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Leadership Lessons from a CEO that Gets Safety with Brian Fielkow

Leadership lessons from a CEO that gets safety

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Being a CEO calls for making tough decisions and trade-offs every day. Great CEOs also focus on building safety excellence and understand how to balance safety, quality and productivity without allowing trade-offs. In this episode, we have a conversation with Brian Fielkow a CEO who was recently awarded the Distinguished Service to Safety Award from the National Safety Council. A “CEOs Who Get It!”

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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 wellbeing 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, 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 Brian Fielkow. He’s President CEO of JETCO Deliveries and also EVP of the GTI Group. So JETCO is part of the GTI Group. So really excited to have you with me, Brian. What’s really cool about what you’ve done is you’ve had a lot of work leading companies but bringing safety first in all of those organizations. And in fact, just recently, just a couple of weeks ago, you were awarded a very prestigious price by the National Safety Council, which is awarded every year of CEOs who get it, basically a handful of CEOs every year that find ways to incorporate safety and everything they do because this is really exciting, Brian. So, tell me a little bit about that prize and then let’s get into how you got into safety and then this passion as an executive. 

Thank you so much for having me on this podcast, Eric. I really appreciate it. Well, the National Safety Council recognition is really exciting. Again, they pick, as you said, CEOs, I think, six or eight a year who really have a proven track record of being safe and productive. Safety and productivity. It’s not either, or choice. Both. 

Exactly. 

I think that the more I’ve gone on, the more I recognize and would encourage other people to recognize that safety is at the foundation of an excellent operation. Safety is at the foundation of a profitable business. Too many people have this idea, Eric, that safety and productivity are in conflict with one another.  

Great. 

When nothing further could be from the truth in my own organization, if I see things getting a little bumpy with safety, it’s my bellwether. I know that we may have deeper issues somewhere in the operation. They’re one and the same. 

I completely agree. Tell me about where you got that realization, because it’s rare to get a CEO who has that perspective. Obviously, there’s some great case studies from Alcoa as an example. It’s probably the most celebrated. But where did you get that realization that safety really is a barometer for running a good business? 

Well, my career is a little different. I began my career practicing corporate law in Milwaukee and went to go work as a chief operating officer for my favorite client. And they were in the recycling business. So that’s my first exposure to kind of high consequence business because you’re operating recycling plants, trucks and I always look, it was never that I didn’t value safety. Of course, it was always important. But having it be important and knowing how to make it happen are two different things. So, along the way, we sold the recycling company to Waste Management, which is based in Houston. And I got to Waste a couple of years after a new leadership team came in and took, in my opinion, Waste Management on the worst first journey. And I was so lucky to learn from these people. 

So, tell me a little bit about that journey because it’s not a journey that is talked about as much. So, tell me a little bit more about Waste Management and what was unique about the leaders that you observed there and the approaches that they took to running the business safely. 

The approach at Waste Management was behavior based. It was frontline engagement based. So, there was a lot of focus on safety branding. There’s a lot of focus on keeping rules and regulations. Understandable the idea being that if you have all the rules and regulations you want, if they’re not understandable by the intended audience, you don’t have rules and regulations. You have words on paper. 

Exactly. 

So, it was a very front-line engagement, behavior-based focus. When you start talking about safety culture, people tend to think, well, it’s a feel-good proposition. No, it’s a hardcore business proposition. So, there was also a focus on those behaviors which are more likely than not to get you a one-way ticket out of the company. So, I really was able to kind of learn at Waste how to engage, how to motivate, but also how to make it clear that we’re not messing around. And if you choose not to behave in alignment with our values, then you’re going to go find somewhere else to work. 

Yeah, I think that’s really important. So, tell me, let’s fast forward to your current role. I love the topic of frontline engagement. Tell me some of the strategies that you’re using that are very effective, because a lot of organizations talk about engagement, but it’s really not total engagement. Once here and there, I have a workshop involves a couple of employees. Tell me about your approach to engagement. 

Yeah, I mean, you’re right about sometimes people will say, all right, we had the meeting this year. We can check the box and move on. Engagement is not a project. People treat it like a project, or they treat it like an initiative. It’s part and parcel of your company culture. And then your safety culture is also part and parcel of your company culture, where you’ve got an engaged workforce, you’ve got a safe workforce, you got a workforce that is in alignment with your values. So, part of creating an engaged workforce is, first of all, you can’t always be so serious, right. So, we try and have some fun with safety recognition awards. The key thing to do is it’s no longer enough to get into your employees’ hearts and minds. You got to get into the families, too, because we’re just too distracted. We’re a text message Facebook post away from our families at all times. So, one of the things we’re always communicating with families, we want our families to partner with us and getting their loved ones’ home every night. One of my favorite things that we do is we have a kids art contest and everybody wins something, right? 

We pick art, and that goes into our calendar. So, we just released our 2022 calendar. And it’s not pictures of trucks and trailers, pictures from the heart. 

I love it. 

And that’s the key, I think, to engaging people. It makes them understand that safety is about you. It’s about me, it’s about your family. It’s not about big handbooks, and it’s about behavior. It’s about holding yourselves and holding one another accountable. And to create an engaged workforce, employees crave process, because without process, they never know what’s going to happen one day or the next. So, to create engagement, we’ve worked on clear, understandable process. Our employees wrote our best practice manual. 

I love it. 

Nothing off the shelf. 

This part about engaging the families is really interesting because I’ve seen a lot of organizations that are good at engaging, engaging employees and building processes, building practices, which is really good, making it, realizing that safety is really personal. But I think taking it to the family is even more powerful because then you get another ally every day that’s reminding them of why they need to make safe choices. That’s really cool. So, you mentioned a little bit about behaviors. So, most of the work you have, I assume there’s a lot of lone worker, independent workers. How do you make sure that you see the right behaviors on a daily basis? Is it more than an observation program? I’m assuming? 

Yeah. Well, an observation program is really just the beginning. We could all take a lesson from the US airline industry and the FAA, where there’s so much encouragement. It’s really not encouragement. It’s an expectation that people self-report and that there’s no retribution. In other words, for reporting near misses, for reporting unsafe conditions. Part of the observation process. There’s the old saying, manage by walking around. Well, okay, I understand manage by walking around. I could go take a walk around, and it is what it is. But what I’m more interested in is having peers peer to peer observations. Their eyes are better than mine. They’re going to see more than me making sure I’ve got a culture where if somebody in good faith makes a mistake or observes an unsafe condition, unsafe behavior, where it’s an honest type situation that we’re focused on continuous improvement. You see, when you’ve got that punitive culture, you’re never going to engage your employees. If everything is right up in the punishment, the game is over for 100% not going to work 100%. 

I came from the airline industry and understand what that means. But what’s unique is a lot of people admire that of the airline industry but are scared of taking the leap towards it. How did you take that leap towards it? In a jet code to make sure that people would recognize and feel safe, but also that you weren’t going to create more liability, more risk by opening up the absence of punishment. 

Eric, when I speak, I do some keynote speaking. I talk about the three T’s treatment, transparency and trust. And that last one, I could tell you all day long that we’re going to use, quote, unquote punishment only in the most egregious cases. But until you try it, until you test me, it’s just words. 

Yeah. 

If I allow us to get punitive with somebody that innocently and honestly reports a closed call, I know that’s the last near miss, close call that I’m going to get 100%. It’s up to me to manage my behavior, keep my commitment, define those violations that are life critical and that aren’t going to be met with too kindly. And then the others, we look for improving the system. And if we need to do extra training for our team, that’s an investment in our great people. I’m happy to do it. 

That’s cool. So, when you came enroll, how did you start creating the trust? Because it takes a lot of trust to create an environment like this. What signals did you intentionally send in your business to show that you really trusted team members? You wanted their input, and you were going to treat them fairly if something if people made an honest mistake. 

Yeah. Trust is so hard to build, so easy to lose. It’s an everyday challenge. But some of the things that we did this isn’t necessarily safety related. But bear with me. In our business, your pay can be variable. It can be based on either your hours worked, or miles run. There’s variability. And with that comes some potential for payroll error. Nothing like payroll errors destroyed us and we weren’t that good or that timely about fixing the errors. So, what we did is we put together a group email for payroll errors. And we promise if you use that email, the issue would be addressed and fixed, either same day or next day at the latest. That completely fixed the problem, that built trust. And that trust then extended to people’s engagement with the organization and to safety. So, it can’t just be narrowly focused on safety. You have to have an organization where there’s trust, where the door is open, where you’re heard one of the ways that we break trust all the time is we listen to somebody, we give them lip service, we say, yeah, good idea, and then we never follow up. I mean, how does the person giving that information feel? 

So, there’s a lot of different ways we can break trust and just make sure that you and your leadership team are aligned on that. 

I agree, because you talked a little bit about how you brought in just culture. Just culture is a component of it. But for people to understand that safety is a value, that leaders understand it, you have to do a lot of things at the front end, I’m assuming, to create that the environment. 

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, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us www.propolo.com. 

So, Brian, when you started your role, I’m assuming you didn’t inherit a culture that was already at that level of maturity. You’ve talked about just culture and how you created the environment for it. But it takes more than just culture to get a great safety culture. What are some of the things that you did with your leaders to get them on board with where you wanted to go with the culture you wanted to drive? What did you do with some of the team members to really get them aligned with your vision around safety? 

Eric, I’d say that it happened sort of organically. In other words, there was a commitment to safety, but it wasn’t necessarily one that we were delivered about, meaning that other things could compete for safety. That’s why for years I’ve been kind of telling our team, safety is not a priority because priorities shift. If you see a sign that says safety is a priority, tear it down. Safety is a value. So, you got to, first of all, truly be prepared to live that way. Well, production pressure is important. It’s critically important. Production pressure is good. It’s not bad. It means we’re busy. It can never, ever leapfrog safety. Nothing can compete for safety. So, you have to have that nonnegotiable value alignment to start and then to build a healthy company or safety culture. Really? This may sound like I’m oversimplifying it, but I think it is this simple. It’s the convergence of the right people in the right process, working in harmony. And if you don’t have the right people, you might have some choices to make. And I believe that most people are very coachable. But there’s that small handful that’s not. And the real problem comes when you’re trying to build that culture is you got that small handful of un-coachable people who, by the way, are technically good.

They know what they’re doing on their job. So, replacing them is not convenient. But you have to you have to if you really want to walk the walk once coaching has failed. Because if you don’t, Besides the obvious safety risk, you’re telling the rest of your team who are pulling hard in your direction. 

I agree. 

Their efforts don’t matter. By allowing un-coachable toxic people to stay in your company, you’re sending the vast majority of your people the exact wrong message, which is we have two sets of rules, one for all of you and one for our select few people here who can get away with what they want. So, it’s having the right people, the right process. And I think I mentioned before in our conversation that the problem with process in my mind for a lot of us, is not that we don’t have enough, we have too much, we’re drowning in it, and none of us understandable by the intended audience. So, the right people in understandable process that there is no excuse for not following. 

I completely agree. And I think that’s a theme. I personally struggle with that in the past where you allow somebody who’s maybe not right doesn’t have the right values alignment because they’re high performer and you end up paying for it in the long run. And you do have to make those tough decisions at times when coaching has failed, because the other part is, otherwise you’re sending a message to the frontline team members as well that safety is not necessarily always a value. It is when it’s convenient. 

That’s right. It cannot be situational. 

Yeah, I think you’ve done phenomenal work. I love that you really take this view that safety and production and quality can coexist at the same time and must coexist at the same time, and that safety is really a barometer for everything else. There’s a handful of leaders that I’ve seen over the years that look at it that way and invest and make decisions that way. So, I think that’s phenomenal. 

I think I appreciate it. I’ll be honest. I’ve learned it a lot of times the hard way. But people who say, well, safety is expensive, I’d ask them to consider the opposite. Safety is compared to the cost of crashes and incidents. And the other thing is to ask yourself, what is the real cost of that incident? People will look at their insurance loss run’s and they’ll say, well, it was an injury and I’ve got $10,000 reserved. That’s the cost. And I will call Bull on that right away. The cost of an incident is so much more than that. When you think about not just the injury itself and the insurance claim, but put a price on your eyesight, put a price on your arms, put a price on your life. You can’t put some things on a spreadsheet, but I will tell you some things that you can put on a spreadsheet. You let your experience modifier go. Good luck getting the best customers right. Your safety performance gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. I don’t know if that was true 20 years ago in a lot of industries, but I know it’s true today. 

So, it is a hardcore business proposition not to mention last year, one of the buzzwords in 2021 was the great resignation, whatever that means. But if you have a culture that doesn’t care about safety, you’re also not investing in your employees and engagement. Why would I want to work for you? If you really are going to put me in harm’s way, you’re not going to help mitigate inherent risk in the job. I’m going to go work for somebody that wants to get me home every night. I’m not going to work for you if you don’t care about me first. So, it’s key to engagement. It’s key to showing your employees you care, putting your employees first. And it’s also key, in this day and age that we live into customer confidence, pretty much any business. You’ve got customers have choices, and the best customers, not all customers, but the best customers are going to vet you for your safety commitment. 

Yeah, I think that’s incredibly true. And I think your comment is really key. I remember looking at this was a particular construction project on the Gulf Coast, and they had a significant investment in safety. They truly own safety across the site. But when you looked at on those really hot, muggy days in summer, their absenteeism was next to none versus almost all the other sites. The upside of Tianism was in the ten to 20% range. And then when it came to turnover, they were dealing with turnover of one to 2% versus others in the ten plus percent. Significant differences because people wanted to work there. People talk about engagement, but at the end of the day, what is engagement if you can’t even come home to your home, to your loved ones every day? 

Yeah. You can pretty much put the pool tables and foosball tables off to the side. 

Right. It doesn’t matter at that point. 

Real engagement happens when people know they are cared for. 

Exactly. So, I love all the themes you’ve shared. You’ve also written a book, and you’ve had to tell me a little bit about your book and the course that you’ve developed, sharing some of your thoughts in this space. 

Sure. Thank you. I wrote a book. We published it, I think, in 2016 called Leading People Safely. We began our conversation talking about waste Management, and I had the privilege to learn from Jim Schultz, who was the senior vice President of safety at Waste Management. We co-wrote Leading People Safely together. So, it’s really a pool of our experiences. In fact, we just did a reprint and paperback. So, it’s sort of, again, the summation of what we know. And it’s not meant to be a handbook like, you must do things this way. You read it, you take the ideas, you make them your own, fit them to your business. But the book is done really well. And then last year, I guess late 2020, I launched a course called Making Safety Happen. And it’s been a lot of fun to do and I’m looking to grow the course this year but it’s an online on demand course, so you watch it at your convenience. There are various tools that you download. Once again, not one size fits all. You download them, make them your own. And then I have two price levels. One price levels for people that want the course and the tools great. 

But then another I do six live monthly workshops and I keep the workshops small, so they’re meant to be conversations. It’s called reverse classroom so six workshops and my course online have six modules so workshop one is tied to module one and then we talk about what was in the course and how you apply it, and we get deeper into discussion. So, the workshops are fun because if I can get the right people in them and we’ve had over 300 people go through already. For me, the fun is listening, learning and having conversations. 

I love it. Thank you as a CEO for the gift of safety you’re giving to your team’s members every single day and your commitment and Congratulations on the NSC prize that you just recently got. I can definitely say from your story that you’re definitely a CEO that gets it and really appreciate you sharing your journey, you’re learning and how you went from being a lawyer to safety guru and executive. 

Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed this conversation. 

Thank you so much. 

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on C-suite radio. Leave a legacy distinguish yourself from the past back grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams, fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski. 

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Brian Fielkow is currently CEO of Houston based Jetco Delivery and EVP of its parent company, The GTI Group. Brian has over 25 years of experience leading safety-sensitive industries. He faces the same daily challenges as his audiences when it comes to leading teams, driving safe outcomes and managing risk. Brian grew his businesses dramatically by focusing on his company’s safety culture. Now he shares what has worked — and what hasn’t — with audiences internationally. Today, Brian teaches company leaders how to develop and anchor a behavior-based safety environment that promotes accountability using low cost, easy to implement tools. 

Brian is co-author of Leading People Safely: How to Win on the Business Battlefield.

Fielkow is the recipient of the National Safety Council’s most prestigious honor: the Distinguished Service to Safety Award. Fielkow was recognized by the Houston Business Journal as one of Houston’s most admired CEO’s. He was recognized by NSC as a 2022 “CEO Who Gets It.”

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Dylan Skelhorn recalls the unfortunate events that led to his fall from heights. He shares stories of leadership that did not demonstrate the commitment to safety and how it contributed to the choices that led to sustaining serious, life-altering injuries. Far from brushing off the importance of safety ownership, his story speaks to the importance of speaking up and increasing safety awareness and the role leaders have to drive a meaningful impact. Dylan shares great ideas around ladder safety as well as an innovative solution to reduce this critical risk in the workplace. Tune in to listen to Dylan’s important message!

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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 wellbeing 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 Dylan Skelhorn, who is a safety motivational speaker from the UK, coming to share with us a really powerful story and a powerful story as well in terms of the impact that he’s making in the space around ladder safety. So, Dylan, welcome to the show. 

Hi, Eric. Thank you very much for having me. 

Let’s start maybe if you can tell me a little bit about your story and what transpired. 

So back in June 2011, I had a serious accident which involved a fall from height, and it was 33 from a chimney stack. Now I was standing on the chimney stack sweeping the chimney. It wasn’t really my job. I’d been sent out this day to cover somebody else’s work and I’m up on the chimney stack with no fall protection equipment. And the company I work for, the employer told us basically when I started with the job that we weren’t allowed any safety harnesses or fall protection equipment or anybody who knows ladders. And he had a special dispensation from the UK Health and Safety Executive work at height without safety equipment. Now, I was told that on the first day of going into this job, my job, I was a solid fuel heating engineer. So, I basically installed chimneys, flu stalls. The company was also a roofing company as well. Wasn’t really my thing, but I did do roofing as well for them and labor for the roofers as well. So, most of the work was at a height. And from going to this company on day one, I was showing everything the wrong way. Now, I have been a firefighter for six years before working for this company. 

So, I was used to having Sunday food and my ladder. I was used to working safely, all that sort of stuff coming into this company, it was a totally different safety culture, or they didn’t really have a safety culture. So, the first day on the job, I’m sitting out with the Foreman and I’m told to go up on the roof. I’m told to go that way. And I say, well, can you sue the ladder for me? He basically said, no, we don’t put ladders here. I asked why I was doing it safely in the Fire Brigade and he basically said that the boss is not going to pay for somebody to stand at the bottom of your ladder. And put it well, in his opinion, that person could be somewhere else making more money on another job. So, this worried me. Claiming this ladder. I got the gut feeling in my stomach. I got a little voice in my head, don’t do it. But jobs are quite scarce at the time, especially doing what I was doing. So, I sort of got on with it. And I also asked for a safety harness when working. And this is when I was told by my employer getting one vehicle, a special dispensation. 

Now, it turns out, as I thought, this was complete lies. It didn’t exist. But after the accident, he typed up a fake dispensation, put the Health and Safety Executive name on it, even put an inspector’s name on it saying that we had permission. I then took it to the HSE, and they said, we didn’t issue that. We would never issue one of these to anybody. So, my gut feeling is right, because I still had the accident. So as time has gone on, I was going out to jobs on my own and I was getting scared. Every time I was going up the ladders, we were moving underneath, and I could see them moving. They weren’t safe. It was uneven ground. So, what I started doing was I would get my van and I would park my van in front of the ladder to stop it kicking out at the bottom. Now, we all know that’s not the best, but in my opinion, I thought to myself, it’s better than nothing, you know, the ladder’s not going to move if a van in front of it. Sometimes I couldn’t put the vanilla for obvious reasons, you know, access and stuff like that. 

And when that happened, I would just take the risk. And again, I’m going out nearly every day on my own up these ladders. And I’m getting a gut feeling and I don’t want to do it. And I thought to myself, I need to speak up again. So, I spoke up and I was basically threatened. Losing my job. If you don’t like it, there’s the door. Now, in hindsight, if I could go back to that day knowing what I know now, know what happened to me. I would have walked out the door. I wouldn’t have cared about the money. I’ll get a job somewhere else. The bills might be paid late, but I’ll get a job eventually, right? That wasn’t the way I was thinking. I was thinking, well, you’ve got to pay the bills. And I would try and convince myself when I was claiming these ladders, when I’m getting the gut feeling and when I’m worried, I would say to myself, it always happens to somebody else. It won’t happen to me. I’m only up there for a few minutes. It will be fine. And this is me trying to convince myself that what I was doing was fine, it was safe. 

And like I said, I made the wrong decisions. So, on a daily accident, well, I had actually planned to leave the job. I made a plan. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m going to end up having an accident. So, I plan to leave a job. Now, I know I can just walk out of the job, but we used to get three weeks off for the summer holidays. 

Sure. 

So, we’ll get three weeks’ holiday. So, I will wait till then. It’s only six weeks away. I’ll keep my three weeks’ holiday pay. I’ll go and get a job with another company, a bigger company or a bigger site. Because my thinking is a bigger company, bigger site. If I ask for a safety harness or somebody to put my ladder a piece of PPE for protection equipment, I’m probably going to get it. Not always, maybe. But in general, the bigger companies, and tends to be the way it is. You tend to find a lot of the time the people are taking the most risk of the smaller companies because they think they’ll get away with it. So, this was my escape plan. I’ve got six weeks to work. I’ll just keep my head down. I won’t take any of these risks and I’ll get through it. And in six weeks’ time, I’ll walk out the door and I’ll never have to work like this again. I didn’t like it. Unfortunately, that day never came. As we know, I had the accident on the day of the accident. Like I said, June 20, 2011. I come into work on Monday morning and my boss says to me, John is not done for work. 

He’s on sick. I want you to go out and do the chimney sweeping with another colleague. Now, John was a young lad, he was about 23 and he used to go drinking every weekend and he continued Sunday night. He knew he had work on Monday morning, but he goes Sunday night, gets drunk and he’s fallen in sick. Usually, somebody else would go and do his job for them. I’d be on the more technical side of the chimneys. I was the only heating engineer in the company, so jobs like that never really got given to me. But because we were short staffed this day, I got sent to do this job and my employer insisted on two people sweeping chimneys. One person goes inside the house, deal with the fireplace, and the other person goes up on the roof and sweeps the chimneys from the top down the way. Now, I don’t know how it is in the USA, I presume it’s the same as the UK and the UK. Everybody sweeps a chimney from inside the house and they sweep up the way. So, there’s no work in heat involved. And as you know, if you can eliminate the best for sure, the hierarchy of controls. 

So, I don’t know to this day why my boss insisted on two people sleeping in the chimney and one of those people going up and risking their life, especially when he wasn’t prepared to provide them with a safety harness. But I insisted on it being done. So, unfortunately, this day I was the one. We’ve done about five chimney sweeps throughout the day. I got to lunchtime and this next house after lunch. It was about 15 miles from my house. Local place actually is a place called California, believe it or not, in Scotland, that’s what it’s called. So yeah, I’m up on the chimney stack. I’m sweeping the chimney ever since I signed, and I’ve just finished the job. But because I’m standing on the chimney stack and like I say, I’m not wearing a safety harness. What had happened is the corpse stone on top of the chimney stack had split into four pieces. It was really weak. It turns out the rebar inside it was all rotten. It was about 50, 60 years old and it collapsed. And because I’m not wearing a safety harness, I found the pitch of the roof. I’m approaching the main ladder and as I’m approaching it, I’m thinking I’ll grab on the main ladder when I get to it and that will stop me falling. 

And I’d already tried to grab on the roof ladder, but I couldn’t. I was going too fast and I damaged my fingers on my hand and I hadn’t got anybody sitting this ladder, like I say. And I also hadn’t tied it to the roof ladder. I was told on a ladder, of course, it was sent on with this company for insurance purposes only, not to tie the two ladders together. So, I didn’t do it. I’d always done it in the Fire Brigade for safety. I’ve since found out again that you are allowed to tie your two ladders together. It’s done for safety, you know, again, it was something I was told that wasn’t true. I just listened to it because it was a ladder professional on a ladder course instructor telling me not to do this. And the reason he gave was if you tie the two separately insured pieces of equipment together, you turn them into one piece of equipment. It’s not insured as one piece. So don’t tie them together. Like I say, since asked the health and safety executive, there’s nothing wrong with tying them together. It’s done for safety. If I had tied them together when I was going down that route when I had that ladder, I wouldn’t have felt any further would have stopped. 

The red shade on the roof ladder would have stopped me. But because it wasn’t tied, there was nobody C-suite and I hit it. It went straight over, and I went down from about 33ft on the chimney stack. It was right straight down off the edge of the gutter level and it was about a further 20ft from the gutter to the ground. But I actually landed on a garden wall on my side Castle style wall, you know, with the pillows. One of the pillars caught me under my arm. My arm was over the wall, and it caught me inside where my ribs are. So, I’m lying on the ground in agony. I can only describe it as the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. And I’m lying on the ground. My colleague heard the noise. He came running out of the house. And he says, what will I do? And I said an ambulance. And it was about five minutes until the ambulance came, Thankfully, I’m really lucky now. I actually remember all of a sudden, just the pain leaving me. And I was starting to smile, and I couldn’t understand it. And I asked the doctor when I got to the hospital, why was I smiling that day? 

I was in terrible pain, but then the pain and I was smiling. I was lying, thinking I was dying, but I was smiling. And he said, yeah, you were actually dying. He said, what was happening? It was shutting down. You were going into shock. He says, when you’re about to die, your brain knows before you really know that your body is shutting down. And what it does is releases endorphins. And I find that fascinating. Releases these endorphins, and they’re there to keep you calm because if you go into further shock, your body is just going to shut down and you die. But this apparently buys you a bit of time, so it stops you from thinking bad thoughts, scary thoughts. I’m going to die worrying. It just puts you in that calm place, and it buys you by time, unfortunately for me, because the paramedics got there quickly and the ambulance, he managed to save my life. He worked on me in the garden for about 45 minutes before the stretch of melt ambulance. And then they take me to the hospital. They get the X-ray and scanned. They bring me into the emergency room. 

Now, they puncture my bladder with a catheter by putting it in too hard and too fast. Now, I never damaged my bladder in the accident, but that’s one of the knock-on effects of the accident. When you have an accident, you get all these knock-on effects. And after the X rayed me, they came in with the exit and said that I’d broken two rugs on the right side where I had the wall. They had been punctured my right lung. And that’s why I was struggling to breathe anywhere else on that wall. The source and the impact of having that wall had snapped me into both sides of the pelvis because when I hit the wall, I sort of landed sideways. So, I snapped sideways. The two bones that I broke, one is actually a joint. So, the pubic Remus bone is down near the pubic region. There’s a blood clot in there from the trauma as well as from the blood of damage. There are clothes in there as well. Now if they want to try and remove those, I could end up having to wear a bag on my leg for the rest of my life to go to the toilet. 

It gives me the option; do you want to take this risk? You must sign a form saying that if we damage you down there, there’s no comebacks. You can’t sue us all this kind of stuff and there is a high risk that we may damage you down there. Now, I’ve got enough problems physically as it is, without having to go through that. So, I left it in place. But because I did, the pain is still there and it’s painful constantly down there. The other part on the other side, on the left side that I brought, was a sacral iliac joint, which is between, you know, the big iliac wing on your pelvis. Between that and the secret, which is just a little triangular bone at the bottom of the base of the spine, sort of tailbone right in there between there. I also broke snapped it. So, it’s about half an inch from the spine. So that’s how close I am to being in a wheelchair. If I had that wall an inch or two, either side the wrong way, I would be sitting in a wheelchair right now. Or even worse, if my arm had been inside the wall, I would have smashed my head off the wall, and I’d be lying in a coffin somewhere in a casket. 

It’s not worth thinking about. I just think I’m really lucky. Although I’ve got these injuries and these aftereffects, it could have been so much worse. When you hear people falling under 10ft and the dead, they are the most common deaths because you don’t have time to put your hands down, protect yourself. When I fell, I had time to think about it. I remember going down the road thinking, I’ll grab onto that ladder, it didn’t work. I’ll grab onto this ladder, it didn’t work. Trying to think about it right. In a way, it was probably better for me that day that I fell from a higher rate than a smaller rate. Who knows? Maybe not, but there’s no formula to false, right? That’s the thing. You can’t determine what the injuries are going to be, what the outcome is going to be. I just feel very lucky. 

It’s unbelievable, though, that your employer at the time, because most of the cases or I’ve heard the opposite, the employer is at least putting some preventative measures here. It seems like the employer was willfully lying to try to improve profit. So, from a really horrific safety culture, from what I’m hearing. 

It’s really disgusting what he did. I’m actually the third person to have a serious accident in his company. I’m the third person to be made disabled for life with serious injuries. Now, the first two accidents were before I joined the company and they were never reported to the Health and Safety Executive, and that’s why he got away with those. That’s why the HSE had been in and made him purchase harnesses or closed them down, even if telling me he’s not running a safe company, but because they were never reported, he basically got away with us. So, I’m the sort of person now, if that was me owning a company after the first time it happened, I would have been scared and thought, well, no kidding. Yeah. I’ll never let this happen to anybody again. I’ll buy the right equipment. This guy did not care. And there are people out there like that to this day, running companies that will risk your life for the price of a safety harness, $5100, whatever they are over here. I’ve purchased one for my presentations and it’s like £50.65, $70, nothing. But this guy just doesn’t want to put the money out because to him, we meant nothing. 

And like I say, not every employer you will work for or may work for cares about you. And that’s the thing. You’ve got to make sure that your own personal safety officer first. And I always tell people that I made that mistake, not thinking like that, putting money first. At the end of the day, the money meant nothing. I didn’t earn a lot of money, so why did I risk my life for it? But we do stupid things. 

Yeah. So, touch briefly, maybe on the aftereffect of an accident. You’ve talked about the physical side, but there’s a lot more than you have to live with for several years, for decades. 

Yeah. And I would say the aftereffects of an accident are a lot worse than the accident itself. The accident itself is horrible and it’s traumatic, but it’s over after it’s done. It’s done. It’s the aftereffect. And what you got to live with after the accident. And for me, it will be for life. And I’m sure for most people that have serious accidents and injuries, it will be for life. Every single day of their life will be affected in some way or not just their life. The family, the friends, their colleagues, all these people. Now, I go to the hospital after five days. They said there was nothing else they could do for me because I didn’t want those operations and risk down below. They basically said they were clean breaks; they couldn’t do anything with them. So as long as I could walk on crutches, I could get out of the hospital. So, I chose to go home. But like I said, that’s just the start of it. I’m 40%, disabled, in classes now with degenerative arthritis, my pelvis, my lower back and constant pain every second of the day, especially with the bladder stuff as well. 

So, it follows you every day of your life. Now, I was on 744 pills a month. That was a medication I was taking at the time, 24 pills a day. And some of those pills are not good for you. They make you feel terrible sometimes. You can’t even you’re walking about the house like a zombie, you know, they’re not all good for you. So, I was on noise. I’m off a lot of them, though. They are sort of the worst ones. But I’m still taking a lot of pills for paints and stuff like that. But that’s sort of the physical side of an accident. The obvious part, I would say, since you’d associate with having an accident, the pain, the pills, the physical injuries. But there’s another site unless people have had an accent themselves and they know somebody close to them, accent, there’s another site that they might not know about. And I always try to highlight this and the presentations that I do. I was stopped and followed by an insurance company because I had put a claim in for compensation. So, get something to help me later in life. I was stalked and followed. 

They followed me everywhere. And they do this because they want to catch you doing something you shouldn’t be doing. Show the judge, they throw your case out and you get nothing. So, they spend a fortune doing this. And this is sort of every day you wake up in the morning, you look out the window and there’s a car sitting across the road waiting on you. And if you leave the house, I don’t know if this is the same in the US and other places, but in the UK, this is what happens, and this is what happened to me. And they follow you every day, anywhere you went, surgeon’s appointment, doctor, lawyer, physiotherapy, they would follow you everywhere and they do this, like I said, to try and catch you. And I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But you started becoming paranoid. You think maybe I am doing something wrong, so you tend not to go out now. I had to go out for these main appointments, a lawyer, a doctor, stuff like that because if you don’t, it will be used against you in court. You didn’t try to mitigate your losses and get better, but any other day I just stopped going out. 

I wouldn’t leave the house now. Fortunately for me, I live with my parents at the time and if I didn’t, I would have lost everything. I would have lost my house. If I have had kids and a wife, I would have affected their life. I would have ruined their life forcefully for me. I had my parents put a roof over my head to feed me, put some money in my pocket. Because again, I don’t know how it is in the US, but in the UK, what happened to myself was with the benefits. I think you guys call it welfare. They stopped my benefits money not long after I got a hospital. So, I had no money, nothing to live on. So, if I hadn’t been for my mom and dad, I might have been living on the streets. It does happen to people. So again, I try and highlight that side of the accent and I say to people, you could be at work today and life is good. You’ve got family, you’ve got a nice car, you’ve got a nice house and you have an accident today and tomorrow. The bills aren’t getting paid. 

You only get paid for coming to work for one day. So tomorrow the bills aren’t getting paid. Three months’ time. When you’ve missed three payments on the house, the car, they get taken away. Your family can walk out on you. It happens to people because they can’t handle it. Their life changed. So, all these people that could be affected by your accident, something you do unsafe at work one day, can lead to that. And that’s the knock-on effect. And an accident has a huge knock-on effect on everybody. And like I said, not just the person who has the accident, your friends, your family, your colleagues, the person who was with me on the day of the accident, who was doing the job with me, he left the next day to shock. He was so shocked after what he saw. He saw me lying on the ground dying. 

He basically said to yourself, I don’t want that to happen to me. And he had a family, he had two kids and wife and good on him. I’m glad. And maybe that’s a positive to come from my accent, that he was no longer in danger anymore. He started his own business, and he does everything safe now, so maybe that’s good. My colleagues. The company eventually closed after my accident, about a year or two later, I think it was he who was basically told to purchase the right equipment, the safety harnesses. He did it to comply, but he was still sending people out and telling them to not use it because it takes too long, really. 

We think that at that stage he would have changed his mind. 

Yeah, he didn’t. He just did not care. I’m going to say he was signed, but the company was signed £20,000 a quote, which is maybe, what, $30,000? And he made lots of money, this guy, but he just didn’t care. It was all about making money for his employees. So, I think because he was getting followed by the health and safety executive quite a bit and he was sort of retiring age, he basically closed the company. So, he was saying he had money in the bank, he was retiring age, but he put my colleagues at a job. So, they were affected by my accident. Now, their families were probably affected by that. Now, I don’t even know their families, I don’t know their kids, their partners, but they were affected by that because those people lost their jobs. Whether it was financially, whether it was emotionally, I’m sure it affected those families. Like I say, those are people I don’t even know. So, I’ve affected all these people by doing someone safe at work. So, when I said earlier about think about what it is, you’re doing your own personal safety offer. That’s the way it is. 

You’ve got to be safe first. Look out for number one and then look out for other people. If you see somebody doing something unsafe, speak up. They might not even know they’re doing it. You could stop them from the accident. But the way I should have been working that day was if I can’t do it safely, I’m not doing the job. And money should never come into it. It should never have been on my mind. But that’s life. It’s the way we think at the time, a wonderful thing. But like I said, if I could go back to that day, I’d have walked off the job. I would have walked off the job the first day when I was told to claim that ladder that was unsafe, I really would. 

And how do you help leaders and team members make that same realization? Because you talk about trusting your gut. You also talk about safety as about taking pride in yourself. How do you help leaders and team members really realize that they do need to stop in those cases and really reprioritize? 

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, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us at www.propulo.com. 

Well first, before I go into a company and speak for them, I ask them questions. So, do your employees have the authority to stop the job of the task without getting reprimanded, without being threatened myself? If they say no, then I don’t go into that company because my message is a waste of time. That’s part of the message. So, it’s a partnership. So, I basically see in my presentations that the company is allowing you to stop the task. Stop the job. If you do, you will not be shouted up. You will not be threatening to lose your job like me. You may even get a Pat on the back for it. They do not want you to have an accident, but you must meet them halfway. You must speak up now. If a company does that, people are more inclined to speak up now. I spoke up, but when I did, I got shot down, and that meant nothing then because then I didn’t want to speak up because I knew I would get shot down again. I’d lose my job. I’d get lost in my job. So, it’s a two-way thing. It’s a partnership. So, I always like to say and make sure that the company gives the authority. 

And I usually pick out a director, a manager, someday of authority in the audience. And we do arrange us before I ask them if it’s okay to say this again. If they say no, I wouldn’t pull them out. I bring it up and I say, am I right? I’ll see the director. Am I right in saying that all these guys here, these people here have got the authority to stop the job? And they’ll say yes. And I say, see, you’ve heard that. You don’t need to hear it from me. I may never be back here. You’ve heard it from the person at the top. They’re saying you can stop the job. If they’re saying you can stop the job, why wouldn’t you stop the job? And given people that empowerment and that authority to stop a job, knowing in the back of their mind that they won’t be in trouble for it, they are more likely to stop the job. I totally believe that because that’s what happened to me when I tried to stop a job shot down. If you’re not shot down, you’re more likely to speak up. And that’s how you stop accidents. 

Everybody’s got to be on the same team. And there are like I said, there are companies out there that will never allow people to speak up. They don’t have a safety culture, but they are likely never the people that would throw me and ask me to. 

They won’t call you. 

I’ve never heard a company yet say to me, no, no, you can’t say that. I’ve never walked away from a company. So that’s great. I get phone calls from people who want safety in a company. They don’t want accidents happening, which is great. They are the people I want to work with, of course. 

So, what are some of the other messages that you share? You talk about your gut feeling that day and about trusting it. And you talk about really, that safety really reframing what safety is about. 

Yeah. So, going back on what I was talking about, how it can affect not only you, your friends, your family or colleagues, all these people big knock-on effect. Safety for me is about pride and self-respect. Having that pride to stand up and say, that’s not going to happen to me. I’m never going to have an accident. I’m going to go home every single day in one piece, intact, uninjured because I care about my family. I care about the people around me. I care about my children and obviously themselves pride in that self-respect. And I always say that to the people. When I do a presentation, as you walk out of this room with that attitude, thinking I am never going to end up like him, then my accent hasn’t been for one day’s wages being to stop you going through the same thing I go through every single day of my life. And if I stop one person having an accident, then it’s worth it. I’m negative into a positive. Obviously, we don’t want anybody to have an accident. They do happen, as we know. But if it stops, just one person doing it, then I’ve been doing this for seven years now and I intend to do it for as long as I can. 

And if it just stops one person going through what I went through or being killed even or just even a cut finger, then it’s worth doing it because it stopped an injury. 

Exactly.

Obviously, like I said, we hope it’s more than one, but we can only try our best. But that’s the aim. And that’s why I didn’t want my accent to be for one day’s week, because that’s all we come to work for. One day’s wage. If you have an accident today, you may get that money in your bank, but you’re not getting it tomorrow when you’re lying in a hospital bed or you’re lying in a box. So, we only come to work for one day’s wage. And when you look at it like that, one day’s wage is nothing. We put everything on the line every single day to risk everything for one day’s wage. Why risk everything for that? It’s not enough. It never will be enough. A lifetime wage isn’t enough to lose your life or be seriously injured. So why risk it for one day’s wage? And I tell people that as well. Don’t put everything on the line, you know, it’s just a job at the end of the day. Yes, it’s important. It’s how we make a living. But it’s not as important as the things or the people outside of work. That’s why we really go to work, to provide for them, to provide for ourselves, to enjoy life.  

There are many parts of life now that I can’t enjoy and that’s just the way it is. I don’t want other people going through that. So yes, safety is about pride and self-respect. And another message I like to use is the most important piece of PPE is the human brain. The safety harness or the steel toe cap boots. The hive is vest, that sort of stuff. Yeah, they’re important, of course, here. Unless you actually use your brain first to know your stuff, that stuff on or listen to that little voice in your head telling you something like the gut feeling, unless you actually listen to that first and act on that first, you can still have the accent. Doesn’t matter what PPE are, we so the most important piece of PPE as a human brain and I would say also the gut feeling, they call that a second brain. If something isn’t right for you, what I say is stop. Take 5 seconds. Look at it again. If it’s still not right, don’t do it now. It could be 5 seconds, it could be five minutes, it could be 5 hours. We say 5 seconds just to stop and look at it again. 

But however long it takes, if you’re getting a gut feeling or the little voice in your head or just something niggling at you, you don’t feel like doing it. We’ve all heard that. The butterflies in our stomach, we get that for a reason. And if you ever get that when you’re about to do a task, stop, like I said, take the 5 seconds, 10 seconds a minute, whatever it takes. Look at it again. If it’s still not right, you don’t do it. If you can make it right, you can make it safe. Great. Get on with it. The task. But if you can’t look at it and you know what, get other people around as well. Are you getting the same gut feeling I’m getting? Two heads are better than one, as they say. 

Exactly. 

That’s the kind of thing just to look at again. But would you do all of that stuff if you thought in the back of your mind that if somebody sees you stopping a job, you’re going to get shouted up, threatened, lose your job? You probably wouldn’t. And that’s why it’s so important to have the company on-site as well. The people are told the people you’re working for, whoever’s in charge got the same attitude towards safety as the person doing the task as a team’s effort. Safety, as far as I’m concerned. Like I say, if you’ve got a boss or employer like me, it’s not going to work. My advice then would be to get out of there quick. Get a job where? Somewhere where you’re appreciated, where you’ve been given the authority to stop the job. And I talk about self-respect and pride. Now, if an employer hasn’t got enough respect for me to allow me to stop a job and not be injured, why should I risk my life to line their pockets? It’s a two-way thing. It’s mutual respect. So that’s the way I see it as well. 

Absolutely. At the end of the day, that is a responsibility from an employer’s standpoint to try to do their best to create a safe environment. If they’re not doing that, they don’t deserve to be in business. We talk about employee engagement, but employee engagement is important. But even more primary, more critical than not is ensuring that your team members come home day in and day out to their loved ones. 

Yes, if you’re sending people out to do a task or a job, it’s down to you to make sure that safe. You’ve done your risk assessment, you’ve written your message statement, you’ve looked at the risks, you’ve tried to make it as safe as possible, and then at the end of it yet, that’s okay to go and do that. That’s your responsibility. And also, like I said earlier, it’s the person doing the task to the end. If they see something that’s not right. Not safe to speak up and do something about it. The employer may not always be on the job, may always not be on the site. It’s down to you to be your own personal safety officer. 

Yeah, absolutely. So, I’d love to hear a little bit about the passion project you’ve been running. So, you’ve tried to make a difference in speaking to people around safety, but you’ve also tried to take some actions in terms of improving ladder safety, which is incredibly dangerous. A lot of people underestimate the risks associated with a ladder. Tell me a little bit about what you’ve done on the ladder safety side. 

So back before I had the accident when I just started with this company, and as I said, at the start, I was sent out to work on ladders unsafely on my own, nobody footing them. I thought to myself, one way I can try and be safe is to go online and look for a ladder stabilizer that I can put in the box on my ladder and stop my ladder moving. I went online and looked and as far as I’m concerned, everything I saw that was available, there was nothing that would actually stop my ladder moving. There was nothing that would do that. And actually, working on even ground put it at the right angle, all that kind of stuff. So, I came up with an idea for a product, and it’s called Ladder Locker. Now, I came up with the idea and I thought to myself, like having somebody fruit in the ladder, it needs to be something that uses weight, right? Most of it. But all of the ladder stabilizers I saw online when I looked with the blown away in a strong wind, so they don’t work. The problem with C-suite and ladders is, as well, as you probably know, it’s the last sort of thing you do. 

If you don’t have any other way of supporting a ladder, securing a ladder, you get somebody to put it. But it’s been proven that if somebody’s at the top of a fairly the bottom, it’s never going to hold them. 

No. 

Going to happen. It’s physically impossible. So, it’s a bit of a placebo. It’s more to make the person up the ladder feel a bit safer. But are they actually safer? Probably not. And the other problem you’ve got with that is people tend to get bored when they’re in the ladder. They walk away, they move, they start getting their phone out of their pocket and actually looking. And then the other thing is, if somebody does fall, well, the ladder is being sued. If they fall on the person sitting on the ladder, you’ve got two severe injuries or possibly worse. So, I came up with this idea. Then, unfortunately, I had the accident, and I started my motivational safety speaking business back in 2014. And I was always putting this idea to the back of my mind because I thought it was going to cost a lot of money and it’s a lot of work and I’ll get around to it. And in 2016, I was waiting on my car getting serviced in the garage. And you know how you sit and Daydream just waiting on things. I thought to myself, you know, what if I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it. 

And I don’t want to get to 70 years of age and think, what is? Imagine if I had done that, imagine how many lives it might have saved, where would it have went? So, I contacted a patent lawyer and they loved it. They said it was patentable. They thought it was a great idea. So, the patent process is very long, and I’ve now got Water weight patents granted. So, I’ve got all that. And last year, on the 20 June, which was the ten-year anniversary of my accent, I launched Ladder Locker. You can watch it on YouTube, just type in Ladder Locker and you’ll see that the product. Like I said, what it does is it uses weights, and the ladder is put on it. So, you put the ladder and it’s got an angle plate in it. So, when you put it in, you rest the ladder on this plate and you get it sitting where you want it, at the top, the land and resting. If you’ve got it resting properly on that backplate, because it’s angled at the correct angle and it’s sitting where it needs to be at the top, the ladder physically cannot be at the wrong angle. 

It’s got to be at a perfect angle, the 75.5 degrees angle that it should be at. So, it puts at the right angle. It was uneven ground. There’s a spirit level built-in. And again, as long as you level up with the spirit levels, it cannot be at the wrong angle. You then clamp the size of the ladder and clamp the front of the ladder in and then the door shuts at the front to keep it in as well. And you put weights in the back of it. And that is like having somebody put in your ladder. But the beauty of this is those weights won’t walk away, they won’t get bored, they won’t go on the phone, they are there to stay. And I just believe that this is needed. I’ve been there. I was looking for something rather moving, and that’s why I invented it. That’s why I brought it out. And I’m trying to get onto the market now, starting a new business. It’s not easy. So, I’m at the moment, I’m trying to get the proper manufacturer and software, the distribution, all these kinds of things. So, it’s taking a bit of time. 

But like I said, the reason I launched it last year, the video was I wanted to make a sort of symbolic and I put it on LinkedIn and all these other places. And I basically said you know, it’s ten years today since my accident, I want to mark the occasion with something positive. I don’t want to push poor me; I’ve had an accident. I want it to be, this is what’s come from the accident. This is a negative being turned into a positive coming from the negative. In the UK, there’s like 2 million and use estimated every day, the US will be even more. There are 2000 ladder-related injuries every day in the US, there are 300 deaths a year, 130,000 emergency room visits. I’ve actually seen that figure as 168,000, and I’ve even seen it as high as 500,000. You got all these different stats coming out, which one is true? But if you just take the smallest one, there 130,000 people go to emergency room every year. A lot of people. It costs the economy. In the US, $24 billion work loss, medical costs, legal costs, liability, the pain and suffering, not to mention the physical and mental problems that people get from these accents. 

In the UK, 40% of fall from height in the home and in the workplace, a lot of accidents, right? 480 people are admitted to hospital every year in the UK, obviously, we’ve got a less of a population than you guys. 14 deaths per year. Like I said, there are 2 million ladders used every day. I don’t know what our figure is in the US, but it’s got to be a hell of a lot more. So, it’s probably the most used tool out there. And for me, the fact that there wasn’t anything out there actually worked. That’s what worried me. And most ladders accidents are because the ladder moved. It’s not that the ladder got hit by something or something because the ladder moved, the friction wasn’t there. And 40% of those over 40% is because the bottom of the ladder moved. Six and a half percent sideways slip 4%, top 3%, the ladder went backwards. But I see this all the time still to this day. And what really gets to me is the fact that we’ve got phones in our pockets that can link to satellites. We’ve got all this technology that when it comes down to things like ladders and safety harnesses, people aren’t prepared to buy the right equipment, or the right equipment isn’t available. 

And to me, like I say, ever since I saw online that day that I look for a lot of people, I wouldn’t have bought any of them. And I’m not here to test anybody else’s product. But for me, like I said, nothing worked. So, this is why I came up with this idea. And here we are, 1112 years later, it’s taken to get there because of the accident. If it hadn’t been for the accident, I would have probably got there a lot quicker. But like I say, affect your life so much. So, I mean, that’s what I want to concentrate on now, as well as the motivational. Safety speaking. I want to get this product out there. I want to make it available to as many people as possible because the more people we can start on these actions, the better. 

Absolutely. So, Dylan, thank you very much for coming to share your story and for investing in creating a stabilizer for ladders. I think that’s something that hopefully can have a significant impact as well because a number of people that even at home are using ladders and aren’t necessarily thinking about safety because they may be thinking about it in the work environment. Definitely a significant impact there. So, if somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to connect with you? 

Dylan, I have a website. My company is called safety up, safety up. So, www. Dot Safety Up. Co. UK I think if you just put safety up dot. Co. UK and you’ll be able to get it on there, there’s a contact form and you can contact me that way via email. The phone numbers are on there. I’m also on LinkedIn so Dylan, scale on and brackets its safety up and ladder locker. If you want to find me there, you can contact me that way. There’s a safety up and a ladder locker Twitter page. There’s safety up ladder locker Instagram all these sorts of things. But the best way to get me is via the website like I say safety at the UK and like I said, if anybody wants to watch the video of ladder locker, it’s on YouTube. It’s just a ladder locker if you take that and you’ll see it as a red-colored product, so you’ll know it’s the correct one. Excellent. 

Well, thank you for joining me. 

Dylan, thank you very much, Eric, thank you for having me. I really enjoy it.  

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on the C-suite radio. Leave a Legacy distinguish Yourself from the back grow your success capture the hearts and minds of your teams, fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.  

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Dylan Skelhorn has been working as a Motivational Safety Speaker since 2014, sharing his story to try and prevent others from having life-changing injuries which he is very determined and passionate about. His story is a harsh reminder to those in all industries and at every level that unfortunately these incidents are still happening today.

He worked as a Solid Fuel Heating Engineer for a small company that specialized in Chimney work and Roofing where he sustained his ladder collapsed from underneath him. Dylan fell headfirst down a pitched roof, knocking over an unsecured extension ladder and fell a total of 33 feet, landing on a brick wall. It had left him physically unable to work and in severe lifelong pain.

He travels the length of the UK and Ireland presenting to a lot of companies and is prepared to travel even further to share his story. He has presented to tens of thousands of people. In 2017, Dylan was asked by major national construction company Willmott Dixon to be their Safety Ambassador and worked with them full time for three years visiting all of their sites and offices and still continues to present for them. Since his injury, he has designed Ladder Locker, a product designed to stabilize ladders for safe use, which has won an award from the World of Safety & Health Asia in the Safety Category for new & Innovative Solutions.

For more information on the product, check out: Ladder Locker – YouTube

Website: www.safetyup.co.uk

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Case Study: Engaging Front-Line Teams on Safety with Sheldon Primus

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ABOUT THE EPISODE

It was when Sheldon Primus was hired to be plant manager that he looked at safety a little bit differently. Being in a position of leadership, he sought to connect with employees to draw the importance of safety through initiating incredible active leadership. Getting involved and showing up for his employees was his way of provoking safety standards and a thoughtful relationship between himself and employees. From his experience, he defines the role of a manager to promote a communication plan, be a resource for employees and be involved throughout the safety process of projects.

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing 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 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, Sheldon Primus. He’s a safety consultant, and also the host of a podcast called The Safety Consultant with Sheldon Primus. Sheldon, welcome to the show. 

Thank you, Eric. Thank you. 

Tell me a little bit about your journey into the safety. I know when we first connected, you did some work as a plant manager, and I’d love to hear a little bit about your story as you got into a plant manager. And what really made safety interesting to you in that new role. 

Yeah. When I got started in safety, I got started as a young man, early 20s, working for the city of Orlando in Florida, and they actually just needed a safety officer because they were doing every two years, they would switch the role and they asked, hey, you want to do safety? And I was like, sure, I knew nothing about safety at all. All I knew is that I was going to get time each week. Actually, I believe it was like, up to an hour a day, and I was able to have my own office and a procurement card so I could purchase things for safety. 

And that’s all I knew. So, I was ready. And that actually got me into safety. And I was young in the field for wastewater treatment, which is anything you pour down a drain or you flush in the toilet, goes to a facility to get treated. So, my facility was treating 11 million gallons of wastewater at the time. And I was the operator trying to figure that out. But when I joined Safety, I quickly learned that I needed to know underground construction. I needed to know piping, I needed to know fluid dynamics. 

I needed to know personnel maintenance, electrical and permit-required confined space. And it kind of took me by a storm if you would. And then I said, I better learn some safety. And eventually, I got into learning some safety enough. And for your audience, that may not be in the US market, Federal Ocean does not have jurisdiction over any state or city or county employees if they don’t have a state plan. So, I was working in a state where I had no state plan and therefore the city that I worked for had no regulation or should say, no regulatory agency over it except for the city itself. 

Yeah. 

Interesting. 

So, I didn’t have all those tools that people will say OSHA will get you or the regulators will get you. I didn’t have that tool. 

Interesting. So, from that role, correct me if I’m around, but you eventually moved into becoming the plant manager, correct. 

And not that facility. I was a lead operator at that facility, and later, I decided I’ll take a chance. And my wife and I moved a little to the East Coast of Florida at that time. And I got hired in a position for the special district of the state of Florida. And at that point, I started progressing into management of the facility. And I was the middle manager. So, I had some people under me. And then I had my executive director and then also the board of directors above me. 

And my board was either elected or whenever we had an in-between elections, a board member leave, then the governor of Florida would place that board member. And those are the people I have to answer to. 

And in that role, you did a lot to connect with workers. How did you do that? How did you really connect with your teammates with the workers of the site to draw on the importance of safety, which I think is really key. 

Yeah, actually, with my role, it was really unique. The reason why is they hired me to come in first as a low-level frontline Foreman if you would. And then from there, I was already promised that I was within a year I’d be the plant manager over the facility. So, when I had coming in right away was an outsider trying to join an organizational culture that they just did not understand where I was coming from. They knew I knew the job, but they just didn’t know how I would be as a manager. 

So, one of the first things I had to overcome was a really poor lack of days of procedures and policies and sometimes nonexistent. So, I had to start from basics with the Rapport, and I first and foremost told the guys said, I am going to do everything above board. If I don’t know, I’ll find out I’m going to protect you from upper management. Just come to me and keep that chain of command. And I’ll do my best to protect you. And then also, I’m going to do things out in the open. 

And I promised them that from the very first day I got the position I got people on. I even went to the midnight shift. I went to the evening shift because it was a 24-hour facility, and I had the same conversation that let’s be above board every meeting I have, I’m going to put minutes and I’m going to follow up. And I did. And usually when you do that, people respected enough that they started to feel like, oh, yeah, we’re not back in the Woods doing some job. 

We’re actually here doing a professional task. And we have at this point, the facility was over a large portion of Palm Beach, Northern Palm Beach County in Florida at part of Southern Martin County, and a lot of the area was very let’s say, glamorous if you would. And this is a change in change for them to actually start feeling like they’re a part of that feeling like they were professionals and not just wastewater operators that you would see. Ed Norton, if you remember Ed Norton and the honeymooners. 

He was the original wastewater operator if you would. That made TV. So, they got that feeling and they felt professional. 

Yeah. And I think that element of professional orientation is really important. Tell me a little bit more about some of the things that you did with them. I know you also set a vision for safety. You talked about how you set an expectation around it. Tell me a little bit about how you involve workers to really make it personal, real so that they would take safety first and foremost as a key component of the role. 

Yeah. When I got transitioned, great question. And when I got transitioned into being the well, it was always going to be the safety and health coordinator and the plant manager at the same time because the utility just honestly didn’t want to buy two or have two different positions if you would. So, in those cases, I ended up having to make a distinct role change every time we talk to the workers because I needed them to trust me enough to show me hazards and know that they’re not going to get fired because of it. 

So, I had to make it distinct, just a decision to see them and talk to them by proximity and not manage from my office. So, I did. One of the things I thought was really influential in getting people to buy into safety is I showed up on the job. I showed up at midnight. I showed up in the evening shift. I showed up on day trip when they’re doing anything, and I could be there. I would be there. And I had a cot in the office, and I stayed overnight many times just to let them know I’m not that kind of manager that is just going to dictate things without asking what you need and then following up. 

So, the key was being their proximity, asking what they need, seeing it. And sometimes I didn’t understand. And I’ll be all right. I see you guys doing excavation over here. What are we doing? And they explained, all right, well, this oil is classy, and we need to do this, and they went through the whole process. And I think in letting them talk, letting them be the expert, telling them I don’t know everything. I just know how to identify hazards. You tell me the job and let’s do this together. 

And they bought in that way. 

 I think that’s an important piece that you’re sharing in terms of. You are meeting people where they’re at you’re comfortable connecting, talking to them. Often, I speak to leaders who are saying, some of my leaders don’t know how the work gets done. How do they have coaching conversations? That is exactly the way you just described, right? 

Yeah, absolutely. And many of the leaders that are in some places, let’s say they come up from the ranks, which is great to hire within. However, once they’re in the responsibility of being a manager or even a supervisor in a front line, they may lose track of what the job was itself and they’re looking at absolutes. They’re looking at maybe regulations or they’re looking at best practices, as opposed to asking the workers doing the work and seeing, all right, we’re giving you PPE. Let’s say it’s eyewear, and that’s fogging up and you’re going to get into workers for not wearing the eyewear and they’re telling you, I can’t see. 

And now you’re trying to hold them to absolute when you don’t really know that it’s not practical for where they are. And therefore, you might have to look for another engineering control versus a PPE, or you may end up having to talk to your vendor and say, hey, this isn’t working. Let me get something for the workers that will work. And the flexibility of it is really probably a better way of working it out. 

I love what you’re sharing there, because so often simple things, but really, it doesn’t matter. I’ve heard of examples where people are deemed people for not wearing their PPE in the cafeteria or places where it doesn’t make sense, or they can’t use it as you just described. So, another theme you talked about is and it’s a lot of buzz right now around the concept of learning teams. Tell me about how you leverage something like learning teams back in that role. And how did you make them effective? 

Yeah, absolutely. Learning teams, especially if you’re doing the traditional learning team way where it’s coming from. The human and organization performance camp, the learning teams, you could do them for any number of items. So, what I would do is break it down into let’s learn about first, let’s learn about the task that we’re doing. Tell me today, how did it work today with your job safety analysis? Did we get all the steps in? Did we have all the controls identified for each step? And that could be its own learning team right there, just allowing the workers to talk and tell you what’s happening. 

And then, of course, if there’s an incident, you could do a learning team for that and say, all right, we’ve got a root cause what can we do better? What did we miss? And that active learning helped. But the thing that I believe is really important for flexible learning teams is when it’s peer on peer, and you now are part of the teams, and I’ve always had my front-line supervisors show up as well and tell them, all right, we are all together learning. You’re not a boss right now. 

Your part of the teams, like everyone else, with equal, say and manage it that way. And that really helps learning team when you get a good facilitator that can help people get through those moments where they don’t want to talk, like when they show up and they’re like, Well, what’s up with your department? What’s with your Department? And there’s no substance happening that’s not going to help you. You have to actually ask pointed questions. And then from there, even if you’re going to do word mapping or if you want to do mind mapping or any kind of tool to get people to talk. 

And then after that, you have to do the actions. 

Sure. I think those are really important components. How do you make sure that the actions come to life? It sounds like a basic question, but too often you hear lots of talking, but nothing actually comes out of it. I need to make sure they actually came to life. 

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 propolo.com. 

Yeah, with that, it’s practical as it sounds, but it’s also tenacity. So practical for getting things done is again putting in writing and saying, all right, we need this done at this time by this individual. And you can do that through a Raspy chart, which would be Raci, which is who is responsible for this, who’s accountable? The C part would be who needs to consult and then the I who has to be informed. So, in those cases, when you’re writing that out, it’s so you remember there as you right when you write math. 

Yes, I do. When you write that out, and first, then you start your communication plan. Who needs to know what time, what venue, what method do they need to know? It is and you have to get some sort of consensus at that point. Hey, Bob, can you do this on Wednesday? Sorry, Sheldon, I got a whole bunch this week. I know that you said this is a risk analysis that is a low risk. Would you mind if I could do this on Friday? Okay. Sure. So, you have to quantify the risk and then get into some consensus between when can you get this done? 

But then give all of the resources you can to the individual, call them back on Thursday and say, hey, how’s it going today? What can I do to get you this done? So, it’s timing it’s also making sure that you don’t let anything fall through the cracks. And that’s when you’re going to get the email or what I do is a nice little flag on the email if I need to. So anytime I go back, I can see the flag to remind me to go back. 

Sometimes I just use an alert feature on my phone by calendar, and it’s practical in that way to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. And then you just call back the person you delegated and just say, how can I support you? 

And I think that’s a big part of the role of the leader as well is to check in to make sure it gets executed to see if you need any help, because often what I see is good inertia and then certain things don’t get executed. But part of it is if you’re checking in as a leader to say, hey, how are you doing on your plans, then it does make sure that you either adapt the plan or help them execute on it. 

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s what they’re looking for you to do, especially if they need resources such as, hey, Sheldon, this is going to cost 3000. I know our budget says that if it’s over 1000, I need three quotes and all right, give me a chance. Let me go call people, and I’ll follow up on the quotes, and the Avenue had to be open for them to feel comfortable enough to tell me if the task wasn’t happening, right? They didn’t feel like I was going to beat them down that. 

Hey, why aren’t you doing this? But hey, Sheldon, I’m having some trouble here. Please help me go through this and manage through that. And that really worked well and then also rewarding as best as I could, too. 

Yeah, it’s an important component. I want to transition to another theme, which is around personal accountability. How does that factor into the safety equation? 

It’s a primary factor. I don’t want to go hyperbolic, but it’s the primary factor in holding your own personal credibility for yourself, but then also for the workers, when they see that you’re willing to admit when you’re wrong and I’ve had to do that and eat some Crow every time I was. And that helped. Also, I protected my workers from management that was above them, and even sometimes above me, that would pretty much go with you didn’t follow these rules and let’s go do something punitive. So, at that point, I was thinking, well, not all actions need to be you’re fired or you’re a couple of days off or whatever.  

And I was that buffer between them and that part of the management. And that also helped with the accountability and help get some respect. But then it was holding me responsible for protecting them like I promised from day one when I showed up in the first meeting so that I would do that and that also garnered where the trust was there. And I was held accountable for myself and for my actions. And then when it was part of accountability for people in their actions, I was consistent, not like the Douglas McGregor or hot stove.  

I was more flexible than that. Maybe the hot stove theory for those may not be familiar is the stove itself is going to give you a warning because of the color and it’s nice and red, telling you it’s hot, and if you touch it, it’s going to be pretty much burn everybody equally, no matter who you are, and it’s going to always be a burn if you touch it. So, I didn’t do that as much because to me, I was kind of more of the James Reason diminishing capability model, where you could see that if someone’s infraction was done because of sabotage, hold them more accountable than someone that may not have been trained properly. 

Or the system may have induced some sort of latent condition that they activated. That’s the way that I would monitor it. 

Yeah. I think the system factors or lack of training. Often people blame the employee, but it really is not the cause. If you blame the employee, you’re removing the fix from the actual source of the problem. 

Correct. And that’s also a reason for the learning teams, too. Whenever you do those because first and foremost, you shouldn’t be looking for blame. It should be something where you’re actively together as a unified force. Organizational culture. I’m trying not to say safety culture anymore because it should be what you do. It should be everything you do as a community, as an organization. So, the organizational culture would demand that that’s honestly the best way. Right. 

Right. Absolutely. So, Sheldon, I really appreciate you sharing some of your real-world experience from when you were managing a plant and how you made safety important across the organization, how you connected with workers, how you set a vision around safety, how you really started creating more of a learning organization in terms of building and learning example, learning teams, and how you handled personal accountability, all the really important themes for an operational leader to really think about to drive the right culture as you talked about in terms of right organizational culture. 

So, thank you very much. I think, Sheldon, you won a prize for some of the work you did in safety in that space. If I’m not mistaken. 

Yeah. Absolutely. The plant itself was acknowledged for operations on the state level. We got the highest state for operation of a plant of our size, and then also on a federal national level from our Environmental Protection Agency. The plan itself won an award for its operational side. And then, at the same time, we won awards and safety for our driving. We want awards for I’m not a big fan of the Lagging indicator, where it is X number of days without incident, but I like it when it’s organic and it occurs as opposed to looking to monetize or promote it. 

Saying, when we get to a year, but we actually had it organically happen. And we got recognized within my time. It was with the Driving Awards and a few other recognition awards on safe activities. It turned out to be right around 13 awards in three years from when the culture change happened. So, it came hot and heavy when the first award came, then we got the next and we got the next and it was a snowball effect, and that became something that was lore for the organization and that strengthened the culture. 

Sure. So, thank you for sharing this because I think it really is impressive in terms of the themes in terms of how you brought it to life and based on the awards had a meaningful impact in terms of the culture and safety performance of the phenomenal. Case study, an example. And now you dedicate yourself to helping other organizations around safety and hosting the podcast safety Consultant. So, tell me maybe a little bit about your podcast in case somebody wants to listen in. 

Yeah. Thank you, Sheldon. I started answering the same questions from students that I would get throughout the years. I was teaching safety certification courses, and that led to the book, which led to a course. And then I was like, all right, I got to probably do this more often. And then that led to the podcast so I could help people who want to be safety consultants. And I was like, all right, let’s take you through my lessons and let’s do this step by step and let’s show you the business of running a safety business and then you know the hazards. 

You know, the controls. You just may not know about insurance. You may not know about how to write a proposal, and that’s what I really started focusing on is mentoring those individuals. And currently, I’m doing that through the podcast and a safety consultant TV project. 

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show, Sheldon. Really appreciate your time. 

Thank you. I appreciate you having me on, Eric. 

Thank you for listening to the Safety guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the back. Grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams, fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski. 

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

Sheldon Primus is a Certified Occupational Safety Specialist with a Master of Public Administration (MPA) with a concentration in Environmental Policy. He has been in the environmental and occupational safety field since 1994. Additionally, he is a trainer for the Certificate for Occupational Safety Managers (COSM) and Certified Occupational Safety Specialist (COSS) programs of the Alliance Safety Council-Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is the author of “7 Steps to Starting A Profitable Safety Consulting Business” and host of the weekly podcast “Safety Consultant with Sheldon Primus.” He is also the creator of Safety Consultant TV, a subscription-based Video on Demand service to help those looking to be a safety consultant or grow their business. Sheldon is a guest columnist for the online publications of Treatment Plant Operator (TPO) and WaterOnline as well as conducts OSHA compliance webinars and speaker for a variety of organizations. 

Website: www.safetyconsultant.tv

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“Safety leadership is a lot like the weather, everybody talks about it, nobody does anything about it,” says Dr. Kevin Kelloway. Kevin shares pragmatic and actionable ideas that can help every leader become a better safety leader. Based on his research, he encourages leaders to track and implement small daily improvements in 5 themes that all successful safety leaders demonstrate: Speaking about safety, Acting Safely, Focusing on Safety, Engaging others in Safety, and Recognizing safety.

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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 wellbeing 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, 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 Kevin Kelloway. He’s a fantastic researcher, speaker and University Professor at St. Mary’s in the space of occupational health and psychology at St. Mary’s. He has key roles. He’ll talk about it very shortly with a CN research facility there. So, Kevin, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me. You’ve got some fantastic research on the leadership side of safety so important, but maybe to get started, tell me a little bit about your journey and how you got into this passion for safety. 

Sure. Okay. Well, thank you, Eric. It’s a pleasure to be here. How did I get into safety? It’s funny. There’s a joke amongst researchers that we research things that are of some sort of personal relevance to us, right? Yeah. I always go back to I grew up in a coal-mining town, and if you live in a coal-mining town, we’re very much a single industry town dominated by a coal mine. And if you grow up in that environment, you become very sensitized to issues of safety, of course, because when I was a kid and in school, there were several major sorts of disasters that just highlighted the role of safety. And then I went on in my studies, I sort of put that away and didn’t think about it too much more until I guess, my first job as a Professor, I was doing research. I did research mainly on stress. And I worked with labor unions. And there was a very prominent Union researcher, guy named Mike Gordon from the States. And I heard him give a talk once saying if researchers supported unions, what they should really do is look at collective agreements, use that as a guide. 

Interesting research, the kinds of things that unions are interested in. Of course, safety is a big one. And then I had a student who was interested in safety who’s now doctor territory. And for her master’s thesis, she did a project on safety. And the striking finding for me in her project was that when you look at we were looking at what predicted whether people became involved in safety programs and things like that. And the strongest predictor of their perception of risk and whether they got involved was actually their perception of leaders. 

And that was even much stronger than their perception of their own accident history. People had accidents had injuries at the workplace, they’d be more likely to see this risky, more likely to get involved in safety. But a much stronger effect was if I thought my supervisor was interested in safety, then I was much more likely to get involved in safety. 

And think about, wow, how powerful is this that it even sort of overwrites your own experience? 

That’s incredible. And I’m assuming the experience as well of those around you. The role of that supervisor is really essential. In other words, and the leaders. 

Right. And your co-workers. So, we’re very much guided by the people around us. And as we’ve gone on with research focusing specifically on leaders, the truism I always use in giving talks on this and doing leadership training is if my boss cares about safety, then I care. 

Right. And if my boss doesn’t care about safety, I don’t care either. 

Interesting. So that gets a great segue into a lot of the work you’ve done around leadership. And when we first spoke, you had great concepts around what is really a leadership model for safety. What are the key elements you want to see? Can you share maybe a little bit more in terms of what that looks like? 

Yeah, this is key. I think. I always say the problem with safety leadership is it’s a lot like the weather. Everybody talks about it. Nobody does anything about it. That was true for a long time. I go to conferences and professional meetings and things like that, and people would be talking about safety leadership, but only in the most generic way. Well, it’s important to be a safety leader. 

Right. And it’s your obligation to be a safety leader. And safety leaders get better outcomes and things like that. And then you say, well, what is a safety leader? What are you talking about? What do you want me to do as a leader? And I was fortunate enough to our local workers compensation group had a leadership conference, and they invited speakers, and they had a neat idea. They invited people who they know from their records have had a dramatic impact on safety. So, they invited leaders from different organizations that have changed in some sense their safety culture and asked them to come and basically tell us what they did. So, we had leaders who had reduced their incident rate by 80%. And when you see that biggest change, you say, well, what are you doing that leads to that. So, they also invited me, but they just wanted me to talk. They wanted me to take basically. So, my job was to sit there and listen for two days and then try to summarize that all in a final session. And it was fascinating because when I listened to leader after leader from all kinds of industries talking about what they did, I realized they’re really talking about the same things. 

So, we formulated that in a model we call the Safer leadership model. And the attempt is to identify the behaviors that result in better safety outcomes. So Safer is an acronym and it stands for leaders to speak about safety. 

Sure. Makes sense, right? 

First, minimal entry point. You have to be talking about safety. And if you don’t talk about safety, people will assume it’s not important.

Sure. Because if you’re a leader in an organization, you talk about what’s important. So, leaders talk about customer service, and they talk about productivity, and they talk about operational issues. If they don’t talk about safety, they’re really sending a message saying it’s not important makes sense. So, leaders have to act safely. So, they have to be a model themselves of what you want to see. If you want people to wear PPE, you better be wearing it too. People are watching what you do. So, we say you have to speak about it. You have to act; you have to focus on safety. So, I think a big problem in organizations is we tend to use safety as a program or a short-term intervention. During NAOSH week, we’ll have a safety speaker, and we’ll have a couple of safety events, and we’ll give away some safety teams merchandise and then that’s it for another year. That’s not how it works. Very clear from the speakers as they were talking that safety is an ongoing thing. You have to build it into your systems and your processes and your operations. So, speak, act, focus. You have to engage others in safety. 

Makes sense. We did a project for about five years. I did a safety project in China. And every year I would go over, and we worked with various industries, and one of them was the construction industry. And the model at the time for these big high rises. When you landed in Beijing, all you saw was construction all over the place. And when you went to these workplaces, their model for safety is there would be one safety officer and there would be hundreds of employees on site. And that safety officer’s job was to be responsible for safety. 

That won’t work. 

And if something bad happened, then they fired. That safety cannot possibly work, right? You cannot possibly supervise that many people or monitor what they’re doing. So, you really need to get other people involved and especially the people doing the work. We say it all the time. Nobody knows the job as well as the people doing it. And that can be really hard for leaders to accept because sometimes they’ve done that job. And they said, well, I did that for 20 years. I know all about it. You know about it when you did it, and now five years later, you’re doing something else and maybe that job has changed. So, we really need to get other people involved and to get ideas from everybody and engage the entire workforce. And then last but not least, we talk about the role of recognition. We need to tell people when they’re doing a good job when they’re doing things. And safety tends to be very punitive in a sense. Right. So that we have safety officers or leaders who walk around the workplace, and if you’re not wearing the PPE or you’re lifting improperly, they’ll call you on it. 

And there might be discipline involved or something like that. But if you’re actually doing all the right things, then you’ll never hear about it. 

Right. And that sets up this very weird dynamic. Right. So, I only know if I’m doing the right thing if nobody’s talking to me. 

Not a good one at all. 

Yeah. So, we said leaders, quite frankly, single best thing you can do as a leader in any context is tell three to five people every day they’re doing a good job. And that’s just as true in safety. And it means as a leader, you have to get out of your office and go around the workplace and watch for people doing a good job. And sometimes it’s hard to see because it fades in the background. You see the mistake. Sure, you don’t see the people doing things right, but we need to find the people who are doing the right things and tell them about it. And when I say tell them I don’t need a complicated reward system or anything like that, I just need leaders going up to somebody who said, I saw what you’re doing, I see that you’re wearing your PPE. I saw the way you did that lift. That’s a great job. Thank you. That’s all you need. 

I love the simplicity of the behaviors you’re talking about. The one that really connects with me right now is the one I’m focusing on safety, because too often what I see is one organization where the executive, the CEO talk about safety. They connect with their teams. They share the expectation. They put the focus on a very regular basis, that safety is how we do business. And then you’ll see another same industry, different organization. And the CEO only gets involved when something goes wrong, and otherwise, it’s the safety’s responsibility. They’re not driving the strategy around safety like they’re driving the strategy around everything else. And generally, outcomes follow that. 

A lot of organizations, safety sits outside our normal processes. So, there’s the way we do our jobs, and then there’s safety over here, and we bring it in when we need it sort of thing. And we know that model doesn’t work back to when the Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf. And I remember reading reports later that year that the company that operated that platform, their executives were getting bonuses for having the best years ever. 

Yes. And you say, how does that happen right now between what’s going on in running our business and then how we manage safety? 

Absolutely. 

The leaders that we’re speaking at conference made it really clear you have to start embedding safety into your systems. 

Yeah. Which makes sense. 

As a leader, you shouldn’t be getting bonuses and your performance pay and all that stuff. If your safety record is abysmal. 

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, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit us at propolo.com. 

I love that the behaviors you have are very tangible. It’s very easy, not complicated to understand, am I doing this? Am I not? I don’t need to read a thesis to understand, am I recognizing you said three to five people? Am I putting the right level of focus? Am I engaging people? These are very simple things. The other part is, as I understand from our part of the conversation, you really drive around getting into observable behaviors. So, you cascade this element so I can check to see if you’re doing and daily reflections. Tell me more about those topics, because I think those are areas I’ve played with and definitely seen huge results. And I love this topic. 

Yeah. So safer is sort of the model is the content of safety. 

Sure. And then we had to think about, well, how do you change people’s behavior? And I really draw a lot on my mentor, Julian Barling at Queens University, and we did a lot of leadership training together in the 90s, early 2000s. And one of the things he emphasized is the notion of having a very specific behavioral goal. Three people a day, they’re doing a good job, speak about safety four times a day, something very precise like that. And when it’s that precise and that observable, then it builds in a chance for you to review every day. I tell leaders, if you’re working eight to four, then at 02:00 in the afternoon, I want you to review that checklist say, did I speak about safety four times this day? And I purposely say 02:00, because then if you haven’t done it yet, you still have 2 hours. So, it’s recognizing that doing anything differently, you know, getting better at safety leadership or getting better at anything requires really sort of mindful reflection and monitoring. It doesn’t just happen. Right. It’s not a magic process. So, we encourage leaders to set very specific goals. I’m going to talk about safety four times a day and then review every day. 

Did I do it four times today or not? It’s a simple yes, no question. 

Right. And if you didn’t do it, then go out and try to hit your four. And if you did do it, then you’re good for today. Move on to tomorrow, especially New Year’s. Everybody sets resolutions, people buy Fitbits or whatever. And they set up to 1000 steps a day. 

Yes. Now, I don’t know if you know this, but that is absolute magic. And there is nothing magical about 10,000 steps. It’s actually a mistranslation. You probably don’t need 100 steps. But if you set that goal, everyone I’ve ever talked to has done this has found themselves at 11:00 at night walking up and down their hallway, the last steps. So, they achieved the goal for the day, right. 

Right. And it’s the power of having that very specific number coupled with that review process, and it makes it much more likely that you’re going to do that behavior and do it consistently every day. 

I think it’s a really good analogy. And there’s a degree of I’m measuring but you’re not measuring something that could drive the wrong behavior, like putting a goal on an injury rate or putting a goal on something that could drive or even observations that could drive something. That’s not what we intended, but rather things that will do no harm. Right. There’s no harm if you go recognize five people today for something they did around safety. 

Yes. And a lot of what we do in safety can have sort of unintended consequences. A lot of organizations, for example, if you drive a vehicle and you have an accident, then they do a mandatory drug test. 

Yes. And that sounds like a very sensible policy. But if you talk to employees, what happens a lot in practice is they have a minor accident, they don’t report it and they don’t report it now because they don’t want the mandatory drug tests. 

Right. So, we’ve actually driven the incidents. We’re trying to reduce we haven’t reduced them. We’ve just driven them underground. So, we don’t know about them. 

In those goals, you’re really sharing ideas that I self-reflect, and I set those goals. Have you had some success around cascading goals, working with a leader and cascading and any guidance around this since we’re talking about New Year’s resolution and some ideas around goals and how do you drive it? Is there some value in driving this, or is this really something where you’ve seen the most profound effect when it’s a personalized commitment? 

In doing leadership training in organizations. One of the things I’ve noticed, like anybody, we’ve had successes and failures in doing training. And the characteristic of when it’s been a real success in organizations and we’ve seen major changes is when everybody is involved, from the top leader down to the front-line supervisor, they’re all in the training, they’re all making goals. The senior leaders are sitting in on the training as well and setting goals. And in my favorite example, the VP in charge showed up to every session to say to the group of leaders there, this is what we’re doing, right? This is what we’re doing from now on. This is the way we’re going to do this. This is not a passing fed. As long as I’m here, this is what we’re doing. And in session, he sat in just as a participant. But in every session, one of the senior leaders was there to deliver that same message. That’s when it seems to have real power and you’re changing the culture of the workplace, I think you could have a more limited effect individually if I decide just this is something I’m going to take on. 

I heard this podcast. There are some interesting ideas. I’m going to try it out. You’ll have an effect on the people in your immediate vicinity, but it’s when every leader in an organization is taking it on. That’s when you start to see really large-scale change. 

And it really links back to small changes every day. Tiny habits. Whichever book you pick up those talks about small habits you implement, like the Fitbit is try to I just had that experience this morning because my Apple Watch was telling me I hit a certain goal. So, it’s time to up my goal for next week from an activity and calorie standpoint. 

Yes, exactly. Yeah. So that monitoring that measurement that a lot of people are doing now around fitness, really, it does have a motivational effect, just having that goal. Right. And it makes it more likely to do the behavior as a result of that. That’s going to have some downstream effects in terms of what safety in your workplace actually looks like. 

So, I think this is a great topic for leaders. Listening into the show is really lovely, safer model just in terms of what are the behaviors that I should be trying to demonstrate on a regular basis and really setting those small goals and checking in every day. I used to say check in every week if you’re too busy. And I had a similar example where somebody set a goal for themselves and for them. It was every Thursday at the end of the day, they put in their calendar saying, I’ll check how many recognitions I’ve given around safety. And if I’m not satisfied with that number, I’m going to go make it up on Friday. But I think your idea of everyday at 02:00 P.m. Is even better because it’s that frequency is a check-in of how am I doing and how do I close that goal? So great concept. 

And much like you and your Apple Watch, we say to leaders, I can give you the behavior recognize other people for safety, you have to pick the number because depending on your personality, it might seem like an incredibly hard thing to do to recognize one person. 

Maybe that’s so far out of your comfort zone, but that is incredible. Well, okay, let’s start with one then. If you say to me, well, I already recognized four people a day, well, then let’s make it five people a day. Or let’s switch our focus to another goal that you can add to that. 

We try to work with leaders wherever they are. We don’t set some impossible standards. You have to go run a marathon. Say, okay, well, let’s just say we’re going to start with 30 minutes of walking today. 

Sure. Exactly.  

Take people from where they are. And I like it because it ties back to the acronym. We’re not trying to make you the safest leader, just safer. Just a little more than you are now. Baby steps. And I said, that’s enough. 

I love the simplicity. I love how easily it can be action. And I love how it gives you the reminder. And there’s so many parallels you can take from a fitness standpoint. They really show that that’s a good model to drive forward. I’d love to Pivot. I think you’ve shared some great ideas, very actionable ones, around leadership. I’d love to touch on really the link between mental well-being and safety. So, we’ve had a few guests talk about those topics. What tends to happen in a lot of organizations is HR looks after mental well-being, if anybody does. And then on another side of how safety a bit like you talked about before, looks out at the safety side. So, I love to hear a little bit in terms of how do we break down that silo and why should we? 

Yeah. And it’s incredible how thick those walls are. In many organizations. I’ve done quite a bit of work on the notion of a healthy workplace and improving the psychologically healthy workplace. And you almost invariably find you’re not talking to the safety people anymore, that it’s two different organizational structures that don’t talk to each other. And you start saying, well, wait a minute, this is all a piece of one thing. Sure. Right. It’s all about employee well being and keeping them both safe and healthy and trying to contribute to their safety and well-being. And the notion that we separated just doesn’t make sense to me. And in some cases, I think safety people, because they work in that space of trying to change behaviors, are used to the topic, and should be taking on more health-oriented things as well. And frankly, I think there’s some resistance there that people want to deal with what they know about. Sure. And I think that’s a barrier that we have to work on. But also segmenting health and safety just doesn’t seem to work for me. So, we get this move toward a, you know, greater attention to mental health in the workplace. 

And I think one of the effects of segmenting it this way is we have tended in that mental health space to focus on trying to change individuals. So, we teach people to manage their stress, and we do lunchtime, yoga, or mindfulness or whatever we do. But again, it’s what I just said doesn’t work in terms of safety. It doesn’t work to have these programs that are sporadic. We need real change in the workplace. I think the same is true in mental health and in particular organizations should be looking at, again, to draw on safety language. What are the root causes of mental ill-health that are in the workplace? What is the workplace doing to contribute to somebody’s lack of well-being, and how can we fix that? So, stop trying to change individuals, but focus more on the place conditions. 

The system, the context in which people are operating. Have you seen organizations that have broken down those silos effectively that have found ways used to bring the linkage because we’ve had some guest speakers even on the show talking about how if I’m not well from a mental wellbeing standpoint, I’m also more prone to getting injured that day because I may not have as much focus on the task at hand and things of that nature. So really speaking about how those two items are really intertwined, interrelated that even if you want to improve safety performance, you probably also in some industries, particularly need to start looking at mental well-being as well. 

Yeah. And Janelle, at least from the research literature, that’s almost a new recognition. The idea that your mental health and those traditional metrics of incidents or injuries at work are interrelated. So, a colleague of mine, Nick Turner at the University of Calgary, in the business school there, he’s done some really interesting work looking at the relationship between mental health and safety outcomes, and the data suggests that they are there. 

So, we can look at both sides of that. If people are getting injured, they’re more than likely to be anxious or depressed. Certainly, anyone who works in the return to the workspace will tell you somebody injures their back, say it on the job site, and then can’t go back to their regular job. At least half of what’s going to keep them off is the depression resulting from that. 

If you have an injury that is life-changing in the sense that you cannot go back to the job that you knew and the job that you trained for. Not surprisingly, people get depressed about that, and that feeds into the amount of time you’re actually off work. 

Absolutely. Which makes perfect sense. What would be some of the ideas to help get the safety professionals to explore better partnerships, maybe with HR or at least better interventions that touch on both? 

Yeah. I think those walls can be so thick. I think the first step is to get those two groups talking to each other and understanding each other. Right. And I think safety brings a lot to the table in the sense that people in safety are used to analyzing risks and looking at things from a risk perspective, looking at the environment very common in safety to look around and say, well, if somebody’s going to get hurt, how are they going to get hurt? Right. Let’s identify the conditions that lead to that. I think that’s a valuable perspective to bring to the mental health arena, too. 

Right damaging people psychologically. How are we doing that? And maybe is there something better we can do, or can we stop doing that? 

Can we protect people better? 

Great. So really appreciate you coming on the show, Kevin. You’ve shared some great, really actionable ideas from a leadership standpoint and also in teams of how you drive change within the organization and then finally this is a really important topic around mental well-being and linking better connections from a safety standpoint. Thank you for taking the time to join us. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that? 

The easiest way is I’m at St. Mary’s University. My email is Kevin Kellaway Kelloway at SMU. Ca, right? That’s the easiest way to reach me and I’m on email all the time. 

I have no way and you’ve written lots of books over the years, shared lots of ideas, do a lot of research. I really appreciate you sharing a couple of really important topics with our listeners today. Thank you. 

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on C-suite radio. Leave a legacy distinguish yourself from the pack grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops Guru, Eric Michrowski. 

 

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Dr. E. Kevin Kelloway is the Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health Psychology and Professor of Organizational Psychology at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A prolific researcher he is has authored over 200 articles and chapters and authored/edited 15 books to date. His research focuses on occupational health psychology and, in particular, how leaders affect health and safety within organizations. Kevin has been elected a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, the Canadian Psychological Association, the International Association for Applied Psychology and the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology. In 2016 he served as President of the Canadian Psychological Association. Kevin works with both private and public sector clients on issues related to leadership, safety and HR management and is a popular speaker at conferences and corporate events.

Website: kevinkelloway.com

Twitter: @ohpsychologyca  

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I made some wrong CHOICES and I’ve been in a wheelchair ever since.” Risk is the neglect of personal pressure on safety. Both management and employees need to make safety a daily priority and encouragement, one that should be stressed beyond production pressures or time constraints. There is a multitude of incidents just waiting to happen that we don’t think could ever happen to us. But it is our decisions that make the difference between an incident and another day at work. James Wood shares his experience about the series of choices that led to his incident and the ways that we can all prevent workplace injuries and fatalities.

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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 wellbeing 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 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 really excited to have with me, James Wood, who’s a world-recognized safety motivational speaker. He has a great story he’s going to share with us. He went to work one day as a typical blue-collar worker, came back home nine months later. So, James, welcome to the show. Really happy to have you with me. 

Good morning, Eric from Australia. Nice and early over here. 

Indeed, indeed. So out of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, enjoying summer while I’m enjoying winter. So maybe why don’t you start a little bit with your story and how you got started? Maybe talking about when you were going to work that day and some of the elements and we’ll take it from there?  

Sure. Okay. Well, Eric, I should go back a little bit further. I’m the oldest of six children. My dad worked in the mining industry, firstly initially in the UK, and then we emigrated to Australia. My grandfather was in mining his whole life and that sort of transitioned to me getting an apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic in the mining industry. I finished my apprenticeship and things were looking pretty good. I was working as a qualified diesel mechanic. Good job, a little bit of ambition. I was hoping one day to make it into maybe a supervisor or a manager’s role. 

One day I woke up and went to work. It was a Monday morning, just after a couple of days off. Now the first job for the day, I was given a job to go out and fix a truck. Now, I think the important thing to point out here is it was something that I’d probably done hundreds of times before. So, when the boss gave me the job this day, I didn’t really think too much about it. I thought I can do that. I’ve done that before. 

 The next thing that he said to me, he said, look, when you finish fixing that truck, take it up to a parking bay. Now I can see where I had to go. The parking Bay was only a short distance away, so I thought I was only going to be in the truck for a couple of minutes. So, I fixed the truck, jumped up into the cabin, ready to move it. Now, just as I got into the truck, I had a look at the time, and I noticed it was five to nine in the morning. 

Smoker or morning tea was at 09:00. So straight away, I thought, Beauty, if I can get back to the crib room, the lunchroom by 09:00, I can catch up with my workmates. So, I took off down the road in the truck in a bit of a hurry, pretty keen to get back to the parking Bay, back to the lunchroom. I put my foot down, gone a little bit too quick for the conditions. I lost control of the truck. Wet road. We’d had a bit of rain around that day. 

A wet, slippery road. I’m going too fast. I ended up rolling the truck down the side of a Hill three times. They worked out that I rolled the truck three complete times. 

I got thrown out and I broke my back, snapped my back, and damaged my spinal cord. And pretty much I’ve been using a wheelchair for the last 30 years. 

Wow, this is quite the event. 

Yeah, that was the event, but just leading on from there. And I suppose to answer your question, it was probably about five or six years after my accident. I managed to go through hospital and rehab, and I was rebuilding my life even five or six years after the event. I was still in that rebuilding process. But one of my mates rang me. One of my former workmates ring me, and he’d made it up into a supervisor’s role, and he asked me. He said, Look, Woody, he said, we’re having a safety day. 

He said I want you to come out and tell people what happened to you. And initially, I refused. I said, there’s no way that I’m going to sit in front of a group of people and talk about my accident. But he kept nagging me. Eric, he’s one of those annoying mates. One day we were having a couple of beers together, and he asked me the question. He said, well if someone had turned up at our workplace and talked about their incident or told their story, is that the sort of thing that you would have listened to? 

Great question. 

And something just clicked, and I thought, you know what? I would have liked to have heard it not from my management, not from my safety people, but from someone that I could relate to, and they could relate to me. So, I agreed to go out and have a bit of a yarn at his workplace, and it just snowballed from there. I kept getting phone calls saying, look, we heard you’re out at such and such a place. Can you come out to our workplace? 

Indeed. 

So that’s the way that I started telling my story. And I’ve been doing it for nearly 25 years now. 

So, tell me a little bit about the message that you convey when you speak to audiences. I think one of the things that struck me was really your message around responsibility. And we’ll get to a couple of other themes that you shared, but maybe tell me about some of the key messages that you conveyed. 

My story, Eric, is all about choices. When I started my apprenticeship, we were given, obviously training and a bit of guidance by the tradesmen and the managers of where I work. We were given training, job training and safety training. We had systems and procedures in place that were supposed to keep us safe or ways of doing our job that were meant to reduce risk. But I made some wrong choices. I stuffed up the three key points that I try and get across to people are to people. 

When I share my story, I didn’t take that little bit of time just to think about the job. I just jumped straight into it. I actually put pressure on myself. I thought that I had to get the truck fixed as quickly as possible. 

Right. 

And I think that’s a fairly common thing with a lot of people. We put this pressure on ourselves that we just have to get the job done, no matter what. The second part of me getting hurt is I took a risk. I was going down that road too quick for the conditions, management and safety. People are always saying drive to the condition. I’m a perfect example of not driving to the conditions. And I think the third part of me getting hurt is I didn’t protect myself. The truck that I was driving that day had seatbelts I didn’t have a seatbelt on. 

So that’s the reason I got thrown out of the truck. Yeah. Those three choices can be applied to any role or any task. It doesn’t matter what people do. Just take that little bit of time just to think about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Don’t take a risk and protect yourself where the appropriate PPE and whatever you can do to protect yourself if something does go wrong. 

I think that’s a great point. I think the element you bring up around production pressure is something I hear quite often. And in some organizations, it’s legitimate. The organization is pushing, and they’re creating an environment where you’re more likely to create unsafe conditions because of that pressure. But what you bring up is an interesting point. There wasn’t a pressure from the organization, but you had imposed yourself on yourself a certain degree of pressure. How can organizations how leaders reduce that risk in terms of the messaging to make sure that somebody doesn’t put an undue pressure on themselves? 

Yeah. Look, I think it’s got to be that constant reinforcement that you can stop a job, or you can take a little bit of extra time to make sure what you’re doing is safe. A lot of workplaces that I visit. There’s no managers or supervisors saying right, get that done as quickly as possible. I hear the opposite. I hear if you need a little bit of extra time to make the job safer or to put some extra protection or things in place to be able to do the job safer, just do it. 

And that’s what I think management has to do. They have to constantly reinforce. Look, there’s no one yelling and screaming at you saying you’ve got to get the job done as quickly as possible, no matter what or you have to take a risk to get that job done. 

I think that’s a common theme because in many cases, people put pressure on themselves, and the leaders do have a significant impact or an ability to impact because of pressure that people can put on themselves. 

Yeah. Look, I see it a lot, Eric. I see a lot of people do put that it’s a perceived pressure they think to themselves. Well, if I don’t get this job done quickly, I’m going to get in trouble for it. I see a lot more where there’s some process work where they might be part of a bigger job. And if they fall behind in their area, it’s going to impact on the other areas to produce or to keep the job going. And in a lot of cases, you can just say, Look, I’m not comfortable with that. 

Let’s just stop until we can put some things in place to make me comfortable. Yeah. 

I love that one thing as well that I know when we connected, that struck me is you had a great quote. I’ll let you share it in terms of you really didn’t feel that anything was going to happen to you. Right. So, you’ve heard about other accidents and other people, but you didn’t think it was going to happen to you. And certain things like you said, you didn’t protect yourself with a seatbelt as an example. How does that happen? And how can you shift that? And first, I think you need to share your story on that front because it’s quite powerful. 

Yeah. I think it’s just a human nature thing. Nobody thinks that something bad is going to happen to them. It’s not until it happens to you that you think, hang on. This doesn’t happen to me. But the story that I shared with you when we chatted before Eric was, I can remember lying in hospital. And the doctor explained to me that I’d broken my back and damaged my spinal cord. And he said, look, you’re probably going to have to use a wheelchair for the rest of your life. 

And I looked straight at the doctor, and I said, Look, I think you must be mistaken. This doesn’t happen to me. I said that to the doctor, and I said, this doesn’t happen to me, right? And I think that we all don’t think that we’re going to get hurt. But look, unfortunately, if you do make some wrong choices, there’s a good chance that you increase that risk and you could get hurt. 

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And is there anything that a leader could do to help influence? So obviously you talked about your friend who brought you in to start conveying your story. But is there anything a leader could have done to help improve your chance of being safer on that day? 

Yeah. I think you need to keep in mind that I got hurt 30 years ago. So, we’ve come a long way with safety in 30 years. I see it in the time that I’ve been visiting workplaces. I see some of the improvements that we’ve made. I believe that 30 years ago, we almost and especially management teams, almost accepted the fact that some of their workers were going to get hurt and some of their workers were going to get killed. 

Sure. 

But we’ve had a complete turnaround over the last 30 years in that we now are at the point where we say, well, you know what? We don’t have to hurt people. We don’t have to kill people. So, a lot of that has come from management, and they’ve had to put extra resources into training and the things that they need to do to make their workplaces a safe place to work. But I think managers still have to maintain some sort of connectivity with their employees. And the reason I say that is the only time that we ever saw a manager, or a supervisor was when something went wrong. 

And I think that’s something that management have to do a little bit better. They have to make themselves visible to the shop for guys and girls and for no other reason. Just so the employees can see that management are aware of some of the conditions that they work under, some of the things that they have to do as part of their job. But I guess your question, Eric, my management and again, keeping the time frame in place, they didn’t really lead by example. They were quite comfortable to tell us that we should be doing this, and we should be doing that. 

But we would often see them doing something that wasn’t quite what they’re asking us to do. Sure, their credibility just goes right at the door. So, if you are in any sort of management or leadership role, if you’re willing to ask people to do something, you’ve got to be willing to do it yourself. And I think the other thing is we had some systems implemented over the time that I worked in the industry, and one of those systems was a system called Take Five. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of that, Eric. 

Yeah, absolutely. The take five system. Now we were all given a little take-five booklet. It was a little pocket-sized notebook, and we were meant to carry it around with us. And before every job or every task, we were supposed to do a take five, I reckon the first probably twelve to 18 months. Our management and our leaders were pretty good. They were saying, look, have you done you take five, make sure you do your take fives now, after about two years, maybe two and a half years, that sort of died down a little bit. 

We didn’t get asked as often. Have you done your take fives? And I reckon probably three and a half years after they’d introduce that system. We very rarely got asked if we’d done take five, no incentive or encouragement or reinforcement for us to do them. And I had to take five books in my pocket the day that I got hurt and I didn’t do it. I just jumped right into that job without even thinking about it. Now, the strange thing about that I used to think that a take five was a waste of time. 

I thought it’s something to cover management. If something goes wrong, something happened to change that one of my workmates, he brought down some stuff from my locker in the workplace, and one of the things that he brought down with him was a whole pile of my old take five books, and I just grabbed them off him and I threw them in my bedside table in the hospital room. Now, one night I woke up about 03:00 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep. I was in a fair bit of pain, so I just reached over to my bedside table, and I grabbed one of those old take five books and I started flicking through old take fives that I’ve done over the years, and I came with some blank take five. 

And I don’t know why I did this, but I decided to do a take five for the job that I got hurt on. Now, had I taken five that day and done one properly, not just gone tick, tick, tick. But if I would have done one properly, I would have identified probably three or four different things that could have prevented me from getting hurt. So, we had the system in place that could have possibly stopped me from getting injured, but I didn’t use it. And if you were to say, well, why didn’t use it? 

I would say, well, there was no encouragement or no reinforcement to do it, I guess, for any managers or supervisors out there, if you do introduce a system or a procedure, you have to also be willing to constantly encourage or even reinforce people to use that system. 

I think that’s a really important point because I see it so often in organizations that you have a good system that gets implemented and people are looking for the next system to implement, but they haven’t necessarily embedded the tools that they have. Like you said, the good strategy is to embed in the first year, but eventually tapered off and attention went to something else. But some of these things, if they had been continuously reinforced, could continue to drive adoption. So, I think it’s a really good point. 

It’s not necessarily through what you’ve got out, but maybe even just look at how do I make sure what I’ve got gets implemented? It gets reinforced and gets really operationalized day in and day out. 

And I think the other thing is probably worth mentioning is I was working in the industry when we were starting to transition from bad culture to try and change some of those cultures. So, there was the time that I was in the workforce. There was quite a lot of changes made sure. And there was a lot of opposition to some of those changes, especially from some of the old school guys and girls saying, well, hang on. We’ve been doing this for 30 years. What do we have to change the way we absolutely? 

So, let’s transition. You do a lot of speaking to groups you’ve taken on recently a Covet project. Tell me a little bit about your project and a little bit of we’ll get to that after, but a little bit about how somebody could reach out to you if they wanted you to connect with a group and speak about some of your experience and also help shape people’s mindsets around it. 

Sure. Well, my little Covet project, I live in Victoria in Australia or Melbourne in Victoria. We have got the unenviable record of having been locked down for more days than any other place in the world. I think it was close to 300 days. We were in total lockdown where we weren’t allowed to leave the house apart from shopping, medical or work essential work. So, during that time, I decided to put together a little book. It’s called Twelve Reasons Not to Get Hurt at Work. And basically, Eric, it’s a lot of the ways that my incident changed my life. 

Sure, things that some of the topics are you can’t do some of the things that you used to be able to do. One of the things that I try and explain to people is I don’t think any of us realize just how much we take for granted. And it’s that old saying you don’t realize what you miss until you can’t do it anymore, right? So, things like that I cover the fact that because I use a wheelchair to get around. My difference is obvious, but I think some people, when they see someone that’s a little bit different, they straight away assume that they have to treat me differently. 

So, I get people that speak to me slowly so I can understand them. I get people shout at me as though I’m dead. I have a lot of fun with those ones. My book is just a short book just to give people a little bit of an insight into what it’s like to live with an injury. I think, Eric, you think about a lot of workplaces, especially large workplaces. If somebody has an incident or has an injury, that person gets taken to hospital, then they might have to have a bit of time off to recover and recuperate if they can’t come back to the workplace that they were working at previously. 

You know, a lot of people they don’t see some of the things that this person is trying to deal with and trying to cope with. So, I guess my job and the job of people like myself who share their stories is to just try and educate people on how an injury changes your life and how it affects a lot of the people around you as well. 

Thank you for the good work you’re doing on that side in terms of helping keep people safe and focus on really their personal choices that they can make and for leaders in terms of how they can influence others in terms of how they show up.  

Yeah. My sort of motivation to do these things, Eric, is purely to stop even one person from going through some of the things that I’ve had to deal with for the last 30 years, and we’ll probably have to try and deal with for the next 20 or 30 years as well. 

Absolutely. So, thank you very much for sharing your story. Anything you’d like to share about CNB Safe and your group? 

Yeah. Basically, if anyone does want to get in touch, I have got a website. It’s obviously CNB Safe, so C for Cat N for November B and then the word safe. Com au. Don’t forget that au at the end of it, us Australians are pretty proud of that au. 

Absolutely. So. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story. 

Thanks, Eric. I enjoy listening to your podcast and I’m happy to be part of one. 

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams and fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru. Eric Michrowski. 

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

James Wood offers workplaces something different. You see James had the training & he had the rules in place, but he made some wrong choices, choices that meant he would never be able to walk again.

James will share his message of ‘choice’, which he hopes will help other people to avoid the same mistakes he has made. James Wood made the wrong safety decision once and now he has to live with it for the rest of his life.

As James puts it, ‘It was supposed to be a normal day, I got up, I went to work and went home 9 months later’.

At a time in James’ life when he should have been thinking about having the time of his life, he had to learn how to live again…. He had an accident that left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Workplace accidents always seem to happen to other people. We think we are indestructible, we tell ourselves ‘it will never happen to me.’

If James had made the right choices, his accident would never have occurred and his injury could have been prevented. The choices that we make have a wide reaching impact. Families, friends, work colleagues, supervisors and management are all impacted by what we do each and every day.

Everything that he used to be able to do became a new learning experience for him. Since then, James has been determined to live a full life and share his important safety message. The one choice you make could make all the difference for the rest of your life.

James’ safety presentation has a long lasting and significant impact on the choices you make.

Website: https://cnbsafe.com.au/james-wood/

James’ new book is out NOW: https://cnbsafe.com.au/12-reasons-not-to-get-hurt-at-work/

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