have the information that showed there was a widespread storm that was causing bad conditions through a lot of the up and down, a lot of the East Coast. The other part was dispatch there had a standard alternate they built for JFK, which was Boston, Logan. Boston, Logan had just as bad a condition as JFK. They weren’t going to be able to use that in ultra, but they didn’t check. Then the air crew didn’t check either. They didn’t confirm how old the forecast was. They didn’t do any of those things. They launched on their flight with the fuel that was calculated to be necessary for that flight. For those who are not in the aviation world, when you’re calculating your fuel for a flight, you got to be able to get to your destination, what you think you need for your destination, what you’re going to need to get from there to your alternate in case you can’t get to your destination.

Then there’s a buffer that’s put-on top of that. Depending on what rule you’re using, it could be time, it could be percentage. It just depends on what rules you’re operating under and what aircraft you’re in. They have X amount of fuel. They launch out on their flight where they had 158 people on board. They get up there, and because of the weather, things are backed up JFK all the way up the East Coast as well. They can put in a hole near Virginia for quite some time. Then they get put in a hole when they get closer to JFK. They tried to get in a JFK, and they had a missed approach. They couldn’t see the runway when they did the approach and they had to go around. To go back into holding. The captain, understandably, is starting to become concerned about their fuel state. Sure. He’s asking the co-pilot if he has communicated to air traffic control what their fuel situation is. The co-pilot says, yes, I have. Well, the nuance here is that the international language of aviation is English, and the captain didn’t speak English. Co-captain did, and that met the requirement of one of them to be able to speak English to communicate with the air traffic control, but the captain didn’t know exactly what the co-pilot was telling air traffic control.

Well, that becomes a problem when the co-pilot was not using standard language. He was saying things like, hey, we’re getting low on fuel. That’s not the standard language that needs to be used. Correct. You have two phrases. You have minimum fuel, which indicates to air traffic control that you can accept no unnecessary delays. He never said minimum fuel. When they got even lower on fuel, he never used the word emergency. So, air traffic control did not know how dire the situation was. They It did offer them an opportunity to go to their alternate at some point, but by then they were so low on fuel, they couldn’t even make it to their alternate, even though Boston, the weather was too low there anyway for them to get in. Ultimately, they had another missed approach. They were coming around to try one more time, and they actually ran out of fuel. They ran the fuel tanks nearly dry on approach, and they crashed the aircraft in Cove Neck, New York.

Wow.

Here we have an aircraft, and you would think that there would be… There’s almost no reason for an aircraft to run out of fuel in flight, especially an eyeliner. But with these conditions that were set, they did. Just as an aside, there were 85 survivors out of the 158, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that there was no fire.

Because there’s no fuel to burn.

Because there’s no fuel to burn. I understand this It had a positive impact on what materials were used in aircraft later on, specifically cushions and stuff like that that don’t produce the toxic fumes when they burn because they could show that people could survive the impact. It was the fire and the fumes that were killed. That’s just an aside. That’s the overview. If we back up a little bit and talk about what human factors rolled into play here. Dispatch had this culture. It was an organizational culture. It wasn’t like it. Sure. They used as a general policy to use Boston, Logan as the alternate for JFK. That was just the standard. They didn’t even check. They may or may not have been trained properly on how to check the weather and make sure that it was adequate for either for an aircraft to get into its primary destination or to its alternate, because the forecast clearly showed that the conditions were too poor for the aircraft to shoot those approaches. That’s an organizational level failure, and you can look at that as being that’s one slice of cheese. If we start going a little bit further down without trying to look at every aspect of it, if we look at what the pilots did, they didn’t check the weather.

They just depended on dispatch and assumed it was correct. Then once they started getting into this situation that they were in, there was communication in the cockpit. That was good, except it was inadequate. More importantly, the pilot couldn’t speak, was the only one in the cockpit that could speak English, so the captain didn’t have full situational awareness, which we mentioned a moment ago. Then he failed to use the proper terminology. That was a specific failure on his part. I don’t know. We can’t say if that was because he didn’t want to admit they were… If he didn’t want to declare an emergency because he was embarrassed, which is possible. He didn’t want to have to answer the captain, perhaps. If you had declared an emergency and ATC comes back and ask them later, why did you declare an emergency? Why didn’t you just tell us this stuff earlier? We don’t have those answers. Unfortunately, those two gentlemen didn’t survive the crash. But these are all things that can roll into a roll into that. When you break it down into HVACs, these preconditions, maybe he was embarrassed, maybe he felt that there was a power dynamic in the cockpit that he couldn’t admit making a mistake to the captain.

Then he had the active failure not using the correct language with ATC, the standard air traffic control language.

It feels as some CRM elements, some psychological safety, probably at play because you would expect the co-pilot to at least ask, do you want me to declare an emergency or something along those lines. For seek clarity if you’re unsure.

Absolutely. That’s a really interesting one to me. I use it as an example with some regularity when I’m talking about these kinds of things.

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How about Aero Peru? Because I think the Avianca one is a phenomenal, really interesting one. Actually, one I haven’t touched on much before. So, it’s a great example of multiple levels of failure. How about Aero Peru?

Aero Peru is another one that’s really interesting. It had a unique problem. So, the short version, just to give an overview of the flight like we did with Avianca, Aero Peru was flying from Miami, and they were ultimately headed to Chile, but they had a stopover. They had stopovers in Ecuador and Peru. During one of those stopovers, they landed during the day, and then the plane was scheduled to take off at night. During that interim time, the ground crew washed the aircraft and polished it. Then the aircraft launched. They got up a couple of hundred feet off the runway Anyway, and the air crew noticed that there was a problem with air speed and altimeter. It wasn’t reading correctly. Well, they were already in the air. You can’t really get back on the ground at that point. You’re already in the air. They flew out and they’re out over the Pacific, and they get up into the cloud. Now they’re flying on instruments, so you don’t have any outside reference out there. Just even if it was clear, flying over the water at night is a very dark place. They got out there, they’re flying on instruments.

Their attitude indication is correct, but they know their altimeter is not reading right, the airspeed is not reading right. There’s another instrument in the cockpit called vertical speed indicator. It also operates off air pressure, just like your altimeter and your airspeed indicator.

Sure.

They’re very confused. To their credit, they are aviating. In the aviation world, we say, Aviate, navigate, communicate. Because if you stop aviating, stop flying the aircraft, you’re going to crash. To their credit, they aviated, They navigated, they stayed out over the water to make sure that they wouldn’t hit anything because they just didn’t know how high they were. Then they started talking to air traffic control. They’re very confused by all this that’s going on. There is on YouTube at least one video where you can listen to the cockpit recording, and then they’ll show you what else is going on in the cockpit. We don’t have the video, but they represent it electronically so you can see it. It’s interesting to listen to the actual audio because then hear the confusion and the attempts to make decisions and determine what’s going on. Ultimately, they get out over the water. They know these things are not right. They are asking air traffic control, hey, can you tell us our altitude? Because our instruments are not right. The problem with that is that the altimeter tells a box in the aircraft called the transponder. I sometimes call it the Marco Polo box when I explain it to people because the radar from the air traffic control sends out a ping like a Marco, and then the box comes back with a Polo.

But the Polo is a number that’s been assigned, so they know who the aircraft is on radar and the altitude. Well, the altimeter feeds the altitude to the transponder, so air traffic control can only tell the aircraft what the air altimeter already says. But that didn’t occur to anybody, and they’re under high stress, and this is a unique one. So, it’s just as an aside, my only real criticism of the air crew is you have a general idea of what power settings you need and what attitude you need for things, so they didn’t really seem to stick to that. But we all have to remember that when we’re looking at these, we’re Monday morning, quarterbacking them. I don’t ding them too hard. At any rate, long story short, they’re trying to figure out how to get turned around and go back. They’re trying to figure out what’s going on. Ultimately, they start getting overspeed indications warnings from the aircraft that’s telling them they’re going too fast, and they’re getting stall warnings from the aircraft.

At the same time?

At the same time. They don’t know if they’re going too fast or too slow. Overspeed is based on air pressure, which obviously all their air pressure instruments are not working properly. But stall warning is a totally separate instrument. It looks like a weathervane. If you walk onto aircraft at the airport today across the ramp, you may see the little weather looking thing up near the nose. That’s what is there for us for stall warning. They actually were stalling because they were trying to figure out how to get down and slow down since they were getting altitude and speed indications that were higher and faster than they wanted. Their radar altimeter, which again does not work, which also does not work on air pressure. It actually sends a radar signal down, was telling them they were low. They were getting, I’m high, I’m low, I’m slow, I’m fast. All this information coming at them.

That would be horribly confusing at the same time.

Horribly confusing, and there’s alarms going on off in the cockpit that are going to overwhelm your senses. There was a lot going on in the cockpit. Ultimately, they flew the aircraft into the water and there were no survivors. What happened here? When they were washing the aircraft, in order to keep water and polish out of the ports called the static ports that measure the air pressure at the altitude where the aircraft is at that time, had been covered with duct tape. Then the maintenance person failed to take the duct tape off. They forgot. Then when the supervisor came through, they didn’t see the duct tape either because that part of the aircraft, it looks like bare metal, so it’s silver. So, the gray or silver duct tape against the server, they didn’t see it. The pilots did not see it when they primly to the aircraft. So, when the aircraft When it took off, those ports were sealed, and the aircraft was not able to get correct air pressure sensing. Now we have to ask, how in the world did this Sure. Right. If you want to put it in a stag, start looking at slices of cheese, we have to ask these questions.

Why was he using duct tape? Was it because they didn’t have the proper Plug, which would have had a remove before flight banner on it? Was it they didn’t have it, or was it just too much trouble to go get it because they have to check it out and check it back in? Was this normal? Did they do this all the time? Did the supervisor know that and either not care or, hey, this is how we get it done around here. That’s a cultural piece. Sure.

At least use duct tape that’s flashing red or something.

Something. When you start looking at it in those terms, you have the, Is there a culture? Was there a lack of resources? Was there not adequate training? They didn’t know they shouldn’t use duct tape. It just seemed like the thing to Then the supervisor, did he know they were using duct tape? If he did, and it was for one of these other reasons, like resources or whatever the case may be, why didn’t he look carefully to make sure the duct tape wasn’t there because he knew they were using it? Did the air crew know that that’s how they were covering the static ports? Then when you get into the stuff with the air crew, they tried to do the right things. As we talked about, it was a very confusing set of circumstances. Like I said, standard attitudes and power settings would have been helpful. This is how these things stack up and how those holes line in the cheese to give you that straight path for a mishap to occur. It’s just a pretty interesting example of it.  

And multiple points of failure that had to align.

Absolutely.

Because assuming the duct tape was not used just that one time, this probably many times where it was used before and didn’t cause an issue because they removed it prior.

Correct. Correct.

Fastening example. So, the last one I think you’re going to touch on is around non-aviation going into maritime, the Costa Concordia.

Correct. This was from 2012. A lot of people probably remember the images of Costa Concordia is rolled over. It’s rolled over on its side. It’s heavily listing. It’s run aground off an island in Italy. This one is truly human from beginning to end. No equipment failed. There was nothing wrong with the ship, anything along those lines. That’s part of the reason that it’s such a good example here. The captain or the ship’s master, depending on how you want to use it in your terminology that you’re going to use, decided he was going to… They got underway with passengers on board. He decided he wanted to do what was called a cruise by where he would sail close by an island, specifically a town on the island, so that he could show off for his friends and wave at them when he went by.

Always a great idea.

Yeah. Most dangerous words in aviation, watch this. He decided he was going to do this, and he had done it before at the same place. But there were some differences. One, the previous time it had been planned. He briefed his deck, his bridge crew, what is going to happen. They checked all the weather conditions, et cetera, et cetera. It was during the day when he did it the first time. This was at night, and he just decided on a whim as they were on their way out that he was going to do this. As they’re sailing in there, they actually hit an outcropping as they were approaching the town It ripped a big old gash down the side of the ship. I think it was about 150 or 170 feet long, if I recall correctly, or about 50 meters. That caused flooding in the ship and a power loss. Then they ended up, as you saw in the photos, and 32 people lost their lives. That’s a real brief overview. But what I want to do here is talk a little bit more about what led into We’ve talked very generally about slices of cheese in holes.

Sure. For this one, I’m going to go into a little bit more detail and use some actual HVACs codes or names for the holes and names for the slices of cheese. When you look at the at the Cruise Company itself, the attitude there seemed to be this captain was getting the job done. When that happens in an organization, somebody gets the job done is obviously has a little bit higher… They’re regarded in a better way than people that don’t necessarily get the job done. The problem comes when that individual is doing in an unsafe manner. Maybe they’re hiding some stuff about how they’re doing it. They’re doing things that are unsafe, but they’re getting away with it. You have to watch out for those things in an organization, excuse me, and for what people may be doing how they may be getting things done. At that level, he was accomplishing things. So organizationally, you have that. Then you can call it organizational or supervision in that next slice of cheese, depending on how you want to look at it. They probably didn’t provide adequate training. In the aviation world, we use simulators a lot. They’re using simulators a lot more in the maritime world now as well, and they can put an entire Bridge crew on a simulator together and practice scenarios and practice their coordination.

Well, they hadn’t had that with this crew. They failed to provide that training. This captain had an incident pulling into another port where he was accused of coming in too fast, which if you do any boating at all, you might see or might be going by a lake or whatever, you might see buys that say no wake zone. Well, the belief is that he pulled into this port too fast, created a wake, and that damaged either or equipment or ships. There weren’t any real serious consequences for him on that. So, they may have failed to identify or correct risky or unsafe practices. Sure. Then that’s, again, if they didn’t identify it, then they didn’t retrain him. Now they failed to provide the adequate training for him, failed to provide adequate training for the Bridge crew as a whole. Now we’ve hit organizational with the culture, we’ve hit supervision with the training on safe practices. Now we go into the preconditions for the next level. Complacency. He decided on a whim, essentially, that he was going to do this sail by. So didn’t check the conditions, those kinds of things. He didn’t consider the fact that it was… 

We’ll get back to that one in just a second. Let’s see. Partly because, or partly maybe because the crew didn’t have the training in one of these Bridge simulators, there was a lack of assertiveness from the crew members to him. That may have been because he was known to be very intimidating. He would yell at people when he didn’t like the information or when they told them things that weren’t correct. Rank position intimidation is one of our holes. Lack of assertion is a hole. Complacency, he didn’t think this was a big deal. And distraction, and this one’s very interesting to me personally. One, he’s on the Bridge Wing, which if you look at a ship, you usually have the enclosed Bridge. Then outside from that, you’ve got a weather area, weather deck, where you can see further out, those kinds of things. He’s standing on the Bridge Wing on the weather deck, talking to one of his friends ashore on his phone. Hey, look at us. Look at we’re coming by. Just get ready. Here we come. Then part of the distraction was there were ships guests on the Bridge Wing with him, which was a violation of policy to have guests on the Bridge Wing when they were in close proximity to shore.

And he had his girlfriend. Excuse me. His mistress. He was married and he was having an affair and had his mistress on the ship with him in violation of policy. So, he had all this distraction going on in addition to he just thought of this as no big deal. So now we’ve covered three slices of cheese, and let’s get to the last one, the ax. So, we have an extreme violation, lack of discipline, where we talked about all these preconditions, and those are examples of lack of discipline as well, where he failed to focus on what he was doing, allowed these distractions on the bridge, et cetera. And inadequate real-time risk assessment, day versus night. I checked the weather, I didn’t check the weather, et cetera. In this case, this is one where we’ve taken the codes, the names of those holes in the cheese and apply them to this specific case. There’s a whole lot of stuff with this one. There’s a reason that mishap reports are hundreds of pages long. But this one comes down to these examples of codes where he violated all these things. That was just before they actually had a problem.

It got worse after that, if you all are familiar with that case. Yeah.

Well, phenomenal story, but very applicable to other industries because there’s a lot of other industries where somebody is known for getting it done and might be doing some risky things in getting it done, just hasn’t been an event or a mishap, and people are not paying attention to those things. How did you actually get the job done? Or in the case of the driver, you’re talking about, the delivery driver, maybe he historically got it done, cutting corners, and they just decide not to look at some of those cutting corners.

Right.

Right. Festinating. So really good illustration, I think, in terms of culture, learning, and then Swiss cheese in terms of how different layers come together. Swiss cheese is not cheddar cheese. It has holes in it. It’s just a matter of those holes can line up at any given point in time. They’re existing.

Right. That’s where the latent versus active conditions may be. In the case of DOD and H-Facts, you have the organizational supervision and preconditions. Those are all your latent layers, and then your active layers, that last thing. In this case, where the extreme violations occurred in the inadequate real-time risk assessment.

I think the part I also like about Swiss Trees is it forces people to look at beyond the aviator, beyond the ship’s captain, beyond the team member in an organization that makes a mistake to the latent conditions that are linked to decisions that the organization has made over the time. These people in finance, people in HR, people in a corporate office are making decisions, not necessarily connecting to how it impacts somebody in the field. We don’t know about Aero Peru, but maybe it’s even somebody where in procurement, they forgot to buy the proper tools to do it and use what you have to because you go on to get the job done. A lot of conditions that impact other people in the organization. I think that’s also another reflection in Swiss cheese for me.

Absolutely.

Great. Any closing thoughts that you’d like to add?

Sure. Just a couple of things. Aviators are, on the whole, willing to admit their mistakes. It’s because we know that it’s a very unforgiving environment. The ocean and aviation are very unforgiving environments. As an attitude, as a culture, we want to share with others so they either don’t make the same mistake we did, or they understand how we got out of a situation. If you look at Aero Peru, I mean, seriously, has anybody else had that problem ever where there’s duct tape, I run the static ports? I don’t know, but by talking about-Never heard of them. Yeah. By sharing this story, we have the ability to help others avoid that situation in the future. That’s really the way that we do it. The second thing that’s big in aviation is we’ve always had… The way that we really made big improvements in safety in our MSAP record is by planning and talking about these things. Somewhere later, somebody came along and named this the P-bed process, planning, briefing, executing, and debrief. But we’ve been doing it for decades. You actually have a flight You may not execute to that plan specifically, but at least you have a plan to deviate from, I like to say.

Sure. Then you brief it so that everybody understands what’s going on. Then obviously you go and execute it, and you may have to make changes to it along the way. That’s fine. When you come back, let’s debrief it. Hey, we had this mission. Did we accomplish it? Did we have any problems? What did we do well? What did we not do well? So that we can improve later. That really helps in a lot of ways, in a lot of industries or situations, if you just talk about what you’re going to do to plan it out and make sure everybody understands. When you plan it, if you have the right people involved, they can come up with solutions to problems that you see in planning. They may identify a problem that you see that you can avoid in the planning stage instead of running across it in the execution stage. So that planning, briefing, executing, debriefing is a real useful thing to have out Something that can be transposed in any other industry as well in terms of really thinking through the planning.

I think your point around the voluntary reporting is huge because having been in aviation, you hear about things that people would rather not talk about. I fell asleep, things of that nature. But if you don’t know about it, you can’t do anything about it because unless the plane crashed, you would have no knowledge that both pilots fell asleep unless they went off course dramatically. Chances are nothing’s going to happen because they’re going to be on autopilot and it’s pre-programmed and all good. But if you know something’s happening, you can start understanding what are the conditions that could be driving to it.

Right. Absolutely.

Excellent. Well, Marty, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your story. Pretty rich, interesting, and thought-provoking story with really good examples. Thank you.

Happy to be here.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

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Marty Ohme is an employee-owner at A-P-T Research, where he works as a System Safety Engineer. This follows a U.S. Navy career as a helicopter pilot, Air Boss aboard USS TRENTON, and program manager at what is now Naval Safety Command, among other assignments. He uses his uncommon perspective as both engineer and operator to support the development of aerospace systems and mentor young engineers. Marty holds a Bachelor of Science from the United States Naval Academy and a Master of Aeronautical Science from Emory-Riddle Aeronautical University. He may be reached through LinkedIn.

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Coming Home Safely: Advocating Safety First, Last, and Always with Dr. Lana Cormie

Coming Home Safely: Advocating Safety First, Last, and Always

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“Safety is the most important part of your job.” Tune in as Dr. Lana Cormie shares her heartfelt and moving story of navigating life after losing her husband in a workplace incident in 2018. She passionately advocates for improving safety and enhancing an intentional culture of safety in the workplace through ongoing training on the job and prioritizing the reporting of hazards, concerns, and near misses. Lana reminds us of the importance of keeping safety at the forefront and empowering team members to become safety advocates in the workplace, ensuring everyone goes home safely at the end of every workday.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today, I’m very excited to have with me Dr Lana Cormie, who’s joining us from Australia and who’s a safety speaker. Lana, welcome to the show. Very excited to have you with me today.

Thanks for having me along.

Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about your story.

I guess if we start from before, I feel like my life is split into two halves these days, the before and after. So, prior to 2018, I would say that I had a pretty great life with my family. I was married to Charlie, my husband, and we had two young children who at that time were one and three. And we were living on 40 acres in country Victoria, the south of Australia. And we, I guess, had bought our forever home. And it was very run down. We were working to improve it, both the house and the acreage. And I guess we had moments where we thought to ourselves, we’re pretty lucky, how great is this? We’ve got two healthy children. We’ve got this amazing place which we’d love to spend our life living in. And we were really looking forward to our future. Of course, we didn’t know that things were going to change. We had, at that time, I should say I was working as a veterinarian, working in animal welfare. Absolutely loved my job and my career. And my husband Charlie, he’d had a background working as a stockman on, I think you call them ranches in the northern part of America.

And the He was very talented stockman and horseman, but he’d later gone on to become a qualified carpenter and in fact, a registered builder. But at this time of our lives, he was working in civil construction, mainly because it gave us a regular income. So, it felt like, I guess, a safe option financially while our children were so little, and I was working part time looking after our baby. But of course, we didn’t realize it wasn’t a safe at all. And on the 21st of March 2018, Charlie went to work, and he never came home.

I’m sorry to hear that.

So, on that day, I was at work. The children were at daycare, and we had a lot of work on. So, we were busy doing surgery on animals. And I became aware through the press that there had been an incident and that the highway near to where I worked had been closed. So, we had a short conversation, which went something along the lines of, oh, I hope no one’s been badly hurt, must be a bad car accident. And then we carried on with our work. So, then A few hours later, I went off to lunch because I’d forgotten my lunch that day, and then came back in the driveway at work. And I looked up and there was this helicopter hovering in the sky. And I guess that helicopter signifies the end of life as I knew it. And it was not long after that we discovered through social media that there had been an incident on a work site nearby, that one man was dead and another was injured and fighting for his life, and they were still trying to rescue him. Now Charlie, we found out not long later was the man who had died.

So, my nurse and I drove around to the roadblock to speak to the police officers because I hadn’t been able to get hold of Charlie on the phone. Sure. And I couldn’t get any information through the company that he worked for. So, we went around to where they had blocked the highway, and the police officer informed me that it was my husband who had been killed. The other fellow, his family had also not been notified and had done a similar thing at the at the same time. His name was Jack. He was buried up to his neck with just his head and one arm free. And unfortunately, he never got the opportunity to speak to his family because He was flown to Melbourne, went through multiple surgeries and died in hospital the following day.

It’s horrible.

Yeah, it was horrible. Yeah, look, it has been terrible. I suppose I It’s probably obvious to say perhaps that the worst part was having to tell our children and having to drive to daycare and pick them up and be in what felt, I guess, a little bit like I was in a movie or some nightmarish out-of-body experience where there was some other lady whose husband had died and she was now having to go and pick up her children who now had a dead father. It was really a situation where I was in so much shock that I picked up these children with my mom who had come to help me and took them home and really didn’t know what to do next. So, it wasn’t until later that evening that the police turned up at our house, which was presumably our notification, which you can imagine was far too late. And we, I guess started to, I don’t know if it really sunk in by that point, really, what had happened. And it wasn’t until early the next morning when my children woke up that I had to tell them that their dad had died and that he was never coming home. And that was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do.

No doubt. Tell me a little bit more about what transpired in the work site because you thought it was a safer environment. What was happening in that work site?

I’m a little bit limited with how much detail I can provide here because whilst there has already been a court case and a prosecution, the case is still sitting with the coroner. However, what I can say is it was a deep trenching job, so they were digging trenches to lay sewer to round about the four meters in-depth. And of course, that work requires a lot of safety practices to be followed. There’s a lot of rules and regulations which need to be adhered to. For sure. And on this day, two men died. So, I think that probably tells you about where that was at.

So, the precautions that you normally would need to have because there’s a high risk in an environment like this, that the sides collapse seemingly weren’t present. When you speak about the incident, because you regularly speak about safety and talk about the importance of safety. What are some of the themes that emerge from your experience?

I think a big one is really about near misses. It took a long time for us to understand much detail about really what had happened to Charlie and Jack. In fact, only recently, the coroner found out some information which to her indicated that they were not in the trench at the time of the collapse. So, you can understand how distressing it all these years was not to really understand what had Sure. But certainly, it became clear a lot earlier on that there were some near misses that, I guess, were an opportunity, an opportunity that in this case didn’t result in safety systems being improved. So that’s something that I often talk about when I speak about this to companies, which is really that a near miss is a gift. And if you see that miss and you take the opportunity to improve your safety systems, you have a look at your systems of work, see what’s working, what isn’t, and rectify that. It’s not overstating it to say that that could be the difference between life and death in your workplace.

A hundred %. It’s a huge lever to tap into that so many organizations miss. Issues don’t get reported, they don’t get addressed. And organizations don’t drive the right follow through, which is a huge component. So really a gift when you’ve got those learnings.

Yeah, that’s right. I guess if you’re at the point of having a near miss, you’re a huge component. So, it’s really a gift when you’ve got those learnings. Yeah, that’s right. I guess if you’re at the point of having a near miss, you’re really close to having a catastrophic event. And I think reporting is just so key and not just of near misses, but obviously of hazards and concerns in the workplace every day, all day. It needs to be kept front of mind. And I guess that’s another reason why I’ve taken the opportunity to speak about my experience to workers, to employers, to managers, all of them, because keeping this front of mind is absolutely the key, because we get so tied up with all the pressures on us. We’ve got KPIs to follow. We’ve got production targets to meet. We have financial issues. There might be things happening at home. There’s so much going on in our mind, that often safety falls down the level of priorities, I suppose. And it can’t be that way. It must be number one every day. And it must be the first thing that we do before we think about anything else to do with our work.

So, I always say that safety is the most important part of your job. And that is to make sure you get home at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter how great you are at your job, how much money you’re making, how great your team is, any of Those factors if you’re not alive and if you’re not home at the end of the day. So, it has to be number one. But it’s easy for it to sometimes not be at the forefront of our minds.

It’s a huge It’s a huge challenge for it to keep always being at the forefront every given moment. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by something else or think, this might not happen to me. This whole element of keeping front row center. I remember I worked with somebody who says, if you put a card in front of your head and that’s remembering about safety, it’s so easy for it to slip to the back of your mind as you’re doing the work because you’re in a zone, you’re delivering. How do you bring that card to the front of your mind to always remember that this is the most critical thing right now for every decision I’m making?

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Yeah, it’s absolutely a challenge that us as individuals, but also as organizations need to tackle. Part of that, I guess, is on management to be absolutely vigilant, zero tolerance for unsafe practices, really encouraging people to report and to be thinking about things all the time. It’s also about training. I mean, we don’t know what we don’t know. So not just the initial training, but ongoing training. I didn’t know much about safety, even though I was working in my own workplace. I wasn’t really up to speed with the Occupational Health and Safety I didn’t really understand what that should look like in practice in the workplace. And I think that’s a common experience. I certainly believe that if Charlie and Jack would have had more knowledge or even if I’d had more knowledge, I would have also picked up that something wasn’t right. But certainly, if the workers don’t have the knowledge, they can’t protect themselves. They also aren’t well placed to keep bringing concerns to the employer, which, of course, is so key because managers can’t be everywhere. They do rely on their teams to say, I’ve got a concern, or I’ve seen something. Having our workers really well trained to recognize hazards That’s all part of the picture.

But the other thing I think that’s really this is part of the reason why I speak and go and discuss these issues and do presentations is that I think sometimes rules and processes and numbers, they don’t stick that well in our mind. And so, it can be really hard work to keep maintaining that. And it is hard work. It’s a central but what I’ve discovered is that stories, we’re good at remembering stories.

Yes.

And not only does hearing a personal story of tragedy in the workplace help to wake us up a bit, that this could happen to me, this could happen in my workplace, this happens to normal people like Lana, like Charlie, like their family. There’s that. It’s the fact that we can identify that it’s not some random person on the news. It’s a real person. But it’s also, and this is what I hope happens, is that if we have a story that links the rules with our emotions and our sense of self, then we’re more likely to carry that story with us in our memory. And not only is that a sense that I have, it’s also something that’s been proven, that stories are something we remember. Absolutely. So, I hope that in the work that I do now, I can be part of that picture, a small part of improving the safety in the workplaces which I speak to.

Sure. I know when we first connected, one of the themes you talked about was how recognizing hazards is not really part of how our brain functions. So, tell me more about that.

I’ve spent six years now and I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about these things and certainly speaking to some really interesting people, some of those working in universities and doing studies on such matters. And I always wondered, how could they not see it? How could they not see that they were in danger? But of course, they didn’t. And they didn’t do anything that they felt was dangerous or, in fact, that most of us would think was unsafe. Unfortunately, the systems weren’t in place to prevent something from happening. But what I’m trying to say is that we’ve evolved into this modern world where we now build skyscrapers. We go to work, we dig trenches, we do all sorts of activities. But really, our brains are still cave people. And I’ve had some interesting discussions with some researchers on this that we’re not well-designed to recognize hazards. We’re not well designed to understand danger, particularly if we’re exposed to it on a regular basis. So, if we see something and we think it’s dangerous, Initially, then over time we become desensitized. And as a cave person, we would understand that, okay, initially I was a bit worried about that barrier on that bush.

Now we’ve tried it. It hasn’t made anyone sick. Now it’s a good source of nutrition. We’re not concerned about that anymore. And we had to have that understanding that an exposure that didn’t result in in anything of concern was then something safe to interact with. And of course, as humans living in our life, we can’t run around thinking that we’re in danger all the time or we just wouldn’t function at all. We’d be hyper stressed. We would be. But if we’re in the workplace, of course, this works against us a bit because there are hazards. Sometimes we work in very high-risk environments, and we need to have our mind turned on to recognize those hazards all the time because they could be life threatening. That doesn’t matter whether we see them every day and nothing’s happened yet. It still could progress to an injury or a fatality. And that’s not what we want. So, it’s not really our fault as humans that we’re not great at this. That’s why we need training. That’s why we need to have ongoing processes in place that keep it front of mind, that ensure we’re reporting and that we’re rectifying things as we go along.

I think that’s a really important piece because our brain will naturally start accepting that certain risks are okay. It’s how do we bring a front row center always reflecting the same as people who are working in high-risk professions will often have the retention on the highest risk task. If you’re working next to an electrical conduit and it’s energized, you may be very cautious of the work you’re doing there. But then suddenly driving doesn’t seem dangerous. Or other functions that you may be doing that are not as high risk may also not appear as dangerous, but there’s still danger associated with it. There’s a lot of little tricks where we can get into a lull sense of security around the hazards in front of us. That’s really even the peer reinforcement. But something like trenches, you mentioned, before I got into the safety space, it’s not something I kept thinking about, oh, this is a big risk. Because when you grow up, it’s not something you’re thinking of, front row center. That’s the education when you come on a job site. When you talked about near misses, to me, a big component is also how do you reframe that this is a positive?

Because you talked about the gift, but if you don’t feel psychologically safe to bring it up if people minimize it. I had somebody was sharing a podcast that he had highlighted a risk, and he had been told, are you a man or are you a mouse? That’s going to precondition you to never highlight risks or never highlight near misses.

Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s not something that comes naturally to us, is it? To feel, to put up our hand and raise an issue all the time, particularly if that’s going to slow the job down or certainly if it’s going to have some negative response. And I think that is Absolutely key. And that’s where the culture of a company and their response to reporting is absolutely integral, particularly to get that culture started. You need to be actually pushing people all the time. Report, report, report. And certainly not even having the remotest level of negativity when that happens and in fact, actively encouraging it.

Encouraging the new misreporting, but also encouraging somebody stopping work if they see something unsafe, because that decision to say, I’m going to stop work is also a very tough one. People will often say, you’re allowed to stop work. But having stopped work early on in my career, knowing the financial consequence of stopping work, which was not a small number, it was a five with lots of zeros after, You start really rethinking, especially when the next day you discover that what you thought was the right reason to stop work actually wasn’t a dangerous case. It becomes very… You really think two times, three times, 10 times before pull the plug. And that needs to be reframed.

Yeah, I completely agree. I honestly, I don’t think that a lot of work, and this comes back to training, a lot of workers actually realize that they can stop work for a safety issue and that that’s protected in the law, that right to do so. But also, as you were saying that something else came to mind, which is that I had a conversation not long ago with actually an OHS manager. And after listening to my talk and hearing my story, he came up to me and he said that he had had times quite recently where he was exactly as you say, really unsure about stopping a job because of a safety concern that he had. And he was the manager. But of course, he’s got pressures above and below. And he was really unsure about that. And one of the outcomes of listening to my story for him was that he felt that made him feel more confident in making that decision. That in his mind it made him feel the pressure to do the right, the safe thing is greater than the pressure, the external pressures of the job, the work, the money.

What might my manager say? What if it doesn’t end up being unsafe in the end? All those things, I guess, reduced in his mind because the story was something that he felt lifted up his safety concern and made him feel justified in doing his job and doing it well.

I think, hopefully, stories like this reinforce it but it’s also the response of leaders. I know when I made that decision, then the next day, it was discovered with new facts that it was the wrong call to make. But based on everything I knew when I made the decision, it felt like the only right thing to Like you said, you’re lucky if it’s a legislator requirement. In some cases, it’s not. It’s a company requirement. But what really made the difference is the COO flew down the next day, even if I’d made the wrong decision to say I had made the right decision and to give me a pat on the back. That reinforces as a signal saying that’s more valuable to me versus making the right call. It was the right choice to make sure people were safe.

Yeah, absolutely. That’s the response that you’d like to see from your upper management.

A culture we’d love to roll out through all workplaces, I think. But it’s also a reflection what do you do as a senior leader when something like this happens? I’ve seen in some organizations, in this case, he literally flew down and not reinforce it. But I’ve seen in other organizations where they celebrate publicly those instances and really reinforce that this is a desired value. Because it’s one thing to say it’s legally allowed, it’s a different thing to actually feel you can actually pull the plug.

Yeah. I I think that comes back to our psychology discussion that as humans, with our brains that we have, we need to be constantly encouraged in a certain direction. And it doesn’t take much to end up sitting not saying anything. It can be scary, even in a good company, to have to stand up and say, I don’t feel safe, or I don’t think this is a safe practice or indeed to stop work. It’s quite a scary prospect for most people. But I think it comes back right to the beginning. Before you get anywhere near an incident or a near miss or a serious concern, that day to day conversation around hazards, about risks, about the right way to do things and educating your workforce. It’s a big task, but like I say, It’s the main one, because if we can’t do that bit right, there’s no point doing the rest.

Correct. So, Lana, thank you very much for sharing your story with audiences across Australia and around the world. If somebody wants to get in touch with you to have you share your story with them, again, like you said, the power of storytelling is huge. In this element of we remember those stories and they’re memorable, and they can be the little catalyst to elevate a decision to where we want it to be, how can somebody get in touch with you?

Yeah, sure. So, as you said, I do face to face talks in the Southern part of Australia, but also do online talks both nationally and internationally. So, if anyone was interested in having this as part of their work to improve safety in their workplace, I can be contacted through CNBSafe and their website, cnbsafe.com.au.

Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Lana, for joining me today and for sharing a story with our audience.

Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

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Dr. Lana Cormie and her two children are navigating life without a husband and father as a result of a workplace incident. Lana was at work when her staff saw the rescue helicopter hovering over a nearby construction site. She didn’t think much about it until she called her husband Charlie on her lunch break and he didn’t answer. The helicopter was there for her husband and a workmate who were fatally injured in a workplace incident.

She had been a happy mum, wife and vet who, like most people, was blissfully unaware of what happens when a loved one doesn’t come home. Her life changed dramatically from that day forward.

Lana has become a passionate advocate for safer workplaces, campaigning for better policies and improved legislation for workplace safety. Lana now shares her life experiences in an effort to help improve safety and educate employees and employers on the importance of a safe workplace.

Lana believes by sharing her lived experience she can influence safety cultures and that the most important part of work is to go home at the end of the day.

For more information: https://cnbsafe.com.au/lana-cormie/

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Championing Safety in Everyday Decisions with Brandon Schroeder

Championing Safety in Everyday Decisions

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One moment can change your life. Join us as Brandon Schroeder, a motivational safety speaker for over a decade, shares his candid and inspirational story of overcoming physical and mental barriers that resulted from a serious workplace injury in 2011. Brandon’s uplifting message encourages everyone to avoid shortcuts on the job and to work together as a team to champion safety in everyday decisions. Tune in now to hear Brandon’s powerful journey!

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C-suite, it’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the safety guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the safety guru. Today, I’m very excited to have you with me, Brandon Schroeder. He’s a safety motivational speaker with a very powerful story. Brandon, welcome to the show.

Hey, thanks for having me. I always get excited when I get to talk about this and get my story out there because I think it can help the masses. And I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you.

Excellent. Well, let’s start with your story because I think it’s a very powerful story from moments growing up on a farm, understanding risks to get into the trades, and then we’ll get into the turnaround you did in safety, but let’s get to that later.

Yeah, absolutely. When I was a little kid, I grew up on a farm surrounded by agriculture. My dad had corn, soybeans, and cattle. So, I was around a lot of large machinery from a very young age. I was driving tractors and skid loaders, helping my dad and my grandfather on the farm. One thing that I always noticed is my dad. He liked to take shortcuts. He liked to get things done as quickly as possible. And my grandpa would always be like, let’s slow down a minute. And it always seemed like my grandpa’s projects always got done quicker, even though they didn’t. I had a little bit of both sides of that in me. And I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t always perfect. No one is. But I had a lot of influence. My dad was a very hardworking person, and growing up, I always wanted to be like him. But I saw from a very young age that the neighbor kid caught his arm in a PTO shaft, and I saw the damage that it did to his body.

Yikes.

So, I knew that if I didn’t take safety seriously and think about what I was doing out there daily, there would be consequences. So, I was very careful growing up on the farm. After high school, my dad said to me, what do you think you want to do? All my friends are going to college. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wasn’t going to go sit in a classroom for another four years. So, I started looking at all the different trades out there, and I came across the electricians and thinking, you know, I can work inside, I can work outside. There’s good pay, there’s good benefits. I really didn’t know what I was signing up for, but I went down to our local apprenticeship and training office, and I applied in Des Moines, Rock Island, and Cedar Rapids. Those were the three big areas around me that had apprenticeships.

Sure.

And the first thing I went to be Des Moines. That was the biggest metropolitan area in Iowa anyway. And I could tell very quickly that I was out of my league. I was an 18-year-old kid who had only worked on the farm and at a grocery store. And I was going in there competing with people that had quite a bit of electrical experience and life experience that I just didn’t have. And that really hurt my confidence going to that first interview. Well, I knew I didn’t get in when I left, but I knew what to expect for the second interview. So, the second one was in Cedar Rapids, and I nailed that one because it was exactly the same as the first one, I knew. I kind of practiced my answers, and I got better at interviewing. I got into the electrical apprenticeship right out of high school. And when I got that letter, I thought, I’ve made it. All I have to do is get through the next four years of five years of training, and I’m going to have a great life. Right? And I show up at the office that first day, and, I mean, I was the first person in the parking lot.

And I’m all excited to go to work. And I get in there, and the first thing they have me do is fill out my pre-employment paperwork. And then they hand me a pair of safety glasses, some gloves, a hard hat, a lockout tag out thing. Sure. And we go through a book about two inches thick, and over policies, rules, safety procedures. This is a long time ago. This is back in 97. And once we went through that, it took about 15 minutes. They gave me an address, and all I had was the PPE that they had handed me. And they gave me an address. And I go out to the job site, and I don’t really know what to expect, but I notice right away when I get out there, one of the first things that I noticed was people did not have these heavy-duty work boots on that I had. And my dad worked in construction. He farmed when we went out on the farm, we always had heavy duty work boots on. And my grandpa, every time, he always went out into the tractor, he always had a pair of gloves with him.

And I have these gloves, these safety glasses, and this hard hat on. And I remember I go to the first break, and nobody has this stuff on. And I asked one of the guys, I said, don’t we have to wear a hard hat and safety glasses? And he said a lot of people don’t.

Really?

Yeah. This was a long time ago. People thought safety glasses fog up, they’re uncomfortable, and a lot of people didn’t wear them. A lot of the journeymen that I worked with, they were very resistant. I’ll wear those if I’m drilling or if I think I’m going to get something in my eye, I’ll put the safety glasses on, but I’m not wearing them all the time. And they’d give us these lanyards, so at least you could take the safety glasses on or take them off, but you’d have them hanging around your neck. But I noticed a lot of people standing on top of ladders. If the ladder wasn’t quite tall enough, they’d go to the very top. I’d noticed people getting into energized equipment, and as an apprentice, I couldn’t do any of that. I couldn’t get into energized equipment. Sure. Fifth year apprentice. Well, after I went through my five years of apprenticeship, I was all gung ho. I wanted to run jobs. I wanted to show the company what I had. And they started giving me more and more responsibility. Pretty soon, I’m doing service truck by myself and then running small jobs, and they gave me a large commercial site to run.

And I remember I was pretty nervous, but I was excited about the task, and safety was not a priority to me. I used to go to safety meetings and think, I hope they have good coffee and donuts, because that’s about all I’m going to get out of this. I didn’t really think safety applied to me. I thought it applied to the new guy. Anytime we had a safety meeting, it was always some toolbox talk or some box that we needed to check. It was never anything meaningful that was really going to impact safety. That was going to make me think that pertains to me or that could happen to me. For instance, I remember in the summertime one time we had a safety talk about cold weather and frostbite.

I’m thinking, good timing.

Yeah, it’s 90 degrees out here, and we’re going to talk about frostbite today, or we’d have another one about traffic signals. Well, we’re nowhere near traffic signals. And I would get frustrated with these toolbox talks because people would just open up these toolbox talk books and they’d read whatever the next week was. It wasn’t like we were going to. That’s relevant. We’re not going to try to move the bar. I think one of the best tools that any company can do is to report near misses and use those for safety meetings. To me, that’s a built-in safety meeting. Every week. You can talk about near misses, or I can go on a site, and within 15 minutes, I can find something to talk about, Hazard, something that’s relevant. But we didn’t really do that. So, I got into just thinking safety was a box check or something we had to do to make the office happy, or you better have your paperwork filled out. It wasn’t really anything that I thought was going to happen to me, or it didn’t really pertain to me because I was a professional. I knew what I was doing.

At the time of my accident, I had 15 years of experience, and I hadn’t had too many close calls. I thought I was good at my job. 03:00 I’m done at 3:30, and I get a call from the general contractor, and he says, I need this cord relocated. And I go out, and I look, and this cord runs through some aluminum framework in the front of the building. So, the only way, or the easiest way for me to relocate this cord was to unhook the cord from the panel, pull it through the aluminum framework, back out through the doorway, and hook it back up. And some people, when they see my presentation and I talk about that part, say, why didn’t you unhook it from the other end? That would have been so much safer. Well, if I would unhook the cord from the other end, hook to a transformer running through the building, steel through all this framework, 200, 300ft of cord that I got to pull back through the building and unhook it, and it would have taken ten times as long. So, I have this cord that’s running through this aluminum framework, hooked up to this electrical panel, and it’s less than 50ft from the building.

It’s a clear, wide-open shot. All they want me to do is unhook this cord, pull it through the aluminum framework, and hook it back up. They want me to do this at 03:00 because it’s going to kill all the power to the building. I go out there, and I look, and most electrical panels have a main breaker. This panel didn’t have that. This panel was fed directly from the utility side of this transformer. So, the only way that I can shut this power off is to call the power company and have them send it.

Right, which is not at 03:00 p.m. Not.

At 03:00 when you’re done at 330. I know that I likely won’t even get anyone on the phone who knows where this piece of equipment is, let alone get a line throughout here to help me. So, I think I will have to do this energized. And from the time I got in in 1997 until around 2008, I did this type of work all of the time with no PPE art. It wasn’t until around 2008 that I started hearing about electrical safety in the workplace. NFPA. Yes, we went over electrical safety and apprenticeship, but I thought that the electrician’s main hazard was electrocution. And I had seen equipment blow up, sure, but really didn’t equate. I knew what an arc flash was, but I didn’t know anybody that it happened to. I hadn’t heard a lot about it. I didn’t really know what I was putting myself at risk that day. And this is back in 2011, but they gave us these arc flash suits. And I realize that not everyone on this that’s going to listen to this knows what an arc flash suit is. But an arc flash consists of a belle calva, which is just a cotton ski mask.

We have an arc-rated face shield hooked to a hard hat. We wore 1000 volts rated gloves with leather protectors over them, arc rated coveralls, hearing protection, safety glasses, heavy duty leather shoes. All this is in a kit in the back of my van. So, I’m thinking I need to go get my arc flash suit. I open up the back door of the van and the suits not there. So needless to say, I’ve done these tasks many times. I thought I could do it one more time. Long story short, within a few minutes I’m flying to the University of Iowa burn unit by helicopter, hanging on for my life, not knowing if I’m going to die. I had a brand new baby. I just don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I’m very scared. My hand is half blown off and I get into the University of Iowa, and they wheel me in through this doorway and I’ll never forget my wife coming in there. And just when my eyes locked on her eyes, I knew this was serious. She didn’t say anything. She just ran down the hallway crying. It bothers me today.

I had to live there, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t console my wife. I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t be the strong person I always tried to be for my family. I was in the hospital for about three weeks, and then I went to a rehab unit where I was doing physical rehabilitation, working on my hand, but I couldn’t make a fist. I had to have multiple surgeries on my hand. I had to have skin grafts taken off of my legs and put on my hand. My face was blown off and not gone to the point where I needed it. It wasn’t going to the point where I needed plastic surgery. But when I looked in the mirror, no way did I think this was going to heal. I got very depressed. I wanted to commit suicide. I did not want my wife to be married to this monster. I didn’t want this monster to be the dad to my daughter. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I thought the world would be much better without me. I didn’t want everyone to feel sorry for me. And I just wanted to get out of there and get this over with.

I wanted to leave every day. I just said, can I go home? And all that talk did was lead to more medication. I got through that very difficult time in my life just because of my wife’s strength. And not everyone has a family and a wife like I do. I won the wife lottery. There’s no way I could have gotten through this without her. When I got home, then the problems got bad for me again because I got addicted to morphine, trying to get off of that stuff. I have a whole new appreciation for people that are addicted to any type of drugs. I had some personal experiences that my biological dad, he was a drug addict. I’ve only met him like five times in my life. And when I found out or I thought that I was addicted to the morphine, once I recognized it, I just quit cold turkey. Because I remember when I was twelve years old, seeing him stand out by the side of the road like a bum. And I thought, this isn’t going to be thanks. I’m not getting addicted to anything, right? There’s another thing that helped me get through this, and that’s something that not everyone has.

But I didn’t care what happened to me physically or mentally. I was done taking the medication, and I stopped. Then I get through all this, and I have to go back to work. And I’m thinking I’m going to get fired for sure. When you have an accident like this, there are a lot of consequences for the company you work for. We have a serious OSHA violation on our record. Companies do yearly safety audits. Our experience modification rate was above one on our trip. And you have to fill out all these applications for all these customers and all these bidding processes. And it really wasn’t the cost of the accident that really affected the company. It was the customer’s perception. Once you fill this out for bid forms, and I say this during the presentation, companies like working with other safe companies. They don’t want to take a risk. They’re not going to roll the dice. If the company you work for doesn’t have a good safety record, many companies will find someone else who does. And I had to go to a lot of meetings, a lot of explaining, a lot of remediation on how we were going to fix this, right?

Ultimately, the company decided, and I think it was more of a charity case because I couldn’t work with my hands, but they decided to make me the safety director. And I’m thinking, how are my coworkers going to look at me, look at the decision that I made? I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to push safety. After what I did, this didn’t make sense to me, but I had no other way to pay my bills. I didn’t have any other options. And they’re asking me to do it, and my paycheck is going to keep coming. So, I decided to do the best I could.

It’s probably a good call because you have a way of advocating that nobody else can, right? Because you’ve personally experienced it. It’s real to you.

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And I think that the company’s attitude is: who better to talk about safety than the guy who had to take the hard road and learn the hard way? But I can tell you half of the, you know, I didn’t work for a large company. A lot of the companies that I speak for are Fortune 500 companies. I worked for a company that had maybe, on average, 80 employees. At our peak, we might get to 110. And half of the people in the company looked at me like, I can’t believe this guy has a job. And the other half of the company looked at me like he was pretty good at his job. If this happened to me, this could happen to him, or if this happened to him, this could happen to me. So, I really couldn’t control the people who thought I should be fired or didn’t think that I should be in that position. I can’t control what they think of me. But I had a job, and I was very focused on that job. How I was going to make up for my accident was to deliver the company a big fat zero incidents for a calendar year.

And to say I was obsessed with this goal. And I’m a very goal-oriented person. If I don’t have a vision, if I don’t have a roadmap, I already know I’m not going to be successful. And one of the best quotes I’ve ever seen is an idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan. And I put together a plan, and I got to pick the members of my safety committee. I went out, and I picked six people who were highly influential in the company that I knew people would listen to. And we started having safety meetings. And we said, look, we didn’t have a good year last year. The year I got hurt, we had twelve OSHA recordables. That’s worse than bad for a company with 100 employees at their peak.

Yeah, it’s bad.

That’s bad. We have to improve. So, the first thing we did was put hard hats, safety glasses, and gloves in place. We’re not asking people to wear them anymore. That’s a condition of employment. If you want to work at our company, you will wear these things. And if you don’t want to work at our company, you can work for our competitor. That’s fine, but we are going to change the way that we do things now. And I had the buy-in from the company’s president, and the safety committee helped me. And one of the first things I did was I didn’t know anything about safety. So, I started going to as many safety conferences as I could, and I would identify companies that were much larger than the one that I worked for, who had very good safety records, and I would talk with them, take notes. What are your policies? What are your procedures? How do you guys walk through the job sites on your safety audits? What works, and what doesn’t? I got invaluable information from each one of the safety conferences that I went through. I was networking like crazy, and I was very much out of my element as an electrician who works alone.

Going to these safety conferences, meeting these experts, and talking to them was out of my comfort zone, but it was something that I had to learn to do if I was going to be good at my job.

Right.

So, I went and met with them. One thing that stuck with me was that you have to create a lookout for one another’s safety culture, and if you can’t do that, everything else doesn’t matter. And I believe that. And I tell people that if we made every employee in an organization a safety manager or a safety advocate, we’d have no accidents. But the reality is we have to go out there, and we have to be productive. But safety has to be a tool. And something that we use daily can’t just be something that we use when the safety manager comes around or there’s a walk-through. It has to be a tool that you use on a daily basis. And if the people most influential at the company aren’t willing to use those tools, you won’t be able to spread that.

Sure.

So, one of the first things that we did was I started doing walkthroughs, safety audits, and I would go out, and I would tell people, you’re going to get one warning to wear your safety glasses, gloves, and hard hat. And after that, I just give your name company, and whatever happens, happens. It’s out of my hands. But you’re going to get one warning, and that’s it. This is a condition of employment. The rest of the items we can work on that could be a training issue. That could be. You didn’t know, but everybody here knows going forward, we’re wearing our PPE. I went and did a safety audit, and I had a guy who wouldn’t wear safety glasses, and he’s like, I don’t need them. I’m like, well, this is one warning. And he kind of blew me off, like, okay. And I found a few other safety things that I talked to him about, and he was kind of on my radar. When you do a safety audit and someone gives you attitude and you find things they’re not receptive to what you say, you kind of want to go visit that person again, you should.

It’s not somebody you’re going to say, okay, they’re all right. They know what they’re doing. We don’t have any problems over there. You know that. That’s something that’s going to take more of your attention. So, he got more of my attention. In the next safety audit, we found another problem. In the next safety audit, we found another problem. And these weren’t things that he didn’t know better. I would say only 25% of my audience do electrical work, but my experience as a safety manager was in electrical.

Sure.

I went into this project, and he’s got all the covers off the panel, live exposed parts, and a metal fish tape in the panel, pulling wire. I mean, he knew better than what he was doing. And this was the third time. And I just told him, I said, I don’t know what will happen here, but you need some more training. We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about this, and I don’t think that you are an asset to our organization with your current mindset, and I’m not able to change your mindset. So, I think you need to go talk to management to see what we’re going to do moving forward. I was pushing for an OSHA 30 course, additional training, something because this guy had a lot of experience. I didn’t want to lose him in the organization because safety is something that you always have to improve and evolve on. Nobody knows it all day one. And we had a culture of not-so-good safety culture. So, I wasn’t expecting to turn this company around in a year. I knew it would take time, and our employees are our greatest asset.

So, I didn’t want this guy gone, but I went, and I told the owner what happened, and he said, you know what? I’m tired of this. Your accident should have been a big awakening, people that they need to change, and every once in a while, we need to have a sacrificial lamb. And I said, what do you mean? And he said, unless you tell me something I don’t already know right now, we’re going to fire him. And I got very emotional because I blew my face off. I blew myself up. I was in the hospital for a month. I broke every safety rule in the book and cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums. And I’m still coming in, and I’m getting a paycheck. And you’re going to fire this guy? I did what I could, and they fired him. And it affected me. Like, I didn’t sleep for three days. I called the guy. I tried to meet with him for lunch when he was gone. The last thing a fired employee will do is meet with the guy he thinks got him fired.

Right.

And I don’t know. It still affects me that he lost his job, and I couldn’t continue to coach him and try to make him better because that was what I was there to do. But I can tell you, after that happened, it sent a message to the rest of the company that these guys aren’t messing around. Safety is going to be practiced in our company. We made mistakes last year, but going forward, things are changing, and you’re either going to get on board with these changes or you’re not. And if you’re not going to get on board, we don’t have a place for you here. Right.

It sends a message.

It did. And I would rather have that message sent through me. I don’t know why it wasn’t, but his firing me will probably affect me for the rest of my life because I should have been the person who lost their job, but I wasn’t. After the first year, we went from twelve OSHA portables down to three down to one, and eventually, we could get that zero.

That’s tremendous.

It was. But I can tell you that I thought about this from the time I got up until I went to bed every day. And when I looked at the work orders, I looked at the jobs. I came from the field, so I knew what stage these projects were in. I knew what they were doing. I knew the employees, because I only worked with a company that had 100 employees. I knew their safety habits. I knew who would take the time to do things correctly and safely, and I knew who would take shortcuts. And I tried to get myself through those shortcuts before they even happened. Don’t even put the. And that’s something that I think that I preached a lot at all of our owners’ meetings: let’s take these safety decisions out of the field employees’ hands. Let’s plan safety into the job before expecting the field employees to perform work safely. Let’s plan and engineer safety in before they even have a chance to touch it. For instance, when we’re looking at bids, and we’re looking at jobs, we know we’re going to need a shutdown.

Let’s plan that shutdown for them. If we know we have an overhead hazard. Let’s plan two weeks ahead of time that we’re going to rope this area off, and no one’s going to be able to go through here because we know we have this work to do. And that’s where I think shortcuts happen. Somebody thinks I have to get this done to meet this deadline. I have a short time to do it, and safety kind of goes by the wayside. But with proper planning and the employees with the four, every construction project that I’ve been on has a two-week look ahead. Four weeks look ahead. We’re always planning. We’re always trying to hit goals and schedules. Let’s plug safety in there, too.

Right.

And I think it can be done when people work together as a team. One of the big things that I’m seeing now is people are, if you’re not safe, let’s say you set your hard hat down for a second, they’re going to walk you off-site, no warnings. Or you make a mistake on a ladder, no warnings. We’re going to walk you off-site. And that’s not something that I can advocate for. I think everybody makes mistakes. The thing that I advocate for is if I see somebody standing on top of a ladder, yes, I’ll admit that’s a poor decision if they’re on the very top of the ladder. I have a bigger problem with the people who are standing on the ground and aren’t saying, let me get you a taller ladder.

The brother’s keeper you were talking about, right? Is somebody else watching you do it?  

Yeah. Let me find a better way to do this. And to me, that’s how you solve your problems. You don’t know what’s going through that person’s mind now. You don’t know what they’re dealing with. Maybe their mind isn’t where it should be that day, but when you walk right on by somebody doing something unsafe, that’s worse than committing the act itself. And there’s no better part or feeling than knowing that your part of a team and someone’s looking out for you. And when someone comes up to you and they say, hey, stop what you’re doing, that’s not safe. I’m going to help you find a better way to do that. That instantly sends a message that this person is looking out for me. I’m part of their team, and they’re going to help me improve. But one thing that I see a lot on LinkedIn that I don’t agree with is somebody will take a picture of somebody who’s doing something foolish and they’ll post it on LinkedIn. That sends a message that safety is just looking for idiots, and we’re all idiots sometimes, but correct. When people walk, you want to limit that.

As you get older, I think you learn from your mistakes and realize you’re not bulletproof. Bad things do happen. But I think being on a team where people look out for one another is the key to safety. And that’s what I try to convey in my presentation: you have to look out for one another. And being part of a team, you have one weak link. The chain breaks if there is a failure. Let’s not point the finger. Let’s figure out where the team went wrong.

I heard a few things from you. One of them was around the safety committees you started it with in terms of getting grassroots engagement and involvement. You also looked at some hard and fast rules that were communicated and were clear. I think planning is a really important one, which is just, let’s plan this through. Like, if I think about what you talked about, your accident, it seemed like it was a last-minute thing. Let’s try to squeeze it in the last 30 minutes of the day. And so right there, there isn’t that advanced plan. Say, okay, what’s the best way to do this? If you call the utility and it was planned work, they’d probably be able to cut it out, but not if you’re calling a three, expecting it to happen at 305.

Exactly.

Then, the last one was really this looking out for each other, the brother’s keeper concept, and really getting people instilled, which I think is a very powerful element, as long as you’ve got multiple people working together.

Right.

If you’re a lone worker, your kind of stuck looking out for yourself unless you get a second that’s there, that’s looking out for you.

I agree with that, but it does take discipline when you’re working by yourself. You know how many people know that, to me, nuclear power plants are the safest place in the world. And I know people in my neighborhood that work at a nuclear power plant, and I watch them put up Christmas lights, and I’m like, I know you wouldn’t do that at work. And there’s more than one time when I went and got my extension ladder out of my garage and said, here you go. I think, you know, there’s a safer way to do, you know, most of the time, people appreciate that, and that’s what I try to do: just go out there and do my part and look out for one.

So, Brandon, thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s a very powerful story. References back to safety on the farm and how that was there, but also how you got into trade and the environment was different. And then, it was a very powerful story regarding the incident, but mostly in terms of what you did to pivot safety within the organization. And was it three years that you drove this?

Yeah, I did the job for three years. I wanted to make some more changes in the company. And when I try to do something, I want to be the best. I’m not saying I can be the best, but my vision is always to improve and always take steps forward. And the company did not. They were good with where it was at. They didn’t want to make a lot of changes. They didn’t want to keep evolving. And that’s a big mistake that I think some companies make. They say, well, we didn’t have any accidents last year.

We’re good.

We’re good. And that’s to me like a CEO saying, looking at their numbers and saying, our sales goals were great last year. Let’s try to do the exact same number that we did last year. This next year.

It doesn’t normally happen that way.

No. You always want to do better in business. You always want to try to increase efficiencies and drive revenues up. That’s the whole reason a business exists. And safety is the same thing. You have to try to improve and do better each and every year. You can always do better, no matter how good you are at it.

Agree. So, Brandon, you share your story with multiple different audiences. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

My website is believeinsafety.com. That’s the best way to get in touch with me. You can read a little bit about my story. I do have some YouTube videos out there that I’ve shot where my wife talks about, and they show some of my family. And that video has been very popular. It is in my presentation as well. But believeinsafety.com is the best place to reach me if you want to contact me about future speaking engagements.

Sounds good. Thank you, Brandon. I appreciate you taking the time to share your story with many audiences across the country. I think, hopefully, it helps change people’s mindset about how to show up for safety.

All right, well, thank you for having me. This was a big honor. I know this is a popular podcast, and I very much appreciate being part of it.

Thank you, Brandon.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

In 2012, Brandon Schroeder‘s path as a speaker unfolded following a workplace incident in 2011. Having served as a journeyman electrician since 2002, he had envisioned a future in the electrical trade. Brandon was known for his proficiency, diligent follow-through, and on-me task compleon. However, the pivotal moment of his accident led him to see an alternave journey awaing him.

In 2012, he was approached to address a company about the circumstances of his accident. Despite initial reservaons, Brandon agreed. Inially, he thought this would be a one-me endeavor, but he soon discovered that requests for his story would persist. More than a decade later, he connues to share his narrave, influencing safety perspecves. Brandon has delivered presentaons for numerous companies, ranging from global giants to local co-ops. His objecve remains singular—to reach that one individual who needs to hear his story.

For more information: https://believeinsafety.com/

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Preventing Distracted Driving: Navigating Towards Safer Roads for All with Karen Torres

Preventing Distracted Driving: Navigating Towards Safer Roads for All with Karen Torres

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ABOUT THE EPISODE

In recognition of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we are honored to welcome Karen Torres to The Safety Guru, where she will share her heartfelt story of turning personal tragedy into impactful change. Karen became committed to advocating for road safety after losing her father in a distracted driving incident. She has devoted her life to raising awareness about work zone safety and the dangers and realities of distracted driving that affect us all. Tune in as Karen advocates for safer roads for all through education, situational awareness, and being an effective role model.

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C suite, it’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the safety guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the safety guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Karen Taurus. She’s the founder of All for You Dad and a safety motivational speaker on roadside safety. So, as we’re entering April’s distracted driving awareness month, I think this is a topic of conversation. So, Karen, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me.

Oh, thank you so much, Eric. I’m really excited to be here.

So, let’s start with your dad’s story.

Okay. On St. Patrick’s Day of 2006, my father, who worked for the New York State Department of Transportation, was with his crew on Sunrise Highway in Eastport, Long Island. They were filling in potholes, and a cement truck driver had entered the work zone. Not only was he speeding, but he was also doing 60 in a 45-mile-per-hour zone. He was just drinking a bottle of water, and the bottle had slipped out of his hands, so he reached down to pick it up. But when he had reached down to pick it up, not only did he take his eyes off the road, but he had pulled the steering wheel down with him. And by the time he looked back up, he had crossed over the closed lane, and he had slammed it into the work zone. And that’s where he hit and killed my father, Patrick Mapleson. Since my father’s death, I have turned my tragedy into something positive. And I felt it was really important to talk about work zone safety and the dangers of distracted driving. When my father was killed, texting was really just kind of the upcoming thing. And it’s funny because I never wanted to be a public speaker.

I hated public speaking growing up. I’d rather have failed a class than speak in front of people. And when you get this desire to share a story, knowing that you could possibly save a life, it’s amazing what you can overcome. At my first presentation, my knees knocked, and now I could speak in front of 1000 people. And it’s amazing that turning a tragedy into something that is, for me, so powerful.

Right? Distracting driving is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. You talked about cell phone use now. The number of times I’m on the interstate, and I see somebody texting as they’re driving. It’s scary. But in this case, it was just a bottle of water. And there was no intention. Right. Tell me a little bit about what had happened. Obviously, he was days away from what I remember from his retirement.

So, my dad had just turned 66 the day before. He was getting ready to retire in seven months. And I think about that. That was all taken away from him because of a distracted driver. And yes, this was not intentional, but people really need to understand that it was 100% preventable. No one thinks that. Okay, I will take my eyes off the road for 2 seconds to do something. I’m going to kill someone. But this is exactly what’s happening. My dad lost his life in such a horrific way. I was told that actually the driver of the cement truck told me that when he looked up, my dad was standing there right in front of him. And they locked eyes. And then my dad stopped, tried to shield himself from the impact. And he was first hit his head hit the bumper. And then he was run over and went up through the wheel well. He was thrown in the air like a rag doll. And the passerby said they saw a man literally tossing in the air like a rag doll. And when my dad landed, he was completely disfigured from the top of his head to the tip of his toes.

And they wouldn’t let family members. I’m sorry, they wouldn’t let me, my brother or my sister id him. So, my husband had to do it. And he said by doing that, his mind has been forever fractured. And I don’t think that many people realize how much it destroys a family. It’s not just about the one person who was killed. Some of my dad’s crew, some of these men, couldn’t return to work for months. Even the driver of the cement truck had a nervous breakdown. He was not a young, inexperienced driver. He was a retired New York City fireman. He spent his entire career saving lives. And that poor choice he made that morning, he has to live with the fact that he killed my dad. And he didn’t mean to do it, but that’s suffering for him. He told me that my father’s face was the first person he saw when he woke up. And the last person he sees before he goes to bed. So, we all know that prison sentence is in his mind. Nobody ever wants to live with something like that. And, yeah, my dad was.

His golden years were taken away from him, and he was such a simple man. And all my dad ever wanted to do when he retired was get a little shack by the water so he could fish and read, and all his grandkids called him Grandpa Fish. And it is. It’s really sad. And I always say that it doesn’t matter how much time goes by, and you’ll always still want the love and the guidance of your parents. And it’s just sad that he worked so hard his whole life for those golden years, and he was robbed of it.

And distracted driving is, to me, and roadside safety is probably what scares me the most because it’s really hard to protect workers on the side of the road you get accustomed to. I’ve talked to many people who work on the side of the road, and they get comfortable with traffic so close to them. And they’ve got cones, in many cases, as the defense mechanism or maybe a little more. And you’re relying on other people that, in this case, weren’t focused on driving.

I never knew how dangerous my dad’s job was. He kind of shielded that from us. And with the newer laws of slowing down in work zones, and there are now speed cameras, I know that people get upset, but you have to think, this is their office, roadside workers, this is their office. This is what they’re doing. And I don’t understand why we’re not giving them the respect they deserve. They put their lives on the line every day so that the roads are better and safer for us. So why wouldn’t we give them the same respect by slowing down and moving over?

The part that frustrates me is often you’ll see people maybe go a little over the speed limit in a regular zone, and then in the working zone, I’ve seen so many times, people barely slow down. It’s almost an inconvenience for them to slow down, not even thinking about people on the side of the road.

Right. They dehumanize them. They’re frustrated because they’re the ones that are slowing them down. Because it’s a construction zone. A zone, excuse me. But meanwhile, like I had just said, they’re there because they’re repairing the roads to make it safer for us. It’s really sad.

How do we make a difference in this? How do we make a difference in workplaces that where people have to work on the side of the road, and that includes first responders, includes utility workers, in many cases, includes anybody that’s maintaining roads. How do we make that workplace safer, and how do we get people focused on driving?

Well, of course, education and speaking. I mean, for me, going and sharing a personal story, I feel has a huge impact. It’s almost like we got to bring it back to basics. Distracted driving can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or if you’re 86, if you’re a blue-collar worker, if you’re a white-collar worker, it can affect everyone. And I think that it’s time that we stop and think. Because for me, my feeling is a lot of drivers that once become driving a longer period of time, become a little lax, and get too comfortable. And people forget that there’s laws and there’s so much technology inside the car that you forget right outside your windshield, there’s highway workers, there are other drivers, there’s bicyclists, there’s motorcyclists, there are people who are exercising. There are kids that are playing. And in an instant, you could take someone’s life away. Now, what’s happening is that you have your children in the car, and they mirror our behavior. And now you’re going to set up a new generation of distracted drivers. I just think the key is really education.

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us www.propulo.com.

You touched on something there that I think is worth double-clicking on a little bit. It’s around role modeling. When you’re in a car, if you have kids, they’re watching you. They’re seeing what you’re doing when you’re driving. Right? So, I think that’s also a really important piece; it is something we can impact. We can make a difference in terms of how we show up and how we role-play a role model on something like this.

Absolutely. When I do an assembly at a high school, the first question I ask the students is: How many of you have been in the car with a friend who has been using their phone in any capacity besides Bluetooth? And at least 85% of the room raises their hand. And then I ask the same question: how many of your parents use their phones, and everybody raises their hand? And it is sad because shame on us. Our kids are in our driving school, really, for the first 16 years of their life. So, if you’re using your phone when you’re driving, how can you ever expect them not to?

Right?

We don’t realize how much we mirror our parents. I was at fault. I was teaching my oldest daughter to drive, and a stop sign was near my house. And she drove to the stop sign. She slowed down, and then she turned left. And I said, Lex, what did you do when you didn’t stop? And she looked me dead and said, oh, it’s not what you do. For years, I was driving to this Estopinal stop sign and just slowing down and turning, and she completely mirrored my behavior. So again, if I was using my phone while driving, how could I ever expect my kids not to? And it goes with everything. If there’s road rage, if you’re a road ranger, the same thing. Your kids are going to be road rangers. And it’s sad. And I say to the students, if you knew getting into your friend’s car that you were about to drive to your death, would you ever get in that car? And, of course, not. But these are the chances that you’re taking. Honestly, with kids, it’s about speaking up, peer influence, being a positive role model for you and your friends, and not using their phone or taking their phone from the driving person.

I know it’s hard to do, but it’s the only way things will stop. And many times, I think the students don’t feel that, like, oh, we don’t text and drive, but you know what? You’re scrolling through social media, or you’re making a video when you’re driving, and it’s the same thing, and it’s just sad. And again, no one ever thinks it’s not until something happens. And why will you wait for something to happen for you to change your behavior? You don’t ever want to be responsible for someone else’s death over something that is 100% preventable.

100% preventable. Even a Bluetooth piece you talked about, even on Bluetooth, still introduces a level of distraction.

Absolutely.

A lot of the research is showing that it creates an impairment that’s very similar to an alcohol impairment in terms of when you’re driving. I’ve made a conscious decision not to take calls while I’m driving. I ensure my wife is driving if I need to take a call or if she’s not driving with me. Then I’m on the side of the road. Something as simple as that. It’s not easy, it’s painful. It introduces more time in your day. But it makes a difference.

It does. If you think you could be, let’s just say you’re driving and you’re having a conversation on Bluetooth and you’re in a heated conversation, or you’re fighting with your spouse or your children, you really aren’t fully paying attention. You’re focusing on winning that fight. Right. So you could miss your exit. You could be trying to move over, and you’re in your blind spot and weren’t paying attention. And you can easily hit someone. People don’t think of those things. But this is truly what’s happening.

And I think that’s something. We owe everybody who’s working the side of the road, but we also owe to ourselves because it’s how we are aware and have situational awareness of what other drivers are doing. If somebody is veering off, it’s also ensuring we stay safe.

That’s right. Absolutely. Situational awareness is key. It really is. It’s for everyone. The driver, the passenger, people who are on the, exactly like you said, workers. It’s always looking at your surroundings and being ready, being prepared. You just never know.

You never know. And it can happen to the best of drivers. I’m sure he thought he was a good driver. I mean, you said he retired from the New York Fire Department. Probably an experienced driver by design, but it can happen to anyone.

Absolutely. And he was devastated. I mean, it destroyed his life. He was a father of six. It took us four years for us to be allowed to speak with him. But I saw him, and he came over to me and he just said, I’m so sorry. And I gave him a hug, and I said to him, I don’t hate you. And he cried and cried and cried and said, you don’t hate me. I said I don’t hate you. I know you didn’t wake up and say, I’m going to kill Patrick Mapleson. This knows. I know it was something that you didn’t know was going to happen. And I think that my brother, my sister, and I were able to free him of that, at least. And he left a message. He would always leave a message on the anniversary of my dad’s death just to let us know he was thinking about us. And not a lot of families get that. Not a lot of families get it. I’m sorry.

I think you speak to a lot of audiences, you speak to students, to kids that are starting to drive, to try to shape the right behavior of the front end, to organizations. I think this is something that needs to be addressed in terms of awareness. Like you said, education for drivers to realize how do I need to show up? But also, for organizations that have workers that are on the side of the road.

Absolutely.

It’s a serious hazard. It’s one of the hardest one to control. You can control a lot of other forms of energy, a lot of other risks. This one especially, I guess you can if you block the road and you shut down the road. But there’s a lot more risks that tend to happen. And people get comfortable, surprisingly, with the degree of risk that’s associated with it.

They do as you’re just asking that. I’m just thinking in my head that it’s just so sad when I’m driving, going through a work zone, and I see people speeding through, and they’re just right at the edge of the road. It’s just sad because everybody wants to go home. Everybody just wants to come home, and they are just inches away from not coming home. And why aren’t we giving them the respect? But you know what? It also goes both ways. If you’re a worker, how do you drive on the road? That’s what I try to explain in my presentation: it’s, again, going back to the basics. Safety isn’t just nine to five. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they must also show respect to the roadway. How do you drive? Are you that driver who gets to a red light and the person in front of you is on their phone, and the light turns green, and they’re not moving, and now you’re angry, and you’re like, come on? But then a mile down the street, now you’re that front car, and now you’re on your phone.  

You can’t have it both ways. So why can’t we all just respect each other, and all just do the right thing? Why is something so simple so hard?

Yeah, exactly. So, thank you for sharing your story with people and trying to get some awareness, both from an educational standpoint for drivers and organizations, in terms of the risk and the hazards associated with working on the side of the road. I think it’s a very powerful way to get people to stop thinking. And I encourage everybody that’s listening to really think about how do you show up when you’re on the road? How do you show up when there’s a work zone, or there is a first responder on the side of the road that is doing the work? How do you show up in those instances to protect them? And like you mentioned before, in terms of role modeling that behavior for others in the car. So, if somebody wants to get in touch with you, Karen, how can they get in touch with you?

Oh, great. My website is all4udad.com, but it’s spelled A-L-L, the number four, the letter u, dad. And yeah, you could reach me there. My email is [email protected], and I would love to hear from anyone.

Thank you so much, Karen. I appreciate you coming on the show and sharing your story.

Thank you so much. You have a great day. Stay safe.

Thank you. Stay safe.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.  

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

More Episodes: https://thesafetyculture.guru/

C-Suite Radio: https://c-suitenetwork.com/radio/shows/the-safety-guru/

Powered By Propulo Consulting: https://propulo.com/

Eric Michrowski: https://ericmichrowski.com

ABOUT THE GUEST

Karen Torres is a passionate advocate for road safety with over 14 years of experience as a motivational speaker. Her commitment to raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving stems from a personal tragedy — the loss of her father, Patrick Mapleson, in a distracted driving incident. Karen has turned her pain into purpose, dedicating her life to sharing her compelling story at high schools, employee safety trainings, and corporate conferences across the nation. Karen is also a member of the Speaker’s Bureau for NY SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions); she provides impactful presentations that aim to inspire positive change and save lives. Karen’s message is not just powerful; it’s transformative, leaving a lasting impact on audiences of all ages.

For more information: https://www.all4udad.com/

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EXECUTIVE SAFETY COACHING

Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their Safety Leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance.

Safety Leadership coaching has been limited, expensive, and exclusive for too long.

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at https://www.execsafetycoach.com.
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Creating a Safe Environment to Ask Questions and Raise Concerns for a Safer Tomorrow with Paul Mahoney

Creating a Safe Environment to Ask Questions and Raise Concerns for a Safer Tomorrow

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE: 

ABOUT THE EPISODE

We welcome our special guest, Paul Mahoney, to The Safety Guru to share his moving story and his passion for inspiring safer workplaces for all. In 2000, Paul was working in the paper industry in the UK when he suffered a severe injury in the workplace. This critical incident impacted his personal life and set his mission to help others. Listen in as Paul shares valuable insights for fostering a safety culture by creating a safe environment to ask questions and raise concerns. Tune in for inspiration and practical advice on making a positive impact for a safer tomorrow.

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today, I’m very excited to have with me Paul Mahoney, who’s a motivational, inspiring speaker from the UK on Safety. He has a very powerful story that he’ll be sharing with us today. Paul, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Eric. Hopefully, all your listeners will find this inspiring.

Excellent. Let’s start with your story because you started in the paper industry. Tell me a little bit about the industry and what happened.

Yeah, I joined the industry after leaving college. It would have been 1991 as an 18-year-old. Quite proud because my dad was a papermaker. So yeah, it’s in the blood as such. I started off in conversion. So that was cutting A4 paper in what they call folio paper. So, folio paper is almost your poster-sized paper.

Sure.

And then over in about ’96, I had the opportunity to join what they called the RCF plant. So FCR plant was really a de-inking plant, and it was a glorified stop prep. So, we took about 180,000 ton of wastepaper in the UK. Predominantly, it was office waste, and we de-inked it and put it back over to the paper machine. Plus, also, we had the ability to make bails The back Port of the Tun bails, and this would go to third parties, primarily to our two sister mills, one in Sitting Balm, which was four miles away from our site, and another in France. It was quite progressive at the time. There weren’t any other sites like it in the graphic paper, but for graphic paper and quality paper, we were straight ahead of everybody else. The 25 of us on the five shifts, quite proud. We were known as the elites in the industry, jokingly, like you are. Yeah. Then in 1999, it was decided we couldn’t keep up with the paper machine when they went 100% recycled because we were about 50 miles from London, and London being the center of the universe and being the world’s end as such.

As I say, we couldn’t keep up with the demand of recycled quality paper. It was decided we could use some of our bales that we use for the sister mills and put it back in the system to keep the paper machine running. Before the machine was installed, you’d probably get about 8-12 hours through before the tower was dropped. But by putting this new system in, we could double the run. It made perfect sense, Mark, from a commercial point of view.

Sure.

It was installed, and we had issues with it because when the bales were returned, it would go into a macerator It’s all churned up and it would go into a horizontal screw conveyor, and then it would then be taken up by a vertical screw conveyor and then into a repulp. The repulp is basically a giant big food blender.

Okay, sure.

It’s mixed down to a slurry. We found out we used to have problems around the crossover point where the horizontal met the vertical. We had no procedures other than you locked off upstairs in the HV room. You would get a radio call down, and initially, everything was airline. Couldn’t tell you when, but I remember there being a comment around it made too much mess because using the airline on the pulp, it was like confetti.

Sure.

So, one day, an arm bar appeared about 6 foot high, and that was used to dig out along with the airline. And The beauty of iron bars are they don’t tend to bend like arms and hands. So, there was a start of mission creep where we would use all three methods to dig out. No issues as such. I can’t remember because it’s 20 odd years ago, but I expect there was probably some murmurs around the teams, but you just get on with it. You’re tasked to do a job, so you do it. So fast forward to the 25th of November. It’s a Saturday morning. I’m on a 12-hour shift, so seven in the morning till seven at night. It was the second shift of four because we’d finish at seven o’clock, and then the Sunday, Monday, we would be twelve-hour nights. We did four on, four off. Then seven weeks on, you would get 18 days off, if I remember rightly. So I get to the locker room. I have me handover with me opposite number. It was on the night shift. Told everything shut down. We’re building up the towers ready for the call from the paper machine.

And literally, that was it. So, you’re waiting around. You’re setting yourself up for the day ahead. Because we covered 13 acres amongst the five of us, as I say, lots of walkie-talkie chat. You then get the radio call. Can you set up? So, it’s a matter of changing the valves over, making sure there’s some bales on the feed line, and you’re just waiting for that call. Yeah, repulp was up. We got the right consistency. Away you go. Sure. So go ahead. And there’s three bales left on the infeed conveyor at the top. And these must have been left over a fortnight beforehand because we only run this machine periodically because of the production runs, because it takes a hell of a long time to get a build up for a 100% run. So, first bale drops in, and within a minute, two minutes, you hear the motors scream, so you know you’ve got a problem. Luckily for me, before I reached my radio, one of my colleagues was with me walking through the basement. So, he radios up to somebody and says, look, can you lock her off? She’s blocked. Other colleague goes to the HV room, it’s upstairs, he locks off, he radios down to us to say, Yeah, everything’s good, and away you go.

So, hatches are open, and you start digging out. So, you clear everything up. Obviously, there’s stuff on the floor, but it’s there ready to go. So, you button the hatches up and radio upstairs, and the person in the HV room starts her up. And within 30 seconds, she screams again. So, it’s almost the two of us are now looking each other like, Oh, exactly. It’s going to be a bit of a mare.

Sure.

So, we repeat the process. And on average, a dig out would take probably about 40 minutes.

Sure.

So, we’re halfway through the second dig out, and my colleague turns round to us and says, I’ve got an idea, Paul, just to speed us along, because he’s conscious of time and he’s got other jobs to do. If we leave the hatches open, but we run the screw backwards. That way we clear everything out because obviously, feeling the bales, they’re dry, they’re not breaking, they’re not sticking. Okay, fair enough. You do what you do to get a problem sorted quicker than not. So, communication is made. Can you make the screw run backwards. So, you see the pulp spill out until you can actually see the screw and it’s all empty. So, you say to your colleague, can you shut down? Because he’s leading it. And we just have a final check over and we go again. For whatever reason, his radio failed. I got it. So, you can still see the screw turn and you let him know you can see the screw turn and everything. My Raju’s failed, Paul. I’m going to go to the hut and get a new one. So, I said, look, don’t worry about it. We’ll swap Raju’s. I’ve got to go back to the hut anyway after we’ve cleared it out.

And I’ll ride the Raju, at least then you can get on with what else you’ve got to do. So, he repeats the request, shutdown. Paul is going to check the crossover point, and then we’ll go again because we didn’t on a third one. So, you see the screw stop, and because it’s a noisy environment, you do the thumbs up, thumbs down, and all that. So, we both give each other the thumbs It comes up to say it stopped, it looks clear. I’m just going to check, and then we go again. We’ve agreed the plan of attack. I bend down the stick my left arm in because I’m left-handed. I’ve lost visual with him now because being left-handed, you work in a different way. I’m given a final sweep, and before I know it, 1,400 revs a minute, I feel my arm break. So, you think yourself, Oh, great. That’s all I need. And you pull your arm out, expecting to see your arm at a different angle. And all I can see is floor. And this is all microseconds. And you’re registering like, that’s not what I’m supposed to be seeing. So, a lot of industrial language is used.

Collie, he runs down the basement, calling for help. I’m like, well, I’ve got to follow. So natural instinct was, grab my arm because I was the first day to grab my arm or the stump, push it against me chest as tight as I can, and follow him down the basement.

Sure.

Would have been probably a minute, two minutes. My other colleague, Darren, comes down the basement because he’s heard all the commotion over the radio because he was doing some chemical work. And he pushes me over on the floor and he said, bloody hell, Paul, what you’ve done? He’s expecting me to say, oh, I’ve broken my arm. And the next thing that he’s great with is a stump. So, give me his jaw. He gets on his knees, wraps me stump up He’s jacking his jacket in his IVs, and gets his fist and literally shoves it up the arm pit. So, he’s stemming the blood. And that is the start of an hour of, let’s put it this way, quite intense chats about life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I remember the paramedics coming along, and obviously, they have to do what they need to do. And what I don’t realize is while they’re working on me, and obviously keeping Darren comfortable because like you’re trained as a first-aider, keep talking to the patient. There’s me thinking, Darren is a patient as well. They called over to the engineer on the paper machine and said, look, we’ve got a bit of an issue.

Could you come over? And they rewound the screw by hand, or manually, sorry, until my arm dropped out, gave him the biggest fright going. There was a little bit of commotion because like you do, you’re in shock. They wrap it up and put it on ice. They managed to get the ice from the local supermarket. The next thing I know, we are taken to the car park because we’re waiting for the air ambulance. So, air ambulance arrives. They say to Darren, Thank you very much. You’ve done all you can. It’s now down to us because Darren wanted to come in the helicopter with me. We get flown to East Brin stead. It’s close to Gatwick Airport. They actually even shut down Gatwick to speed us through to the thing. Takes about 12 minutes, what I understand. We land around about 10:00 in the morning. The door opens. My arm now is in a black sac. It’s given to somebody. I do believe it was a senior sister. I’m taken to the assessment room where literally they cut your clothes off and they want to know the ins and outs of everything. I remember Mr. Davidson. I always remember Mr.

Davidson because he’s got a tag on his belt and he says, Mr. ‘S ‘Davison. ‘ And he says to me, good morning. Would you like your arm back? ‘ No. Knowing this screw moves at 1400 revs, I’m just thinking, ‘Mink’s me. ‘ And he said, no, do you want your arm back? ‘ And I just turned around and said, look, just do whatever you have to. At this point, I’ve been on my back for about three hours. I’m very tired and all I want to do is go to sleep, but you keep going. He said, okay, fair enough. And away he goes, because literally, I’ve given him the yes. I’m preparing myself in a way of if it’s put back on, brilliant. If it’s not, it’s not. And because I’m conscious, I now get somebody else with a clip ball going, could you consent to your operation, please? No. Look, appreciate Paul, you can’t do it, but it’s a legal Stop him. All I could say was, I can’t sign it because I’m left down. He’s like, what is he? You can see the, what am I going to do? He said, oh, just do an X.

I thought, no, I’m not going to do the next. I actually signed my name, and he was like, Are you sure you’re not right-handed? And with that, they will me down to the theater, start at 11:00 in the morning. Then three, four o’clock the following morning, the operation is complete and touch wood. I’ve become the first person and the only person we know of in the UK ever to have their arm reattached above the elbow. So not a great way to find that. Andy will hold 15 minutes of time. I spent a month in hospital. I was out just before Christmas, so I was able to have Christmas with daughter and wife at the time. And then that’s the start of, really, the recovery, doing all the physio and all that. I mean, for the first nine months, I couldn’t feel my arm. It was just there. Luckily, the nerves grow back because they grow about a millimeter a day, if you’re lucky.

Oh, wow.

You can imagine it’s quite a lot of work to grow. Then I went back to work, not on shift, just to get me back into the swing. Then I used to write all the safe operating procedures. I was the carrot and the stick for a few years. It was like, you got to follow these, because if not, you’ll end up like Paul and this, that, and the other. So, yeah, it’s an interesting Saturday morning, shall we say.

I’m not sure interesting is the word I would choose, but yes.

Well, the English language is a lovely…

So, this is something that happened often, the start/stop that you had to clear the circumstances. What are some of the warning signs that readers could have had and acted on?

We had a shift log, and it was in an A4 notebook, and every shift, we would recall what was going on. Now, some shifts were better than others. I must admit, I can remember some shifts going, Yeah, everything’s okay. There’s very little in the book, and you get outside and there’s pomp and sludge everywhere. You’re like, well, something’s obviously gone on. But another time, you’d read the book, or you’d feel the book in yourself. It was like war and peace. You’d make every note of valves being open, motor shut, this, that, and the other. But for that particular bit of kit, it was recorded every time we had a blockage. When the Health and Safety Executive over here in the UK read, they took six month’s worth of logbooks, while I understand. They read about the culture and the standards and all this and the interaction between the shifts, but they’re also reading about this bit of kit. They worked out there was about 33 blockages over a six-month period. Working out, we think that over the year that that machine was run, there must have been about easily 60 blockages that was recorded, because obviously, you don’t always record every blockage if it’s one after the other.

The warnings signs were there, and managers took the shift logs away to read, to pick up what we were doing. It was there in front of them.

Could leaders have inquired or realized it was something and proactively taken some steps to address it?

I think they did because I understand they went to see the manufacturers because it was two bits of kit that was bolted onto the repulped. What I understand was they were told it was the wrong set up and you’re going to have to get on with it. That mentality then rolled down to us.

To just deal with it.

Yeah. It was quite interesting. I remember because I’d worked in the conversion, we used to dump our wastepaper on a conveyor that went up to the reop on the PM side. I remember having a conversation with one of our chief engineers and said, why aren’t we copying the paper machine? And it was literally, look, it’s been built, you’re going to get on with it. So, it was already in their mindsets somewhere along the line.

To just accept and deal with it. Yeah.

It’s not just an organizational issue there. It was an industrial issue as well from the paper industry. We were very much production, getting it out, getting it out, getting it out, almost, mindset, which I’m glad to say We’ve got a little bit mature now on that side of things. This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, re-energize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propulo.com.

From a peer standpoint, what was the accepted practice at the time? You said, get it out, get it out.

Yeah. I mean, that was leg to us on the thing. I think because there was just the five of us on shift, It was very much work as a team from our point of view, because we was E-Shift, and I always joke E stands for excellent, and we’ll let you work out what A, B, C, and D was called. It was very much, let’s be the best, let’s set the standards. From an individual point of view, you don’t want to be seen as the idiot, the weakest link of the group.

The troublemaker. Exactly.

Let’s just get on with it. Obviously, the team doesn’t want to be seen as the worst shift. Obviously, I’ve already said to you in the conversation, we jokingly said we was the elites because nobody can match us.

But elites for getting things out the door. Not from a safety standpoint.

Yeah. We’re almost How can I put it? Setting ourselves up for a fall because we’re setting high standards for ourselves.

Yeah, but high standards from a production standpoint.

Yeah, and quality.

Which drove the culture.

And quality, which tends to be the underpin for most organizations’ companies, because that’s what they’re there for, is to get stuff either built or out the door. How can I put it? You deal with what you faced at the time. If you see a problem, you’re almost, how can I put it, a 3D massive puzzle at times. We don’t like emitting defeat, do we, as a human being at all?

You mentioned, I thought it was interesting when we first spoke, one of the things I jotted down is you’re more likely as a team, I think you call it a band of brothers, to raise concern if it was a contractor, but less amongst peers.

Yeah. Let’s put it this way. I’ve worked with the guys four years. You will find your role. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of teams that work together. As I say, because we work 12-hour shifts, we knew each other probably better than our own partners in a way.

You’re spending half the day, four days a week.

Yeah. When you’re only spending probably four, five hours with family and eight hours of sleep, you feel that bond with each other. Why would you want to upset the apple cart and pull people up where actually the contractor is on site?

They’re not your mates?

No. I hate to say an easy target, but you can go, Yeah, no PPE or no log. You haven’t done that properly, this, that, and the other, and walk away going, Yeah, that told him, where, as I say, you- You wouldn’t do that to appear. No. You are that band of brother’s mentality in certain parts. But it is, I think, realizing just having that one second conversation is the difference between someone going home or not. It’s nothing rude or anything. It’s just, look, just take that step back and just having that five minutes just to recollect their thoughts. Because as I say, sometimes when you are up against it, you just go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.  

The other element is, how do you foster an environment to raise concerns? What you described essentially there is, we don’t raise concerns with each other. We’re comfortable raising it with a contractor, but how do How do you rewire a crew, a team to start thinking about, we need to raise concerns with each other?

I think it starts in the canteen, to be honest, it’s using that time just to reassess, using it as that toolbox talk and just having that honest conversation with each other. I remember one time, and this was early in the day of joining the payment industry, somebody holding up their right-hand with their index finger missing and going, you’re not a papermaker until you lose one of these.

You’re missing a finger.

And like you do, okay. But now that would be, Come on, really? Is that how you think about it? As I say, we have grown up and you see it now, the youngsters are more aware because they’re brought up with health and safety now, especially in the Western world, from where I think when I was 18 in ’91. But there are still some elements, and I think it’s about isolating them elements that don’t want to join in because they’ve done it that way all the time. But as I say, for me, it’s using them, canteen moments, them celebratory moments, and even social events, if possible. Just to raise the awareness and get things raised. As I say, it’s not about telling people off. It’s just raising awareness with people because people like people like themselves, if that makes sense. It does. They rather listen to their mate saying, ‘Oh, I noticed this, ‘ than somebody in a shirt and tie potentially coming down and going, you did that wrong. We caught you on CCTV. ‘ But it’s about honesty more than anything you think else.

I remember when we connected first, one of the things you touched on is, and I thought that was quite interesting in terms of we talk about raising concerns, but we’re not encouraged to question in society from early school days. Tell me a little bit more about that piece, because I think it’s an interesting point. We’re saying questioning attitude, raise concerns. But that goes through upbringing, that goes to first day on the and so forth.

Yeah. I’m going to go through it probably in the next year or so. Granddaughter’s free, so she’s starting to ask questions. I already know mom and dad will metacognitively beat it out of her like, ‘Oh, just go and see your grandfather, go and see your name. ‘ It does start from an early age; we pooh-pooh questions asked. Then we go to school and the person at the front of the class, the teacher, knows best this is how you’re going to do it. How can I put it? You’re taught how to answer questions on a question paper. You’re not encouraged to ask lots of questions. Obviously, college, university is slightly differently because you do the debate and then you go to work and you’re given a set of risk assessments, method statements. This isn’t every organization, but I’ve seen it where they print it all off and just go, Sign that for us.

From a compliance standpoint, right?

Yeah, because they’re not… I’m not got time. We’ve got to get it out the door. So, you get onto the shop floor or on the building site or wherever, and you just get on with it. You might ask the odd question when you’re training, but it’s more this is how you do it, and you go, okay, but what happens if that happens? And you’ll find out when it goes wrong. So, as I say, from a very young age, it’s metaphysically beaten out of us not to ask questions, not to upset the apple cart status quo, because this is how we’ve always done things. And it’s breaking that taboo. We are getting better, I think. We are learning a little bit better because I must admit, the young are now, because they got all social media and Wikipedia and God knows what else, the internet, they’re a little bit more savvy, so they will go finding stuff.

Sure.

But it’s still out there not to ask any questions. Just follow whoever’s training you.

But I think that element also reemphasises the importance for leaders to really create that questioning attitude within their environment, because if you look at it from a mindset that we’ve been preconditioned to follow, preconditioned to listen, not challenge, then it’s a duty as you come into the organization to really change that, to create an environment of how we do it here, to encourage people to speak up, encourage people to question, to ask some additional questions around it, and understand the why and the how behind things.

Yeah, and for me, from a leader point of view, it’s actually getting out and talking to your people rather than being guided round, as I would call it, the disciple route, where you get the top person and then you get a couple more unslings, and they’re basically just guided round the organization. I’ve known a couple of directors to actually go, I’m going to put me uniform on, and I’m going out on me own. I think that then starts to break down the barriers where they feel that they can ask questions and vice versa. Because I think sometimes leaders don’t want to upset the apple car either because they just want to be guided around. Sure. Yeah, it’s a bit of a pincer movement, as in both sides talking to each other. I think there’s sometimes that barrier where either side feel that they can’t talk to each other. But yeah, as I say, I think these are coming together where leaders need to get out on their own and talk to the guys and girls in their organization. Because at the end of the day, the boys and girls in an organization, especially the operatives, they’re the experts.

They know what’s going on probably more than somebody in the boardroom and up a manager as such, don’t get me wrong, they’re also experts in their field. But the actual day-to-day, it leads- Those doing the work know best.

One of the things they often mention or talk about is the importance of listening to us, right? So going out to listen to people, to hear what’s working, hear what’s not working, not to tell people, not to do most of the talking, but to do mostly the listening while you’re there. Yeah.

And obviously that’s quite hard because if they hear the top person’s walking around, right, I’m going to dump all my troubles on their shoulders. But yeah, listening is really important. I think it’s a… How can I put it? Depending on where you come from, it’s a bit of a skill. It Because us, Bricks, we just love to chat and chat and chat and chat. We feel that space at times rather than just taking that natural pause.

To listen, to understand. In this particular case, to understand the warning signs where this is happening regularly and what techniques, but also maybe this frustration building because of the number of times you’re clearing the gems.

Yeah. I did some work for printers, and I remember the plant manager saying to me, he said, it doesn’t matter what we do, we’re still having issues I said, look, you’ve just done a 15-minute safety talk. Whatever. It’s brilliant. I said, but what are the guys and girls faced with. They leave the room, they go down the corridor, they open the door to the factory, and what are they hit with? They’re hit with machine either side doing… Then they’re hit with the dashboard at the bottom of their machine telling them how fast they’ve gone, what the record is, this, that, and the other. Then they’re hit with more production, more quality, more maintenance, and then a little bit of safety. You can spend that time really drumming down on the, yes, we get it, we get it. But as soon as they hit that shop floor, they just hit with production. So, everything that they’ve- That’s the learning, right?

That’s what I end up doing is what I keep hearing. And if 5% of my message or what I hear is safety, It doesn’t feel like something that’s important here. Yeah.

As soon as they explained it like, Yeah, I get it. It was just like, Right, do you need to stop everything, put the other two machines on a break while you deliver your safety? So at least then there’s time to absorb what you’ve said.

The other part that screams to me is, why was there no lockout-tagout when you’re so close to this type of equipment? I’m hoping they’ve since implemented a proper lockout-takeout. Right.

As soon as the accident happened, obviously, HSE come in and et cetera. What I understand is they put a Cascade interlocking key system in. If they needed to get in, they took the keys out. The hatches had Maglocks put on them because before it was just wedges.

Sure.

There was a load of mandatory notices is on there as well. It’s like, make sure you isolate this, that, and the other. Which let’s put it this way, when I went back to work, it took me a few months and literally it was like, this is what happened when the horse bolts. I remember tapping the machine and just saying, Right, we call this a score draw, will we? Because I’ve got my arm back and you’re still running thing. But it was a real serious learning. I think from an organizational point of view, you buy the kit from technically the experts, because these people are the experts who manufacture. You think all the safety devices, and everything is built in.

It’s built into the equipment, right?

Where obviously it wasn’t. I can’t honestly say whether the manufacturers, when they built it, actually looked at what we intended to do. But yeah, no, as I said, they put local isolation points in. I do believe in 2008, it got decommissioned and taken out because they didn’t need to do the process anymore because of a takeover.

Got you. Yeah.

As I say, it needed the near miss because I was the near miss because I’ve been asked before, oh, there must have been near missy before you. We needed my incident to actually say, oh, we’ve missed something.

But were there near misses before that just didn’t get reported?

What I understand is there was none, but I did interview the shift before who run it, and they had two guys at three o’clock in the morning, either side, with up to their arm pits digging out. Technically, yes, unsafe act, unsafe condition. Sure. But was it seen as a new risk or a risk.

No.

Because technically, it was part of the job.

I think this is the piece, as it became so much part of the job that it didn’t seem like undue risk. Again, if somebody else was walking, listening, maybe would realize, hopefully, that something’s missing from a lockout-tagout standpoint and the process needed to be tweaked.

Yeah. I’ve said to a lot of people that actually anybody from the organization that they walk past, because there must have been a few people who’ve walked past and gone, Hang on a minute.

This doesn’t seem right.

But you’re so conditioned just to walk on. I wouldn’t say walk on by, but just get on with your job. No question was ever asked.

But even having a second pair of eyes, somebody who’s not conditioned to seeing this as normal, might be all that it would take to catch something before.

Yeah, definitely. As I say, I’ve done some work with other organizations on the mystery shop, the fresh eyes approach of just, Hang on a minute. Why are we doing it?

Why are you doing this Yeah.

That’s had some good success. People stop and then start to talk and go, we’re having this issue, et cetera.

Before the incident happens, right?

Yeah, which comes back to that conversation and communication, listening, et cetera.

Excellent. Paul, you speak regularly to different audiences. Tell me a little bit about how somebody can get in touch with you, if they’d like you to come and share your story and help motivate around safety.

Yeah, on LinkedIn, just look for Paul Mahoney. You’ll see my grinning little face on there. Or they can contact me via my website, which is paulinspiringsafety.co.uk. Always happy to help inspire, get a conversation generating, which is the more important thing, because once that conversation is generated, the barriers break down between peers and leaders. It gives them a fresh idea of what’s going on potentially in their organization or on their site.

So, Paul, thank you so much for joining us today, and thank you for sharing your story. I’m really happy that you’re the first success story in the UK of somebody with a reattached arm. That’s at least a phenomenal, good news out of all of this.

Lovely. No, thank you, Eric. Thank you for the invite. And hopefully, we’ve inspired some change and some conversations between people. Yes.

Thank you, Paul.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Back in 2000, Paul Mahoney was one of 600 who suffered a major injury in the Paper Industry and one of 27,000 in the whole of the UK. He is the first (to our knowledge) who had his left arm severed above the elbow and, in a 16-hour operation, had it reattached successfully. Paul shares his story with companies and uses his experiences to guide them to a safer culture by building an important bridge between staff, safety professionals, and leaders. Paul has written two books, one about his accident and the other about LEGO Serious Play and how to use the methodology to build a better culture. He has had several safety articles published as well. 

For more information: https://www.paulinspiringsafety.co.uk/

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