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Employee Input & Involvement: The Secret Sauce to Drive Safety Culture with Ron Gantt

The Safety Guru_Ep 64_Ron Gantt_Employee Input & Involvement The Secret Sauce to Drive Safety Culture



“How can people own a safety program if we don’t let them own it and create it?” In this episode, we have an engaging conversation with Ron Gantt about the secret sauce of involving employees in safety discussions at an organizational level. Safety leaders must be intentional about seeking employee input but also identifying processes that encourage or inadvertently discourage necessary safety collaboration across the organization. Tune in to learn how to involve employees on a daily basis not just a project basis. Everyone’s voice matters when it comes to safety.


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

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have a very special guest, Ron Gantt. He’s the head of HSE for a company called Yonder. He’s got an incredible background in safety. We’ll get into that very soon. We met a couple of years back, lots of conversations. He’s got incredible ideas on the employee input part, which is such a critical part of HSE in general. So, Ron, welcome to the show. Maybe tell me a little bit about how you got interested in safety and how your journey started. 

Thanks, Eric. I appreciate that. I’m excited to be here. So, I find I have a similar story to a lot of HSE people and that I had no desire to be in HSE and I sell into it. My dad actually started a safety company when he retired from the fire service, and I always swore I’d never join it. But then I found myself in need of a job and so I asked my dad for a temporary job inspecting fire extinguishers. He was kind enough to give it to me and I don’t know, here I am in the profession over 20 years later. But kind of in that time when I got started, I started to realize, hey, this is interesting. And I did sort of the normal stuff safety people do. I got my initial degree in safety and then my CSP, which for people here in the United States, most people know what that means. But then I then made the mistake of getting a degree in psychology as well and that sort of opened up my eyes in a number of other areas because one of the things I realized is that we have a lot that we do in safety that’s very technically focused on terms of hazards and engineering issues. 

But there’s a whole slew of things that are about people and literally everything we do touches people to some degree. And I just felt like I was never equipped for that. That kind of led me on a path of both kinds of self-directed learning and also getting in my graduate degree and trying to finish my Ph.D. currently right now in cognitive science and cognitive systems engineering. So, the way I think about it now is safety is a supporting function. And I think we’re going to talk a lot about this. But that’s the thing that’s really interesting to me. How do I support people? How do I create the conditions for humans thriving at work? And so that’s the question that keeps me going and keeps me moving forward if that makes sense. 

It does, and I think you’re right, because we tend to look at safety very technically, and at the end of the day, it’s people that interact with systems, with procedures. And as humans, we’re fallible, we make mistakes. It’s just who hasn’t made a mistake and who planned for the mistake? Few people decide in the morning, these are the five things I’m going to do today that are going to be wrong. Tell me a little bit about some of the areas, particularly around employee involvement, and listening to employees, because to me, that’s a secret sauce. That’s a differentiator that so many people kind of does, but maybe at a 5% potential in terms of what you could do. 

Yeah, absolutely. One of the other things that I realized about my job is how often I was put in a position to tell people how to do jobs I’ve never done before. And that just seems wrong. And so, the natural kind of logical conclusion of that is, okay, well, I have to involve them in this process. Then I may have a piece of the puzzle in terms of knowing a regulation or some technical knowledge about a hazard, or a risk, but I don’t know about their specific task. I don’t know about the conflicts. And so, to me, when you realize that, you start to realize that a skill that we have to build is the ability to engage with people who do work, ask them questions about what it is that they’re doing and bring them to the table to help us do our jobs more effectively. Does that make sense? 

It absolutely does. How have you seen that work? Really well in organizations, really tapping into people on a regular basis? Because often I see people do it on a project basis, oh, we need to consult an employee. But what you’re talking about is much more getting back to really the grassroots and involving them day in, day out. 

Yeah, I’m glad you said that, because on that project basis, a lot of times people get the idea of employee engagement, employee involvement, employee participation, whatever kind of banner we put it under. And it’s like, okay, I have this procedure I just wrote. Let me give it to the employees and see what they think about it. And that’s the extent of it. So, we developed the problem. We even developed most of the solution, and we’re just getting their thumbs up on it at the end, which is good. I mean, we should do that. But what I’m talking about is actually having the employees help us identify the problems, to begin with. Like, do we even know what the challenges and difficulties and risks and hazards and things are? And so, in doing that, I think one of the first steps that I try to get in my organization and the organizations I worked with when I was a consultant is rethinking something as simple as the open-door policy. Right? Because of the open-door policy, though, my door is always open. You can tell me if there’s a problem. Well, that’s great. We should have that. 

But when I take over the world, I’m going to change it. So, the open-door policy is I’m opening my door to walk outside of my office to go talk to people. And I think we have to be much more intentional about that and see that as a critical piece of our work and obviously our other leaders in the organization who are in other functions. Because if our work is something that touches the work that other people do, it’s sort of like customer research, if you will, you need to understand, are we meeting that customer need? Do we even understand their needs? So, getting out, talking to people, it’s sort of that kind of management by walking around, gamba, walk, all those kinds of events. So, it’s that similar stuff. Something as simple as that is a great place. I’ve seen a lot of organizations start. 

And I’ve even seen organizations where they take it to the level where the supervisors engage every team member almost every day to get them in a conversation around how you could do the job that you’re doing in a way that’s safer. Maybe that brings higher quality and also higher productivity. But more an exploration of almost coaching but not coaching in the traditional way. Where I’m coaching you to do it my way. Coaching you to think about a different way to do this even safer. Or hazards that you hadn’t explored. 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, and one of the fundamental challenges we have and the work we do is that because we’re dealing with people, one of the advantages of people is also something that disadvantages us. One of the advantages of people is that people are so good at dealing with imperfections that they hide the imperfections, they deal with their expertise, and they do it without even thinking about it. We just do it all the time. We’re all used to having our bosses tell us, hey, I need you to get this project done in two months. And we’re like, that’s a six-month project. And yet we still somehow pull it out in the end, and we just do that. It’s just regular, right? And so, to your point, regularly engaging with people and asking them questions about what is it about this task that’s difficult, what is it about, what are the challenges, what’s the dumbest thing we’re asking you to do? What’s the thing that’s adding the least value? What’s something that you wish management knew about your job that you don’t think they appreciate? Questions about struggle, about difficulty start to uncover these things that people are having to adapt to. 

And when you find those things, it’s sort of like seeing you’re starting to see the proverbial dirt pathway in the park that cuts the corner around the paved pathway because where you find difficulty, that’s where you find risk. Right. Where work is difficult, that’s where you’re going to find mistakes. That’s also where you’re going to find shortcuts. And so, we can start to even stuff that people didn’t necessarily appreciate as risky. You start to see, oh, wow, if I improve people’s ability to get work done, that’s going to make it safer. 

I think the other part is as you’re asking questions, I love the questions you’ve shared, you’re getting people to think about risk hazards, the work that they’re doing, and being more aware because it can become rather dull if you’re doing the same thing over and over. And then here you’re getting people to start thinking about, is there a better way to do this? What are some of the things that go wrong? What’s some of the stuff that I’m patching on a regular basis that I shouldn’t have to patch because something in the process isn’t working? 

Yeah, one of the kinds of good questions, and I don’t think you should ask it all the time, but occasionally asking people, what are we putting up with here? What’s the thing that we just got used to? Stepping over? This really bad thing every day, a really dangerous thing or a process that’s just not adding value or whatever it is. Right. Asking that it helps people rethink, hey, wait a minute. That is something that we probably should probably pay more attention to and that helps them become more aware that this is not just normal everyday stuff. This is actually a risk that I’m actively managing. I need to be more mindful of it, but it also helps you recognize, wow, there’s something I didn’t even realize was there. Maybe I can help support them. The phrase that comes to my head is sort of creating. I think it was Stanley McChrystal, general Stanley McChrystal talked about creating a shared consciousness of how the work is being done, good, bad, and ugly. Do you know what I mean? So yeah, I like that.

It reminds me of probably the favourite quote somebody shared with me. And it was somebody who had worked in the Big Three automotive on the manufacturing side. And he shared it with this gentleman who was on his last day before he retired. He was kind of talking to all the leadership and he said, thank you for everything you did. Appreciate you paid me, but you could have had my brain for free. 

Yeah, absolutely. I love that. What pops in my head is something a good friend of mine, a guy named Daniel Hummerdal, said, our employees have far more capacity than what is written on their job description. The story he told me, and then he subsequently put in a blog post to illustrate that as he was working at a mine site in Australia at the time, and they were dealing with a number of issues. And he was engaging, like in what we’re talking about, engaging workers, asking them, hey, what are those challenges? And not just engaging them and identifying the problems, but also in the solutions. And he found this one frontline worker who happened to have a graduate degree in illumination somehow, which allowed them to deal with a lighting issue that they had been struggling to deal with for a long time. Who would have thought? I think it’s just a great example of, as you said, you pay for the entire worker. The head is not the unintended consequence of hiring a unit. 


There’s a lot of capacity that’s there that we could really leverage, especially in dealing with those complex problems that a lot of really forward-thinking organizations are dealing with these things. 

And I think that’s a really good point. The other part says many organizations complain that they’re resource constraints. They don’t have enough people to fix things or address things. But if you start disseminating this, you create an army of problem solvers people that can go in and fix things, that can improve things, and sometimes do it in a much easier, lighter way. 

Absolutely. Yeah. It almost becomes sort of a virtuous cycle. Right. You start engaging with the workers, showing them that they’re part of the organization, they’re part of the solution, really, to these problems, which kind of builds their confidence, which not only gets them involved but can increase their own capacity and sense of self-efficacy, makes people more effective in their roles. Right. And then that starts to get things better and people start to feel better about it. And then it becomes a better place to work. And then it’s all puppy dogs and ice cream from there. It’s a good thing.

How do you start making that shift in an organization? Because I like when you said to keep the door open, but to get out of your office. I remember once I had an operational role and I just refused to sit in the office because I figured that’s not where the work is being done. So, it just isolates me from what’s happening in the operation. So how do you start driving that shift? Because you can do it, person, by the person. But where I’ve seen this really take hold is when the organization starts recognizing that there is a lot more value in the people that are working there. 

Yeah, absolutely. It does work best when it’s an organization-wide sort of understanding. And then they work at it as an organization. Because if you’re just the loan manager and like, hey, this sounds good, I want to go try this. Yeah, you can go do that, but that’s a little bit more challenging. So, at an organizational level, I think there are two things. Number one, you do want to encourage this building of conversation, this building of getting out and talking to people. But part of that encouragement is also thinking about the processes in the organization that either encouraged or inadvertently discourage that. To your point, how many times do we have operational roles or functional roles that really need to collaborate but are separated by time and space that discourages conversation? I’m reminded of a safety professional for a public works agency that I was speaking with one time, and she said the best thing that ever happened to build her safety culture is when she moved her office from downtown to be at the yard where the workers are and changed her work hours, her and her team’s work hours, to be the exact same. 

The thing she said, I think was so meaningful. She said it’s because when you’re walking from the parking lot with all the workers and you start talking about, hey, how are your kids? How was your weekend? That just starts to build trust, which, A, is a good thing on its own, but also then makes it easier for people to talk to each other. It kind of greases the wheels of that conversation. And that’s partly a process thing, that’s partly a structural thing so that at an organizational level, we can start to look at that. Who needs to be collaborating and how are we encouraging that or discouraging that? Another example. Sometimes we have schemes related to accountability or discipline or even incentive structures that encourage people to just go off on their own or encourage people to come together and talk. So, I think looking at this systemically is going to be a critical piece. Are we embedding conversation and dialogue into our management system, or is it all just paperwork? Do you know what I mean? 

I think good points. One thing I’ve seen as well is, work is trying to, and I hate the word measure because it can have unintended consequences, but basically starting to see how many people have been involved this year in improving safety, right? So, starting to get an actual count of the number of workers that were directly involved in driving improvements and using it as a metric. Not to find the ROI. Not to find what they did in terms of Dart rate or any kind of rate. But just saying how many people have actually been involved in the projects and put a target that sometimes that’s big. That’s like. I want 20%. 40% of the workforce is involved in all the changes we’re doing. Because then it starts forcing leaders to start thinking about it. Okay. I can’t do it myself. I need somebody else to be part of this, and I need to empower them towards it. It can have unintended consequences like any metric, but it shifts the message around. Don’t solve it yourself. Involve employees in it. 

Yeah, and I think that what you just said, can happen. So anytime you do a metric like that, you want to be monitoring for that. So, one of the things I recommend balance that is whenever you put in a quantitative metric like that, think of a qualitative measure to see if it is actually getting what we want. Are people actually speaking up in these situations or are they just, hey, we invited you to the meeting, therefore you’ve been engaged kind of thing? Are we actually getting people to feel like, no, that’s the thing that I did, I did that? If we can start to measure it quantitatively, but also be gathering those stories 100%, this is moving the needle. I think that’s going to be really compelling for people. 

The other thing I’ve seen is on the quality side, there’s been a lot more work done in many organizations around worker involvement, and worker participation, and I think it’s also saying in some cases, saying what’s worked for quality could work for safety too, because they do a lot of kaizens or however they call it in terms of bringing employees to solve problems. But the problem you’re solving could be an ergo issue, it could be a safety issue. It could be just saying when you’re trying to solve this quality issue, safety is also a metric that patters as an example and just that they’ve created a lot of practices, processes, methods that get that worker involvement in a regular kind of method, at least in the higher performing organizations in that way. 

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Yeah, absolutely. Because honestly, at the end of the day, it sounds really obvious when you say it, but like, if you have a problem, you bring together the people who know the most about that problem, about the context of it. And if we’re trying to solve a problem around the work process, sorry, who’s going to know more than the people who actually do that work? Yeah, there’s going to be other people who have other perspectives that are important as well, if it’s engineering or whoever. But yeah, the workers have a seat at that table, right? They should. And so especially from a safety perspective, because again, when we see this as a technical sort of problem-solving, then involving the workers doesn’t matter. I have the technical knowledge; it lives in my head. They don’t have it. But when we see this as that technical problem, then has to exist amongst other problems that these workers have to meld together into this thing that we call work, which has goal conflicts and scarce resources that they’re managing, and relationships, all of these things on a daily basis they’re managing, then I’m not going to know how that’s going to work. 

They’re going to know how that’s going to work. Right. It doesn’t mean that I’m irrelevant. That just means that my voice is not any more privileged than their voice. We all have an equal kind of perspective that we can bring that’s valuable and useful. Yeah, I think learning from the Kaisen kind of quality approach, it’s extremely valuable for safety professionals. One organization that I saw that did it, I think really well, and they pointed to this as one of their big sorts of changes. It was a chemical plant, and they already had kind of an environment where people started talking to each other, but then they said, you know what? We have these safety problems, engineering problems, and quality problems, and it’d be good if we got people’s perspectives on it. So how about we just create a regular meeting so that anybody can show up? Anybody can just show up. We’re going to invite everybody, and if you got something you want to talk about, we’re going to talk about it. And they called it the Smart Team, which is one of those acronyms that people wanted to call Smart. So, let’s find an acronym that fits with smart, like Sharing Minds, Attitudes, Resources and Technology, or something like that.

I can’t remember the exact, but that was it. It was just an open conversation. Sometimes it got a little bit rowdy because everybody was talking. You had the mechanics there, you had the operations there, you had management there, you had engineering there. But everybody’s voice was equal there. So, people would come and just say, hey, engineers would say, hey, I’m thinking of replacing this valve. What do you all think? All right. My mechanics would say, hey, this PPE that we’re using, I don’t think it’s great. Is there another option? What do you think? And we would just group. Problem solved. 


I think I applaud management the most because that’s hard for them to do, to let go of the rains in those situations. 

Absolutely right. 

And I think that’s why a lot of organizations don’t do things like this because you’re sort of giving up control over the outcome, but the end result is often way better when you do so because you’re getting more perspective, it’s better. 

And even if it’s not always better, I think one of the learnings I have, which is actually an interesting one, is at the end of the day, you talked about it’s a human, it’s humans. We’re making decisions and we don’t like to be told what to do. If we’re part of the solutioning, we’re more likely to accept it. Right. As long as we were heard, we’re part of it. So, it’s an acceptance piece. And one of the things I learned this came from the quality and from change. At General Electric way, way back, they had this perfect engineering equation, q times A equals E. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s the quality of the change you’re driving. Times the acceptance equals the effectiveness of it. Right. So, what they’re saying is if I have a ten in quality of the change but a one in acceptance, then the effectiveness is ten. Even if I had a five in terms of the quality, but acceptance was five right away, my effectiveness is 25. So, it’s really recognizing that part of it is getting quality. Part of it is a solution that people are willing to do and that they felt they were part of. 

None of us are ever as happy when a rule is imposed on us, and we have no say. 

Oh, absolutely. I think that’s a really valuable insight, too. The analogy ops in my head from psychology is the Ikea effect. What you build is something you treasure a bit more than if I just bought furniture from somewhere else. I think whether the furniture is better or not almost doesn’t matter. I perceive it as better, and so I’m going to treasure it more. And I think a lot of safety people in particular, but you see this in other fields as well that gets so frustrated. That man, I mean, a friend, a colleague of mine had at the beginning of his book that he wrote where he said that safety people should be on everybody’s Christmas card list, but we’re not. Why is that? Because we’re trying to help everybody, but they’re not adopting what we say. And I think sometimes it’s because we’re trying to force feed them and not bringing them along and allowing them to build something that they can see themselves in. Yeah, I think it’s a shift, it’s a change, but it’s so important, especially when we want people to have another term that we are kind of talking about here is ownership. 

How can people own safety programs if we don’t let them own them? Don’t let them create it. 

I had Dr. Josh Williams on the show many months ago, and he shared some work he had done when he was in grad school, and it had to do with the implementation of an observation program many years ago, and one was done by the consultant, so it was technically the strongest observation program, and then the other one was done by the workers. They created it with some guidance, but it was theirs. The participation in the one that was created by the workers was seven x higher than the one that was probably technically stronger created by the consultant. Right. Because it was theirs. They were comfortable doing peer observations. They understood the concept, they designed it, and they understood everything that was about it. 

Yeah, I love that. Yeah. It reminds me of the concept when I do like leadership training or talk about leadership, and we try to say, okay, what is a leader, ultimately the best definition of leadership I can think of as a leader is someone who has followers and is working with those followers towards a shared goal. But if you don’t have followers, it doesn’t matter. Right. You can have a really maybe we would say a bad leader, but if they have a bunch of followers, that’s probably better than a leader without any, you know, in the same way, a solution that’s amazing. The best technology on Earth. I mean, ask Google about their glasses that no one uses. It’s not going to really be effective. 


So, I think yeah, having people buy into and I think that equation you said is really profound in that regard. Having people buy into it means having people create it with you.

Yeah. And more likely to follow it. Right. Because that’s the thing is you could have the perfect process, but then if people are only following when somebody’s watching, then you’ve not solved the problem. 

Absolutely. Yeah. And they follow it, I think, because A, it’s theirs. And so, there’s a pride of ownership. Right. But also, be the process of them creating it, going back to that entangled sort of goal conflicts and things, they are incorporating that subject matter expertise into the development of it. And I’ve found whenever I’ve kind of engaged in these processes, where you’re building these, whether it’s program, process, procedure, whatever with the worker, having them build it with you, it’s not uncommon. It’s actually more uncommon than not that it doesn’t happen. That I’m surprised like I never knew that, like that it was that dangerous or it was that difficult or that you had to do this other thing at the same time. And I would have never thought of that. And so, by definition, then my procedure, if I had done it, would have been flawed. It’s very humbling when you engage in it, but it’s fun at the same time. 

So, I think what you brought up is some super important points. Really. In terms of employee involvement. Walking out of the door. Being where the work is done. Whether it’s call management by walking around the gamba walks on the quality side. Asking people some really powerful questions about risk hazards. Is there a safer way to do it? Anything that’s not the usual way. The way it’s intended. That they’re having to patch around for some reason. Trying to get more work. Involvement in projects. Improvements. But making this really a way of life. And I think that’s where the secret sauce is. It’s not a project, it’s just how I show up every day is recognizing that there’s a lot of power, and a lot of knowledge in my team and I want to tap into it, use them, and leverage them to increase buy-in and to get better solutions. 

Yeah. And I guess kind of the last thing I would say, which was something, I actually was in a workshop yesterday and a union rep was in the class. It was leadership. Workshop. There’s a union rep. We’re talking about observation, leadership observation. And he said something, if your goal is to check a box, then it’s not worth your time because the workers will know. But if your goal is to make that person’s life better, they’re going to realize it quickly, and then they’re going to start engaging back with you. Because I think a lot of people don’t do this because they’re worried about the workers, don’t want me to go talk to them, and stuff like that. Well, if your goal is just to go check a box, and yeah, don’t bother. But if your goal is, I’m here to help them and help myself along the way, I think people will respond to that. 

Respond. And I think the other part is it’s a conversation that matters from the point of your observation. It’s not the observation of the tick in the box. It’s what conversation are we having? And am I recognizing you if you do something I’ve worked with some organizations just saying find one thing every week you’re going to recognize, and then once you got that, go every day because there are surely some things that are worth recognizing? But they were doing their job. Not necessarily. Because if there are things that are happening, you need to recognize the good. 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, if we’re honest, I would say, one, there’s far better happening than that, 100%. And I would take it even a step further and say, I’m not sure we even understand what the good is all the time, because the good we see is often when things go according to our plan. But if we admit that our plans are always flawed, they’re never perfect, sometimes negligible, sometimes wildly so, then, man, that means there’s something there that’s taking success from the jaws of failure. And I think we need to go out and figure that out and acknowledge that as well. 

Yeah. The favourite recognition I heard yesterday, I think it was, was an employee who saw a problem, saw there was something that wasn’t for the spec, and then brought it back and then inspected every piece of equipment on the rack to see if it was on the others. Found that, sure enough, that defect on that one thing, which was a safety hazard, also impacted all the others and then dealt with it. Right. And this is worthy of recognition ten times over because you’re going beyond I’m seeing a safety hazard on this piece of equipment, and you’re trying to fix the root cause of it. 

Yeah, absolutely. And I guess my challenge to any leader is for every one of those that we see, I bet there’s ten more that we’re just not seeing, not missing. Right. And so that creates the challenge of, okay, this is why I got to get out there more. I got to get out there and see this and learn from it. Because if in your observations, the only thing you’re getting is things are going according to plan, or people are deviating from my plan, that’s okay, but it’s not sufficient. Right. If you’ve never learned anything, or surprised by anything, then you’re probably not getting out enough. You’re not asking the right questions, you’re not engaging. 

Yeah, absolutely. There was one CEO who said, I never found the stats to see if it’s true, but he says, I want to see four times the recognition to everything that I’m finding an opportunity for improvement because we want to celebrate the goodness that’s happening every day. And so, if you’re looking for goodness, then you can celebrate it. But if most people, they’re not looking for it, they’re looking for what’s wrong that’s not on the tick box versus what’s good about today, fundamentally. 

And I think that actually gets back to a key challenge we have in safety quality. Probably also, but maybe to a lesser degree, is that it’s far easier for us to think about examples of unsafe things than it is to think about examples of safe things. Right. What was the last unsafe thing you saw? We can probably think of that pretty easily, but with the last safe thing you saw, that’s a bit harder because what does that even mean? Is it just the absence of unsafe things? Is it the presence of something else? I would say it’s more the latter than the former, but I think part of our getting out there and engaging with people is learning about what it is to be safe. And, yeah, we’re also going to help the workers learn about that, too. But if we’re not learning on that process as well right? That’s where the recognition starts to come in because you start to realize, wow, there’s a lot more going on than I expected. These people are doing way better. 

Job than I expected, or they’re dealing with a lot of things that are not as expected, that is not for the plan, and they’re fixing it. So, the scooters on that front because they’re fixing it safely, but still learn from what’s happening. 

Absolutely. Yeah. Totally agree. And need a lot more of that. 

Definitely. So, Ron, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom on this very important topic. And I really encourage people, even if it’s a baby step, to start thinking about how I engage my workers more, how do I get them to participate, and how I get them part of a safety program. Even designing key elements of your strategy just really rethink the power equation in terms of who has the most knowledge and information that can improve our safety performance. So, thank you so much for sharing that, Ron. 

My pleasure. Thanks for having me. It’s a fun conversation. 


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Ron Gantt has over 20 years of experience in health and safety management, human factors, and system safety working with industries such as high technology, construction, utilities, and chemical manufacturing. He has undergraduate degrees in psychology and occupational safety as well as a graduate degree in safety engineering. Ron is also currently finishing his PhD in cognitive systems engineering at the Ohio State University. He has numerous certifications related to safety management, including being a Board Certified Safety Professional. Ron is currently the Head of HSE – Americas for Yondr Group.




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Suicide Prevention: A Call to Action for Safety Leaders with Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas

Suicide prevention a call to action for safety leaders



In observance of World Suicide Prevention Day and National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States, we are privileged to have Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas join the podcast. In this episode, Dr. Sally shares how the loss of her brother to suicide in 2004 left her with a calling to help prevent this from happening to others by engaging the workplace in crucial conversations about suicide prevention. Tune in to learn the depths of correlation between mental health and workplace safety and how organizations and leaders can help prevent and mitigate death by suicide.


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

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m really excited to have with me Dr. Sally Spencer Thomas who is a psychologist and impact entrepreneur. We’re going to have to talk about what that really means. And entails a passion for suicide prevention. She’s also the President of the United Suicide Survivors International. We have a really important topic to discuss today and it’s really as we’re talking about Suicide Prevention Week and International Suicide Prevention Day is really the connection between safety and mental health well-being and suicide. So, incredibly important topic, and very happy to have you with me, Sally.

Grateful to be here, Eric. I’m so glad to be making the connections here. 

Excellent. So, before we jump into your story and some of the themes around it, tell me a little bit about what it is to be an impact entrepreneur.

So, an impact entrepreneur brings kind of the heart of a non-profit, a mission-oriented perspective, but kind of the business mind and the efficiencies of a business model. So social entrepreneurship is another term for it but it’s basically a business that measures its profit by impact.

Excellent. Well, excellent. Thank you for the work that you’re doing in this space. So maybe let’s start with a bit of your story, your background, and how you got passionate about this critically important topic. 

Yeah, so I’m a psychologist by training and I’ve been in the field of mental health for upwards of 16 years if you count my undergraduate years when I lost my brother to suicide. This happened in 2004. My brother was a business leader himself, an executive in the insurance industry. He had launched a company in his mid-20s by his early thirty s that had gone national. And so, in all the ways that we tend to measure success in our country, my brother had those opportunities and so he was beloved. But what people didn’t know is that he fought depression and a mental health condition that ultimately proved to be fatal. And so many people have these before and after moments in their life and his death was most definitely mine. Within a couple of months. I definitely felt a calling to try to figure out some bold, gap-filling things that could prevent what happened to Carson from happening to other people. And that led us on a path to trying to engage the workplace. It was eye-opening to me. After all, this year in mental health that no one shared. The majority of people who die by suicide are working-aged men.

Most of them have one attempt, and most of them have never stepped foot in any type of mental health resource. So, we’re not going to catch them through education, we’re not going to catch them through the health care system. They’re working, or they were just working. It’s the workplace that’s the most cross-cutting system. And so eventually, that is what leads me to you. 

Wow. First, really sorry to hear about your loss, but I think it’s really impactful, you said in terms of the role that workplaces have around us, and it’s a common theme, and people don’t necessarily talk about it. We’re talking about it more these days, but there needs to be a lot more openness around talking about these teams. As you said, he was a successful executive. Most people would think he’s in a good spot and may not ask questions.

Yeah. And when we first started to try to engage workplaces in 2007, like, hey, how about some suicide prevention in the workplace? They were like, no, that’s a medical issue. People need to take that stuff up with their doctors. And I was like, but they’re not, and they’re here, they’re working, so how about you do something? But there was just so much fear and resistance in the early days. A much different story today.

Let’s touch a little bit on the link to safety, because in many cases as you said, a lot of workplaces are starting to talk about the topic, but not necessarily linking it to safety. So, can you bring some of the connections between these two areas? 

Sure. So, we didn’t have great data. So, I’m in the US. And everybody here kind of benchmarks their mortality and morbidity data off the bureau of labour statistics, and that’s where everyone was focused. And relatively speaking, suicide deaths as measured there were relatively low. They were only looking at that, however, where suicide deaths on a job site well, most suicide deaths don’t happen on a job site. That happens somewhere else. But they were missing the fact that thousands of people were dying by suicide in various male-dominated industries construction, extraction, transportation, including aviation, all kinds of industries. And once those data became public in the United States in 2016, that’s when everything changed. Because when we were looking just at what we’re focusing on is the fatal four slips and falls and electrocution and copying, we’re talking about hundreds of deaths, and every single one of those deaths matter, or maybe upwards of 1000 deaths. When we come to suicide just in the construction industry, we’re talking about 5432 deaths somewhere in that range every year. So, no one knew that. So that was the AHA moment. And then when you kind of dig deeper, there are many connections that people were not drawing the dots through between psychological safety, mental health promotion, suicide prevention, and job C-suite safety or workplace safety.

So, one is a distraction. Everybody knows that when workers are distracted, they make errors and they put themselves in hazardous situations. But no one has been talking about the fact that when you are in the throes of a pretty intense mental health condition or a mental health moment or suicide intensity, as we like to call it, your brain is off doing other stuff. And I’ll speak from personal experience. I went through my own experience with major depression in the spring of 2012. For whatever reason, that perfect storm of stressors hit me, and I had this meta-awareness that my mental health was going down the toilet. And it was one of those things like every single one of my usual coping strategies where it was meditation, trying to eat right, trying to sleep, nothing was touching it. I couldn’t sleep. Food tasted like paste, so I stopped eating. And I remember very distinctly, I like others, I could zip myself up for little periods of time to go do the thing. And for me, doing the thing is getting on a stage and talking to a whole bunch of people. And so, I knew I was really unwell, but I also had to make a living. 

So, I went to this conference, and it was actually a sorority convention in Atlanta, and I had to drive from the venue, from my hotel to the venue. And I remember driving on the highway and having a very clear thought I should not be driving. My mind was racing a million miles an hour. I had an overwhelming sense of panic that I was going to get in a car crash or get lost like there was no way I should have been driving. And that’s true for hundreds of thousands of people every day that are in safety-critical workplaces and their brain is working on something else that is not focused on the job at hand. So that’s one. Number two is fatigue. Again, everybody is connecting the dots between fatigue and job site safety, but they’re almost always only concerned with hours worked. And yes, we have lots of clear data that over certain thresholds, probably about 60 hours a week, we start to get too tired, and we make mistakes that lead to safety problems. But that’s not the only thing that causes fatigue. Most mental health conditions have some kind of sleep dysregulation as part of the criteria.

And it is either I can’t fall asleep, I can’t stay asleep, I try to sleep, and I have tons of nightmares. I’m trying to sleep with a substance use disorder. So, I’m not getting quality restorative sleep, or I sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep and I never feel rested. I always say that sleep, sleep disruption is the canary in the coal mine for some kind of mental health condition. It’s the thing that comes first. And yeah, we all have rough nights of sleep and we’ve got a lot on our minds, but if it’s night after night after night, you’re going to feel tired. And so that’s another piece. The other piece is that some mental health conditions, you can see this on brain scans, cause the brain to not properly function. And in the cases like depression, our synapses are just not firing in the way that they do when we’re well, you can see the brain is really shut down. And the experience I remember this too, the experience is kind of like you’re in this dark tunnel or this dark fog, everything is negative. You’re seeing the world through rust-coloured glasses. 

It’s very hard to generate solutions to problems or to see things from a different perspective. So, again, in safety-critical workplaces, you need that kind of decisiveness problem-solving piece that’s happening so that we can shift gears quickly and come up with an alternative plan that’s hard to do with an impaired brain. And then lastly, ongoing high levels of distress, whether that’s internally caused by a predisposed mental health condition or externally caused from trauma or overwhelmed or whatever, eventually something has got to give, and things will start to fall apart in your body. So, our immune system gets compromised. So, we’re much more likely to get things like, I don’t know, viruses much more susceptible to heart disease and even some cancers and so on and so forth. Pain issues get exacerbated. And so again, we start to see this cycle happening, our mental unwellness contributing to our physical unwellness, contributing to work sites, stresses and pressures, and then here we go round and round. So, there’s many ways that these things are connected.

Yeah, and I think you touched on we talk all the time about distraction, fatigue, all these pieces that you can’t have focused on the task at hand. If you’re thinking about other things, you’re tired. So very strong connection. So, what are some of the tactics that businesses can take to make a meaningful difference?

Well, the good news is the silver lining of the pandemic woke a lot of people up, a lot of workplace leaders, whether that’s employers, professional associations, labor unions, whatever because there was hardly a person on the planet that was impacted in one way or another. We all had this shared experience of like, oh my gosh, and workplaces got really concerned about mental health disruption of their workforce. And then add to that, we’ve got a new generation coming in, the gen Xers who are fluent in mental health awareness from birth. They have those psychosocial education things in preschool. They get it and it’s a huge priority for them. So, when it comes to recruitment, retention, and engagement of young talent, workplaces have got to get this right or we’re going to continue to see that great resignation and the turn that is so disruptive for so many employers. So that’s where suddenly, in the last couple of years, people have learned in ways that they haven’t learned in before. And because we also had data in many of the safety-critical industries that suicide was an issue, we have workplaces leaning in, not just on well-being.

A lot of people like to do the light stuff, well-being, stress management, conflict management, okay, all that stuff matters. And also, we’ve got to talk about the hard stuff. We’ve got to talk about addiction. We’ve got to talk about overdose. We’ve got to talk about suicidal despair, suicide, death, and mental health emergencies. We’ve got to prep workplaces for the whole continuum of experiences, not just the lighter stuff that’s easier to talk about. 


So, what I love about a lot of the safety-critical industries is that they tend to be very problem-solving and pragmatic people. And so, for the most part, people leaned in quickly and said, okay, we got a problem. How do we solve the problem? Give us some tools. We’ll try stuff out. And they did. So, there’s a bunch of us that have also around the same time we published it on October 19, 2019. So right before the pandemic in the United States, the national guidelines for workplace suicide prevention. Canada has something similar with its psychological safety standards for the workplace. Australia has a couple of things around a position statement for workplace suicide prevention. We were late to the party, but we got it done in 2019. And all these documents, standards, guidelines, whatever you want to call them, give workplaces a roadmap to tackle the hard stuff. And in the United States, we frame it as upstream, midstream, and downstream. So, there are a lot of things workplaces can do in the upstream part of the equation, which is promoting what we call protective factors and decreasing psychosocial hazards. Protective factors are things like belonging.

That’s why the die was concerned to play it’s about psychological safety, where people feel okay about bringing their whole selves to work. And how do we create a trustworthy work environment, a culture of care? How do we position our leadership to authentically communicate that this is a health and safety priority for their workplace? How do we have lived experience stories come through and lived experience realized as a form of expertise that can help code design all these programs? So, all of those things that are in the upstream and then with psychosocial hazards, it’s a really important paradigm shift for a lot of workplaces that it’s not good enough just to get a whole bunch of quote-unquote troubled people to counsellors. That’s usually where everybody goes, let’s get these troubled people to the counsellors for a whole bunch of reasons that are fraught we’ll get into that I’m sure that is helpful, for sure if it’s accessible, culturally responsive, all of those things. And also, there’s a whole bunch of stuff workplaces are doing every single day that is driving overwhelming despair, and mental unwellness every single day. So, they also need to take responsibility for mitigating or eliminating psychosocial hazards. 

And one of the AHA moments that we had when we were looking at this again, the United States has an inverted pyramid of the hierarchy of controls when it comes to job site safety. Sure, every single work trail I go to, every single training room on safety-critical workplaces, I see this thing hanging up. It’s like the Bible. Very important. And so, we all know that we’re going to be far more successful if we eliminate or mitigate job site safety hazards in the environment. Then only the thing we do is promote our individual responsibility for wearing our PPE like a hard hat, professional vest, whatever it is. We’re going to be far more successful if we figure out what the hazards are. Same thing here, but nobody is paying attention to this yet, at least not. 

In the United States.

The UK is doing some really cool stuff. They’re actually starting to legislate this, which is very interesting. We’re not there nowhere near there yet. But when we look at the psychosocial hazards like problems in job design, so low autonomy, low job variety, poor effort rewarded balance, those kinds of things, when we look at toxic relationships within a job C suite or within a workplace, especially a supervisor, if that’s a very toxic relationship, the chances are good the worker is going to have high levels of distress. Another piece very common is work and life getting disrupted. So, life spilling into work, work spilling into life, and having no way to navigate that in a healthy way. Another really important piece that doesn’t get talked about enough but is very clearly connected to suicidal despair is if workers feel like they’re a cog in the wheel, they really don’t have a purpose, they don’t connect to the mission, and they really feel like their contribution doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of life and really actually helping someone else have success or profit or whatever. So that disconnect. Like the thing I do 60 hours a week just doesn’t matter, leads to that sense of purposeless.

And then lastly, there are also a lot of hazards that the workplace does just by the nature of the work. So, in our first responder communities, they’re exposed to a lot of traumas. The same with a lot of our healthcare communities. There’s just a lot of sleep disruption by the nature of the job shift, work or long hours or early hours or not enough time off, all of those kinds of things can also contribute. And then the last thing I’ll say is that workplace culture also contributes to mental unwellness. If your main source of relieving stress culturally contributes to really poor coping strategies like high levels of substance abuse. I mean, I work a lot with first responder communities, and I know they get off a long shift. It doesn’t matter if it’s 08:00 in the morning they’re hitting the bars and that just sets up people for addictive patterns that lead to a whole bunch of dominoes falling over. So, lots of things and so that’s the upstream in the midstream. We’re trying to catch things early, trying to help with what we call early detection. This works for all healthcare issues. We want to catch those cancer lumps and bumps when they’re small.

We want to make sure we’ve got the blood pressure under control when the problems are coming on early. All of those things. Same thing here. We want people to be able to identify emerging issues in their mental health and not wait until things are catastrophic to reach out for help. So, the best way that we can do that is really helps the workforce own this part of their health like they own other parts of their health like we own our fitness and our nutrition. We know largely it’s up to us and the choices that we make every day. It’s not entirely but we have a lot of agencies over the decisions that we make in that space. Same thing here. Our wellbeing is largely a part of our decisions and our own self-awareness and so how can we provide a self-care orientation that matters for our overall happiness and well-being in life. And one of the things that we can empower workplaces to do in this area is advocate for anonymous confidential and voluntary self-screening. There are programs out there where workers can just host a screening day for depression and really emphasize this is anonymous and confidential.

It’s not coming back to the employer. This is just a check-up from the neck up. We’re going to do this like we do your fitness tests or other kinds of things. The other piece that I know we’re going to get into in a little bit is peer support. We have found in safety-critical environments there’s often great reluctance for a whole bucket of reasons for workers to reach out to formal mental health supports. There are layers and layers and layers of reasons why there’s a lot of reluctance we’ll get into that. And so, peer support, formally trained peer support programs, not necessarily peer support groups per se but a formal peer support program where people are recruited and trained, and they self-identify. They’ve got outward-facing cues that you’re a safe person to talk to. Most of them have significant lived experience so they can come and meet people where they are, offer empathy because of their own shared meaningful experiences, and so on. That seems to be the major missing link in many workplaces they just land so hard on. We’ve got an EAP, why is our utilization rate 2%? Because people don’t trust it, but they trust appear super.

Peer support is another piece.

There’s also an accessibility and relatability piece because I saw that in the aviation space where there was peer support and it was almost the onboarding to EAP, so they could triage. People felt comfortable they related to the person. It was hugely powerful. Versus EAP, I’ve seldom seen people other than a manager saying, oh, don’t forget to call EAP. 

Which by the way, most managers have never called. So why would I trust you? This is the same thing when you yourself have never used it. Exactly right, yeah. Let’s dive into peer support a little bit more because, for many workplaces, this is a daunting step because they have HR folks, they have employment lawyers who are like, oh no, the liability. And they get up all in a frenzy about fears of being sued. And what we’re learning again from our European colleagues is actually the opposite is true. If you don’t start doing some best practices around providing mental health support for your workforce in areas, we know that work, you’re going to be seen as negligence. You’re going to be seen as not doing what you need to do to protect your workforce. So, this is one of those areas. And we have some proven examples. Like you said, in aviation, I’m familiar with Project Wingman out of American Airlines. They became a really great gold standard for the world. And all of a sudden now most major airlines have a very viable peer support program for the pilots and then many other roles within aviation. 

And when we think about it, yeah, nobody wants a suicidal pilot, nobody wants. 

No, not a good idea. 

And at the same time, or a drunk one, right? And we were preventing our pilots from raising their hands and saying, I need help. Well, that’s a conundrum. So, peer support became, again, that safe pathway for people to get support. We’ve got a lot of really great examples from our first responder communities, especially law enforcement, fire service, and big municipal departments. They’ve had things operating for decades. So, we’ve got models that we can then translate and Trans Culture to other types of industries. And my joy at the moment I spend probably 80% of my time or more in the construction space is to watch the construction industry start to embrace this. The unions have stepped forward most boldly first, and they’re having some really good experiences. They were already set up for that in many ways because of the culture of I’ve got your back. But now we’ve got professional associations coming in and many large companies starting to look at this with seriousness. So, it’s great. And not only is peer support good for the person who’s in distress, but it’s also good for the peer supporter. We have this again, this huge body of data that shows helping others helps us. 

So, it helps that peer support person stay in recovery, and be accountable for their own wellness. It’s a great gap-filling thing that I see is absolutely the future. Oh, and to all the employers out there, cost savings, let me just say that it’s not been replicated in any peer-reviewed journal. But when I ask aviation, when I ask my fire service folks, how much of the distress and despair do you feel is resolved at the peer level? The consistent number I get from these different industries is about 80%. 75% to 80% they say are resolved at the peer level, which means people are not having to take formal medical leave or accommodations. They’re not having to go into any costly treatment for themselves or the company. They’re resolving things at the peer level so people can stay at work and do what they need to do to support their work and their families. Cost savings is another awesome reason to do peer support.

Very compelling argument on this one. And this is something I think a lot of organizations need to really seriously look at, because I’ve seen some cases where, as you mentioned, often union gets involved partners on that front. But how powerful it is, and how many more people can use it, I think it’s a huge game changer in space.

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Yeah, and the last thing I’ll mention in the Midstream space, again, midstream is about identifying problems as they’re emerging. That way things are catastrophic is training. So again, in a lot of safety-critical industries, training is the first go-to. We got a problem, let’s have training. And so, this is again a very quick cultural fit. We can just bake into stuff that’s already happening. I’ve seen some very innovative people, again for the US. Bake it into their Ocean 30 requirements as an elective that some quasi-required, and there are lots of ways we can do it. So, there is what we call gatekeeper training out there. It’s kind of an unfortunate name, but it’s stuck over the decade. Basically, gatekeeper means it’s like CPR. We’re training everyday people to know enough to recognize when somebody might be in a situation that’s driving despair at pretty high levels, and to have the confidence and confidence to go in just like a CPR person, to do what’s needed to sustain that person until we can link them to the next level of care. And so, this is Saturation training. Just like CPR. We want to train as many people as possible in the hopes that when something’s going down, somebody’s going to have the confidence to step in and know what the next level of care needs to be. 

Maybe it’s to the formal peer support person, maybe it’s to the EAP, maybe it’s to a very well-vetted substance use recovery centre in the community. Whatever they’re going to be helpful in kind of connecting those dots, and if not, they’re going to know who knows? And that’s what it does. And so, some of these that are well known are QPR stands for Question, Persuade. Referendum One is safe to talk coming out of Canada, but globally implemented. And then I’m involved with one that’s specifically addressing the workplace. It was called working minds. We’re going through a branding change this year to Vital Cog, and we can put this in the show notes.


If that’s of interest.


Where, again, we’re just in an hour or two, we are training everyday people to be able to intervene with best practice skills and conversations and referral and support. Will everybody does it? No. Does that mean it’s a failure? No. We train millions and millions of people in CPR every year. Most, like myself, never used it, and probably never will, but I’m glad I have it. I’m certainly glad I have it. And then lastly, downstream. And again, that training thing gets some of the HR folks and the employee employers like, oh no, are we now responsible for the things I’m like? Are you responsible for CPR if it didn’t work out, if they broke a rib, are you responsible? No, because we all believe in the Good Samaritan. Who is the layperson coming in to help with that Good Samaritan perspective? Here’s the kicker in the law piece, they don’t have the duty. It’s not like this is their job like it would be if you were a licensed psychologist. No, they’re Good Samaritans doing what they’ve been told is helpful at the moment. So that’s how we get through that quandary. And then finally downstream.

So downstream is getting prepared for the worst-case scenario. You are prepared for worst-case scenario around cyber-attacks. You are prepared for worst-case scenario around some kind of job site disaster. You need to also be prepared for the worst-case scenario of a mental health emergency because it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. Most people will have one in five having them now, so you’re going to need to get prepared. And so, what does that look like? Well, number one, it looks like, go in and check out the mental health resources you have because chances are you have no idea what they do. Most companies went to the lowest bidder for their EAP, and guess what? You get what you pay for. So, if you go in, I say kick the tires, go and do some secret shopper work, make some calls, maybe have a session or two yourself, see what it’s all about. You’re going to realize either that it’s amazing and people are really responsive and understand your industry, or you’re going to realize there are a lot of problems. And then you think through, what if you’re a person on their worst day trying to navigate the system and not having people call you back and not feeling like people?

Understand the culture of the work that you do, I’m going to say you’re probably going to need to often in many cases find a better EAP. That’s been my experience with pretty much every employer I’ve worked with. And then also you probably need more than just an in-person traditional kind of mental health service provider model. A lot of safety-critical industries work around the clock. They don’t have time or accessibility to drive somewhere and have an in-person thing. So, there’s been a lot of innovation in the mental health space during Covet. It forced us to get through some pretty previously challenging barriers. So again, you need to vet it though because oh my goodness, the marketplace just proliferated with all kinds of apps and telemetry health and digital health and most of them are credible. So, find the good ones and find the ones that will fit your industry. So that’s number one. Number two, you need a crisis response plan. It’s not good enough just to have the resources there. You need to equip your managers, supervisors, the people who are in those decision-making spaces, and even your communications folks. What are we going to do? 

What are we going to do if we have an overdose? What are we going to do if we have a suicide on a job site where it’s public-facing, we’ve had witnesses, the media is coming down, we’ve got all kinds of people traumatized, we’ve got many, many people significantly bereaved by the situation. We need a plan in place and you put that plan in place before the thing happens because if you’re trying to put that do the thing on the fly, the chances are good you’re going to make a whole host of pretty bad mistakes that are not only going to not support the people left behind but can also increase the risk for future suicide death. So, you want to have a plan in place. We have a guide. It’s called Manager’s Guide to Suicide. Postvention is what we call that at work and just other things that people are going to need to be equipped. We are putting out, as I mentioned to you earlier, a white paper and again we’ll put that in the show notes also for HR and employment law because they have so many fears about how to manage this if they get stuck.

And we want to help address some of those fears to help them move forward to do the right thing for people who are experiencing their darkest day. And so, in that white paper, we talk about the kinds of accommodations that can be helpful for people experiencing mental health emergencies not only in themselves but also in their families. And so that we can come up with a really good collaborative plan that upholds the dignity of people who are suffering. That’s a very important point that we don’t respond out of fear, but we respond out of compassion to help people through because we’re all going to take our turns and we would like to be treated in that same way with dignity, partnership, respect, all of that. And then finally, again, if there should be some kind of death of a co-worker or a client or a vendor, something that’s going to impact the workplace in a significant way, we need to create safe spaces for people to grieve, to come together. Not everybody is going to need it in long teams, but we need to be on point with the communication, with the support that we’re providing. 

And what we know about suicide is in particular, it’s complicated, especially if you’ve lost a first-degree loved one, a child, say, or a partner or a parent or a best friend. It’s not the thing you’re going to get over in the three days we often give people to grieve. It’s going to take years. And in many cases, if you’re a parent that’s lost a child, it can take decades before any kind of new normal comes around. You’re just suffering very deeply for a long time. So how can workers work with people who are in that space to make sure they don’t lose an otherwise incredible worker?


But support them. Because I’ll tell you what, I had a workplace that did that for me. When my brother died, I was working at a Jesuit university, a Catholic school. And I’m not Catholic, but I’ll tell you what, the Jesuits, understand grief and they came alongside me at the moment. Here I am, almost 18 years out from the loss. Every year they still send me a note thinking of your precious brother Carson. Today I get chills just thinking about it magnified the number of employees, the number of years they are handwriting those for thousands and thousands and thousands of people every year. That matters, right? And when I was going through it, in the acute sense, they gave me time off. They gave me flex time. They allowed me to go to the support groups and the grief counsellors. They gave me a lot of grace and a lot of space. And because of that, I was a super loyal, gracious, and grateful employee for a long time. So, it makes a big difference.

Yeah, you shared a lot of incredible resources. And I think the two things that really struck me is in terms of the training that can become available because people need to recognize whether it’s peer, even leaders in the safety language. You talk a lot of actively caring. That’s a component of actively caring for your team members. The other theme that came up is really the evolution of EAP towards peer support. And I think these are two areas as well that you’ve helped, and you can help organizations in terms of taking that step forward. Is that correct?

That is, I’m excited to say that I also think what’s on the next phase of the frontier here of how we’re going to move this forward. We’re piloting a certification program right now. It’s not ready for prime time, but it will be in 2023 when we are working with the state of New York. So, they have underwritten this to walk a cohort of organizations, all of them in safety-critical organizations, through those nine best practices that I just shared with you and provide them technical assistance and coaching. It’s a deep dive. It’s not a flyby two-hour workshop, it’s six-month. We would prefer that it was a twelve-month, but it’s a six-month implementation of regular training modules. And then they got deliverables and got third-party verification, just like a lead certification. There’s a high level of accountability that they’re demonstrating. They’re doing best practice, they have to pass quizzes, all these kinds of things. So far, so good. So hopefully that’ll be ready for primetime in 2023 and then we can really move it forward. I already have some owners for construction that are saying, can you speed that up a little bit? 

Because we need some kind of benchmark to know like, are you really doing the thing? Are you just checking boxes here? So that’s also pretty exciting.

And given the safety implications, do you normally see safety organizations reaching out, or is it that safety organizations partnering with HR and NHR reaching out? What do you normally see? Because what I’ve normally seen is it becomes the HR dialogue as opposed to the safety dollars, whereas I think it needs to also be owned in the safety arena.

So, in the early days, again, 20 07 20 11 my inclination was to go to HR. It made sense, right? They’re the ones who are people. They are the ones who are in charge of the benefits. And I got because I’m talking suicide, which is scary to them, but they were like, oh no, I got frustrated and I’m like, why are you not running with this? When the safety data or when the deaf data came out, the safety people came right up to the front. And like I said, the problem-solving people, understand the connections, they have, the mechanism around that training piece. I would say in my world, the safety people have made far more advancements than the HR folks. The HR folks have been more of a roadblock historically. And that’s not universal, but historically more of a put the brakes on this, let’s back it up and play it down. Where the safety people are like, nobody dies. That’s our goal. Nobody dies and nobody suffers, whether it’s from a mental health injury or a physical injury, because they’re connected, they get it. So, we’re really driving what we hope is more of a partnership between the two because obviously, we’ve got to get the HR and employment law people on board championing this, not just putting the brakes on it. 

Yeah, they need to do the due diligence with the laws. Absolutely. And we want them to feel confident, which is why we published the white paper. But don’t put the brakes on it just because you’re afraid. If it’s just you, because we’re dealing with life and death, I get it. But we don’t respond well when we’re so afraid. We go into self-protection mode and then we can’t see the options. There are many, so I love the partnership when things come together. So, for example, we have a team do that implementation and the Hope certification. And I say absolutely, we need someone from HR, we need someone from safety. We absolutely need people with lived experience. I need someone with decision-making power, someone up at the top who knows what’s going on here, and someone from communications that’s a really strong team to help do this implementation really well.

Perfect. Well, thank you very much, Sally, for sharing all of this. I know you also have a white paper that’s coming out on near misses and instead of reporting and the link to mental well-being, do you want to give it maybe a quick highlight on some of the links there?

Yeah, well, I’ll just give the punchline, which is psychological safety. Psychological safety. So, if it means that I have psychological safety telling you I’ve made a mistake, then I feel like you’re going to have my back and not punish me for that information. And that’s how we learn about near misses or even incidents. If I have psychological safety to say I don’t feel right, there’s something wrong, and I trust that you’re going to support me and have my back, I’m much more likely to disclose that when the problems are small. If I feel like you’re going to fire me or punish me or discriminate against me, I’m going to white-knuckle it. And that can end up being a fatal overdose in the porta potty, which happens all too often. And then the last piece that ties in with electrical safety is if I feel that I don’t belong here because I’m different in some way, which of course has been such a hot topic, then I won’t ever come up with my whole self. I won’t tell you what it’s really like for life for me, or the experiences of being bullied or discriminated against, or how that impacts me and my well-being.

I won’t share that with you. And again, that leads people to overwhelming levels of despair. So, this whole idea of psychological safety is way more than I don’t feel safe in admitting a mistake or maybe suggesting an innovative way to solve a problem. It really goes to the heart of people’s well-being. And so, I’m a big fan of the movement. I just think we need to expand the definition a little more and that’s how things are tied very closely to the near miss and job site safety literature. So, I’ll send that to you I’ll put those in the show notes.

Perfect. Well, thank you very much, Sally, for sharing all these great insights. If somebody wants to reach out to you, what’s the easiest way to reach out? 

Probably the Web stop shop pieces are websites, so sally Spencer My name is sally Spencer Thomas.

Excellent. Thank you so much, Sally. 

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. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting. 

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Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D.

Keynote Speaker & Impact Entrepreneur

Co-Founder & President, United Suicide Survivors International

Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas is a clinical psychologist and award-winning mental health advocate with her own personal experience of losing her beloved brother to suicide. Her mission of giving voice to people who’ve lived through suicide thoughts, attempts, and loss and to help those in despair rekindle a passion for living.

In addition to helping leaders and communities implement innovative approaches to suicide prevention, Sally is the lead author on the National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention, President of United Suicide Survivors International, and co-founder of “Man Therapy” ( She also co-edits the Guts, Grit & the Grind book series that provides men and the people who love them with tools to help them better understand and cope with life’s challenges.

Sally has a TEDx talk and gave an invited address at the White House in 2016. Her impressive list of partners includes the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the FBI, Chubb Insurance, and Southwest Airlines. She has also spoken and consulted internationally including Australia, Ireland, Singapore, Taiwan, Denmark and Belgium.

For more information: 

National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention where they can “take the pledge”:

A White Paper for HR Professionals and Employment Lawyers – Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention in the Workplace Policy and Response Recommendations to Help Employers Positively Impact Workers and the Work Environment:

A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide 

Workplace Suicide Response; from Workplace Strategies for Mental Health of Canada

How to Move from Awareness to Action in Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion: Guidebook on Training Programs: 23 Characteristics that Make Trainings Great

VitalCog: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace 




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Safety Participation and Worker Involvement: Driving Leaps in Performance with Ken Woodward

safety participation and worker involvement driving leaps in performance



Ken Woodward was involved in a chemical explosion at work that resulted in the loss of his eyesight, smell, and taste. Rather than talking just as a victim, he embraces what can be learned from the incident that cost him three of his senses. In this episode, Ken stresses the importance of all team members working together equally to target zero damage to people, equipment, products, and finances. There’s not just one driver to workplace incidents; there’s a build-up over time. Tune in to learn how to increase safety participation in the workplace!


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.

Hello, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Ken Woodward. Ken is going to speak to us about a topic that’s incredibly near and dear to me around safety participation, worker involvement. So, Ken Woodward is an officer of the order of the British Empire OBE onfell of Ayosh, as well as the Safety Council of Australia. He’s worked for 32 years in workplace safety in 89 countries following a workplace incident that took place. So, Ken, welcome to the show, really excited to have you with me today. 

I’m looking forward to it Eric. 

So maybe let’s start a little bit about your incident. I want to get into a lot of the work you’ve done around worker involvement because that’s phenomenal, it’s exciting. But let’s start a little bit about your story and the incident that took place that really got you involved in safety to this level. 

Okay. It was November 1990, chemical explosion, caustic and Hypo. I had both eyes removed. I have no sense of smell or taste. Unfortunately, the burns recovered, and my life was saved by a work colleague. And at the time I was working for a leading soft drinks company. I also investigated the loss of my eyes, how it happened, why it happened, what we didn’t do, what failed, all the lists of whys, why’s wise, but to the workplace for a very good reason. 

So, one of the things when we first connected that you talked about was that everyone could have prevented this. Tell me a little bit more about kind of the whys you went through and that observation around everyone could have. 

Prevented what happened in that investigation. I realized that it was a process that I never attempted before. So, I found the most experienced person to train me to show me how to do it. Now this guy had 58 years experience, but it was inadequate training. We didn’t validate the training, we didn’t validate the competency of the trainers, the risk assessments, the standard operating procedures. We didn’t do any of that because it’s a very simple task, it takes three minutes, and it happens thousands of times every year. So, we didn’t do that. But there was a previous incident two weeks earlier, same task in the same place. There was exothermic reaction, and he burned his face and he had to go to hospital two weeks prior. 


Yeah, two weeks prior. That was reported immediately and investigated by the front-line manager. His condition was operator error. He must have been. So, we have a breakdown of communication and listening. We didn’t communicate with anybody. Eight weeks before that, there was a heating up of hot pipes. There were lots and lots of circumstances where compliance to systems, procedures and processes would have highlighted it all if we’d have adhered to it, sure. But we didn’t. We’re very busy people, lots of pressure to get the job done. Normal everyday occurrences throughout the world. It is no different. 


Very common.

We manage those that makes a difference. So, there was lots of circumstances. Five different departments, a couple of managers. I just picked five different departments, all of them really? And then there’s a lot of fingers pointing afterwards. There’s a faint mistake because there’s not just one driver to these incidences. There’s a build up, of course. And that build up may take an hour, it may take a year, but the flags are waving. And we had nothing in place. We had no communication of the importance of flagging these up in place. And this is in 1990. If I shared the stats with you, they would frighten you. But nobody knew them. 


Nobody. I only found out afterwards. 

It wasn’t discussed, it wasn’t reviewed?

No, nothing. If we got to hear about anything that happened on our C-Suite, and you would never find out how it happened. 


So, in that sense, and yet when you look at it, our topic is zero. 


No damage to people. Equipment, vehicles, property, product, environmental, finance. Every single employee around the world manages all of those to a lesser or greater degree. So, it’s in our own interest for everybody to work together equally to target that zero. 


But do we know how well that zero is doing? Probably not. And we most certainly don’t make sure it’s happening. 


So, it’s all of those elements I picked up. And I also had to go to a rehabilitation center for a year where I learned the art of communication and listening. More importantly, working together equally as a team and compliance. That’s just for me to be a blind person, to go out into a cited world. There are four major factors. I can never drop the standards as I will get hurt. 


Or it would become very inefficient. So, my life is based on those four standards, and I took those four standards into the workplace. 


Now, the best way I can explain this, in 1990, we had 89 reported lingers to the government who want fatality. Ten years later, I spoke to thousands of people that I work with within the organization six major sites, watch long solutions to put it right, how are we going to achieve it, and what support do you require from your management team to do to reach those objectives? Ten years it took to get to no reportable injuries to the HSE? 

None whatsoever. 

None whatsoever. We had 13 lost time injuries. The most was two days. That’s for thousands of people. 


We produce more, and we made the most profit we’ve ever made. 

So, tell me a little bit about that approach to worker involvement, because I think that’s a key component in terms of how you get the workforce involved in safety. Tell me a little bit more about tactically, how you went about it. 

Okay. We pulled together the executive board, the vice presidents, and we fed to them the facts. 


We showed them where we think we could get to. So how you can measure us. If you want to make it a KPI, that’s fine. Don’t have a problem with it. But do we have the right management system in place? Did our international safety rating system work? So, we pointed out that you may have thought we were doing a brilliant job, but we put all the facts on the table, and then we showed them how we can start to improve it. And we did say it would take a long time, and we need the full support of the vice president of manufacturing and distribution. 


And we want that support to be personal and on site. We created a workshop with the vice presidents. We wanted them to come up with how they’re going to do it, how they’re going to support us at no cost. We will also have no cost to reach those improvements. We don’t need money off you, because the people that can do it are the workforce. They know what’s wrong. They know the solution to put it right. They know how to do it. But we need your support to achieve it. And it’s got to be personal. So, I don’t want you to pick up a KPI, go out and check it or do an audit, go out and check it. I don’t want any of that. Just want you to go along and say, how’s it going? How’s this work? How’s that working? Keep it calm and quiet. We also put an observation process in place so that we could observe compliance. Now, that’s quite difficult to put into any company because a lot of our employees thought it’s Big Brother. 


Absolutely. We’re being watched. We’re going to get in trouble. So, we had to make sure that we gave an overview to every single employee in this country on why we’re doing it and what to expect. And if you don’t get any of that, here’s the number, phone me, and I will work with you to put that right. 


So, we gave them the support. 


And then after a period of time that started to die away. In fact, it didn’t die away. It started to develop because we then put it into Lucky way of explaining it. If you were to go to anybody on a shop floor and say, your son and daughter is going to do your job tomorrow, what would you warn them about? Open up the gold dust. Let’s hear it now. How would you prevent that? We’re now starting to move to the next level of continuous improvement. 


So, then it became everybody’s job to do that, including the vice presidents. They could do it any way they wanted to. We looked at our audit system and we looked at we asked people, you have audits for housekeeping? They said yes. Who does them? The management. How often? Well, they didn’t know the answer to that half the time. Do you ever get feedback from that? Never. Okay, if you have a VIP visit, do the standards of Housekeeping go up? Well, we’re going to know the answer because of course they do. We cleaned everything. So, we just proved to our senior team that, okay, that’s just one audit, one KPI, whatever you want to call it, that we know the answers because it keeps highlighting them. Every week we do them, which takes 157 managers that do it an hour or two to do it. We’re wasting time. We know the answers already. How do we develop that? And we develop self management teams. So, the areas that they work in, they managed. They also then continuously improved on that, where they would manage compliance. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter if we had the Queen to visit, she had to wear the hair net, the hard hat, if she had to, the gloves and the safety boots. 

So, it really was they were testing us to make sure we meant it and we were managing them to make sure we mean it. So, work together equally as a team. We’re fully unionized, right? So, I asked every member, every convener, every union member, tell me what’s wrong, and then I asked all of them, how many of you ever go across and do anything about it? Right. Not one. So, in all fairness, we’re almost as bad as each other. So, we said, let’s just work together on this. We then asked them later on to set the standards for noncompliance so we could all manage it together, so we could communicate and inform people we have agencies, we have tenants, so that we could actually say, look, you have to wear those, or if not, we won’t produce. We’ll stop work, right? You’re not going to mess it up for us. So, they immediately followed it and they managed each other. So, it became self managed in teams. They then took over the reporting of incidents, hazards, minor injuries. They then set a target to measure 87%, close to closure at source. We didn’t do it.

The workforce did it, right? So, everything became I mean, I can say it now simple, but it took seven years, I’m sure, of running against a brick wall. We had to keep breaking down, going over it, round it and under it to show. We really do mean it, but we could never have done it without the full support of the senior team, of course. And it was tough for them, I’m sure. 

So, you talk about these self managed teams, which is a great concept. I’m assuming that during that ten-year period, there were some leadership changes that took place. How did the approach work through these leadership changes? Sometimes new leaders come in with new perspective, new ideas. How do you manage through that? 

We had a new CEO come over, but during those ten years, there’s a guy called Bob Cameron. He was Vice President of Manufacturing distribution. He was there the whole time. In fact, we both left in 2010, years after we started. We both left together. 


See, I left Coke in 2001. Of the reasons we left was we were making much better profits and everybody was going home alive and with their bids. 


And I was getting invites from major companies in the UK. I went over to America in 97 to lay out the pathway that we’ve taken, because they’re really interested in how we do it. 


And what I got at the time was where our culture is different. It is not different. We all go to work to earn money, to support our families and our hobbies.


We all do it worldwide. We can make excuses that makes it different, or we can make assumptions that our people are different. No, they’re not. 


Once we raise the understanding of why we’re doing it and the simplicity of it, it’s so much easier. 


But it is important. And I’m glad you’ve mentioned that now, because within this week, I found out now there’s new people there, and it is incredibly different to what it used to be. It is very easy to spoil it because people have their own ideas. 

Exactly. And they’ve seen something that worked elsewhere, and they think it’s going to work, and sometimes it doesn’t make it better. You talked about the ten-year journey, the first ten years. 


What about the next ten years? So, you left in 2000. What happened in the next ten years? Because it’s still endured. 

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 [email protected]. 

Yes. I went back about 20 days for quite a number of years. 


It just improved. And then we got major companies in the UK going to see our companies over here. How are you doing it? We used to issue them with little booklets that said, as we take you around our sites, we want you to look for things that are wrong. Please write them down and give them to the director of the site. Right. But we want you to manage it straight away if it’s dangerous. Right.

Even a visitor, somebody who doesn’t know. 

The plan this is near the sites at all. 

Love it. 

So that’s what they did. And that has been kept up now for decades and it’s done by the workforce. We have contractors coming in and we would manage filler operators and line operators to manage the permit trees because it’s happening in their area. So, if they haven’t got their correct PPE on, they would give it to them. The supervisor will put it into the system and Coca Cola would charge the company for the personal protective equipment that they didn’t bring with them. But that was all done before they arrived. They knew that would happen. 


That’s part of the agreement. So, they managed them. And if they wanted to do anything or go anywhere, that was the agent for that contractor for that amount of time that they were there. So, everything went through the operator.

I love the fact that this endured well over ten years after you’d left. You’re still coming in and out, but the ability for this to be sustained on an ongoing basis is the hardest part. 

Yes. How do you get better and start managing our road footage? You start making sure that they don’t use their mobile phones. They put them into boxes underneath the car seats and that’s the only way you can start your engine, so the phone is locked away. 


You make appointed times that you go to stop, take the phone out and make the calls. Does anything come up? Do I need to go anywhere? These are all designed by the workforce. 


Simplicity and efficiency. And I don’t know the answers, but I know we can go to find them. 


We got those answers. We cascaded into the workforce for their agreement. So, when we rolled it out, no pushback. 

No surprise there. I’ve had guests share. Dr Josh Williams came and shared a little bit about how an observation program designed by the workforce had seven times more participation than one that was designed by a consultant coming in to say, this is the best way to do it. And some additional examples where workers were involved and consulted in how to run a tailboard. Significant more involvement in participation because it’s theirs. So, time and time again, the numbers, the stats show that self employed participation and safety is so critical but often miss. What you’re talking about is really total worker involvement in participation in safety, which is phenomenal. 

I was asked by a world leading company once it’s out in the Far East. He didn’t believe the safety stats on some of the platforms under, so he asked me if I go out. I had to get paid in the dunking of the helicopter and all that to get my ticket to go out and I went straight to the rig and started to lost the workforce. And that CEO in that country was absolutely right. His instinct was something’s not right. Sure, the facts, they genuinely were not right. But why? I’ve just mentioned that it’s not because of that. We can manage safety as long as we raise that awareness and understanding of why we’re doing it. We want you to return tomorrow with your bits, we want you to retire with those bits and enjoy your pension. And more importantly, you will be secure in the future of a new people joining you, because that’s where the experience is. Yeah, but what have I learnt on that rig? A guy came up to me and he said, this isn’t safety, but do you mind listening to me? I said, no, not at all. He said, I checked the valves, I’m the supervisor and I have a team of four, and I check all the valves and the ones rusting up. 

I have to with a wire brush, brush off the rest of the valves. Now, there’s thousands of these valves on a rig, so it’s a constant process. It’s like painted a bridge, it never stops. And then painted a different color so that the painters could come round and paint it. So, I said, yeah, okay. He said, well, why can’t I paint it? And I said, It’s a very good question. Why can’t you paint it? He said, well, the painters are contractors, they won’t let us touch the paint. So immediately I thought, all right, can we get a training program so we can train some of these people up? Now, I know this means the painters aren’t going to be too happy about it, but we have a far more efficient way of doing it, because the longest was three years before it was painted. 


So, it’s inefficient, of course. So, they did it and they saved £2 billion that year and reduced risk, in all likelihood, that came from I know it’s nothing at all to do with safety. Yes, it is. It gives us a chance, it gives us money to improve things, so we move on. We don’t want all of it. We want what’s right. 


And we need to tackle that workforce and get them to understand we’re going to listen to you. 


We can’t do everything called wando. It will take time, but we’d like you to prioritize. And we found lots of skilled people that we didn’t know about. They were in a previous life, they were a painter, let’s just say. And we started to look at this and we said, would you like to do it? I put yellow lines around that palletizer, so no forklift truck goes in it without your permission. And it just jumped for it. 


So simple stuff, the big stuff. We put in an RFA to the States to get a mezzanine floor across the whole production floor with five production lines on it. I can’t tell you the speed that they travel at, and they have drop down points for the workers. That eliminated for the truck impacts, but that cost 170,000 pounds.


But it eliminated all impacts because that 170,000 was just one incident that happened. 


And that’s what it cost the company without the loss of production in the investigation. So those simple things we managed to get done. But they designed it. The people on that site designed their mesome floor. 


And if we had a breakdown in machinery, the site director used to stand on that missing floor with his arms behind his back, telling everybody to get it fixed quick because the workforce told me, so I had to phone him up, say, please don’t do that. They will do it as quick as they possibly can, but I understand why you’re doing it. So, we work together, we spoke to each other, and that is the most powerful thing I have found around the world, no matter what country, what conditions, different priorities, but the same issues. 


How wonderful is that? It’s just managing people, listening to them. 

So where to from here? So, you’ve driven significant improvements sustained for the following ten years. What’s the next level? 

It’s a campaign that’s now probably eight months into it we go 1% more. We’ve got the figures from the UN and from OSHA and HSC and all around the world that have been recorded in fatalities in the workplace, and statisticians have worked out what I’m going to show you now. It’s quite perfect. If all of us worldwide did one thing personally in the next twelve months to improve safety in the areas that we work in, 27,000 people would go home alive. 


I find that quite profound because that’s probably a million odd people attached to all that that are not going to be affected. 


We have to go to the workforce now and what I’m going and working with at the moment is the leadership team and the CEOs and the MDS and everybody across the board to let the workforce come up with a remit re improving safety for the next two years. 


For a member of the workforce to present it to the board for their agreement, that will show which systems it will fit into. And don’t worry, if the reporting goes up, all we’re doing then is getting honesty. 

Right? Absolutely. 

And how are you going to support them in achieving it? So, we get dual agreement and then that is communicated to everybody in their wage limits so that they know exactly how well we’re doing. 


Or if you like, online, so that they get it personally. 


Within that, we’ll be praised for success. No blame for failure. 


Because if we have to blame somebody for the health and safety issue, we have all failed. 


So, Ken, thank you very much for sharing your story. I think incredibly powerful in terms of the work of participation, in terms of self managed teams, incredibly important topics. I love the changes were sustained for significant period of time because sometimes I’ve seen it work for short periods of time with a leadership team that buys in for a period of time until the next one comes in. I think it’s a very powerful story. If you’d like more details, you can go to Ken’s website. K-E-N-W-O-O-D-W-A-R-D.CO.UK Thanks. 

You very much for asking me. It’s been the first time for me and a real pleasure. 

Thank you, Ken. Have a wonderful day. 


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. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powerful or by Propulo Consulting.

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Ken Woodward was working for Coca-Cola Schweppes Beverages (CCSB) in November 1990 as a production operative when involved in a chemical explosion, which resulted in the loss of his sight.  With enormous support from CCSB and following months of rehabilitation and re-training with the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) Ken eventually returned to work.

In 1996 Ken was invited to appear in a Health & Safety Film – ‘Fighting Against Chance’.  As a result the video ‘1 in 1.6 Million’ was also produced and this proved to be a valuable tool in Behavioural Safety training.  The Film was included as part of a training package for CCSB and this, together with Ken’s presence at all training workshops, enabled CCSB to dramatically improve their safety performance over the following few years.

In 1997 requests were received from other companies for Ken to make personal appearances and on each occasion the video ‘1 in 1.6 Million’ was shown.  Since then Ken has evolved into a motivational speaker on Behavioural Safety.

Now an independent consultant, since September 2000 Ken’s ‘Passion for Safety’ has taken him all over the UK as well as internationally.  He has been involved in the production of further health & safety videos   including the bestseller ‘Think What If, Not If Only, [2006] ‘Hindsight’ [updating TWINIO] and most recently [2007] Lessons From a Blind School.

In February 2004 Ken’s work was recognized by The Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) in the

UK when he was made an Honorary Fellow of IOSH.

In June 2006 Ken was awarded an OBE for services to Health & Safety in the Queens Birthday Honours.

In 2008 Ken received the ‘Health & Safety Champion of the Year’ at the Health and Safety Awards for his work with Mace at Heathrow Terminal 5.

London 2012.  Very proud that Ken played a small part in the first fatality free construction of an Olympic Park.

Dec 2015 Ken awarded Honorary Membership NSCA Foundation [Australia].

Contact email: [email protected]




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Understanding the True Impact of SIFs on Families, Loved Ones and Leaders with Alyssa Grocutt

Understanding the true impact of SIFs on families, loved ones and leaders



Alyssa Grocutt was 11 years old when her father suffered a fatal workplace safety incident. Over time, this incident has given Alyssa the passion, purpose, and drive toward a meaningful career in bringing awareness to the topic of workplace safety and safety incidents. In this heartfelt episode, Alyssa shares the true impact workplace injuries and fatalities have on family members, friends, coworkers, and leaders. Tune in to listen to her story and learn how organizations and leaders can provide enduring support to secondary victims of workplace safety incidents.


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. I’m excited to have with me, Alyssa Grocutt. She’s a PhD student at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, and she’s doing a lot of work and research around workplace safety. Passionate advocate about workplace safety. Alyssa, welcome to the show. 

Thank you, Eric. Yeah, it’s great to be on. Thanks for having me. 

Absolutely. So, I’d love to hear about your story and how you got your passion around safety because I saw you posting and being very active and a strong advocate of safety. That’s where I got interested and wanted to hear better about your story. So, why don’t we start there? 

Yeah, for sure. So, it all goes back to 2008. I was eleven years old, and it was July 8, 2008, around 05:00, p.m. There was a knock on the door. Being eleven, I ran over all excited to answer the door. And I was shocked to find a police officer standing there with two other individuals. And they were there to inform my mom and myself that my dad had been fatally injured in a workplace safety instant that day. Yeah, it’s not fun. It’s been tough, but it’s really given me this drive towards safety, this passion and a purpose with my life and my career. So, I am thankful for what it has given me in that sense.

Absolutely. You started at a very young age doing presentations to classes, to schools, and you made it a mission to drive a difference on such an important topic. Tell me a little bit about how that came to life, and then we’ll get into some of the research that you’re doing soon. 

Yeah, for sure. So, being so young, it was hard to connect with my peers, having my dad pass away in a workplace safety incident. So, I started with just trying to get a conversation going. I found it really helpful to talk about the whole situation and what happened to me. I found that was a great way to cope. And so, I started giving presentations in grade six. It just started out as kind of, hey, this is what happened to me. We can talk about it. But then from grade seven through to grade twelve, I would go around on the National Day of Mourning, April 28, the day to honor workers who have been injured, killed, or have become ill from work. And I really used that day to go around to different classes and give presentations on the importance of safety. And it seems to be received quite a positive feedback from teachers. And so, I had teachers sign up for me to come in on that day. And it was just really nice to have that to talk to people, especially because young workers can be at risk not receiving as much safety training. 

And so, it’s definitely good to get that message out to young people. And I think the personal story has a different impact than just teachers telling you that you need to be safe. 

Right. And I think it’s a really important point because a lot of people graduate, start work, and they’ve never even heard of the topic of safety, and they don’t even really understand the concept. I know even when I recruit for roles and I talk about safety, people start assuming, oh, it must be like policing and security and things like that. I’m like it’s about workplace safety, making sure people come home to their loved ones. 

Yes. It’s something that we don’t talk about enough, I think, especially for young workers, because even in high school, some people are getting jobs at fast food chains, even retail. And there’s hazards with all of that that people need to be aware of and aware of their rights. So, I think it’s really important. 

Absolutely. So, you’ve gone on your now doing a Ph.D. Tell me a little bit about the study and the work that you’ve been doing around safety because you’ve taken a different lens than most of the other research out there. 

Yeah, definitely. So, most of the research that’s out there on workplace safety looks at the causes of safety incidents, work injuries. And this is all in an effort to prevent such occurrences, which, of course, is important. We want to be Proactive. We don’t want these things to happen, but they do still happen. And so, I’ve really been interested in taking my own experience. So, what we say in research is doing research. So, I’m taking my own experience and researching it. So, I’m really interested in the consequences of just safety incidents in general and work injuries and even fatalities, although it’s a little bit harder to do research on that just lower base rate. But definitely, yes, it’s an overall positive thing, not so much for doing research on it, but happy that there’s fewer fatalities out there. But I’m really interested in the consequences of these occurrences and how it affects not just, say injured workers, but their family, their friends, their co-workers, people in positions of leadership at the organization. I think these are all important groups of people that we don’t really know from our research standpoint, how they’re affected. 

So, tell me a little bit about some of the things that you’ve uncovered so far, because I know we’ve had several guests here that have talked about this anecdotally talking about coworkers that may be witnessed an injury and maybe never were able to return back to work or first responders that knew the person who was injured and as well never could return back to the workplace. So, we’ve heard about the impact on leaders, on families and really heart wrenching stories around it. What are you seeing from some of the early themes of the work you’ve done? 

Yeah, I’d say a lot of work that has been done by others has looked at negative consequences, which of course, there’s going to be negative consequences. We know financial hardships for families and mental health for children of injured workers. Children have been shown to experience worse mental health outcomes, medication use, depression, just subjective reports on how they’re feeling generally. And based on my experience, I was really interested in can there be positive outcomes? Because I think there’s obviously going to be an immediate negative impact, especially on mental health. But in the long teams, I know that I’ve taken my experience and turned it into a positive in my life and something that really drives me towards a meaningful career. And so, what I found with my master’s research is I was looking at children of injured workers. So, when a parent was injured at work while their children were growing up, how that impacted the children into young adulthood. And I actually found there can be positive outcomes. So, children, although there’s a psychological impact, like a distressing feeling based on the work injury, children can take that and learn and grow and develop something we call post traumatic growth. 

And then even subsequently, it can lead to work outcomes, like greater chances of occupying a leadership position. So that’s kind of what I’m diving more into now and trying to figure out how this all happens. And really what about safety specific leadership is what I’m interested in right now. Does this experience contribute to engaging in more safety specific leader behaviors when you’re in a position of leadership?

And I think I’ve definitely seen that in organizations where a leader and it’s not consistent, but a leader experiences a fatality in the workplace at different levels within the organization, and it shocks them and creates an incredible call to action. I’ve worked with CEOs who said, never again on my watch do I ever want to have to go see another family or attend a funeral. And then they drove the organization through change tremendous activity to make sure that that was a resulting effort. So that can definitely be a positive silver lining, I guess would be the right way to position it in terms of really driving a call to action, which is good part in some organizations, it doesn’t happen. It just becomes short term blip it doesn’t necessarily drive to long term sustainable outcomes. So great that you’re looking a little bit more into that leadership side of the equation as well. What are some of the things that you’ve seen from families but also workplace colleagues in terms of things to consider for a leader, really, because the impact of a workplace fatality or serious injury can be substantial and really has a significant impact on a larger community.

What are some of the takeaways that we can share with some of the listeners around this? 

Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things that I’ve been talking about with my supervisor because we want to get more into the leadership side of things and how leaders can lead through these safety incidents and what they can do after them. And one of the things we’ve been talking about is we prepare leaders for difficult conversations. And a lot of the time this can be just, hey, your performance wasn’t so great in the last quarter, not necessarily talking to subordinates’ followers. What have you about a fatality or an injury or even having to tell family members, because some leaders are put in the position to tell family members? And I think this is something that nobody wants to experience. And we often have this, oh, it’s not going to happen to me thought, but it can happen. So, one of the things that I think is important is while it’s not fun, but considering what if this did happen, reflecting on that, trying to be prepared. So, if you do have to be in that difficult situation, you have a plan, you have some ideas. And I think one of the important things that we don’t talk about much too is that leaders are human beings, and we often put them on this pedestal of knowing what to do, how to do it. 

And they’re supposed to be composed all the time through all this. And yeah, to some extent they need to be they’re in that position for a reason. But also, we’re all human. And we also need to consider how leaders can be psychologically impacted, emotionally, mentally, and making sure that there’s supports in place for leaders and coworkers, too, because I think a lot of the time the thought is on family and it’s not always a long-term thought, like in the short term, people are supported, but these things can have such lasting impacts. I know that more anecdotally than from the research, but that’s something I want to look into more is how long do we need to be supporting people for?

And I think that’s something that’s important because a lot of organizational have a good initial response plan if that happens. But your point around leadership preparedness for an event like this, even if we hope that it will never happen, I think most organizations are probably willfully unprepared for it. And really knowing who goes to say what to whom and how do you actually have that conversation? Because it’s not in the repertoire of the CEO’s conversation starters. Very few organizations would have established protocols. Some might have an established protocol, but even then, doesn’t mean that the person is even prepared. 

What am I to say? 

Yes, and I think that it’s a big task, but how leaders engage with family members after can really make or break a family’s experience of a fatality or simply an injury, too. I know that the organization my dad worked for everyone was so amazing and so supportive following his death, and the support really helped. And I think that it definitely helps me get to where I am today, and I’m so thankful for that. And I don’t think necessarily anyone had prepared for that to happen. But the way that they dealt with it was definitely great. 

What would be some of the characteristics of an organization that deals with it the right way? What are some of the elements that we should see in that initial response? 

Definitely. So, I think one of the big things that I appreciated was that they communicated with us a lot. The leaders were in contact with my mom personally, and they also didn’t try to seem all put together all the time. They showed that they were emotional about it. And I think that just helps to show that we’re not just another number. I know when I was a kid, I never wanted to be forgotten. I wanted people to always remember that there was a family that was left behind. And it was clear from the response that we were never going to be forgotten about. And they actively engaged in conversations with us. And so, my dad worked in the oil Sands in Northern Alberta, and when we had to go pick up his stuff, they gave us tours of where he worked. And it was just so nice to be able to see that. My dad was so happy where he was at in his career when he died. And so, it was so meaningful for me to be able to see what made him so happy. And it was just those things that it was pretty simple for them in terms of staying in touch with us, showing that they are human, too and are impacted emotionally and providing us with an opportunity to see what our loved one loves before they die. 

And I think that vulnerability is definitely something that I’ve seen is consistently an important theme is to show your human to recognize it because it’s tough and even for the person who’s delivering the messages. One executive I was speaking to, and he shares his story about when early on in his career, he was on a young supervisor, and somebody had passed away on their shift. And he was tasked with having to go speak to the family. And he recalls and he says it was the longest walk that basically getting from the car to the house. And he can recall step by step in slow motion, the emotions, the difficulty, and everything he went through. But again, that became a catalyst for him to say, hey, never again. This cannot happen at least for him, it became a positive drive to saying, what do I need to do, even in a very dangerous space, dangerous industry, to make sure that doesn’t need to happen? 

Definitely. And I think it can be hard to find that positivity and all of it. But if you can, it can be so meaningful, and you can have such a huge impact on how things are dealt with moving forward if you try to turn it into that positive outlook. 

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

Absolutely. I appreciate you sharing that, because it’s a very difficult topic to explore, but it’s an important one because until the day we get to completely stop and eradicate serious injuries and fatalities in the workplace, there’s also the element of how does an organization prepare and how do they show up in the right way. Have you explored as well as the impact on coworkers and how do you respond from an organizational standpoint? Because often what I hear is will bring EAP is there some best practices around the response for peers who knew the person as well? 

Yeah, that’s a great question and something I want to explore further. I haven’t yet that’s on my list. I’ve been focusing on the family lately, but getting into my Ph.D. dissertation work, which I’ll probably be getting more into in the fall, I want to look into some of these things. I know that anecdotally with my dad’s experience. Like one of the co-workers in a video said, every night I go to bed, I think of Kevin, my dad, and every morning I wake up, I think of him, and that always gives me chills. I can’t imagine being there. And I would love to know more of how organizations can support coworkers because I think obviously you want to move on and get back to production sooner. But again, getting back to that, we’re all human, and I think there’s definitely things out there that could be done better in a lot of situations. So, I will have more on that hopefully in the next few years. 

And maybe we’ll bring you back to share a little bit more on some of the findings on that front. Is there something as well that should be considered in terms of supporting leaders? Because you’ve talked about as well how leaders are still people, they’re still humans. And how do we support them through something like this? Because there are different leaders that maybe even saw things in some cases. I’ve talked to leaders who will then regret that they never said something when something wrong happened, and they just walked by and then they could never get past it. 

Yeah. And I think starting this discussion is the first thing that needs to be done, because even just in research in general on leaders, we don’t know much about leaders’ mental health, and there’s a stigma behind it, which is some research being done, actually, by one of my colleagues here at Smith School of Business. She’s really interested in the stigma behind leaders’ mental health, and I think that goes hand in hand with these supporting leaders following safety incidents and even fatalities. And I think starting the conversation and allowing leaders to be vulnerable is the first step, because it’s one thing to have supports in place, but allowing leaders to know that they can use them and there’s not going to be negative repercussions because we can have all these different policies, practices, and procedures in place for people. But the first thing is that they need to know that they exist. And another thing is that they need to feel that it’s okay for them to access those resources. And I think that goes with a lot of the taboo topics in the workplace. And I think being emotional is one of those. And mental health, and I think there’s starting to be more of a conversation out there, and there’s mental health supports, but people still aren’t necessarily feeling comfortable accessing those. 

And I think even especially in some of these industries that we’re talking about that have more injuries and fatalities, there is more of that stigma associated with it more of a tough front. So, yeah, I think talking about it first and foremost and having resources, but making sure people are able to access those and feel okay, too. And that is something I really want to dive into, though, with my dissertation work. I’m hoping to interview leaders and see get out all the good and the bad. What has been done well, what hasn’t? And I want to really Home in on some actionable steps that organizations can take, and those leaders can take to work through all of this.

It’s an interesting point because a lot of organizations talk about making sure the support resources are there for the workers there, but not necessarily check in in terms of the leaders as well, in terms of their emotional wellbeing. And as you said, we know from a fact standpoint that some of these industries have a significantly greater exposure to some of the mental health challenges, particularly if there’s fly in, fly out operations or even traveling construction type work tends to be very prone to higher risks in that regard. And that’s not just the front-line team member. It’s also different leaders that could be exposed to the same and trying to balance being tough, being responsible, and being a leader with their own wellbeing. So, I think that’s a very important point as well. 

Definitely. It’s so tough for leaders. I think they’re left behind in a lot of this. I think we’re getting more into that. We need to support employees with different resources, but leaders are still lacking. In that sense, I’d say. 

I appreciate a lot of the work, the research you’re doing, because it’s a topic we don’t hear a lot about. It very important to obviously understand. How do you prevent injuries? How do you look at leadership to support prevention of serious injuries and fatalities? Very important to drive the momentum to bring it to C-suite. But there’s also the effect of sometimes an event happens and how is it that you address it? How do you show up as a caring organization? That case provides support. You talked about also making sure it’s enduring. It’s not just for the week, for the day. It becomes a sustained effort recognizing that people have a lot to go through an event like this. Multiple stakeholders have to deal with it. I appreciate that you’re incredibly active as well in the community advocating for safety. I saw you on multiple channels sharing the message that I think is incredibly important. Thank you so much for sharing all these insights. Thank you for your passion and dedication and making a difference in so many workplaces for advocating around it from a very young age in terms of speaking in schools, I think it’s incredibly important. So, you’ve got, as I understand a website and blogs are coming out and also, you’re active in social media. How can somebody connect with you if they’re interested in furthering the dialogue? 

Yeah, for sure. So, I have my LinkedIn which I post on probably the most frequently. I also have a Twitter and everything’s just Alyssa Grocutt and I recently started a website which I list all my experience and my research publications as they come out. And my biggest thing on there that I am doing is a blog so I’m still determining how frequently I’m posting. But I am planning on doing little summaries of safety research that has been done in my field just to get it out there. I think there’s a bit of a well, I know there’s a gap between academics and practitioners and I want to kind of bridge that gap with this blog by creating short like five-minute reads of summaries of the academic research that has been going on in the safety field. So, I would welcome anyone that’s interested to check that out. I hope to be posting there more frequently. Right now, I have two summaries up so there will be more in the future and as I do the research on the consequences, I will be doing summaries on that. 

Excellent. Well, thank you very much for sharing your story for advocating and hopefully we’ll get you back on the show once you finish this next piece of research. I think there should be some interesting findings as well. 

Yes, definitely. I would love to come back and thank you so much for having me. This has been a great conversation like what we do. 

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. Elevate your Safety.

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

Come back in 2 weeks for the next episode with your host Eric Michrowski. This podcast is Powered by Propulo Consulting. 

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Alyssa Grocutt’s passion for workplace safety started after her father’s tragic death in a workplace safety incident when she was 11 years old. Alyssa’s  father’s death was a profound learning and developmental experience, and in time became a challenge to turn life’s negative experiences into personal inspirations. For Alyssa, this is evident in her dedication to promoting workplace safety through research, and presentations to schools and organizations on workplace safety, and her personal commitment to workplace safety since her father’s death.

Alyssa began researching workplace safety during her undergraduate degree, a BSc in Psychology (First Class Honours) from the University of Calgary. During her studies, Alyssa worked with Dr. Nick Turner on workplace safety research. For her MSc degree with her current supervisor Dr. Julian Barling, she shifted her focus to the secondary victims of workplace injuries, and examined how children of injured workers are affected by their parents’ work injury.  

Alyssa is now a doctoral student in Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, Canada, and is the recipient of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship. Her current research focuses on the impact of workplace injuries and fatalities on secondary victims who are often overlooked after workplace injuries and fatalities, such as family members, peers, and managers of people injured or killed at work. 

Alyssa actively promotes workplace safety on social media. Alyssa also has a website that tells her story, and provides access to her research. Most importantly, it includes her blog, on which she regularly summarizes some of the most interesting and important research on workplace safety.  








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

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

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.

Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at
Executive Safety Coaching_Propulo

Executive Safety Coaching: The Key to Unlocking Safety Performance with Martin Royal

Executive safety coaching the key to unlocking safety performance



Seeking a bid idea to significantly level up safety leadership and performance as an Executive or Safety Leader? In this episode, Martin Royal introduces the power of Executive Safety Coaching and dives into its ROI – improved productivity, better teamwork, a safe space to process and reflect, and support for your internal and external goals. Interested in executive safety coaching? As part of Propulo Consulting‘s subscription-based executive membership, you will have the opportunity to gain access to the same expertise, insights, and research that many of the leading Fortune 500 organizations rely on to transform their safety cultures, in a format that better suits mid-sized organizations. Tune in to learn more!
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at


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 you Martin Royal, who is a partner with Propulo Consulting who spent years coaching executives at the C suite around safety leadership. And he’s here to talk to us about an important topic, which is how can a leader improve their safety leadership through coaching? How can they take more ownership for safety through executive coaching? So, Martin, welcome to the show. Really happy to have you with me. 

Wonderful, Eric. Great to be here today. Thank you. 

Excellent. So, Martin, you have a background in coaching. You’ve coached several, many executives over the years in safety leadership. You’re also ICF certified coach. So, tell me a little bit about what the value of executive coaching is. 

All about, for sure. When we think about coaching, first, it is a form of consultation for management executives. And basically, coaches help executives and the organization to reach their goals that sometimes they may not be able to reach on their own. And we’ll find coaches may help process obstacles to progress, act as an accountability or a thought partner. They teach, give advice, or provide resources for executives. I’d say it can be lonely at the top. Executives are responsible for the people that report to them. They’re responsible for achieving results, safety, productivity, profitability. And I found that many executives do not have the space or the people to discuss their challenges, especially in a confidential space. And often only the people around them are those impacted by their decision. Or other executives don’t even have the people in their network who can challenge them while supporting their progress. And that’s where the executive coach comes in to support that program, to support that accountability for the executive, to meet their goals. 

In some organizations, coaching is seen as remedial action. You’re not performing. So, I need to send you to a coach. But what you’re talking about is very different. It’s about how do I have a thinking partner? How do I really rethink how I show up and really think growth mindset in terms of how can it be as good a leader as I could be in terms of improving safety? Is that fair? 

Yeah, definitely. Because I like to ask myself, if I’m an executive, how would I know that coaching might be helpful for me? And as you mentioned, having a first, a growth mindset, which for our audience I mean, it is a belief that our capabilities, talent can improve over time. And that’s what coaching is about. It’s about exploring new ways to engage with our teams, our peers, our work, and show up, even if it improved presence as an executive. But it does take some willingness, I would say, to take personal ownership over our own development, our goals and our outcomes, because no one else is going to fix it for us. No one else is going to do the work to achieve our goals. And I would say even the coach. And that’s often something I clarify with the clients and say coaching is different from the consulting, it’s different from mentoring. It’s different from even therapy. For some, I think that the coach is a therapist and the coach I like to look at it as a support for the leader’s journey. You’re on your journey, you’ve identified areas that you want to focus on. 

It could be external goals. For example, it could be improving your team’s health and safety outcomes. For some, if it’s outside the realm of safety, it might be improving their employee engagement scores. Or it can be helping improve more of the internal goals, being more influential with their team, being able to lead meetings better, have more difficult conversations. And so, the coaches there, when there’s a recognition of what the changes are made, the coach is there to drive the conversation, to drive the process, to support the executives on their journey. But the executive is doing the work. They’re the one. They need to be willing to try new things, approach new situation and experiment. 

And I’ve seen this over and over like you coach everywhere, from the CEOs of Fortune 100 organization, all the way to operational leaders and everywhere in between, cos, et cetera. They can be an incredibly powerful tool when the person comes is open to explore, open to experimenting and trying new things. You can see some significant breakthroughs. 

Definitely. And what’s interesting with coaching, I mean, sometimes people think coaching is a new practice, but it’s been around since 1950s. But it’s only, I would say since probably in mid 90s that it has become a profession. And there’s been a lot of research around the effectiveness of executive coaching. And it’s one of the practices that brings quite a high return on investment for the organization and for the leaders who are taking part in the coaching engagement. But especially, we’ll see improved productivity, better teamwork, more job satisfaction. Coaching is especially good for executives’ task to lead change. That helps to facilitate more strategic thinking. It provides new insights or even a space just to reflect and brainstorm around the issues that the leaders may face.

And that check in. I think that’s incredibly important that you talked about before. The accountability check in is okay, we’re going to go experiment, try something next week. Let’s debrief on how that went and then explore how we could be even better at it.

Exactly. And I see the role of the well, first, in a coaching engagement, we’ll see there’s different forms. And for me, it’s about finding what’s the best form for the client. For some, they’ll say, hey, let’s meet every week. Every second week, I ask, do you want me to hold you accountable or how do you want me to do that? Meaning that when we start a new session, like, okay, how did that go? What progress have you made? What are some of your obstacles? Okay, let’s debrief what happened and let’s set the stage for the next week or the next month. But at the end, I look at it as the executive responsibility to determine what is going to work for them. So, it’s not that there’s always one solution or coaching solution, but it’s that sort of partnership that makes it work. 

Yeah, I agree. How do I know if coaching is for me? Because I talked about sometimes a stereotype that people think coaching is if you’re on performance management. Yet if you look at every professional athlete out there, there’s not a single athlete that doesn’t have a coach, if not multiple coaches trying to figure out how they can be even better at what they do. 

I know that’s what’s interesting. People think, as you mentioned earlier, that there must be something wrong with me. So, I’ll get a coach to fix that. And there’s certainly a space for that sort of coaching. But sometimes it is about working with someone who can put it they’re there to identify sometimes our blind spots. They’re there to provide a platform for us to receive feedback, to get even an outside perspective on our business and our teams that often as executives, we might not get otherwise with the team that we work with. 

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s really finding the right fit. We’re going to get to that very soon as well. When it comes to safety leadership is also getting a coach that understands what that really means. What does safety leadership really mean? What do some of the tools need to look like? How am I supposed to show up really that depth and safety culture, organizational change in safety leadership? So, tell me a little bit more about why that’s so important. I mean, it seems natural if you’re trying to win the Olympics and swimming, you’re going to get a swimming coach. You’re not going to get a football coach. If you’re trying to win Stanley Cup and hockey, then you’re going to get a hockey coach. You’re not going to go find yourself a soccer coach, because that wouldn’t work. 

Exactly. In fact, Eric, what I find is with our client organizations that we work with as they develop the culture of safety, we find that many of them are expecting increasingly that their executive team take more ownership over the organization safety culture and performance. And while it looks like, okay, that’s quite normal. Maybe that’s how companies do. But I’d say for some executives, it’s often a major shift from how they used to think about workplace health and safety, because for many executive teams, safety is the responsibility of a health and safety Department, or there might be a VP of health and safety that’s part of the team and that’s person roles. And so, the idea that all executives should be accountable for the safety performance of their team, the organization can be a challenging thought, and nobody will dispute the importance of pursuing their safety goals. But often there’s a thought, oh, if it’s someone else that do it for us. And so, what the coach comes in is first is an understanding of what does it mean to take full ownership over safety, regardless of where we’re at in our organization, but also coaches in safety leadership. 

They bring a unique understanding of environment, I would say first in high-risk jobs, and they understand the drivers of safe work, but also the necessary influence that executives must apply to successfully drive safety performance. So, there’s an understanding safety isn’t just a function, but it’s an outcome that all leaders are accountable for.

Absolutely. I think it’s interesting because I explored executive coaching myself. I’m going to say probably about six or seven years ago and really saw the value and kept having an executive coach because I realized the value is not just bouncing ideas, like you said, it’s exploring blind spots, its exploring new tactics, trying something, seeing how it works. And now I rely on a coach literally every week, except when I’m on holidays and short engagements. I found that works better for me, regular, frequent short check ins as opposed to long ones I’ve had before where it was like 2 hours in a month. But the power is incredible. And I think for somebody that’s trying to drive at the safety leadership side, that’s really trying to drive that ownership at the front line, team member level, ownership at different levels in the organization supervisory level, this can be a very powerful way to explore. But how about the VP of safety? Because we talked about the safety, the leader, the operational leader in safety. But I think there’s also a huge benefit for a VP of safety in terms of our director and safety, in terms of how do they increase the influence that they have within the organization? 

Because essentially, they’re a resource, but others need to follow their lead to be successful for sure. 

And that’s one of the challenges I’ve noted with some of our clients that we work with at the VP level in health and safety is they often are very progressive in their approach. They know where to take the organization forward. They understand the concepts of safety, culture, maturity. But sometimes they’re not in the position or the authority to drive the decisions for the team themselves that belong to operational leaders. And so, their role become how to get the buy in with the rest of their team. And that’s where the coaching can come in. And especially a coach, you understand both sides of the equation from the health and safety and the operations and understand that the priorities that operations have to drive profitability, drive productivity, but at the same time helping, finding tactics and strategies for the VPN health and safety to start influencing their team and start getting the buy in for the change, them. 

Task to bring or even influencing safety culture change. Just because I have experience in safety and I’m head of safety doesn’t necessarily mean I’m also an expert in organizational change. There could be some tactics around how I overcome resistance, how do I gain buy in at the front line, things of that nature, which is really about energizing the programs that I’ve got, particularly in a smaller organization, because the smaller organization may not be able to draw in a strategy consulting firm to help them through a big organizational change effort. 

Exactly. And one thing Eric I’d like to share is for coaching to work. It is an investment. You referred for yourself, the coaching you’ve had. And I want to bring to our audience that an engagement typically will last minimally. I’ll say three months, but usually three months will be for very tactical goals that we’re aiming for. And that if we were looking for deeper change, we’re often talking like six months to even the twelve months in certain case, depending on the kind of change we’re aiming for. So, it’s not for everyone. So that some people might think like, oh, I got a couple of things I want to work on, and maybe four or five sessions may work it’s fine for small, let’s say small goals, small outcomes we’re looking for. But if you really were looking for a deeper change, this becoming a mid to long term investment sometimes that we need to take off. 

I know for me first three months, sometimes it’s just getting to know the relationship and get to understand how you can leverage a person. And there’s an element of success that needs to come. You need to have vulnerability to be able to be successful through it. And it takes time to build the trust with the coach. So that’s part of the equation. And as I shared, this is something when I saw the power for me, I’ve decided to invest personally, multi-year. Now we’re talking probably six, seven years that I’ve been drawing on that expertise to think through problems, to bounce ideas to explore how I can grow. And I would definitely recommend and if that’s something that you could with the right partner, with the right coach could bring some exponential value over the long teams. 

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 [email protected]. 

Totally. And I think what’s to me an executive need to understand is also what is the coaching is going to do? Sometimes the coaching engagement might start with maybe an assessment. It might be a 360-feedback process just to get a state of where we at, where are we starting from? Sometimes it’s about identifying the broad issues that we’re trying to tap into, into the organization. For some, it might be even like, it might be about career progressions. It can be about where we see the future of our organization. And often what we can expect of a coach will be for me that will help ensure the goals, what are the goals of the engagement, what are we trying to achieve? And that these are Crystal clear, very specific and that the coach or the client can expect that the coach will challenge them over again, over these goals and ensuring there’s that progression until to me, if the client says okay, no longer important, this is no longer what I want to focus on and that’s fine, that happens. But to me, unless I’m being asked that otherwise I will keep that sort of accountability for the goal progression. 

Because at the end having a coach isn’t just to have just a chat, there’s a process, it’s an investment for a certain outcome that will decide together basically. 

And that outcome could evolve over time. At the beginning, I may be trying to overcome bearers with a VPN operation. If I’m a VPN safety and down the road I may be looking at, how do I increase the effectiveness of some of our engagement with supervisors and things of that nature. So, I may be exploring different things or my influence tactics with a director team and exploring how do I increase impact. So those goals, I think can shift and can evolve as well, which can help, although like you said, it’s not exactly consulting, it’s adjacent to consulting. Consulting to me is I’m giving you the answer. But coaching is I’m helping you figure out the answer. Would you agree or would you have a more eloquent way of positioning it? 

No, totally. And that’s what to me it’s important to clarify at the beginning is that you have the answers. I’m going to help you find them. But sometimes people don’t want to be told. And what I do to me in a coaching engagement is I ask for the permission, okay, or I’ll say I’ll put in my consulting hat if you’d like. I can offer some insight into what you’re describing. And for some they appreciate if and others say, no, I got this and that’s fine. The coach shouldn’t be there to tell the clients what to do, what to say. It’s more to help them get that sort of confidence that ownership over their own challenges.

Absolutely. So, we’ve talked about individual one on one coaching, which I’m a huge advocate of particular for executives. Tell me a little bit about some of the advantages of coaching as a group, maybe a leadership team, things of that nature. 

Yeah, for sure. And it’s good to distinguish between what I call the group coaching and team coaching. It is a practice I would say probably has to gain more popularity in the last ten years, and there are differences. So, team coaching typically works with an intact team. It is about helping the team process their issues at the additional level, helping sometimes resolve conflict, help them to work better as a team to support each other. Whereas group coaching is about getting people together. It could be executives from different client organization or from different parts of the organization that don’t necessarily work together but might have similar face similar issues. 


And what’s interesting, I really like the group coaching because it has another level of value for the executives. One of them is being able to realize that we’re not alone in the challenge that we face, that others may be facing similar challenges. We find that we can leverage the insights from everyone through the process and build that sometimes, and especially in teams that might be a bit dispersed throughout the organization to bring that sense that we’re all in this together and all going to move in a different pace. But we’re there to support each other and hold ourselves accountable. So that’s what’s interesting with group coaching, which to me it’s usually for small groups like four to eight typically is what we’ll see as the best, but it helps to first, there might be themes that gets brought in. So, if it’s a group coaching around safety, leadership to the coach might be bringing different topics of relevant to the executives are faced with help them set the goals, but also the group starts to hold themselves accountable for their progress. And that’s what’s interesting. It’s no longer just a coach who’s there to support the executives, but it’s the group itself that sort of manage themselves and what they want to accomplish and how they can help each other to achieve their commitments and the coaches being there as more of an Orchestra conductor those sessions to help the group move forward. 

And I think that, like you said, could work well for dispersed members of an organization. So maybe different leaders tackling things from different angles, or maybe even a leadership team that’s trying to figure out, okay, how do we together really, truly commit and own our safety and our safety culture and show up in a way that makes real change? 

Exactly. If the organization is in a culture change process to create some shared thinking around safety, some shared beliefs to have the group reflect better and how for them, what’s the common ground that they have and how for them then within their own function departments, how are they going to apply that new mindset that they’re trying to instill in the organization? 

Yeah. And like you said, I think coaching is an incredibly powerful tool. Often people think about safety and think of training, but it’s a very good complimentary piece to really make sure you’re embedding. I’ve seen very progressive organizations as we talked about bringing in executive coaching at the Csuite, all the way to the Co, dedicating in some cases every week or every two weeks or every month, the time to the Cos, the VP of Operations, all the way down to senior operational leaders in the field. And I think that can be an incredibly powerful tool, particularly if it’s coordinated. It can drive some very rapid change all the way to some organizations, go all the way to more the front-line regional leaders that maybe have accountability for 100 team members within a region and area. And they’re saying, okay, how do I level up and maybe they won’t do it all at one shot? Sure, they’ll do it in small subsets, which I think becomes incredibly powerful tool. And I’ve seen people really have significant revelations. I remember one executive I was coaching, and they were very candid. They said, my entire career I was convinced I was showing my commitment to safety and I was doing the right thing. 

And then when I realized the time and the conversations were having every week, in this case, it was an hour every week to think about how we level up our safety commitment and safety leadership is that I was kidding myself. I wasn’t really investing the amount of time that was proportionate with if I’m saying it’s a number one value, what time commitment should I be spending to this? 


So, what would be the main value that executives get from coaching? You’ve touched on it a fair bit. What are some of the key themes that somebody could expect to gain out of this? 

For sure? Some of the themes to me is, first, if you’re looking for a thought partner to be able to get like an outside perspective, that would be one of the reasons sometimes that we’re looking for an executive coach. For some, it might be that support some of the challenges that they face, have a space where a safe space where they can be challenged, they can vent at times because of the struggles that they may experience. So that coach is going to be there to support that sort of a journey. At the same time, I would say anyone who is their staff to support the transformation in their organization, I think can benefit from having a coach or someone who’s asked to launch new initiatives and wants to be feeling confident, wants to try new things and being able to be in a space where they get challenged by their coach. 

And personally, I think everybody should explore this, especially obviously in the safety space, leadership, safety culture space. And like I’ve shared before, there’s not a great team. There’s not a great sports athlete that isn’t invested heavily in having a coach. Alabama and football wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing if they didn’t have a great coach. You go sport team to sport team. As my colleague Josh Williams would say, everybody has got a great coach behind them, helping them get better every day, get greater. And I think that’s something that needs to be more accessible. 

I totally agree, Eric.

So, on that note, one of the things because we’ve talked about this, Martin, we’ve both coached executives in Fortune 500, very large organizations to drive change. One of the things that Propulo decided to launch a couple of months ago is really democratizing executive safety coaching, really bringing the expertise, the value of somebody who’s knee deep in safety culture, safety leadership, who understands the concept, who understands coaching to partner with executives either in HSC functions or in line operational functions, to really democratize and make it available to everybody at a very reasonable, affordable cost. With some of the indicators we talked about, some of the 360s, maybe some Pulse assessments. So, you’ve got some data to see. How am I actually showing up and how is it driving impact and where is it? Do I need to throttle more in a certain direction to drive more impact? So, if you’re interested in having more details on it, the website is So, incredibly affordable way. I encourage you to reach out, tapping into the same expertise that Propulo uses to support Fortune 500 organizations, but in a much more scalable, affordable way that makes it accessible to everybody, because at the end of the day, there’s no more important goal than making sure everybody comes home safe to their loved ones every single day. And this is just a way to help other organizations really tap into some of that expertise. 

All right. 

So, Martin, thank you so much for coming to share some of your background experience. Have a ton of experience, years of experience helping executives and organizations and having seen the value. I really appreciate you sharing some of the expertise, and I encourage everybody to start exploring just like I did probably seven years ago, the value of having a coach, to be the most powerful leader you can be.

What a pleasure, Eric. Thank you so much for allowing me to share more about those insights on coaching. 

Awesome. Thanks. 

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. Elevate your Safety. 

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

Come back in 2-weeks for the next episode with your host Eric Michrowski. This podcast is Powered By Propulo Consulting.

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Martin Royal is an expert in Human Performance & Business Transformation, coach and facilitator who helps clients create a committed and mobilized workforce to achieve their operational excellence, safety and wellbeing outcomes. He holds a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from Saint Mary’s University and brings over 15+ years of organizational and talent development experience. Since joining Propulo Consulting in 2011, he has delivered well over 500+ safety culture change workshops and training programs centered on the development of employee safety engagement, coaching and leadership skills for global clients in North America and Europe. Martin supports Propulo’s client organizations in developing and implementing enterprise-wide training and coaching solutions that drive improved safety ownership and better safety performance. He also supports Propulo Consulting’s contractor facilitator workforce to enable them to deliver exceptional safety leadership training programs. He also supports the development and client-customization of Propulo Consulting’s various leadership and employee training offerings.

Originally from Montreal, he lives in Denver with his wife and gets to enjoy Colorado outdoor adventures. Martin has earned a reputation as an engaging, thought-provoking, playful, and effective professional who delivers outstanding results for his clients. He can deliver client engagements with ease in French and English. Martin is an active member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and also holds the ACC coaching certification from the International Coaching Federation.






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Don’t Be Caught Off Guard: Active Shooter Incidents with Anthony Corwin

Don't be caught off guard active shooter incidents



According to the FBI, the number of active shooter incidents identified in 2021 represents a 52.5% increase from 2020 and a 96.8% increase from 2017 in the United States. Anthony Corwin, the Managing Director at Active Violence Emergency Response Training, walks us through how to appropriately respond in an active shooter incident in this episode. Tune in to learn how you can remain situationally aware of your surroundings and how psychological safety in the workplace can save lives.


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 Anthony Corwin, who is a managing director at HSI. AVERT is one of the leading training organizations in active shooters, which is a very important topic to talk about. We often talk about injuries in the workplace, but as Anthony will share, it’s a leading cause of death in America in the workplace. So, Anthony, welcome to the show. 

Hey, thanks, Eric. I appreciate you having me here. 

Talk about this topic today, an important topic. So, tell me a little bit about the situation around active shooters and why workplaces really need to think about investing in training around it.

Yeah. So, it’s an unfortunate, I think, reality that we’re all being faced with that active shooter and active violent events are increasing kind of year over year. These incidents are not confined to a specific geography or even a demographic anymore. They’re happening in places that we frequent on a weekly or even daily basis, whether it’s our workplace, if it’s place of worship, schools, shopping centers, et cetera. These are now kind of happening where we frequent. And it’s an unfortunate reality that they’re happening more and more that we need to be prepared on what to do if we were involved in one of those type of situations. 

Yeah. And it seems to me, at least from what I’m seeing in the news, is that the frequency of incidents is on the rise. It doesn’t seem to be diminishing by any means. 

Yeah. And I’m sure there are lots of different causes based on each situation. Specifically going through a pandemic. Things have, I think, been followed up a little bit. And we’re seeing especially in the workplace. OSHA estimates that more than 2 million people are affected in workplace violence. Like you mentioned earlier, it’s one of the leading causes of fatalities on the workforce that are being reported on a yearly basis. And then there are incidents where, again, whether it’s at a workplace or it’s somebody who is connected to that workplace or one of the employees, again, they’re happening more frequently. And it’s now a higher call to action to make sure that people know what to do, similar to what we’ve kind of grown up with by getting trained for like CPR or fire drills or earthquakes. Active shooter training is becoming one of those now staples that people need to learn what to do in that situation. Because seconds matter when something happens on how you’re going to respond and react and hopefully save your life and maybe save others at the same time. 

And it seems to be industry agnostic. It’s not just if I’m in retail, I need to think about this. Like you mentioned, it could be somebody in the workplace. It’s almost any workplace now needs to start reflecting on how I prepare for this.

Yeah. They don’t really have stats on the types of industries, but it does go across all retail. We’ve seen at Walmart; we’ve seen it at large chains. We’ve seen that manufacturing facilities, we’ve seen it again, places of worship, all different denominations. We see it at schools. Those tend to really kind of take the headlines for the news, et cetera. But it’s happening again in our backyards. And it’s on a frequency that is increasing in an unfortunate circumstance.

Absolutely. Let’s talk about some of the tactics that you advocate around driving improvements or creating more focus on it. One of the things we talked about is situational awareness. And situational awareness applies to everything in the work environment. But tell me a little bit about how that applies to active shooter type situations. 

Yeah. So, within the verb program, situation awareness is designed for people to be more aware of their surroundings. We use the phrase which has been used for a long time for a lot of stuff, which is see something, say something. I think nowadays we all get caught up in a world where technology is at our fingertips and we’re so focused on getting access to all the things that are happening to us at once. We don’t have as good of a situation. Whereas for us, when we’re walking either into our office, if we’re walking into a shopping center, we’re in the parking lot, et cetera, and we try and get people to be a little bit more aware of their surroundings, something that looks funny or feels funny, usually our gut reaction is pretty right on. So, we want people to have a little more awareness when you walk into a facility to understand kind of how that facility is set up in terms of if it’s shopping, if it’s a grocery center, are there multiple exits? So, if something were to happen, you kind of have an understanding of what you would do or how you could go about either escaping or evading a situation. 

So, if we’re not familiar with where we are, we want to get familiar. So, we do have that kind of background for how to respond again. And those immediate seconds where you don’t really have time to think, sometimes you just got to react. 

Right. So really scanning the environment, looking for anything that looks different, maybe somebody who’s not seeming comfortable, I’m assuming, in their skin at that moment or something seems a little bit off. Also, being aware of emergency exits, maybe even if you’re in a restaurant, positioning yourself so you have a line of C-suite views of what’s happening. Is this really what we’re talking about?

Yeah. There’s lots of warning signs, too, that we see in a lot of the situations when they do some of the research and the investigations that there were signs of individuals later on that, again, were either overlooked or maybe just were not reported because they didn’t really think that it would escalate to that flat level. So again, we want to make sure that we’re taking the precautions if we do see something to alert someone in a leadership position, whether it’s HR, et cetera, on things that we may be aware of, because that may be added to other things that are going on that people have noticed as well that could hopefully help have a conversation to prevent something from happening if that were the case. 

So, in a workplace setting, it’s really getting to know your teammates, your colleagues. Seeing something seems a little bit off some is a bit different. I know we’ve had several guests on the podcast talking about for a leader to actively care for their team members. Right. To get to know them better, understand what’s working for them, who they say, save for things of that nature. But that’s also where you can see some signs that, hey, somebody’s a little bit different today or something seems to be bothering them. Exactly.

Yeah. And we want to make sure people have that empowerment, to be able to take that to a leadership level two, again, just to make sure we’re checking on people, we’re making sure that everything is okay because we all have a lot of stresses in our life and it’s always good to kind of check in and make sure that we’re all at least responsive to that, to make sure that we are taking everyone’s mental and physical health into the highest importance.

I think it’s really important. The first one is really being aware of the situation, what I’m walking into, if it’s a workplace in terms of people around me. So, if I do encounter a scenario where somebody is there is an active shooter, what are some of the things that I should be looking for or thinking about doing? Yeah.

So, our program is based off the Department of Homeland Security fundamentals of run, hide, fight. We use escape, evade and attack. But we always want people to first and foremost, try and get away from danger. So, running or escaping. And sometimes you don’t know where to run to. If you’re not familiar with the situation, if you don’t have a designated area of where you should be evacuating to, or if you think that the assailant may be in that area, you also don’t want to run towards the danger. But that’s always first and foremost, if you can get away, you can get away safely, then that is always the best option to take first and foremost. 

But that strikes me if I’m in that situation that there’s so much happening, it’s chaotic. You may not even know where the person’s in where they’re located. Right. What do I do if I’m not sure? I know there’s an active shooter, but I don’t know which direction to go. 

Yeah. So, the next thing to your point, if you don’t know where that gunfire is coming from because a lot of times as loud as it is in the Echo effect, you’re not going to know if it’s North, South, east, or west. And if you don’t know and can’t see that there is a safe area to run to, the next thing is going to be how do you evade or how do you hide? And then understanding the difference between cover and concealment. So, cover is going to stop bullets if you’re behind like a concrete wall or steel teams or something, whereas concealment is just going to be able to hide you so that the individual will be able to see you. So, like drywall or something. It’s not going to stop a bullet, but hopefully it’s going to keep you out of sight for that individual, so they don’t see that you are there. So, understanding the nuances. When you are in a situation where you can’t run, what’s your next best option? How do you hide and hopefully prevent yourself from being seen by that assailant as they are going through the facility? 

I think also gets into if you’re aware of the surroundings, you know what’s happening, you know, okay, this is a concrete wall or this is something that will shield me. Or maybe you’ve seen a spot where you could go hide, which saves you that pressure seconds, assuming I can’t evade and I’m not sure about if there’s a clear path for me to escape. So, what do I do next? Because when you talk about fight and attack, it strikes me as pretty risky to go head on. 

Yeah. And this was developed. This is part of the training with our experts who bring a lot of over 30 years of law enforcement and private security experience on how to disarm or fight an assailant, if that truly is your last resort, to your point, if you can’t escape and you can’t evade and now you are in a situation where I don’t have a run, I can’t hide, and they are going to be coming to where I am. What is my last resort? And we use some different techniques, simple disarming, whether it’s a long gun or a handgun. We use different types of things to do where you can use a group, hopefully because you can always want to use a team to overcome the assailant if you can versus one-on-one situation to be able to get that dangerous gun, long gun, or handgun away from the assailant and then subdue them until police can arrive on scene. Most active shooter incidents end in under ten minutes. And most of them are going to end before police even arrive on the scene. So, we want people to have that confidence that if I don’t have any other way to get out of the situation, what can I do to hopefully protect my life and those and others? 

So, we talk about how to disarm, obviously, but then how to go after the critical senses of sight and breathing so, you know, attacking the eyes, attacking the nose, et cetera, that no matter how big you are, how strong you are, that’s going to render somebody, no matter what, to be on defense if you’re taking those kind of situations with them. So, we want people to understand what they can do in a worst-case scenario. We always talk about if you’re in an office situation and your doors don’t lock, etc. Or how to put yourself in certain areas around the door. So, when they do walk through, then you can take that action of disarming them. You can throw anything you can at them. At that point, there’s no rules. So, you do everything you can to hopefully save your life and try and render that assailant to where you can get the weapon away from them and keep them contained until police can arrive and then take care of the situation. 

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So, you mentioned earlier that most incidents happened within or end within ten minutes, which is a lot shorter than I would have ever predicted because everything you hear is it feels for everybody that’s there like an eternity. How does that impact some of the actions you might need to take as a result? Because I’m assuming the first responders, when they show up, they don’t know that the situation stopped. 

Yeah, that’s exactly it. Police when they arrive on the scene, their number one objective is to get into the scene and render it safe and secure before they can declare as being safe. So, to your point, a lot of times it’s taking much longer than the actual incident because they don’t know if it’s been secure and safe at that point. Once police get on scene and can secure it and either subdue the assailant or can identify that it’s now no longer an active scene. That’s when an EMS can respond and go in and treat those that have either been shot or wounded, et cetera. And we spent a good amount of our time with the training, which kind of sets ours apart from other situations, which is folks don’t bleed control. So, we want people to become immediate responders. You can bleed to death in under three minutes. So again, if an active shooter situation has taken place in under ten minutes, usually before police can even get on scene and then render it safe or secure, that individual who may have been shot. And if it’s a severe arterial bleed, again, three minutes, you could die. 

And that’s one of the leading causes of preventable deaths is bleeding to death. We want people to understand how to pack a wound, how to apply a tourniquet, how to be able to save someone’s life. That the first responders. The police that are going through trying to render it safe are not able to add assistance to those individuals. It’s only then when EMS gets there that they can start to get those victims and treat them. That could be a pretty long time at that point, depending on the different scenarios and the scenes. So, we really spend time on how to apply tourniquets, how to pack a wound if you don’t have a tourniquet, all those things to hopefully help stop that severe bleeding so they can get the aid that they need when EMS does arrive, and they are able to get onto the scene itself. 

Which also leads me to think that it’s very valuable to inform the first responders because the sooner that they can let EMS come on board, the more lives get saved.

Yes, there are different protocols to do. If you do apply a tourniquet to somebody, you want to make sure you do things like put across or a T on the individual’s forehead. So, when they’re walking through, they know that somebody has a tourniquet on them. It’s also important if you can if there is an active scene when you’re calling 911 to report it, if you can let them know if there are some different casualties or fatalities taking place, any kind of descriptions you can give, if you know the active shooter so they’re aware of who it is or if there’s multiple people, all those things are going to kind of help the first responders when they get on scene to understand what they’re going to be encountering potentially. But we really want to give people the tools and the confidence on how to be an immediate response in those critical moments when they’re not going to be able to get the immediate attention that they need from EMS when the scene is still kind of in an active situation.

Yeah, it’s terrifying. It definitely makes you think that it’s worth understanding how to prepare because some of these things I probably would have caught from watching a movie or too many movies. But some of these, I think, are not necessarily the learnings, and it’s not the best place to learn from Hollywood on how to respond in a case like this now. 

And the hard part is you don’t really know how you’re going to react. So, we talk about the kind of flight versus freeze scenario and everyone’s going to react a little bit differently when you’re put into that situation as much as we go through some of the training with it, until you’re in that situation, you don’t know if you have the flight or freeze reaction because your body is going to instantly choose one path or the other. We hope that the training allows you to understand going into it, what your options are so you can respond accordingly. But we teach people to get somebody off the X. So, if someone does freeze, you want to go up there and you want to make sure that you’re kind of tapping them on the back in an aggressive manner to get them off that X to help them help them run or help them evade, et cetera. Because, again, you just don’t know how you’re going to respond in that situation when it is a real-life incident. 

Absolutely. So, we’ve talked about some strategies, the situational awareness, the escape of a tack, or I think you talked about online security, referring to it as run, hide, fight. What are some additional considerations organizations can take to minimize the impact or the likelihood of happening if something like this happening? 

Yeah, I think it depends on the type of industry and organization. So, when we go to training, we try to talk about different ways that you can hopefully you can’t necessarily 100% prevent it, but you can minimize the different risk. So, if you’re facility open to the public, if you’re a retail situation, obviously you’re going to be a public facing if you’re a private business, do you have specific key entry so employees with keys going get in like a key Fob, et cetera? Do you have cameras? Do you have an alert system throughout your organization where if there is an emergency, active shooter situation, fire anything else that you can alert employees of what’s going on in an immediate situation? So, we try and walk them through things like that. We also look at how their facility is laid out. Again, something you wouldn’t really recognize. A lot of times that would make a difference. But do all your doors open inwards? They open outwards. Do they all have locks on them? Do they have windows on them? Certain things that again, we kind of take for granted and don’t really pay attention to. But in that type of situation, if it’s an inward opening door, then how do you barricade that door? 

We kind of walk through. If it’s outward opening and doesn’t have a lock, you can’t barricade it. So, what could you do in that situation? We go through some different kind of drills where we show how you can set up a room if someone were to come in to hopefully distract them enough to where you can then in those split seconds, go for that attack phase and you can hopefully subdue them. But we go through different scenarios, and we really try to look at each facility kind of as a standalone situation because everyone’s a little bit different on their workforce. Again, are they a public facing company? Do they have security on site? Certain facilities have private security there, so there are different measures you can take. None of those are going to completely prevent something from happening, because a lot of times it’s going to be their employee or a known person to that company. So, it’s usually not just a random person that’s going to walk in and have one of these incidents happen. So, we just try and give people the understanding of what to look for. And then obviously that situational awareness keeping a little bit more of a closer eye on things.

Something does seem a little bit funny, or someone appears to be acting a little bit differently. We want to make sure we’re taking those as serious as we can to ensure that we’re having those conversations early and often before something were to happen.

I think it matches a lot of themes you’ve talked about before in this podcast around. I got to share actively caring. If you know your teams’ members really well, you’ll recognize some signs that maybe something’s off. You may recognize some themes from mental health and maybe some challenges that are impacting them. You may not necessarily think there’s an active shooter situation coming out of it, but the position of care is the right way to drive forward. Is there value in doing drills? And I bring this up because I remember once, many moons ago, I was in a business meeting, and it was in a nuclear site. Obviously heightened sense of security in that environment. In the middle of it, they ran a drill. Is that something that’s recommended in businesses as well?

I mean, for us, we like to do drills because even though you can’t replicate a true situation, you start to get some of the muscle memory down. So, like, for example, for tourniquets, never put on a tourniquet before. Once you a few times, you start to understand how it works. In an emergency situation, you don’t have time to kind of read the instructions and kind of look through it, et cetera. So, it’s not a difficult task, but something if you’re not familiar with it, you may be a little bit kind of hesitant to do something you’ve never done before. So, we want to get people to do some of the actions. We do some of the barricading drills to kind of show them how to set up a room, how to do the disarming, if nothing else, to give them the confidence that they can do it if they were to have that situation. Some people have never even handled a gun before. And while we use orange kind of replica weapons, sometimes that’s a little bit of an uncomfortable situation. So, we want people, if they’re open to it, to at least understand what you could do to get that weapon away from somebody and to have that confidence.

So, if something were to happen, at least in the back of your mind, you know you’ve done it before, and you know what to do and how to go through that kind of process of actually doing the disarming or putting a tourniquet on or packing a wound. Those are things that we want to get people familiar with to where that muscle memory is, at least there and they’ve known it before, and they could do it again if they had to.

It’s not dissimilar to earthquake drills that you didn’t counter in Southern California or actually most of California just to make sure people are prepared in case something was to happen.

Yeah, just like CPR, we do CPR, we do compressions, all that kind of stuff. So, people get the understanding of what the actual action is. So, when they do or they happen to have that situation where they are called upon to do it, at least they’ve done it before, and they have that kind of skill. Kind of not necessarily ingrained, but they are familiar with it.

Grained. Well, Anthony, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing some of your insights around it. Hopefully none of the listeners will ever have to encounter a scenario like this. I appreciate you at least sharing some tips. If somebody wants to get in touch with you to learn more, what’s the best way to do that?

Yes, our website is and we go through the whole process of the course itself. You can become an instructor to train either within your organization or we have instructors across all of the US that we can deploy to go out and train organizations. So, check out the website. We got a lot of resources on there and love to talk more to people that are looking to take their training to the next level to ensure that their employees or them as individuals have the skill sets to act if a situation were to happen. Perfect.

Well, thank you so much. 

Thank you, Eric. 

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on c-suite radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success cap through the hearts and minds of your teams. Eric Michrowski.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Anthony Corwin is the Executive General Manager for HSI, overseeing the Emergency Care business division. HSI’s Emergency Care business supports a multitude of brands and solutions, some of which have been staples in the market for over 40 years. MEDIC First Aid, ASHI, EMS Safety and AVERT make life-saving skills accessible to everyone with the hope of making an impact on as many lives as possible.

Anthony has a true passion for leading the day-to-day efforts and helping to drive the mission of Making Workplaces and Communities Safer. For more than six years, it has been Anthony’s honor to support over 50,000 authorized HSI Instructors who bring a passion and commitment to CPR and AVERT training to their organizations and communities.

As Managing Director of AVERT, Anthony shares what he’s seeing in the training industry, “The U.S. is experiencing another year where mass shootings are occurring nearly ten times per week. People are calling every day to get training and further develop their life-saving skills.”

Anthony continues, “The hope is that the skills learned during AVERT training are never required. However, should the time come that a person finds themselves in a life-threatening situation, AVERT training will have them prepared on how to respond and save lives.”

For more information about AVERT and to take the corporate safety readiness survey, go to