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Importance of Leadership and Onboarding for Safety with Curtis Weber

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski: Episode 25 - Importance of Leadership and Onboarding for Safety with Curtis Weber



Safety is important at all stages of a career, whether it is the first, third or last day at work. Irrespective of the job, communication and collaboration during and after onboarding are crucial to ensure everyone’s safety. Curtis Weber is a Safety and Motivational speaker, who learned about the importance of speaking up and building relationships with co-workers through a serious workplace accident that changed his life. Tune in to learn about the importance of leadership and making safety personal during and after orientation.


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 The 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 really excited to have with me Curtis Weber. We’ve met a little while back. I’m going to say it’s probably about a year, year and a half ago, well before covid. So, Curtis, great to have you on the show. Really happy to hear the sound of your voice again.

You better. Thanks. Good chatting with you again here over the last little bit, setting this up. And thanks again for having me on the forecast.

So, Curtis, you speak to a lot of different audiences. That’s how we originally met. You were talking to a leadership team in terms of the importance of safety leadership. Can you share a little bit about your back, your background and how you ended up in the safety space? And I know there’s an unfortunate incident that happened. So maybe if you can share a little bit about the injury, that and really more importantly, how you got to what you’re doing now in terms of really helping a lot of organizations and leaders embrace safety to take it to the next level.

So, I guess before I usually get into the events of the incident, I always kind of share with my groups a bit of a background, especially when we’re talking about safety and try to make impacts and have people buying the messaging. I always kind of share a bit of a back story of where I was going with my injury before I was actually seventeen when the incident happened. I just graduated, had an opportunity to move away from home and live out a dream of playing hockey at the next level and Elberta some junior hockey.

And unfortunately, that wasn’t going to be the case for me because on the third day of what I call my first ever real job, working outside of a family business, building steel green beans on the prairies of Saskatchewan, I had an incident. And I think that’s an important note when I speak to the of being that I was 17 years old, but also being that I was in the third day of my job, we were attempting to make a move to make a lift with a hopper ball of a big steel structure.

We’re trying to put it underneath an overhead power line. And after a brief discussion and a day that went completely sideways for us, it was a day that we were supposed to be done early on the Friday of a long weekend. Our first our first job didn’t go the way we had planned it. So, we found ourselves kind of behind and rushing to get the job done so we could get done before that long weekend. And in doing so, we didn’t have the proper discussions or conversations and myself included, didn’t take the opportunity to speak up and voice a concern.

And as we were attempting to make a move with that pickup truck and back that off the bottom, underneath the power line, we contacted an overhead power line, which was sent through fourteen thousand four hundred volts of electricity through my body and through three separate cycles.

My goodness. And I think one of the pieces I mean, you had such a promising hockey career ahead of you. The part that I remember when we first met is really your positive outlook. And would you decide to come out of it? Can you share maybe a little bit about how you started helping organization? Kind of what triggered that? That’s that thinking? Yeah. You know, I never really thought of a safety role as a motivational speaker role, not as much as me as my mother would have told me when I was going through my recovery and after the recovery, she always said I should you know, I’ve got a great story and an inspirational story with the way that I dealt with things.

But I guess going into this role, I it was really just kind of, you know, fell into my lap. I you know, after the long recovery and the surgeries and amputations and, you know, years of physiotherapy, it came time to figure out what I was going to do with my life after that nearly six years’ worth of recovery time when you take into account the reconstructive and plastic surgeries and physiotherapy and stuff. So, it was a pretty long journey.

And I was looking to get into a, you know, a background in wildlife management that was kind of a passion of mine as well, outdoors and things like that. And I was approached by the Workers Compensation Board of Saskatchewan. So, their WorkSafe department to that, they were looking for somebody who has been through a traumatic experience that’s physically and mentally willing and able to share an experience. And for a long while, I it was kind of a thanks, but no thanks.

It was. Petrified of speaking in front of crowds, I wasn’t a road safety guy. Being 17 when it happened or anything like that. But I think as the years went on and they kept kind of, you know, coming back and saying, hey, are you ready to come and do some work with us? I think maybe you could call it maturity kicked in or the realization that by experience and what I had been through and how I dealt with it so, so easily almost started to creep into my mind to think maybe there’s a reason why this whole thing happened and an even bigger reason why I was able to handle it the way that I did.

And so finally, I, I answered the answer, the call. And, yeah, I had a great almost 10 years with WCP and WorkSafe and sharing my story. And I also kind of turned me into a bit of a safety consultant and trainer. So, I was able to get a good, good amount of experience and background in safety as well.

Sure. And I think one of the things you touched on in your story and you talk about is the importance of speaking up. Can you can you share a little bit about, obviously, in your story, there’s always usually this gut feel that when something happens. Can you share a little bit about the importance of speaking up, but also the role of leaders that how they make that happen?

Yeah, for sure. I think, you know, speaking out when we talk about that in a workplace, it’s so important, it’s likely one of the biggest opportunities that we have to prevent incidents from happening. Actually, we can have the best safety system in the world with all the policy and procedure and hazard assessments and documentation and, you know, our fancy posters around the workplace. But at the end of the day, if we’re not if we’re not speaking up and voicing concerns, are asking questions when we have them, you know, those incidents are inevitable.

And for us that they might not have been just as easy as, you know, speaking up and voicing the concern. There was a lot that went into the day for us, like I mentioned, being rushing in behind and the way that the day’s events unfolded. I think that those that that condition of a hall for them being there and needing to be underneath a power line, that set of conditions was waiting for a group of people like us to come along to set up.

And it was it was waiting for a group of people that were rushing and frustrated and behind. And that’s what happened. So, and when we talk about leaders, you know, lots of times when we think leadership and safety and culture, we normally think of a manager or a supervisor or a director or a VP or something like that. And no doubt we need their leadership and commitments towards developing that culture. But at the end of the day, we sometimes forget that we can and probably already do have leaders who are working shoulder to shoulder with us on site and know as much as much as that management has a role in developing that culture.

I feel it really comes down to the people that we’re working with, because obviously not very often do we find that that director or manager of working shoulder to shoulder with us. It’s usually it’s us working together. And you speak to any senior leadership group of an organization who’s got a very successful safety record or culture. They’ll be the first ones to tell you that it’s really because of the people and how their health care programs are employee driven when it comes down to safety.

Yeah, I would agree with you. It’s the same. It’s got to be that conversation with everything, the set of circumstances you talk about just before a long weekend, your work’s falling behind. There’s that sense of production pressure. And often when I speak to the theme of production pressure, people are expecting this person like lashing out of people go faster. But in many cases, it’s subtle. It’s I set out and this is the goal I set for myself for this day and I’m falling behind.

And you’re trying to find a way to get it done. And that’s often where a step gets missed. Right? Right. For sure. So, the other piece that strikes me about your story is this was your third day on the job. And it’s really even more critical based on what you’re sharing to really think through. How do you drive the onboarding? How do you get people to get to encourage speaking up? How do you make that apparent in terms of what’s the safety culture here?

On the third day, when I speak to a lot of people in the construction space, the challenges, sometimes everybody’s coming on. It’s a first date, second or third day, because often they’re coming in for a job that only lasts a short period of time. Then they go to a different job site. How do you instill that? Or based on your experience, how could it have been done differently so that as you showed up that early on in your in your in your career, somebody would have talked about the importance of speaking up and taking your time, assessing hazards, things of that nature?

Yeah, no, that’s right. Being my third day on the job, I went from working in a family business. My dad had a family business building these green beans. And so obviously, once my brothers and I were old enough to help out, that’s what we did. But from the time we were five years old, you know, he’d be dragging us on site and our jobs were pretty minimal, picking up garbage off the site, running guys tools or just being around.

And so, I always mentioned, when I speak to different groups, is that, you know, my injury happened in an industry that I was literally raised in. I was nearly killed in the same industry that I was raised and doing. But the difference was, is that I went from working in that family business. And just the year before I’m about to move away from home to play hockey was the first year Dad’s business was kind of falling apart.

So, I actually got into a crew with a brand-new crew, which was completely different to me. So rather than just kind of kicking around at home that last summer waiting to go to move away from home, it was an opportunity to kind of keep myself in shape with a pretty physically demanding job. And so, I went from working with a group of people that were very familiar to me, like my brothers and a family friend and a father.

So being that I went from that at such a young age and jumped into a crew of complete strangers who were twice my age, it’s already probably a probably intimidating environment for a 17-year-old kid to start that process. Right. And working with people that have been working together. And so, I think that when we talk about the onboarding process. Like you mentioned, with construction, there’s a lot of moving parts and lots of temporary jobs and things like that, but in orientation, I find is a really great opportunity.

If we use it properly in an orientation, I don’t mean, you know, an organization having us go through an orientation. And here’s what we expect of you. And here’s how we do things and here’s how you know what our expectations are. But a good orientation would also have built into the opportunity for four new workers to ask some questions. And maybe that’s enough and maybe that’s enough for them to be familiar with the people that’s providing the orientation or maybe the other seven or ten or thirty-five people that are taking the orientation with us.

It gives us an opportunity to maybe develop a little bit of a relationship before we even get onto the site. So, I really think that that obviously helps for me again that day, I think a lot more went into it than just me being in an environment that I’m not used to, like I mentioned before, with that, with how the day’s events unfolded. But really, like I said, that that that onboarding process, having the opportunity to not only give the expectations of what we want through orientation, but also, you know, creating that that that relationship right away in terms of people feeling comfortable speaking up and asking questions with one another.

Yeah. And I think that the part about speaking up is a is a really challenging one, because even if you’re in a place where it’s legislated that you have the right to refuse work, to stop work, things of that nature, even if it’s a legal context and legal right, which is in some jurisdictions, but others still don’t have it as a legal right. It takes a lot of guts to say, hmm, let me pause this right, and often people are talking about we need to get the job done.

There’s all this pressure on getting the work done. It’s not that straightforward is the same. I remember I’ve been on different circumstances. You tell somebody else to stop work or what they’re doing is not safe. Maybe you should think about doing a differently. It’s not that easy. I was talking to an executive in one organization who on a weekend they were doing some charity work, was trying to tell others to say there’s this gentleman on a ladder working above and not like off center drilling into a ceiling right above the stuff flying and his eyes.

No, no, nothing that the ladder was about to tip over, try to make him stop three times and he was unable to do it. And he says, I’m asking my team members to do this day in, day out and I can even get him to stop so that that personal reflection or getting somebody else to think about it. These are not easy things to do.

Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s a pretty vulnerable spot to be put into to, you know, to witness something that’s being done unsafe or not following processes. And it is it’s likely the biggest thing that will hinder the success of us of our safety systems and programs is the fact that getting people to buy into you know, we hear terms like stop work authority. We hear terms like our brothers’ keepers and sisters’ keepers and things like this. And they’re great.

They’re great initiatives. They sound great. But at the end of the day, it’s really hard for people to do that, especially when we’re working in environments where people, you know, blue collar environments, industrial environments where, you know, it’s all go no work, you know, I’ll go no, no, wait to the work’s done type of industry. And it’s yeah, it’s a hard thing to do. And I think, again, it comes back to developing that culture piece and people are good at, you know, as human beings.

We’re really good at identifying what’s right and what’s wrong and what’s safe and unsafe. Everybody knows these things. And in fact, once they’ve been, you know, developed even further background in safety as a as a safety officer in a different job once before. And I a consultant in another role I’ve done incident investigations or I hate determines investigations. I always call them an it’s an assessment, a cultural assessment, whatever the case may be.

But investigations are horrible name.

Yeah, it is. Yeah. So, when I when I did those things very often you would ask, you know, as part of that or it would come up that, that, you know, that worker knew what they were doing was wrong. They knew they were taking a shortcut. I knew that was I knew what we were doing was wrong that day and I still didn’t take the opportunity to speak up. So, I think that’s the easy part, is identifying what’s right and what’s wrong.

The hardest part is, is like you say, is, is to, you know, have, you know, given the opportunity to actually say something or do something. And that goes to you know, when you know my kids, I got young kids at home and they know what’s right and what’s wrong. And they know when they’re doing something that’s wrong, they’ve got to make a cognitive choice whether they’re going to continue to do something after I told them not to or, you know, that it’s wrong.

And, you know, they’ve got to assess what those consequences might be if it’s, you know, touching a hot stove or touching the fireplace. And those are things that that we learn kind of along the way. But it’s hard. It is. It’s a hard thing to do. And it really does come down to developing that that cultural piece. And I was in my presentations, I’ll take it away from work for a second and say that, you know, how many times has somebody been at a restaurant or a pub or a staff function or a Christmas party where we’ve identified that a friend or a co-worker has had a few too many drinks?

And that’s the easy part, is to say, oh, jeez, Eric said quite a few drinks. And, you know, it looks it looks like. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It looks like he’s reaching for it looks like he’s reaching for his keys. And, you know, that’s the easy part to say, hey, he shouldn’t be driving. But the hardest part is to go up to the Eric and say, hey, man, you know what?

If you’ve had a few too many, we want you to get home safe. Let’s take your keys. We’ll call you a cab or just wait for a ride. We’re going to be leaving soon or whatever. But that’s the hardest part because, you know, people don’t want to look like that person who’s the fun stuff or the, you know, the overachiever or whatever the case is. And it’s a really hard behavior for us to, you know, to crack for sure.

Or the person that’s preventing you from getting the job done, because we’re we want to get it done. Like you describe the long weekends there. You want to go and enjoy the long weekend. So, we’re predisposed to say, OK, how do I get this done? Which can get us into trouble. How so? When I met you originally, you were talking to a group of leaders. You also speak to a group, sometimes different team members.

How do you instill this sense to get the right reinforcement across peer groups? Because often, like you said, it’s. Onto the VP, who’s out in the field, who’s going to influence you? They may have a comment, a conversation that matters. They can influence the people day in, day out that around you. But tell me a little bit about how do you drive this at a pure level and drive the right conversations that may need to happen?

Yeah. So, I think that that, you know, that reinforcement from our peers is something that, you know, again, it’s a really hard one to drive because, you know, oftentimes people don’t want to be the stop work authority person who is doing those things. But if we can, again, go back to that cultural piece and it starts really there, if we can create an environment where we all feel comfortable speaking up or asking questions or sharing concerns without being afraid of looking stupid or having a stupid question, I think we’ll start to get there because, you know, at the end of the day, we have all these touchy-feely terms.

You know, our this is our work, sadly, and things. And at the end of the day, that’s really what we want it to be, to be there. If I’m if I’m approaching you and saying, hey, you know, I know it’s the end of the day, it’s Friday, you know, and when we got to, we want to get out of here. But I know we’re not tied off and, you know, we require to wear harnesses and this this type of job or task.

Let me give you a hand. I’ll help you do it. We can get it done quicker. We can get it done properly. And I think the more we can create that environment where it’s an actual it’s a process where people feel like they’re actually cared about as employees, that it you know, that it’s going to make a difference. And for me personally, when I’m speaking, as I use my experience and not only my experience of the injuries and one to walk them through where I was going with my life before my injury and the opportunities, I had with that, just like everybody else out there that, you know, it’s going to work today and tomorrow that has hopes and dreams and goals for sure.

Those were taken away from me and I use that in my presentations to walk through the next chapter of my life, the injuries and what happened there and how long that recovery was. And then I followed that up by making it personal. And I guess what I’m saying is that if we can make safety personal among our teams, it’s going to have so much more impact. And that’s a big part of my presentation, is I use all the bad stuff that I went through and I use my you know, the way that I dealt with things, how you know, this since the day that I remember waking up out of the coma to, you know, two months later waking up in that coma at when I woke up this morning, I’ve never felt depressed or angry or sorry for myself.

And so, I think that making it personal and using those experiences for me to share with them how I dealt with my situation, how I’ve there’s nothing that I don’t do today that I did before my injuries. And I try to inspire people to make changes in the way that they view safety. So, and when I’m speaking on those jobs, when I’m speaking on those job sites, whether it’s a 17-year-old kid, that that needs to be comfortable, go into that 50 or 60 something year old guy that’s got a ton of experience and knowledge, I need to feel comfortable doing so.

And that, you know, 50, 60 something year old needs to be open to having me come to him. Because at the end of the day, if I’ve got a question, even if it is stupid, I might be putting him at risk and his children and his grandchildren are at risk. So really, at the end of the day, you know, we want to make it personal. And on the flipside of that, we want young people to be able to go to experience workforce and learn from then with their experience.

But, you know, we can look at it differently, too. We’ve got, you know, young people coming out of educations that some of these people might not have even had back when they started their careers in terms of training and the way things are done. And so, we’ve also got to be open now as a 50, 60 something year old to be receptive of maybe a 20-year-old coming up and saying, hey, you know, I know you’ve got all this experience and you’ve you figured out a way to MacGyver up that piece of equipment to do the job better or whatever the case is.

We need to be receptive to that, you know, 20 something year old that’s coming in with a different perspective to say, hey, let’s slow down, let’s get it done right instead of fast and let’s all go home. And I think the more you see that from one another, I think that the more opportunity there is for people to continue doing it.

Yeah, that’s so important. Is the leader, the environment, but your peers? Right. If it appears it’s a lot of organizations, I’ve, have I’ve seen where that that 50, 60-year-old is saying, hey, I’ve done it this way, don’t bother me, or even kind of intimidates a person that comes with a question. Well, you’re going to get a horrible outcome if you keep doing this. And it’s everybody’s job to drive safety.

Talk about safety. When we talked about onboarding, the experience you’ve got, I remember first of all, I had the what I got trained for six weeks and then I showed up. This was in the airline industry and it was not it was not exactly the same thing when I showed up on the line the first day because wasn’t doing things. Yeah, yeah. You could cut this corner. And that’s that gets dangerous because that starts at.

Enticing people to do things and cut corners in some instances. So really appreciate you sharing your story and all the good work that you’re doing across organizations in terms of inspiring leaders, in terms of how they make safety personal, inspiring team members, in terms of how they show up is every bit makes a difference and helps make somebody’s life better. So, I think it’s phenomenal what you’re doing. Really appreciate all the work you’re doing.

You bet you. Thank you for having me. And give me the opportunity to be on the podcast and talk to talk safety and culture with you.

Absolutely. Well, thank you, Curtis. And if ever you’re interested in having Curtis present or speak to your group, I’m assuming these days it’s all virtual or mostly virtual. Curtis Weber, thank you. Thanks, Eric.

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

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Curtis Weber, Safety and Motivational Speaker

Curtis Weber comes from Saskatchewan, Canada where he has been inspiring and influencing change in safety behaviours globally for nearly 15 years. Working in safety as a Trainer, Consultant, Officer and Speaker following a near fatal workplace incident, Curtis has been able to develop a unique way of challenging audiences to change the way they perceive safety. Curtis believes that before we can develop or change a safety culture, first we must understand and influence human behaviours towards safety. Using his own personal experience of a near fatal workplace incident, let Curtis take you on his journey and challenge you on the way you think about safety.

For More Information: Curtis Weber Consulting