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Making Safety Simple with Steve Howe

Making Safety Simple



Steve Howe, motivational speaker and Safety Director at Emil Anderson Group, joins The Safety Guru this week to share his powerful story with us. He suffered a serious injury at work in 2006 when an excavator bucket struck him through his abdomen. Steve shares insights surrounding motivations behind shortcuts, the crucial influence that supervisors possess in truly promoting a safe culture, and practical ways for safety leaders to make safety simple. Drawing from his personal journey and rich experiences, Steve makes safety concepts relatable and easy to understand through emphasizing that safety should remain everyone’s responsibility. Tune in to learn, be inspired, and make safety simple with Steve Howe.


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’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Steve Howe, who’s the safety director at the ML Anderson Group. We’ll get into a little bit of background in terms of what they do. He’s also a safety motivational speaker. Incredible background, incredible story. Steve, welcome to the show. Really happy to have you with me.

Thanks for having me.

Why don’t we start a little bit about your story? Because you had a serious safety event that happened to you, and now you’re a safety director. So, I’m really curious to hear about your journey or story.

Yeah, sure. So, 2006, I was operator and tree faller for an organization, and we were widening the highway from Vancouver to Whistler for the 2010 Winter Olympics. And that day, went to work, it was just like any other day, and was asked to do some free falling. And the shorter version was I was asked to do a machine assist with an operator and myself. And I asked for a certain operator. I didn’t get that operator that I wanted and basically told the supervisor this isn’t safe. I need one of these other people to help me. The supervisor essentially said, if you don’t like it, there’s the road, use it. And I ended up dropping my gear and was leaving. I got to my truck and for some reason I grabbed my cell phone. I don’t know why I grabbed my phone, but I grabbed my phone and there was a picture on my screen. It was my girlfriend at the time. This is where my mind played powerful tricks on me. I went, Steven, 15 days I have a car payment due, truck payment due, mortgage payment due, all those things of life that we all have.

Sure. I ended up convincing myself that I needed to do this job. I went down the hill, talked to the operator. We had our plan put together. Essentially, all I had to do was just put undercuts in these trees, back cuts, and have an excavator push the trees over parallel to the road while the traffic was still moving. We got about 5, 10 trees on the ground so far. And then we get to the last tree. I haven’t got to fall in my life. And I put my undercut in, put my back cut in. I got in my safe still, and her thought it was my safe zone. And I gave the operator the hand signal to push. He started pushing the tree over. And instead of committing and pushing the tree down to the ground and following the next sequence of events, which would be picking up the tree, deck the world, the stamp, etc. He ends up turning the machine back towards me. And for some reason, the bucket comes flying towards me and hit me in the stomach. As it hit me in the stomach, it ended up dragging me the full length of the machine. And as I’m screaming and saying stop, I noticed my legs are now separating from my body.


From there, the paramedics were called. You think about, or I used to at least when I was 22, that thought all these emergency drills and procedures were a joke and tell you need them. Right. Because of those procedures, I’m probably here today. So, they called for a helicopter. The helicopter came, picked me up, got me seven minutes after the helicopter landed back at Vancouver General Hospital. And that’s where the journey really started. I went into an induced coma for several weeks. Then I started to come out and then they put me back in an induced coma because apparently, I wouldn’t survive the pain that I guess I was in. And over months and months and months and months, they started doing rehabilitation surgeries of trying to put my legs together with all the organs and everything that had been ripped out, trying to repair that stuff. Then probably about six, seven months in, I got transferred to GF Strong, which was a rehabilitation hospital where I was left with not being able to feel my legs. But they were there.

That was, again, a win to me in my mind that I could still see them at least. Then we started trying to just figure out life being in a power wheelchair. We muscled through that. The employer that I was working with asked me if I wanted to come back to work. I said, yeah. They said, what do you want to do? I said, I want to be a project manager. They said, well, can you at least get some schooling behind you? Because I actually only had grade nine at the time, I dropped out of school, which don’t promote that very often. So, I did that and ended up having to do safety as a side thing so that I could work during the day, being a safety guy and then at night do schooling to be a project manager. I did that for four years. While I started doing that, I worked on, I think it was $2.9 billion bridge in Vancouver as well, and finished my degree in structure management and told my company, said, hey, I’m ready to go into project management. And they said, Yeah, right. You’re doing too well. And so that’s the beginning of me being into safety.

And ever since then, I’ve been leading across Canada, United States, being a safety director now for email Anderson Group for the last years. And that gets you too today.

And email Anderson, just for those that are listening, broad organization, 10 different business units. Can you share a little bit of background? They do infrastructure projects roads. Tell me a little.

Bit more. Yeah. E mail Anderson Group is made up of 10 different business units from residential, commercial, big infrastructure projects. We got one right now we’re doing in BC that I think it’s around $600 million. One of the most challenging jobs in the province right now. We also do traffic control, landscaping, and paving, and maintenance as well. So, we’re very diverse.

Very diverse. So, your story is a very powerful one which you share. You’re now applying a lot of the principles. When we first talked, one of the themes that you touched on is really around motivations attached with shortcuts, why we work safe. Tell me about some of your exploration, some of the thinking in this space, because I think that’s an incredibly important theme.


So, one of the things, again, when you’re sitting in the hospital for that long, you have lots of time on your hands and you’re trying to figure out what went wrong and just trying to just under grasp this whole thing. And over the years, and it’s been years to figure this out, but I started to think about the decisions that I made every single day at work. And we’ve all heard the words, short cuts. And I took tons of short cuts in my life for sure, up to this point as well. And realizes that there’s motivation is attached to every shortcut that we take as humans. And some of them are easy ones. F or instance, some of us are just lazy that day, or it’s time management. We’re just trying to juggle so many things, or we’re striving from that attaboy from your supervisor manager. There’s a whole bunch. But the ones that it came more apparent, I would say, in the last four or five years, the significant role or influence that our supervisors and managers have on our front lines. I didn’t… Huge. It’s huge. And I didn’t totally grasp that. And as I’ve been doing motivational safety speaking around North America, I’ve been doing this little skit that it actually shocked me how well it’s worked and to show the effect of this.

And what I’ll do is I literally will pick someone out of the crowd, and I’ll say, I’m the superintendent, you’re the guy that works for me. And I’ll literally just say, Okay, we have to get these two sticks of pipe in the ground today because the rain is coming the rest of the week. It’s on the critical path. It needs to get done today. Do you understand what I need from you? And I’ll ask these crowds from 200 to 5,000 people. And I’ll say, Guys, what did I just say to that? To Johnny. And they all say, oh, you told him to take shortcuts. Oh, you told him to do it at all costs. You hear all these things. And the crazy thing is I didn’t say any of those things, but what I learned from all of this is that’s what they all here. They all heard that, and they all heard their own message that they perceive. And that’s when the real aha moment came because I realized up to this day and before, the number of conversations where my supervisor would say, you only have today, or it’s got to get done today, all those other things we’ve all heard. And all I heard through that message was safety doesn’t matter anymore. It’s got to get her done. And the reality is this, too, is again, being a worker before, nobody goes to work every day wanting to disappoint their boss and let them down. And so, if I believe that’s the most important thing to them, then most likely I’ll probably tend to do it. And so, I used to think that that is what’s most important to him because of some of the things he said. Now, hindsight is 2020. If literally he had that same conversation and I would say, hey, Johnny, but I don’t want you to compromise your safety. Can this still be done today? All I’ve done is add a few extra words, but now I went from a message to a black and white.

It’s very crystal clear. I do want it done today, but I don’t want it at all costs. And so, from that test kit, I’ve done that around, like I said, North America. I actually had this one individual supervisor. I didn’t know he was a supervisor at the time. He stormed out of the room. It was in Alaska, actually. He stormed across the room, out of the thing. I still have like half an hour to go. In the back of my mind, I was like, I can’t believe this guy is that something else. That’s that important. I just flew all the way here and you just leave like that. Again, that’s where my mind went. A gain, tried to forget about it and kept working or speaking and the meeting concluded and all of a sudden, he pops back out the door or in the door and he goes, hey, man, I’m so sorry that I had to leave. He goes, that just struck a chord with me. He goes, I just told the guys before I went to this meeting, he said, hey, I have to go into this safety meeting. I need six more sheet piles in the ground today.

And he goes, But I didn’t want them to compromise or save you. I didn’t want them to do anything that could hurt you. And he goes, But I don’t want them to think that based on what I told them. And to me, I was just like, Wow, full circle. It really works.

I think that’s an important point because it’s also a theme. I remember I was talking to one executive who had moved into safety, and he shared how at some point in his career, he had this realization that all he was recognizing people for was getting the job done, working overtime, things of that nature. He just took for granted that they were doing it safely. His reflection was like, All I’m saying is get it done, and you’re never hearing me say, Thank you for a specific behavior around safety. Thank you for something in terms of making a safe choice or stopping work or doing something that puts safety at the forefront.

Yeah, for sure. The other part from this, I learned, still staying on that track with the motivating some of the short cuts, is what you say or don’t say as a supervisor and manager. And I use this story a few times in my career. But right now, I have an eight-year-old and 11-year-old daughter and a beautiful wife. And they’re at the age now where they’re starting to verbally attack each other to the point where it’s almost too much. And it is, it’s too much. And I’m in the room watching this happen. And it made me think, if I don’t say anything, what message am I sending to my daughters? Because we know it’s not right. And so, I have to say something. But made me think about it. What if I didn’t say anything? What message did I send them? And to me, the message would be that it’s okay. And so, what line that I use is what you permit as a supervisor or as a father, you promote. And so, if you apply this back to work, if you’re a supervisor manager that sees people not tied off and they see that, then inadvertently you’re promoting that that’s okay.

Yeah, it’s a safety rule. It says that, but it’s okay to you. And so that was the other part where you could see how it influences the decisions you make. You get to the time management, you want that, a boy from him. He clearly doesn’t care and doesn’t speak up when he sees me not doing the right thing. So, it must be okay. That, again, helps influence the decisions you make as the boots on the ground.

Or even peers that see that you didn’t say anything, see it as you’re allowing it, you’re promoting it, you’re saying.

It’s okay. Correct.

I like the point you’re making there because I think one of the pieces, we often assume is safety. If I want to really drive a difference, it needs to start at the top. And yes, absolutely, senior leaders have a very key role. But the supervisor is the one who’s interacting day in and day out. And in my opinion, they’re the one that has the greatest impact into the decisions that their teams make.

No, I agree. Again, just thinking back to those days when I wake up and go to work, I’m sure I’d see a top manager, CEO, maybe, maybe in once or twice in my career. But the guy that I see every day was my supervisor. And again, probably even people that will be listening today have been in the trenches before and would know that one leader in this world that you looked up to, that you would run through a brick wall for. That person had so much influence in my life, and it wasn’t the top CEO because he can’t be. They had 55,000 employees. He couldn’t be everywhere. But that supervisor was there. And so, to me, he was the most influential person. And like I said, I can’t be the only one that thrives to have those out of voice, those affirmations and things. There’s more than just me that want that. And where are you going to get him from is probably from him, if anybody.

Absolutely. Or he’s going to tell you to hit the road, which is not the right thing to say. No.

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One of the things that you advocate and that you bring to life as a safety director is around making safety simple. I think that’s often forgotten. People get into these complicated elements. Tell me a little bit about what making safety simple really means to you and how you bring that to life in an organization like ML Anderson.

Sure. First and foremost, I got to say it again, making safety simple. It has to be easy, or people won’t do it. That is probably my biggest pet peeve that I see and hear is, and we’ve all probably heard it, there’s the famous buzzwords. We think a buzzword changes our safety culture or the next flavor of the month initiative. And the reality is our people aren’t stupid. They know that’s just the flavor of the month or the next buzzword. It doesn’t make them safer. And truly, what it does is it just creates white noise and distraction. That’s all it does, in my opinion. So, we’re trying to make it simple. And we’ve gone back to the basics. I got to him on this in three years ago. And again, elementary basics. And to me, well, one, if anyone’s into charts and graphs and those things, statistically, we have just phenomenal dropped off the charts for injury rates and stuff and ER ratings and stuff. Incredible. For anyone that can, those experience ratings, we were all at surcharges in all of our CUs. They’re know all in discounted positions. Anything you want to quantify, we have it.

And again, it was the starting beginning foundation was making safety simple. We also do… Everything is paperless, so it’s at their fingertips. It doesn’t matter if you’re at work or at home, they have it on their cell phone, ready to go, the whole OHS program platform at their fingertips, and they use it. That’s probably part of our most important thing, keeping it simple. The other thing that we were really focusing on is what we’re doing right versus the negatives and recognizing people for doing things well. And if you think about it, as humans, most of us have been trained or it’s embedded in us to just go look for all the things that are wrong. We’re there to fix problems. And it’s not like we typically go to school to say, Let’s go find all these positive things about somebody. And so, it’s actually pretty tough to do. But one of the things that we do, like I said, is we try and find, and this is our formula, is for every one negative, we have seven positives. And so, whether it’s in our meetings, we bring positivity. We have, for instance, a safety calls every week.

Again, there might be one or two negative things in there, but there better be 7 to 14 positive things that are going well and we’re doing shout outs. And again, praising people. And someone probably wants to know how we came up to the formula of 7 to 1.

Yeah, for sure. Because I’ve heard 5 to 1, I’ve heard 6 to 1, I’ve heard 10 to 1, now 7 to 1. And I think it’s less about the ratio.

Truly, it’s more about that there should be more positives than negatives at the end of the day, right?

Correct. And a lot more, not just equal.

Leaps and bounds more. So, we’ve used that. And then I try to, again, bring it back home as well. And I have a little… Again, I love my family stories, but my daughter, she’s 11. And one of the things that is a challenge is cleaning her room. It is a challenge to convince her to do that. And I tried the old standard way of nag and telling her all the things she’s not doing right. And I’m not trying to take things away from her, et cetera. But it’s not getting me very far, which clearly, I know for other people it’s probably the same thing. But one of the things is I tried to apply this same positive to negative ratio at home. And I noticed that she cleaned her room this one day and I said, hey, honey, I just proud and thank you for cleaning the room. What a good job. And we gave her some details of the things I noticed that she well-organized stuff. And lo and behold, it happened the next day. And then it happened again. And again, every day I’m continually recognizing her for it.

But what I learned from that is what gets recognized gets repeated. And so, to me, it’s the same thing as at work. If you go up and you observe someone in a trench and instead of just telling them all the things that are wrong there, find something positive to say, the better chances of that being repeated the day after that and the day after that. So that’s one of, I think, the things that we’re really pushing these days is this recognition piece.

So where did that ratio, the 7 to 1 ratio come from? You touched that in a little bit. I think from a reader standpoint, from a listener standpoint, I think it’s good to have the reference point because you’ve got an interesting data point.

Behind it. There was a couple of guys that put me on this, but there was an article from the Harvard Business Review that they said that they found that 6 to 1 was the right ratio for the best performing teams out there. We’re always pleased but not satisfied. So, 6 was good, we went to 7. I always have to exceed. I think this is an important message. The doing more recognition versus calling out things that are bad, I think is key. One is it gives you permission to actually call somebody when they’re doing something not right because otherwise, you’re just nag, saying negative things because now it feels more balanced. I agree with what you’re saying. It also gets you to do more of the things you want to see. One of the struggles I’ve seen with leadership teams, also with craft employees, is craft employees, actually, just the other day, it was a session I was in, and they were saying, I don’t want some leader salivating some fake recognition that they learned from a workshop or a book. I think there’s some merit to this one. I think I’ve also heard from some leaders saying, why should I praise somebody for getting their job done? So, tell me a little bit about how you drive that right ratio, because I think that’s key. And getting leaders to see what I should recognize is really important.

Yes, great question. Part of this, I would say, and I think I just want to touch on one more little piece on that, to just tile into it is why is this important. And if you think about there’s lots of us listening right now, including myself, probably you Eric, we all have a spouse. And think of the last time that your spouse pointed out something that was wrong. How did that make you feel? Did that motivate you? Did it make you not want to do it again? Because if that worked, then we’d all have perfect marriages. Right? it doesn’t work.

But think of the times when you actually were called out by your spouse for doing something positive and they recognize you for it. And how much did that motivate you to want that feeling in the end? To me, there’s no difference. And so that’s why I think if we’re trying, we need to find ways to motivate our guys, it’s easier to do it by recognizing than just trying to call them out because, again, that system is not working. It doesn’t work, in my opinion. The second part, how we’re trying to promote it and say it is, it needs to be genuine and sincere and directed through that person. Tying the shoelace, yes, might be not a great example. But one thing that we’ve learned is not everything’s wrong. If it was, we would have nothing built. Everyone would be in the hospital. So, there’s a lot of good things going right. It’s just harder to find them because, again, we’re so wired to just find the bad things. And so, finding that genuine, hey, one of our meetings we have is a CSI meeting, continuous and safety improvement meeting, and there’s pulling that guy that’s facilitating that meeting to say, hey, I really liked about this two things you touched on and how you tied it back to a certain subject, etc.

It’s very genuine, it’s sincere. You’re pointing out the specific things. It’s not just good job. That doesn’t go very far. It might for the first time, but it doesn’t. I would actually just tell you this before we got on here. I actually just had this exact same, AHA. I tried to be completely honest, I was just trying to speed up time because I was really busy. Yesterday, it was Farm Shore Day at the farm, and my daughter, she did really well. She cleaned the one side of the property, raking, did the horse manure, the chickens, the goats, everything. She did it all. It was amazing. Didn’t have to tell her thing. And I just wanted to recognize her, and I say, good job. And so, I said, hey sweetheart, you did a great job today. And you know what she said to me? Yeah, Dad, what part did I do good? And that’s when it just struck me again. Again, that was just too generic, not sincere. And so, I had to actually point out the things that she did well. And then you could tell that it made such a big more difference to her that I recognized her for the right things. So, I’m still learning this as we go as well.

Absolutely. But it doesn’t need to be complicated. It doesn’t mean you need to put big dollars around it. It doesn’t mean there’s a prize that comes out of it.

It’s genuine, sincere, as you said, but very tangible. It’s a behavior, something that maybe isn’t expected, that maybe isn’t the norm, but you’re going one step and beyond. But not necessarily you transform the world. Correct. I think that’s the elements. People are looking for that big, I went, and I ran this project and I transform all these things, etc. And then you get the out of the white. But if I’m hearing you correctly, it could be something simple.

Very. You nailed it. Very simple. Because also those things create ripple effects, too. They grow. And all of a sudden, you’re sending that recognition to those workers, those workers then recognize other people. And it just keeps… And again, to me, it’s the culture we’re trying to breed. And like I said, it just grows. And I’m seeing those fruits of that right now, three years in. And honestly, I say that every safety call we have every Monday, almost the whole organization jumps on that call, at least safety leaders and some of the foreman and all the way up to the CEOs on the call every week. And that’s one thing I said is so proud of this group because the amount of positivity that’s going, again, it’s cheap. It’s not expensive.

It’s not expensive. It’s simple. It’s a desire. It’s setting an expectation, like your 6 to 1 ratio. Whatever ratio you pick, it’s that you’re trying to find more positive things, and they’re happening. In every organization, they’re happening. As you said, otherwise, you wouldn’t be building bridges. You would be visiting a hospital every single day, if there were more bad things happening than there are good things happening. Correct. It’s interesting because I was working with a very good leader not so long ago, and one of his stories was really he struggle with that idea at the beginning in terms of coming up with more recognition. Then when he started doing it, he started seeing a shift. And like you said, then soon enough peers were starting to recognize each other and say, well, since we’re talking about recognition for a safe choice, can I share some of my own that I’ve observed? And then it starts spreading because now we’re not just looking at the things that are bad, we’re also looking at what we’re doing well and wanting more of it.

That’s awesome. So, I had one other one for the safety simple. It should not be a new concept to anybody. I’m not creating something new that nobody knows, but it’s this whole concept of why I work safe. I’ll start with myself. We probably all heard that slogan before, but I’ll try to give you what the meaning truly means to me and tied it all together is, after having this event, you realize what’s important in life and what isn’t. And ultimately, it’s my wife who is the cornerstone of my life. The girl who was in that photo in my picture 16 years ago was her, and we’re married now. I make smart, right choices every single day for her because I need to grow old with her, and I’ve committed to her that I’m never going to choose work over her again. She is first in my life. But it’s also my daughters. I work safe so that the arms and legs are still working and continue to work. Because, again, the pictures are so much bigger for me now as I know they’re both going to get married one day, and a part of their wedding is their dad walking them down the aisle and the Daddy Daughter Dance and all those things.

Again, before I got hurt, work was my life, my everything. Now it’s completely shifted and now work is important. I love work, but it’s not everything. It’s not the meaning of my life. Same with my hobbies. We all have hobbies that are listening today. A gain, I still love to hunt and fish and snowmobile and dirt bike and stuff. But those are the things I want to do. But the difference is I’m doing it because I want to know because I have to. That’s the hugest thing in this is that I get challenged lots on this. And they said, well, I don’t really get your goofy why I work safe thing. I’m just a compliant person. And the problem with compliant people I’ve learned is this, they’ll always do the right thing when everybody’s looking. But when nobody’s looking and you know, you won’t get caught, what decision will they make? The difference I find is people that have those whys in their life, the things that mean everything, it’s harder to make that wrong choice because there’s so much more at stake. And so, to sum that up, that when you find your why, the families, the hobbies, those things, you create meaning. And when you create meaning, you create purpose. And then you realize that all those things, the safety procedures, policies, all that stuff really just keeps all the pictures, the things in your life HD in here. But until you understand that safety is annoying, it’s in the way, it’s frustrating, I make more money. But because you’re missing that whole “WHY” component to it. That’s the whole reason why we do what we do. A gain, very simple concept. The other thing I learned, and it was pretty cool, I can’t remember his last name, but I remember Butcher’s last name, but he’s a very well-known speaker, Simon, I think. Simon Sinek? Yeah. One of the things that he, again, I always had this belief, this idea, and he just reaffirmed it for me is he was talking about the whole why, et cetera, in business, et cetera. One of the things he commented on that he did this study that the part of your brain, the lymphatic part of the brain that controls your decision making, your behavior, it can only change your behavior with emotion. And so, to me, that’s the piece that’s your why, the emotion part that you want to be here for your kids.

You want to be here for your spouse. You want to go fishing again or whatever makes your life whole. And so, it’s just neat to see and reaffirm my beliefs that they’ve scientifically proven the only way to change human behavior is through emotion. So, I thought that was fascinating.

It is. And I think it speaks as well to leader being comfortable speaking about them why for safety because they’re asking somebody else to do the same. I think there’s some elements there on vulnerability and being able to share it, but then eliciting that reflection on your why. So maybe share some thoughts in terms of some of the approaches that you do use to bring the why and to get your team members to think about the why day in and day out.

What we do is we either create… We get the craft to submit their photos and we either create and or we’ll do stickers on their hard hats for some reason. Craft guys love stickers and hard hats. So, the kids or somebody, I just had to make one the other day was a Cowboy’s fan. So apparently, he’s working safe for the Cowboys. But everyone has their thing. But what he does, it also makes it personal. So, when you see somebody doing something unsafe, it makes it personal because there might be a picture of that guy’s daughter or his wife. How can you not want to say something? That’s their why. So, to me, it just makes it personal at all levels. And then again, back to the vulnerability part, when our supervisors’ managers are doing the same thing, hey, our managers put one boot or one pant leg on at a time. They’re just the same as us. And even all the way up to our CEO. And I know our CEO has two kids and loves being with them. And so, I need to speak up if he’s doing something wrong. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at.

And so, to me, just, again, back to that simple concept. It’s very simple. We all have those same things, and we need to do it right for yourself, but for them and for the people in their life. Because again, that’s something else I learned from all of this. The ripple effect that was created because of a decision I made became waves and affected my friends, my family, just everybody because of one decision that I made.

Steve, very powerful story. Your story in terms of the events that you had, but also in terms of how you’re applying it to drive safety within the organization. Really powerful. Thank you for coming to the show and sharing your story. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to reach out? There are a few ways. You could go to, or you can also go to Keynote Speakers Canada or Keynote Speakers USA.

Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Steve, for coming on the show.

Thank you so much for having me. It was awesome.

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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With over 18 years in the construction industry, Steve Howe understands the daily hazards faced by workers and why safety is often viewed as an impedance.

In the spring of 2006, while working as a young tree faller on the Sea to Sky Highway project in British Columbia, Steve suffered an unimaginable injury.  Despite the feeling that something wasn’t right that morning, Steve pushed forward – as many would – to get the job done. Unfortunately for Steve, this decision – to ignore his gut – resulted in being struck by an excavator bucket through his abdomen and being dragged for several feet.  It was the beginning of a drastically altered life.

He was told he would never walk again, and it almost broke him. However, throughout his many days in the hospital. Steve had a chance to reflect on his journey and muster the courage and strength to challenge his projected outcome. Steve believes fiercely that we control our destiny. We have the choice to speak up when things don’t feel right. We have the choice to stop someone from engaging in unsafe acts. We have the choice to do the safe thing every time. Not only at work but in our day-to-day lives. So, he decided to choose a different path and after years of dedicated work, he is now able to walk again.

Steve shares how at 22 years old, he felt invincible. Sure, he had heard stories of workplace injuries, but it would never happen to HIM. Sadly, this belief, shared by so many workers, is what ultimately led to his accident.  By reflecting on his injury and drawing on his experiences working in the field of safety, Steve has found what he considers to be the keys to success in preventing all workplace injuries. A goal that he believes to be 100% obtainable.

Living through 83 surgeries, 90 Days in a Coma and over 500 days in a hospital allowed Steve the opportunity to reflect on his accident and he developed a passion to share his story with others. His message of survival, emphasizing the importance of working safety not just for yourself but others around you, has been heard all around the world from Vancouver to Australia.

As a safety consultant, Steve travels across the Country sharing his story and inspiring audiences to trust their gut.  And reminding them that he used to live to work but now he works to live.  This keeps what’s important – his family, his health, his life – at the forefront of every safety decision he makes today.

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Mind Matters: The Crucial Link Between Mental Health, Psychosocial Risks, and Workplace Safety with Anna Feringa

Mind Matters: The Crucial Link Between Mental Health, Psychosocial Risks, and Workplace Safety



In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re very excited to feature Anna Feringa, expert in leadership and Mental Health and best practices in workplace Mental Health, on the podcast this week. “No one can be 100% safe in any workplace if they’re not healthy both mind and body.” When an individual is not well in their mind, they’re more inclined to make poor decisions resulting in more physical injuries and human error in the workplace. Tune in as Anna emphasizes the crucial link between mental health, psychosocial risks, and workplace safety. Discover insightful strategies for mitigating these risks within your organization to reduce injury and cultivate a positive workplace culture.


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’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Today, I am very excited to have a great guest on our show. Her name is Anna Feringa. She’s a workplace mental health consultant with a background in organizational psychology, has been in the field for well over 18 years. She’s also a global top 10 LinkedIn voice of 2022 and a leading expert in mental health. Very good to have you on the show today. I’d love to get started maybe with a bit of a background as to how did you get passionate about this space, mental health, and we’ll obviously talk about mental health and safety.

Thanks, Eric. It’s absolute pleasure to be on and a very warm welcome to all of our listeners. Thank you for joining us. Look, the field of workplace mental health, it’s a pretty hot topic now.


18 years ago, not so much. But particularly in Australia, it’s become certainly top of policy, forefront of mind. But how I got into it, it’s a really interesting question, Eric. I went through university with these grandiose ideas of becoming a criminal psychologist and spent a lot of time in our glorious Australian prisons and so forth, had an absolute ball, but looked at all the psychologists around me that were 30 years my senior, and I’m like, they were just completely devoid of emotion. And I’m like, I want to be able to feel empathy in 30 years, so I’m going to switch. And I ended up going into the personal injury field. And what that means, because it’s quite a conflated topic, what that means here in Australia is I was working in the field of both post motor vehicle accident and workplace injuries. So having a look at all the types of particular mental conditions, psychological conditions that can result after being exposed to trauma. Sure. So that led me down a lot of years in the insurance path, personal injury, regulatory explorations, legislation, or the very thin legislation that existed in Australia at the time. 

And I just spat out at the end as a bit of a mixed bucket of knowledge. And I’m like, Right, well, rather than responding to injuries once they’ve occurred, particularly in the workplace, what’s going on in the prevention space? And there was this massive gap, and there still is this massive gap. So that’s what keeps me very busy as a workplace mental health consultant is getting in and working with workplaces to help them firstly understand what it means and also the benefits and consequences of either proactively engaging in good mental health and good work design or not. So, it is one of the leading causes of disability across the globe. It is costing the globe in excess of $6 trillion a year in lost productivity, injury recovery expenses, turnover, you name it. So, it’s a really big industry for making sure that workplaces have more knowledge and better structure around how to keep their people safer whilst they do their role.

Excellent. Great segue into first theme I’d like to touch on, which is mental health is not separate from safety. So, can you expand in terms of the linkage? Because a lot of organizations look at mental health on one side in HR, and then they’ll have safety separately looking at how do I prevent injuries. Tell me a little bit about the link between both.

Yeah, sure. Firstly, if someone could take their brain out of their body and sit it next to them and go, this is a separate entity to my body, then that’s my first linkage, Eric, is no one can be 100 % safe in any workplace if they’re not healthy, both mind and body. So, it is absolutely a safety issue. For far too long, and it continues to be, it’s been, Okay, let’s keep everyone physically safe. Let’s invest in education. Let’s make sure that there’s a bunch of liability around keeping someone physically safe. But this whole wellness of the mind piece, we’ll just chuck some yogurt at them and maybe a few fruit boxes and call them a benefit. But if you at any stage get depressed or anxious at work, it’s really got nothing to do with us. We just hope that you make the right decisions whilst you continue to decline in your cognitive abilities. And we efficiently refer to it as psychosocial ergonomics. And that is, if someone’s not well in the mind for whatever reason, they’re more inclined to make poor decisions, which is resulting in physical injuries and human error. So, they are absolutely linked.

A fruit box and a resilience training session is not working. And I challenge anyone to show me the evidence that it is working. And when I say working, I mean, it is not preventing injury. It’s simply just helping them recover and then chucking staff back into the fryer pan where they got injured in the first place. So, it’s like this vicious little cycle of, we’ll fix you, but we won’t change the environment. So, with physical safety, if something is allegedly going to cause someone harm, then workplaces jump to it. They fix it. They assess how things can be done differently. Whereas we’re not there with mental health yet. We’re 30 years behind where physical safety is. But if we don’t treat mental health along the same hierarchy as safety, then we’re going to see a lot more people become very ill. We’re going to see companies go backwards, both in ROI and reputation, and basically fail to be enterprise ready for the future. So, this is a big thing. And it absolutely is safety. And until it’s recognized as safety, people are going to be falling at the forefront of poor mental health and workplaces and suffering the consequences for it. And I think from what you’re sharing, and I definitely see data to that effect, when you’ve got people that are… If you’re not addressing the wellbeing, the mental health component, you’re also going to have more workplace injuries. So, it’s also a way to get to the next plateau of injury reduction.

Absolutely. You’ve just nailed it, Eric. There’s no other way to explain it. Healthy people work better, are better, perform better. And when I say perform, look, it’s great to hit targets, but it’s also great to come home safely. And every employer really has the responsibility to keep their employees safe to the point where it’s reasonable and practicable, of course. We don’t have a silver bullet for everyone. And there’s things beyond employer’s controls. But at this stage, nothing’s really in place anywhere. So, there’s efforts, there’s intentions. A lot of workplaces are well intended, but we’re still waiting our way through what really works. And I’m sure that you and I’ll branch out into that later. But it is a very infantile space, but yet such an urgent one.

Absolutely. So, you’ve touched on the value of addressing mental health from the trillions that are being lost. You’ve touched on the impact on physical safety. What else can we add to the case for mental health focus in a workplace?

There are bucket loads. I guess the question is, do you want to talk about the consequences, or do you want to talk about the benefits? Because there’s plenty of both. I guess I’ll just start with the benefits, and that is, if you’re people working in a well-designed role, it all really comes down to work design. And that is the bit that freaks companies out. And I mean that respectfully to our listeners. And that’s a lot of work to do. We can’t revaluate how work is done. It’s just too much of a disruption to the business. So, my response to that is, can everyone just take a look at what companies did two years ago? For a pandemic, we literally flipped companies on their heads in two seconds to keep production happening and to keep people safe. So, companies are really running out of excuses with the no budget, no time, no resources to revaluate how work is done to keep you safer because your staff have seen you do it. And so, one of the consequences is that staff will simply move on to another employer where they feel safer. And that’s why we’ve got the great resignation sweeping the globe, because people have realized they don’t really have to stay.

There are exceptional circumstances, of course. If I don’t have to stay in a place that I hate or that I feel unsafe in, or that I’m working in a role that is burning me out and no one’s doing anything about it because they have the attitude that, well, that’s just always the way it’s always been done. If you can’t do it, there’s the door. The benefit of investing in this area is you’re going to get better talent acquisition. You’re going to get better people that are a better job fit. You’re going to get people that work well for you. And if you’re not prepared in this industry, then buckle up because you’re going to get a bunch of people that are not going to be fit for your role. Your personal injury or compensation claims, depending on what scheme you’re under, are going to skyrocket. Your culture is going to suffer, which is going to impact your bottom line, which is going to cost you money anyway. So, it’s about investing a little to save a lot. So, the benefits are you will be competitive. You’ll have better people. You will have higher production. You will have less injuries.

You will have a better culture. And that all really serves, with a bunch of evidence base, to suggest that that’s what good work looks like.

We’ll dive into the topic of work design soon because I think it’s important for listeners to understand what it means. But before we go there, one topic that is emerging definitely in Australia, it’s starting to emerge in other locations is the concept of psychosocial risk. Can you tell me more? What is it? Big words, but a lot of people still haven’t heard of it.

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s become legislation in Australia, Eric, and half the people still don’t know what it means. It’s actually in our basic fundamental laws now, and people are like, what does psychosocial mean? So basically, what psychosocial risk is, is anything that could potentially cause you a mental injury or mental harm. Okay. So, it’s like you and I walking on a mine site, and a particular pathway to an open cut mine has not been clearly identified. Therefore, the risk to you and I, Eric, is one of us is likely to become injured. So psychosocial risk is anything that in the course of work, or in the course of the environment, or in the course of interpersonal activity between people, coworkers, managers, staff, that can cause someone to become mentally harmed. But then I’m a very big stickler for terms. And again, I sat on a round table last night. And again, what we had to do is clean up language. So, people are using psychosocial risk and psychological safety as one term. They are absolutely fundamentally related but to different contract. So psychosocial risk is anything throughout the course of employment, interpersonal, environmental that can harm you.

Psychological safety is creating a workplace where people feel safe enough to voice their opinion, raise risk without fear of retribution. So, you can’t have one without the other. You need to clean up your psychosocial risks before you can achieve what I call the pinnacle or the oracle, and that is a psychologically safe workplace. So psychosocial risk really is just like a physical safety risk, but it relates to the mind.

So, what are some of the mitigating factors that organizations can explore? Because this is a fairly broad definition of a risk in terms of everything that could harm you. It’s quite broad.

It is. And it’s also very subjective. So, I guess, and again, this is such an infantile space. So I’d love to turn around and go, here’s A to Z mitigation strategies. Eric, here they are. Like, globe, please learn them. But in Australia, we’re understanding the concept that, okay, it is now in our work health safety legislation that employers need to be proactive in mitigating risk. And everyone’s just looking at each other going, Okay, great laws, but how do we do that exactly? So, we’re seeing this area of psychosocial risk assessments starting to emerge. And there’s good ones and there’s not so good ones, as with any new concept that’s been born. So, I guess one of the mitigating factors would be to pick up one of these psychosocial risk assessments. And there’s many of them. I would just plug it into Google and see what comes up, because it’s going to vary from country to country. I can make some great recommendations in Australia, but I’m not here to do that today. So, what that means for our listeners is you need to talk to your people and ask them, what is your risk tolerance? If you’re working in retail and getting abused up team times a day, sure, there’s a factor in there that we can’t necessarily control.

But what are we doing afterwards? I mean, if you’re working in emergency services, you’re going to see a lot of trauma. We can’t necessarily control that. But what we can control is how much access are they getting? How much exposure are they getting? How can we control that and rotate that? How are we checking in on our people to make sure that they’re coping? How are we monitoring appropriate leave and downtime and debriefing? Or has all of that become automated? So, step one, consider a psychosocial risk assessment. Within those risk assessments, people are consulted anyway. But there’s other ways you can talk to your people. And thirdly, you need to make sure that your leaders are, in some shape, way, or form, provided the skill to be able to have a conversation with their team and their people. So firstly, they need to understand what psychosocial risk is before they can inquire about it with their people in a safe and protected way. So, we can’t really mitigate risks that we don’t know are there. And the best way to identify risk is by talking to people, talking to staff, going, What’s tolerable? What’s not tolerable?

How’s the role designed? Do you have any suggestions about the way it can be done better? Because that’s where a lot of, particularly, Australian companies are finding or farming the gold is, wow, our staff that we press play on every day actually have some pretty great ideas about how we can better improve some of y our social safety. So definitely risk assessments, definitely staff consultation in whatever form, focus groups, the good old survey. Companies tend to eye roll a little bit around surveys, but it’s important that however you can gather that information because that’s where you’ll start to identify gaps and that’s where you’ll start to identify risk. Sure. Like you said before, Eric, it is a really complex field because it’s subjective. So what a lot of organizations are doing is gathering what the main risks are. So, there might be some outliers of people getting stressed for different reasons. But okay, a lot of our staff in this division are burnt out for this reason. Well, let’s just have a look at this reason, not 50 million different reasons as to why I’m burnt out. If there’s a theme or a pattern, if you like, they’re chunking it down that way.

But it’s a long process. It’s not going to happen overnight. And a good risk assessment isn’t just done once. It’s a continuous improvement. They run regularly. But I guess the next battle is, Okay, we’ve run a risk assessment, therefore, we can prove that we’re risk adverse. Well, no, because a lot of companies misconstrue the fact of assessment as intervention. When you get that information, you got to do stuff with it, right?

You have to. It’s no different than safety culture assessment. You’re assessing where you’re at to understand your themes, and then you build a strategy to execute, and then you retest. Have I made a difference?

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, probably to soothe our listeners as well, because I’m probably making this sound very complicated. And the world of psychology is not linear. But if you’re a safety professional listening today, it really is just approaching psychosocial risk in a way that’s very, very similar to the way we’ve practiced physical safety. It is about consult. It’s about identified. It’s about analyzed. It’s about responded. It’s about a value weight. It’s about change. And then it’s about repeat. So, you really don’t have to look at psychosocial safety as a completely different construct with how we mitigate. A lot of the themes that are coming through, particularly here in Australia, is the more similar you can keep it to physical safety, you’re on your way.

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

You touched on an approach around work design, and I think work design is key. You alluded to a few examples, I think, in terms of the rotation of if I’m dealing with certain critical stressors that maybe I’m rotating through it. I’m not spending the entire day dealing with it. Tell me more about what that could look like in terms of the work design, because I agree with you, work can be redesigned. We’ve proved it a few years ago when everybody went remote.

Absolutely. So, it absolutely can be done. The reason why it’s not now is because of just the perceived complexity. I mean, you and I could tease apart 50 million roles and what that looks like, but that’s not why we’re here today. It’s basically to sell the message that your people will continue to perform half mask. Your people will continue to become mentally unwell in poorly designed roles. And when I say poorly designed, at one stage, they’ll probably wonderfully design roles. But like life, everything evolves. And so, it’s about designing work that’s good for people. And like anything, you need to get in there and have a look at the way roles are done. Because at the moment, what I’m seeing, and I call it your primary, secondary, and tertiary response. And we’ve got a bunch of employers, particularly in Australia and around the world, that are investing in the tertiary stuff. In Australia, we’ve got employee assistance programs, which is, Okay, works pretty much screwed you up. You’re pretty unwell. Here’s a number that you can call and talk to a clinical psychologist and get a little bit better. And then we’re going to chuck you back into that same role and just watch you reinjure.

Also, we’re going to bring in a keynote speaker that’s going to tell you about their journey of mental health, which absolutely has a place, but it’s not fixing the direct linear causal factor of why these people are becoming unwell. And that center around how work is done. I say they’re tursury interventions. They absolutely have a place, but they’re very reactionary, where primary is about prevention, and secondary is about early intervention, and tursury is about all the pure reactionary stuff that we do to help people. But the focus shouldn’t be on fixing people. The focus should be on revaluating and redesigning the environment, so we don’t really have people to fix. It really does mean work design really needs to sit squarely in the prevention area. And that’s where we’re going to see people really start to improve in their mental health, really start to work well, hang around with your company longer. You’re going to have fewer turnover costs. You’re going to have less, I call it the HR bottleneck, where people are tired, they’re burnt out. They’re working in roles that they don’t have a say in how it’s designed. They’re overworked, they’re under work, they’re exposed to trauma.

Well, how can we get in there and fix this up a little bit? And when was the last conversation at the board level around why this is important? Because money is important, competition and growth are important. Well, you need healthy people in order to help you do that into the future. So, it’s the key to growth, is healthy people.

But it’s interesting because as you share these examples, I’m also thinking that a lot of the work that’s designed is designed by process engineers, people that are really looking at how do I optimize, which often means how do I create an assembly line that repeats, repeats, repeats, which is not necessarily good for the well-being of people. But that tends to be how work gets redesigned, or in HR functions that start looking at org structure, which again, doesn’t look at the person, it looks at how do I do this more efficiently.  

Absolutely. And so that’s the new concept of work design, right? So, all of those structural and very talented people absolutely have a role in how work is done. But we need to make it almost trans disciplinary. And that is, okay, so here’s how the role can be done to its ultimate functionality. But what’s the impact on human health here? So, it really does need to be a trans disciplinary approach where you’ve got some people that are potentially upskilled in the psychosocial risk area and go, Okay, well, we can stick someone behind a conveyor belt for nine hours a day on repetition. So not only are they probably risking a repetitive strain injury, but they’re also going to become incredibly disengaged, which means they’re going to start underperforming, which means they’re going to start heading down the path of what poor mental health looks like. And I’m not necessarily diagnosing anyone because mental health is a spectrum, but everyone needs an engaged employee to make sure that their mind is well enough to continue to make good decisions. And again, that’s that direct link back to injury or poor performance, which frightens companies. So, when you’re looking at redesigning work, make sure you’ve got the right heads in the room that have a say, and not just make it about process, but make it about healthy functionality as well.

Because even if you strip back a process 20 %, which means, okay, great, we’re going to lose 20 % of our production. Well over the course of the year, your turnover rates are going to half. The employees that you do have are going to perform better, which means ultimately, what you’re designing here, you’re going to get anyway, if not double or triple that. You’re not going to be able to achieve that, what the structural engineer said, if you’re burning people out, not giving them appropriate respite, not actually giving them the value-add piece in giving them a say in how their roles are done, because you’re going to end up… We call it the financial proverbial bubble. It looks great and shiny and well designed in the beginning, but watch people drop off over time if we’re not considering human health factors in the initial stages of how we design work.

Absolutely. So, you touched on the importance of the board’s involvement in executives. Let’s double click on that one.

Yeah. Well, that’s the biggest barrier because it’s getting a bit easier in Australia because they have to do it now. It’s not just a value add. The last 18 years in the field, Eric, I call it 16 years of convincing, and now it’s law. Well, however it gets in the building, I don’t really care, to be honest, because I know that people are going to benefit from it. But boards and trusts and executives or C suite or whatever terminology you want to bring to it. Look, some of them are engaged, but even with laws here in Australia, they’re still not engaged. Really? Yeah. They find it confusing. They find it expensive. They find it disruptive. So unfortunately, just like anything, we’re going to see a couple of really big pieces of case law drop where directors are imprisoned because there’s jail time linked to poor psychosocial risk management now. We had two senior managers in Victoria, Australia, were jailed last year. So, they’re not mucking around with this stuff. But even then, getting it in front of the board and getting them to buy into this. And I know it’s incredible. It’s a lot harder in other countries where it’s not legislated.

Correct. But there are people listening in that have an interest with this then the four Cs, I call it. And that is, what’s the cost? And to sell what the cost is, well, let’s have a look at our absenteeism rates, our turnover rates, our production rates, our injury claims, if that particular scheme exists in your respective country. Let’s have a look at retraining costs, because all that is costing millions. Of course. The Gallup Institute said a burnt-out employee will actually cost the company three times their salary. That’s one burnt out human, right? So, there’s absolutely cost, whether it’s direct or indirect associated. So, if you’re able to tell that story via data, that’s really good. That’s going to appease the CFO. That’s going to appease everyone that’s just going, Okay, well, how much is going to cost and why? And why do we need to give you budget? I get a little bit cheeky here. Why do we need to pay to keep humans safe? And that just boggles my mind. But anyway, it is what it is. The second one is culture. So, we’ve got cost, we’ve got culture. So, if you’ve got a better culture, that’s just all senses of goodness, which I’ve discussed.

I won’t be repetitive, but teams are going to toxify less. People are going to have better relationships with their leaders. People are going to feel safe enough to speak up about risk early on, rather than becoming incredibly injured, and you’re either losing an employee or paying for one to get well. So, you want a really good culture. And also, as younger workforces flow into workplaces, which is unavoidable, they’re actually coming in and asking questions. They’re like, Okay, well, I’ve got three other interviews today. How is your company going to keep me psychologically safe? Because you’ve said there’s a few risks involved with this role, and I’m prepared to take those on. But what are you going to do for me? Right. How are you going to keep me safe? Because you’ve clearly outlined how you’re going to keep me physically safe. You might give me the appropriate PPE. You might give me X, Y, Z. But how are you going to keep me psychologically safe? And if employers aren’t able to answer that, they’re going to go and work for the company that can. So, there is talent acquisition, being enterprise ready, getting the right fit for the right role in the organization.

That’s really appealing to boards and executives. Then we’ve got competition, which interludes with what I just said. You want to be competitive. You need the right people in your organization to continue to keep your competitive edge. And if they’re all going to work with the other organization that does give a hoot about people’s mental health, then you’re absolutely not going to be enterprise ready for the future. You’re going to struggle. There’s a lot of evidence to say, if you don’t get behind this, you’re pretty much going to be dead in the water in 10 years. Because particularly the younger workforce… And I don’t mean to be age bias here, but younger people are getting more education around mental health and what that looks like earlier on. Eric, when you and I were at school, we didn’t talk about mental health. It didn’t exist where it’s very much on the younger workers dialect. And it’s very much not necessarily a benefit, but a right. I have a right to be safe. And so, again, competition. If you want to be competitive and keep those doors open, you need to embrace this stuff because it’s not going away.

Just because it’s not legislated doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it. Think about the longevity of your organization. And then, look, the final C word doesn’t actually apply in a lot of countries. It applies here, thank goodness, and that is compliance. Whereas I know that a lot of listeners today won’t have that card to play. But if you can get your head around the costs, the culture, and maintaining competitive in this market, then you’ve got a fairly good business case. But like anything, Eric, a lot of companies won’t do something unless they have to do it. And that’s just age-old human learning.

Isn’t it? Unfortunately, yes.

Yeah, I know. And it’s not a pleasant thing, but I’m not going to call it for anything else that it’s not. But yeah. So, if you can focus on the first three Cs, for those of you that are based in Australia, and for those that are based in Australia, you’ve definitely got the compliance card now. So, director, how about we keep you out of prison and do stuff? Which tends to work. Yeah. It tends to be a hefty stick. 

Yes, absolutely. So, Anna, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing your insights. I think it’s a critically important topic, both for safety professionals and for leaders’ organizations in general, to really start looking at psychological safety, overall mental health and well-being. As you talked about the psychosocial different concepts. I hear more and more people talking about psychological safety. Not enough on the psychosocial side of the equation. I think it’s really important to touch on those topics. If somebody wants to reach out to you to get more insights, to have you present at a conference, how can they do that?

Well, strap yourself in because I’m pretty loud and pretty proud.

Perfect. Thank you so much, Anna.

My pleasure, 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. 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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Anna Feringa is an award-winning International Speaker, Author, Trainer and Workplace Mental Health Consultant. She is a leading expert in topics including Psychosocial Health & Safety, Leadership Capability, Injury Management and best practice workplace Mental Health. As a respected member of global HSE, Anna was recently recognised as a Global Top 10 Health and Safety Influencer, 2020 and voted LinkedIn Top Voice for Workplace Mental Health in 2022.

With over 18-years’ consulting experience, Anna supports employers by helping them see that embracing Mental Health in the workplace can help prevent injury and drive a great culture. She helps Australian businesses transition from fearful and confused, to confident and responsive when faced with Mental Health challenges in the workplace.

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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.

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Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.

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The Impact of Leaders and Their Decisions in Improving Safety Culture with Dr. David Hofmann

The Impact of Leaders and Their Decisions in Improving Safety Culture



“Culture comes from the top and is enacted from the bottom.” Dr. David Hofmann has been researching safety climate and leadership for over 20 years and joins the podcast this week to discuss the multi-level aspects of improving safety culture and the daily micro-decisions leaders make that in turn affect safety performance. Tune in to learn strategies for leaders to personalize safety in a tangible way, foster trust, and reduce psychological distance from the frontline.


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’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Dr. David Hofmann, who’s a professor in organizational behavior at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He’s a researcher who’s applied extensive research to safety, safety culture. Dave, really excited to have you with me on the podcast today.

Thanks, Eric. Glad to be here.

Let’s first start. We’ve touched on the topic of safety culture in the past on the podcast. Would love to hear some of your perspective around what you call multi-level aspects of culture.  

Let me just give you just your listeners a little bit of background on me. I am an organizational behavior faculty member, PhD in organizational psychology. I’ve been studying safety, climate, leadership things for about 20 years now, plus 20 years plus. And where we think about this multi-level aspect of safety culture is culture comes from the top and is enacted from the bottom. The way I think about culture is you have the espoused culture of the core values and the key assumptions and then the org structure and the artifacts as well as the metrics and all those things that are coming from the top. And then at the bottom and the middle of the organization, this culture gets enacted day in and day out. I’ve written a little bit with a friend and colleague by the name of Dove Zohar about these micro decisions that frontline and middle managers face every day. And often those micro decisions involve competing priorities. And those managers have some degree of discretion in terms of how they prioritize one of those priorities, a little redundant, over the other. And over time, as I watch, as an employee, I watch these micro decisions getting made every day.

And if cost is always just a nudge higher than safety, or schedule is always a nudge higher than safety, so it always went out in the end. Then what happens as I watch these decisions is that I get a gestalt impression about what’s really valued, expected, rewarded, and supported in the organization. And we call that the enacted culture. And so, then you can start thinking about the enacted culture coming from below. And then it intersects with the espoused culture coming from the top. And then that’s where in the middle you see the gaps between the espoused and the enacted culture. I think this is something you see very regularly and sometimes I think almost happens. It feels like it’s happening unintentionally. I was talking to a group not long ago and they were talking about recognition, and they kept recognizing examples. They had a recognition where people that worked the weekend, people that worked extra hours, which again reinforces productivity. And when it came to reinforcing or recognition around safety, it was, thank you for doing that job safely, but really, are you recognizing safety or are you just saying you came back and you weren’t injured, but you have no idea what happened and how the work occurred?

Yeah. It’s the absence of an outcome gets recognized as opposed to the presence of proactive behavior that really drove that outcome to be a safe manner. I see that quite a bit is that there’s this notion of the absence of something means we must have done something well. And it’s like, well, maybe, maybe the absence of something, it might be the absence of something means you just got lucky. Correct. I don’t think people make that distinction very often. But in this instance, you’re hearing constantly this message around getting the job working harder productivity, not somebody saying, get this job ahead of safety, but it still sends that message if I’m hearing you correctly.

Yeah. Well, at the end of the day, if you want a safe organization, they should do absolutely nothing. There is this notion of there is risk in many of the industries that you’ve worked in and the industries that I am familiar with and where I do my research. There is this notion of there is going to be some risk that you must really manage. But I think this notion of thinking about safety as a bit of a dynamic non-event is something that I’ve spent some time thinking about and talking about as well. And this, probably the most recent example I talked about this was I was asked to do a presentation to the California Public Utilities Commission, a public hearing, and they called me and asked me to just kick off the day with a talk on safety culture. And one of the things that this model I’ve been working on and doing some research on with some of my colleagues is if you think about safety and cybersecurity and several other types in the risk domain, they’re that we would term a dynamic non-event, which is you work hard, so there’s a lot of dynamic behavior going on.

But at the end of the day, if you’re successful, then nothing happens. If cyber security is successful, then you did not have a breach. If safety is successful, then you didn’t have an injury. And I know my safety professionals listening would say, Well, that’s not right. There’s a lot of things happening. And I hear you. I can hear the listener saying that I agree. But if you think from a non-safety professional practitioner perspective, they think about these as dynamic non-events. And so, one of the things I highlighted in this presentation of the California Public Utilities Commission is it’s the middle managers that really have to prioritize budgets and funding and all of that thing. And this was the example I used. If I put a dollar over here in this investment, then I know I’m going to get a dollar, depending on what my internal rate of return is, a dollar tin back. And if I spend a dollar on safety or cybersecurity, or in this case, tree trimming or repairing lines, then nothing happens. Well, I’m left as that manager with the idea of, well, what if I would have spent 95 cents on safety?

Would nothing has happened. And then I can put a dollar five over here and make a little bit more of my return. And that’s where my metrics are. That’s where if there’s a bonus structure, that’s where the bonus structure often is. And those performance metrics are measured every single month, week, quarter. And the safety metrics are a little bit long. So, it’s really easy for me to just turn this little dial and say, well, let me invest 95 cents over here in safety. Put a dollar five over there. Nothing happens. It’s like, well, maybe I can do 92 cents this year. Nothing will happen. And what happens then is those managers think that they’re actually learning because they’re updating their model. They’re like, oh, what I learned is that you only have to spend 92 cents on safety or tree trimming or cybersecurity and nothing will happen. And I think that’s really a false notion of learning.

Is there something as well there in terms of… You mentioned when we talked before in terms of the psychological distance between the decision and the outcome. Can you expand maybe a little bit on that front?

Yeah. So, this is some research that came from I served on the National Academy of Science Committee that was charged with investigating the BP Deepwater Horizon accident. And our charge was to go up until the moment the accident happened. None of the recovery efforts. And one of the things that we did is we went to an oil and gas company’s onshore command center for offshore drilling. Sure. I’ll say that onshore command center for offshore drilling, for those folks that are driving in the car or something. So, this is in Houston normally. And you see it’s a quiet office park, office. And you have seven or eight computer screens in front of you, and the person is there just monitoring offshore drilling, drilling operations that are happening for 500 miles offshore. And I just was struck by that environment. The other thing that we did as part of that committee is we flew out to an offshore oil rig. And so, you could get a little bit of a contrast of what does it look like to be on the oil rig thinking about safety issues versus 400 miles away? And that started me thinking about this notion of in social psychology, there’s a whole body of research on Construct level theory.

And Construct level theory just basically says how psychologically distant are things from you. So, in that sense, to put some flesh on the bones of what that concept means before your listeners fall asleep is that you could think about, if I’m in Houston watching drill operations 400 miles away, that’s a very distant, psychologically distant thing. Where if I’m on the rig with drill pipe and everything, it’s very psychologically close. It’s very concrete. So, the research shows that things that are close up, we conceptualize in very concrete terms. It’s very the how we do things versus the why we do things. And things that are way off in the distance, we construe at a much more abstract conceptual level ethics and values.

For example, core values, religious belief, ethics are often consternated at high level, very abstract level of these abstract principles. They’re constrained abstractly because we want them to converse time so that we can apply them in different situations. Anyway, I was thinking about that notion of concrete versus abstractness. Fast forward now, any number of years, we finally have a research paper with about five or six studies where we show that if you construe a work context is psychologically distant, you view safety as less of an ethical moral obligation.

And that’s in part driven by the reduced perception of harm. Sure. So, to put it in real practitioner terms, if I’m watching drilling operations happening 400 or 500 miles away, the realness of those people and their potential for harm just dissipates in the background. And then you add to that that I communicate with those folks through chats and coarse communication modes, often not even video feeds. And again, this becomes faceless people, and I’m less likely to view ethics as a moral obligation.

So, what are some strategies organizations can drive to address that element? Because I could see that as well happening. You talked about the onshore command center. Imagine it can also happen at the C suite level. The more you remove from the front line, you can feel further removed. What are some strategies organizations can do to try to mitigate on that?

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Yeah, I think you’re exactly right that there are any number of different ways in which psychological distance can be operationalized. And so, in the study is actually one of the ways in which we operationalized it just to give you a sense of this. So, one was we had offshore drillers view aerial pictures, photos of their drilling rigs versus photos of the drill floor. There were no people in any of the photos because we didn’t want to confound this notion of potential personal harm. And what we did is just randomly assigned people to the aerial photos. I see a helicopter view versus a drill floor view. And we asked them to what extent are these 25 safety behaviors a moral, ethical responsibility? We found significant differences. But we also operationalized that by having a group of nurses tell us what city they worked in. And then we coded into the subsequent survey. Either they were a manager in a hospital in the city which they said they worked in, or we randomly picked Miami as a as a place that’s far away from most everything, except I guess Fort Lauderdale. But we can control for that in the study. And then we said, Imagine you’re an administrator in a hospital in Miami. Now, think about the amount of potential harm that could happen and the extent to which these safety behaviors are moral and ethical obligations. And we find that if you’re thinking about being an administrator in a hospital that’s a thousand miles away, you think about it in a different way. Research has also shown that organizational level, as you go up management different levels, you think about things in a more abstract way. So, you’re right in the sense that leaders often construe things in a little bit more abstract way. There’s a couple of implications for that. First is that they see tighter connections between things. So, there is this notion of, well, if you do things safe, then you’re also going to be highly productive. And I think that these two things can go together. Safety and quality. For example, go together. Can go together. And I would say, over time, I think there is some truth to that. But day in and day out, and so the leaders see these things, these concepts as very abstract, which means they can see tighter relationships to these things. But then the frontline managers, they’re faced with a real concrete decision this afternoon of we can either pause for three hours to try to get this part, or we can do a makeshift thing and be back up in 15 minutes, and they see those things competing. So, what do managers do? What do they need to do in terms of practical implications? I think first, they need to continually remind themselves of what the work really looks like on the front lines. And I don’t mean remind themselves, like, remember when they did it 15 years ago or 20 years ago. They need to get some exposure to how is it done now in a much more dynamic, competitive cost pressure environment than maybe they faced 10 or 15 years ago when they did it. And part of it is reminding themselves of that. I think day in and day out, a symbolic reminder of the harm that can potentially occur.

Really thinking about your employees and getting to know… You can’t get to know everybody in your organization if you’re running a big organization. But boy, to the extent that you can really know some people on the frontline supervisors who really are facing this harm, so they become real people and you know something about their families and their children so that you think about, oh, if something bad happens, that’s Jim or Sue. That’s not just some random person that I have passed on the plant side at some point.

That element of personalisation, I think, is I remember in the customer experience space, people would often say, if you put people actual pictures in a call center as an example of your customers and you remember, who am I here for? I’ve seen some organization in the safety space do similar areas where they put actual pictures of team members doing the work and encourage more regular visits to frontline work to understand, to listen, to understand how their work impacts a perfect day for them so that gets more proximity.  

There’s some research where they have given health care professionals who are reading radiology, for example, or something similar to that, a distant person that’s just sitting in an office reading X rays or looking at blood samples or something, a blood test. And what they did is they randomly attached a photo of the patient to the file. And when they attached the photo to the patient, the read was more accurate because it became a real person. So, I think all of those things are really good. We actually opened and closed this research paper with the Canadian iron ring, which you may know something about, the iron ring, the Ceremony of the Iron Ring for Engineers, is that when you become a licensed engineer in Canada, you go through this iron ring ceremony and you wear a little ring on your, I guess, your right hand little finger, I think, to remind you of the ethical moral responsibility of a professional engineer, there’s an apocryphal story about those being made from the bridge collapse in Montreal. It turns out that’s not really true. Maybe once upon a time it was true. They ran out of metal. But that notion of this constant reminder of decisions that I make at the drafting table have downstream consequences. I think anything that you can do to make sure that that abstract notion becomes is always salient and particularly around the potential for harm would be beneficial. And if I touch on the example that you shared before in terms of the middle manager making a trade-off, I take $0.05, maybe I take $0.07, an extra $0.02. What are some strategies to mitigate that? Because it sounds like it would just be in the story in the news around the incident in around the derailment, sounds like it was, we took, we took, we took until eventually the budgets run out and something went too far. Obviously, we don’t know yet the full conclusions, but the early signs seem to be that their budgets kept being cut until it was too much. I think that’s a common story, actually, unfortunately. And I think it’s common in part because the dynamic non-events are this abstract phenomenon that are hard to imagine and therefore easy to discount the likelihood that something bad is going to happen versus a very concrete metric that you’re held accountable for every quarter for delivering or even shorter on delivering the product. So, a couple of things come to mind. I wish I had this is my next 10 years of research to try to sort this out. But I think the first thing that I would recommend is to understand the difference between what I would call real learning and superstitious learning. Now, real learning involves the reduction of uncertainty, that you were missing information, some degree of uncertainty, and that uncertainty has been removed in some substantive way. Superstitious learning is probably not that familiar. That definition of real learning, I think people are like, well, yeah, that makes sense. But what is superstitious learning? Superstitious learning goes all the way back to Pavlovy in psychology. And superstitious is defined as an incorrect pairing of a stimulus and response. Okay? Okay. So, when I take those five cents away from the dollar and nothing happens, I conclude that I have learned that I can spend 95 cents, and nothing happens. And it’s like, no, you have not reduced any uncertainty in that equation. And it’s very difficult to do that because those kinds of things, like you cut the training budget for whatever safety protocol, or you cut 10 % of your tree trimmers from a utility company, that decision is not going to manifest into demonstrative risk for sometimes many years. And by that point, all the middle managers are off into different jobs, and nobody remembers. So, you can’t really connect the two. So first, I would want to say, to what extent are you really learning? And do you understand what learning really means as opposed to just getting lucky? And so, a lot of times you’re cutting these budgets and you’re just it’s just there’s a really long feedback cycle and it’s fuzzy. And so, nothing’s happened, even though the risk is continuing to accrue. But you’re concluding that you’re learning that you don’t need to spend as much on safety and nothing will happen. So, the first thing I think is just really for people to grapple with this notion of, if I cut this budget, am I really learning anything given the flow feedback cycles, the stochastic nature of that, the fuzzing of the criteria, etc.

So, there’s a lot of ways in which you’re not really learning. I think the second thing goes to this notion of a really strong safety culture throughout the organization. Another piece of research that was done by my friend Dove Zohar with another one of his colleagues, showed that if you have a really strongly agreed upon and strong safety culture at the top of the organization, then it actually reduces the amount of discretion that mental managers enact with respect to safety. So, safety becomes a nonnegotiable. So that’s where it loops us back to the beginning of our conversation around safety culture, is that you have a really strongly held view at the top of the organization that safety is an extremely important criteria. And that’s strongly held, symbolically reinforced, top of the organization talked about, communicated about, invested in, so people see not only the words, but the actions behind the words, the money behind the words. And that my job is designed to be safe. My manager is talking about safety, then all of a sudden it reduces the amount of perceived discretion that I have. And so, I’m going to be less likely to take that $0.05 and move it from the dynamic non-event into the other criteria.

The two things that come to mind is really getting really clear on what organizational learning means. And then forcing people to justify it, like, oh, if you’re going to cut the budget this year and you don’t think it’s going to be risky, how do you know? You’ve got to give me the criteria, the data that you’re using, the assumptions you’re making. And then secondly, I think just creating that really strong safety culture throughout the organization to reduce the amount of discretion that those frontline and middle managers perceive that they have with respect to safety.

I think it’s an important point because what you mentioned, even at the top management team, I’ve seen very mature organizations where even when somebody say, I could save X amount of money in my budget, finance will say, well, what would be the impact on safety? Help you think through, because sometimes the impact is… It’s not just cutting the safety budgets, not cutting the training budgets, not just taking your PPE out. Sometimes I hear now of examples of, in 2008, we didn’t recruit for two years, and as a result, we lost some learnings as people retired because we didn’t create the next generation. And we’re now 14 years later, and people are starting to realize the effect of a hiring freeze that happened in 2008. And so, it’s really trying to think about what could go wrong from these pieces that are not necessarily a safety budget. This was just a recruiting budget, promotion budgets in an organization.

Yeah, that is a great series of questions that would go a long way to fleshing these out. And then trying to make, in reverse, connect some of those dots so you do learn from them to say, oh, we did cut that training budget. And now, five years later, six years later, when we’ve got to expand operations, we don’t have people trained up to do it. And this needs to be a lesson learned. We need to do an after-action review. We need to file some learnings with the senior managers so that we can act on it and continue to move forward positively.

Absolutely. So, Dave, thank you so much for sharing those examples. I think they’re very powerful examples of safety culture, the role of leaders, and how you really instill those right decisions, both in terms of the concept of the proximity you talked about in terms of the onshore or offshore locations, but also in terms of the role of leaders and the decisions that they’re making day in and day out.

Well, thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be here.


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 execsafety 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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Dave Hofmann’s research focuses on organizational climate, leadership, and organizational change, organizational design and decision-making. He teaches courses in organizational behavior, leadership and the complexities of middle management. Dr. Hofmann served as associate dean for the full-time MBA Program, area chair of organizational behavior and senior associate dean of academic affairs. A specific focus of his research is the impact of leadership and organizational culture on safety and errors in organizations that operate in high-risk environments. He has edited two scholarly books on these topics, including “Errors in Organizations” with Michael Frese.

In recognition of his work’s applied implications, he received the American Psychological Association’s Decade of Behavior Research Award in 2006. He received a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award to study errors and safety issues in organizations at the University of Giessen in Germany, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to investigate error management and organizational learning on nursing units. He has served on two National Research Council/National Academy of Engineering committees. The first investigated the causes of the BP Deepwater Horizon accident, and the second focused on how to improve safety culture in the offshore industry.

Dr. Hofmann has presented his research or conducted executive development sessions in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, UAE and the U.K. He earned his PhD in industrial and organizational psychology from Pennsylvania State University, his master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology from the University of Central Florida, and his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Furman University.




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Working Safely: The Best Gift to Your Family and Loved Ones with Lisa Ramos and David Garton

Working Safely: The Best Gift to Your Family and Loved Ones



“Nobody ever said to me, ‘Cut corners, work unsafely, product over people.’ No one ever said that. I think it was an invisible pressure that I put on myself.” In this powerful and inspiring episode, Lisa and David share their story and experience surrounding Lisa’s workplace incident that occurred seventeen years ago and how they continue to overcome the mental and physical aftermath within their family. Tune in as Lisa shares the crucial importance of building a culture of safety ownership, encouraging team members to speak up, and reporting all safety concerns. Learn why working safely is the greatest gift you can give to your family and loved ones.


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

Hi, and welcome to The Safety guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me two guests, Lisa Ramos and David Garton. They’re both health and safety impact speakers. So, Lisa and David, welcome to the show. Very excited to have you with me.

Morning. Thank you.

First, Lisa, why don’t you start by sharing a little bit of your story?

I was working for a logistics company. I was based within the warehouse. Dave was also working there. That’s how I initially found out about the vacancy. I did have very close proximity to forklift trucks. Now, the day of the accident, I hadn’t done anything particularly different from any other day. And about half an hour before the end of my shift, I was walking past where we had some of our container bays and I was knocked to the ground by a reversing forklift. I hadn’t realized that he was in the empty container, and he hadn’t realized that I just walked past it.

So, tell me about the environment because this is something as you remember you were sharing that you cross through this particular area on a regular basis. It was the marked path, if I’m not mistaken.

Yes. Within our warehouse, we did have designated walkways. However, they were more of a visual. So, there wasn’t really any segregation. It would be marked out on the floor with a piece of green tape. And where this particular walkway was, in hindsight now, you think, well, why would a walkway have been put there when it was an area where the fault list would be going in and out?

It wasn’t put in the best location in hindsight. On that particular day, we’d finished all of our work. The area was completely silent because there was no more work to be done within that area. I think that although I had become very complacent and felt very comfortable around the 40 drivers, I think probably because we’ve done all of our work that added to it because there was no reason for anybody to be within that area anymore. I walked past the first one, the drivers in there with his engine off, he’s reversed out, but he’s not reversed out far enough. And then he’s come and reversed onto me where I’m on the walkway.

Right. Wow. So, tell me about the incident and the aftermath. So, David, I think you weren’t there. You were coming to pick Lisa up, correct?

Yeah, I was traveling to work to pick Lisa up. I remember number one walking across the car park and everybody else was coming out. I noticed that none of them could look at me, if you get what I mean.

Right. then none of you acknowledged me. Then the group leader took me to where Lisa was on the floor, but she was just covered in coats, so I couldn’t actually see what her injuries were or anything like that. The medical staff were there looking after her. We obviously got loaded into an ambulance and then taken off site. It wasn’t until we got to the hospital and the doctor came to examine her that I actually saw that’s when I first saw her injuries. Wow.

Tell me a little bit about what was the effects… You often talk about the effect on the family, the ripple effect. Lisa and David, what were some of the themes that emerged and that happened as a result?

I think the main ripple effect for us was the impact on our song. Even to this day, I know that we focus a lot now on mental health and I think that there is so much focus on the injured party that there was lots of counseling. I mean, I probably had counseling for about three years. So, I was able to overcome what had happened and then accept that this was my new life now, because if you don’t accept it, then it’s not only hard for you, but it’s hard for everybody around you. But I think because everybody is so focused on the injured party, you don’t really see what’s happening right in front of you. So, for us, the impact on our son, I mean, the day of the accident, it was actually his 13th birthday. When I look back now, we didn’t live near any of our family, so Dave had to ring him up and say, look, your mom’s had an accident at work. It isn’t serious, but you’ve got to ring all your friends up, cancel your party. He was then waiting for my mom to pick him up. So, he didn’t actually know how serious my injuries were until the following morning when Dave brought him in to see me.

Even that aspect of it, where Dave knew the night before that my foot had been amputated, he’s then got to go and fetch Ciaran from my mom’s and pretend that I broke my leg because we had made the decision that it was better for him to be told by me when he could see me face to face than be told by somebody else. Little things like when I came out of hospital and his birthday cake was still in the box. Little things that you then like, wow, his birthday is never going to be the same again and trying so hard to make it about him rather than you. And that’s far more difficult for other people because it gets to his birthday and you might have a little cry and be a little bit upset, but you’ve got to pull yourself together because it’s not about you, it’s about him. But all the people for many years afterwards would ring me on Kieran’s birthday and it would be, Are you okay? But you’re trying so hard not to make it about you. So, at times it was as though they wanted you back there, but you were trying so hard to move on and let Ciaran have his birthday back.

For us, the mental health side of things, Dave suffered, I suffered, Ciaran still suffers. I know that my mum and my step mum found it very difficult to come to terms with. In fact, I think that I would put Ciaran suffering the most then maybe my mom and my step mum because they found it quite difficult to see me go from this person into this other person. Sure. Especially my mum. My mom sees loss So if I was walking, my mum wouldn’t think, wow, she’s walking. My mom would think but look how she’s walking. Look how she’s struggling. It’s very difficult for her to separate the two. Whereas that’s what I’ve had to do. In my mind, it’s before and it’s after. But for Ciaran, at the time, and many years after, it’s probably only in the last couple of years where he has realized that this did impact him. For Ciaran, he got freedom after I had my accident because I was so focused on my rehabilitation that he got freedom. For him, that was a positive. For us, that wasn’t a positive because he started hanging around with people he shouldn’t have been hanging around with.

Then these people got worse and worse and worse and worse. His behavior is so different to what we would have wanted for him and the struggles that he’s had. Simple things like being able to express yourself. At a crucial point in his life, he watched me behave in a volatile, aggressive manner when things weren’t going my way. So, for him, that’s quite normal to just explode and have this anger. For him, he struggles to express himself. Emotionally, everything is anger, and you can’t behave in that manner. But for him, that’s quite normal. And you can only do so much in terms of counseling and that type of thing when that person doesn’t really want to have counseling or doesn’t really think they’ve got a problem. It’s only really now that he’s accepting a lot of support, and we are hopeful that by the end of it, that he can go on to have a happy life because you can’t be happy when you’re so full of anger and rage. And I’ll be honest, I was like that for probably three years. I was so angry, and it was all focused on the driver. That’s who I was angry at.

You’re looking to blame somebody because it’s far easier to blame somebody else than to blame yourself, or even take responsibility for any part of it. I do feel a lot differently now, but that’s only been in the last few years. My accident’s coming up to 17 years is now. I’ve not changed the fact that the driver wasn’t looking where he was going. The walkway shouldn’t have been there.

But, I have changed the fact in terms of looking at where did I go wrong? What could I have done to have changed what happened that day? And there’s lots of things that I could have done. I just no longer saw the danger anymore. I’d gone from being frightened when I first started working there because I’d never worked in such a busy environment. I don’t come from a warehouse background. I come from an administrative teacher background. I went very quickly from being afraid of these vehicles to no longer seeing them as being dangerous. I think that being complacent when you are working around people who you think work safely can also be a problem. I was using an example the other day that when you’re in a supermarket car park, you don’t know these people who are driving in and out of the car parking spaces, and you’re alert and you’re watching what they’re doing and you’re careful. Go into a warehouse environment where you’ve worked with these people and you know that they are safe drivers, you’ve picked up so many bad habits, you’re relying on somebody else. You’re no longer alert; you no longer see danger that you may have saw at the beginning.

You’re And I think that the other thing is that I didn’t really see forklift as being anywhere near as dangerous as a car. That’s how I saw it. It was this little cute moving machine, and I didn’t really realize the damage that a forklift truck.

Could do to a person. The driver, when he ran me over, he actually said he thought he’d run over a roll of tape. So, the tape that we used to use would be about this big and that’s what we’d mark the floor out with. And that’s what he thought he’d run over. And it was only ages afterwards where I thought, Oh, my God. The impact to the vehicle that he felt he thought was a roll of tape, which is just so unbelievable. But I think that people sometimes think that the worst injuries is the actual amputation. That isn’t. It’s the pain that comes with that. So not only do I have phantom pain it. I’m laughing because to a lot of people, it’s a bit unbelievable that you could be in pain for something that’s no longer there. But for me, it feels a very physical pain. But it’s also the nerve damage because our walkway was so close to the container bays. I’m on that walkway. He’s reversed onto me on the walkway. The only way that he could get off me, because he’s reversed over me, he’s tore everything one way. So, the only way for him to get off me was basically running me back over.

So, he’s then torn everything the other way. So, all the nerve damage that came with that. But what I used to find really, really peculiar was the fact that the nerve damage that I suffered, the end of the stumble, I couldn’t actually feel. So, if I was wearing a prosthetic, I wouldn’t be able to feel if it was rubbing, blistering, that thing. But I could feel my foot and I could move my foot, which is so crazy. Even to this day, I can feel my foot. So, since day four of the accident, which is even stranger because you think, well, if you’re going to feel it, surely, you’d feel it at the time. No, they took my foot on the Friday. I felt my foot on the Tuesday when they took the leg. So, it’s one of those really, really peculiar things that even doctors and those people up there, they can’t explain why it is. I think it’s to do with the brain and the signal not quite getting there in time. It’s a comforting sensation, but the pain side of things is just unbelievable at times.

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I want to go back to what you were talking about in terms of getting comfortable with the danger, because I think you come into an environment, you hopefully got some training in terms of the risk, the dangers, the environments, how do you protect yourself in this context? And then over time, you start getting comfortable with the risk and the hazards. Tell me a little bit more about that. And are there ways to prevent that degree of comfort?

When I started, we had an induction. Obviously, part of that was some health and safety. I can remember watching a video that was a man who basically got a fake arm in his shirt and the forklift took the arm off and it was all very… It was all very It was more comical than informative. It didn’t really go into my mind that, wow, these are dangerous. I didn’t like being around the forklift, to begin with. But then I watched my colleagues, and I thought I was the first female that had ever worked within that warehouse. So, I don’t know whether some of these different things were factors in that I didn’t want anybody to think, oh, we knew we shouldn’t have had a woman in here because you can’t handle it. But I know that it didn’t take very long for me to become comfortable around the fort. My area within that warehouse, you know how you can get partitions, which is basically stand with a bit of sponging on it? So, I had two sides of that, but I would have forklift on all four sides. So, it was basically not even a cubicle within the warehouse space.

It was basically just two partitions one at the back, one at the side, but forklift would be on all four sides around you. And so even when I look back now, I think, wow, that really wasn’t good. I know it’s not possible to segregate within our businesses, but obviously, we know that the only way to prevent something like this from happening is segregation, or as much segregation as you can possibly do. There wasn’t really any segregation there. I also think the attitude towards health and safety. There wasn’t really any attitude towards health and safety. I thought that I worked very safely. It’s only in the last few years where I started really analyzing my own behavior. I’m not saying I have flashbacks or anything like that, but I think of a time where I’d say to the forklift driver, oh, bring us that fella over here, mate. I’d check it on his forks while his engine is running. And when I look back now, I think, why would I have done? Or why would I have behaved like that? And I think that I felt comfortable. That driver was safe. He never gave me no reason not to be safe.

But you just think, why would I put myself in a position? So, although I don’t think I did anything particularly wrong the day of the accident, there were definitely things that I could have done to prevent it speaking up.

I think all of us could have done something different.

Was Lisa’s team leader, so why didn’t I see the danger? I’m supposed to be there to protect people as part of my job, and I didn’t see the danger. And I’d work there for years doing the same thing as what Lisa was doing, but I never saw the danger, either. I think the problem is as well is that because there’s never been anybody injured, if there was any damage, because it’s stock, it’s not really taken the same way. Sure. And so, if a palette’s been damaged, a palette’s been damaged. We don’t look at that as, wow, that was a close call. Let’s have a think about what we can do differently. The states of people’s forklift trucks, they’re all scraped up, scraped and got dint. There’s lots of things that I think that us as employees could do. I also think there’s lots of things that management could do, because I think we all have our different priorities that we are working towards. In my case, nobody ever said to me, cook corners, work unsafely, product over people. No one ever said that. I think it was an invisible pressure that I put on myself that I thought, Right, well, we need to get 10 loads done today, but with one man down, we still got to do it. And I think from an employee, you think to yourself, if you do think to yourself, oh, well, in order to achieve that, I’ve got to cook corners, you’re assuming that those above know what you’re doing because how do they think we’ve achieved that when we haven’t got the right amount of staff?

But obviously, they’ve got their own priorities that they are working towards and don’t necessarily realize that in order to achieve the same amount of work, you are cutting corners. Therefore, you’re working unsafely. I also think that those on the ground floor should have more involvement in the risk assessments because I think that if I was cutting corners, at no point would I have thought, I’m going to cut this corner because then I can get my work done, but now I’m working unsafely, because I probably didn’t realize the repercussions of missing out one tiny bit of my job, which will save me time. So, I think that if people are involved in the risk assessment, the more likely to buy into it and think, Right, well, I need to do it like this because… And these are the reasons. It’s a bit like when your mum and dad say, Because I told you so. Your boss is saying, Work like this because I told you so. If you know the reason behind that, you’re more likely to go, well, actually, yeah, they’re the right, because they want us to go home safely and go home in the same piece that we arrived.

So, I think that the problem is at the minute is that in order for people to work safely, everybody has got to participate. I think we focus a lot on those who are on the ground floor, the ones who are going to get injured, because they’re the ones who would get hurt. But the problem is, if the supervisors and the managers also aren’t on board with that, it makes your job very difficult because if you are short staffed or you are running behind, the expectation there is to still do your amount of work, but how can I do the same amount of work if I’ve not got the same amount of time, people, and all those other things that are needed to work safely?

I’d like to much on something else because you talked about this pathway, which was marked with tape. I think a lot of it is you talk about risk assessments, which I think is phenomenal, getting more people involved. But you also want people to speak up when they see something to drive improvements. So, tell me a little bit about how the organization can help and foster that, and also the individual role around it. Because I think the speaking up piece with that pathway, it probably corrects me if I’m wrong, it was probably in the wrong place. It should have been.

Somewhere else. Yeah, I believe it was in the wrong place. But believe it or not, there are still businesses who have the walkway precisely in that same place, even to this day. For us, we’ve got the health and safety executives. If they made the decision and said, Right, within the UK, you no longer are allowed walkways there. That would make things so much easier for businesses because they’d know they were breaking the law. They can’t do it. For me, every single day I was on that walkway, if I was doing 10 loads, I’m on that walkway more than 10 times. At no point when I poked my head in to see if there was a forklift in that container, did I think to myself, oh, that’s dangerous, because he could have come out and I wouldn’t have seen him. Every single time that that happened, I had the opportunity to report that and didn’t. Now, I don’t know had I reported it, if anything would have been done, because I personally believe at that time there was no health and safety culture, not from curves and not from management. But at the same time, no one was stopping me from reporting that.

I never reported anything the whole time I was there. And I think that a lot of businesses now do make it a lot easier for people to report things. We’ve got into businesses where they have anonymous systems. So, if there’s something going on, but you haven’t got the courage, because sometimes there can be repercussions. Whether it’s a member of staff that’s working unsafely, you don’t always feel comfortable going up to that member of staff and saying you’re working unsafely. It doesn’t always go down very well. So, there’s anonymous ways to report things. We’ve gone to one business, and they came up with this system where they input it onto an app, it goes directly to the top guy in health and safety alongside the other people in health and safety who should be dealing with it. But because it’s gone to him as well, he gets to see it. It. And I thought that was absolutely fantastic. They’ve got an app where they can go… Most people have got the phones on them where they can take a picture and upload it immediately. It doesn’t always cost a lot of money to implement things that people can easily access and report things because a lot of times we do think, Well, it’s not really my problem.

Somebody else can report it, or it’s somebody else’s issue. They can deal with that because I think that’s where we’re at, where we need to start reporting incidents. But we’ve been to places where people aren’t sure whether something is a hazard or a near miss.

Which is a problem. Right.

Even education on that. When I said the other day that when you’ve worked somewhere, a while, but you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re at that awkward bit where you’re like, Right, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, but I don’t ask anybody because they’re going to think, well, what you’ve been doing for the last two months. Some businesses have done that, for example, went into one business, they came up with this fantastic app that cost £1.99. Basically, it was video tutorials of how you do your checks on your thought forklift, because what they found was that they had some people within the business whose reading and writing wasn’t brilliant, who might find it embarrassing to come forward and say, I’ve got this issue. So, they decided to go down the road off doing video tutorials. They would have a tablet. They’d be trained on how to set that up. And then they were able to watch a video on how they were supposed to be doing, all the checks. Or they would do a questionnaire where the questions were put in different orders each time. So, you’re not just going yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

So, the there’s loads of different things that are out there. I think with health and safety, I think it’s good when we are sharing ideas what other businesses have got because that helps everybody. It doesn’t need to be top secret. But I think that there is a lot more businesses now who are prioritizing health and safety, invest a lot of money into the safety of their staff. But again, everybody needs to participate. You can’t just be them right at the top and then right at the bottom, because those in the middle can quite easily cause problems to stop them at the bottom working safely.

I think you talk about making it easy. I think that’s really important. The organization’s got to do something about the feedback that they receive. But I think the fundamental piece is they’ve got to encourage it. It’s got to be a culture where I want this feedback. I want people to look for opportunities to drive improvement versus your nuisance if you come up with issues or themes that come forward. I think that’s often the hardest part to change because everybody in the organization has got to shift their thinking and their response when somebody does bring up some.

Challenges around it. Responsibility as well. Responsibility. We are all responsible. I can remember years ago when I first started at work, that’s what we were told. You are responsible for yourself. You are responsible for your colleagues. I think that when we started introducing health and safety positions or departments, sometimes what would happen is the rest of us would think, Oh, brilliant. I could go into that warehouse with my eyes shut because somebody else could make sure that I’m safe. You thought, Well, that’s not my job anymore. It must be safe. And that’s what I would have thought. I would have thought whatever feelings I’ve got about the position of that walkway; it must be safe because we’ve got health and safety department here. So, I’m overthinking it. That’s where it would have ended. I never would have reported it because I didn’t see it as that big of an issue. When there was a lot of activity going on within that area, you’ve got the noise, you’ve got the lights, and you’ve got all of that going on, I would have been 100 % alert. My accident happened Friday afternoon, half past three when I was finishing at four o’clock. I’d finished all my work. Nothing else was left to be done. And for whatever reason, I did not look in that container. I Just walked past.

Thank you. You’ve shared a lot of important themes around cutting corners, around acceptance of risks, around speaking up in the role of an organization, around creating that questioning attitude. You both speak together. Tell me a little bit about the focus of your presentations that you make in organizations.

I focus on me, me, me. But to be honest, I think that when the more powerful speeches by date.

Because I deal with the family, particularly our son, Lisa’s parents. I do think that that comes across then because people start thinking, how would my family cope? What would happen to me? What would happen to them? I think that then comes across a lot harder.

Yeah, it hits home. When me and Dave did our very first speech, it was about five years ago, and it was for the Four-leaf Truck Association in the UK. I made Dave do it. He wasn’t down to do a speech, so I made him do it. When I heard him speak, I cried the whole time. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that he went through anything, and that’s the honest truth. And for a long time, I would listen to him, and I’d cry because you’re so focused on yourself and how it’s changed your life. You’re know, it’s like, if he would have said out loud to anybody, I’ve lost my job. I’ve got to sell my car because the wheelchair won’t fit in it. If he’d have moaned about anything like that, he would have been lynched by my family and friends. His life changed so much, but I didn’t even see that. All I saw was how my life had changed. I’m the one that’s injured. I’m the one that’s lost my leg. I’m the one that’s disabled now. I never saw all the things that he had to give up continuing being part of my life, if you get what I mean.

When you’re the injured party, you can become very selfish because you only see what you’ve lost. You don’t see what other people have lost. And unfortunately, by the time you’ve come to terms with it, in Karen’s case, it was too late because Karen no longer wanted a mum to be discipling him. Because by the time I decided, Right, okay, I’m all right now, I’ve had my counseling, I’ve come to terms with it, I can start being a mum again, he was off the rails. It was too late at that point. He needed that structure throughout. But I couldn’t see what was right in front of me and how it had affected him so much and his behavior had been affected.

All right. Lisa, David, thank you very much for coming on the show. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Probably on LinkedIn. Perfect. I don’t know whether I can give you a link for that. I can also give you some links to some free resources. There’s a very short video that I did for the forklift Truck Association. I know that the statistics won’t be the same, but in the UK, there’s five workplace accidents a day. And I would imagine that where you are, again, you would think that your health and safety standards are probably one of the best in the world. That was quite shocking to me that in the UK that we’ve got…

Five a day.

There’s also a short film and I can send the link for that. So, if there’s anybody who’s listening who have got issues with forklift within their business, that they can use those resources, whether it be an induction or as a training day.

And we’ll put those in the links with the podcast episode. So, thank you very much, David and Lisa. Really appreciate you joining.

Thank You. No worries.

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 execsafetycoach. Com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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Lisa Ramos was involved in a forklift accident at work in 2006, and as a result of this is now an above knee amputee. She had been working alongside her husband David Garton for several years. They offer a unique alternative to raising awareness of health & safety issues within the workplace, with their frank and honest account of her rehabilitation, and the long-term struggles that are part and parcel of adjusting to life, as a disabled person. Whilst they came to terms with what happened many years ago, the change in Lisa’s behaviour has had a lasting impact on their son Kieran.

For more information:,, or contact them by email at [email protected].

Please watch a short film made that is based on the first 12 months after the accident and that demonstrates the impact it had on Lisa, Dave and her 13 year old son Kieran.




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Ergonomics as a Lever to Improve Safety, Quality, Productivity, and Employee Engagement with Carrie Taylor

Ergonomics as a Lever to Improve Safety, Quality, Productivity, and Employee Engagement



According to OSHA, implementing an ergonomic process is effective in high-risk industries and increases productivity. Join our conversation with professional ergonomist Carrie Taylor to learn the many benefits of ergonomics in improving overall safety, quality, productivity, and employee engagement in the workplace. Tune in to learn strategies to drive impact and success in implementing proper and safe ergonomics within your organization!


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. Michrowski, 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 a globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Carrie Taylor. Carrie is a certified Ergonomist with 30 years of experience in the space, heads a firm called Taylor Ergonomics. Carrie, welcome to the show.

Thank you.

So, maybe why don’t we get started with a bit of background in terms of ergonomics and how it helps safety, maybe as a starting point.

Sure. Ergonomics is thought of as the art and science of fitting work to people. Most Ergonomists have studied Kinesiology, sometimes psychology. There’s another branch of ergonomics that deals with more cognitive capabilities. But the area where I practice is mostly biomechanics. So, we’re looking at physical size and strength of workers and trying to make sure that workplaces are built with those capabilities in mind.

Sure. And so, what are some of the main benefits of looking at ergonomics in a workplace? And what environments would benefit the most from an ergonomist?

So mainly, ergonomists are employed in the safety sector trying to attack the musculoskeletal disorders or strain sprain injuries that occur in the workplace. So, a good chunk of those, often about half of workplace injuries are related to that mismatch between workers and jobs and creating those musculoskeletal injuries. So, we are often brought in to help with trying to address those injuries. So, in terms of which environments benefit more, I think anyone who’s in a workplace who’s uncomfortable is probably subconsciously thinking about ergonomics and how could I make myself more comfortable. I spent most of my career working with manufacturing, healthcare, offices, distribution, areas where people are working in jobs that are either heavy or repetitive or awkward. Those kinds of hazards are the ones that we’re typically trying to tackle.

Obviously, work environments where it’s repetitive, that makes a lot of sense. What about environments where the work is different? I’m thinking, for example, utility workers that are not in a safe environment day in and day out but are dealing with lifting, they’re moving things, they’re going up holes, so there’s different hazards, or even fireman in terms of coming in and out. What are some of the applications in those environments?

Those are important jobs where economics needs to be considered. They’re much more difficult for us to assess because those things aren’t happening all the time, so they’re harder to see and they’re harder to measure. And it’s harder to wrap your head around how we can fix something that doesn’t happen all the time. But they’re very important hazards to address. Sometimes we can take a different look at them and say, okay, well, maybe it is causing people to be uncomfortable, but maybe there’s other problems that are associated with the mismatch between the worker and the workplace that we can tackle, such as maybe they’re not able to keep up with the pace of… They expect the pace of work, or maybe they’re not able to produce the quality of work that the employer expects.

You’ve recently done some work and some research around linking ergonomics to quality and productivity. Can you share a little bit more in terms of how ergonomics can impact broader organizational metrics such as quality and productivity?

I think it’s important for us as autonomous to start thinking about how else we can cost justify improvement. One of the challenges we find is that there are some cost benefit analysis tools out there that might look at if you’ve got a back injury, it’s costing the organization this many dollars. And so therefore, if you prevent that back injury, you’re going to save money over the long run. But what we recognized was that those tools don’t do a good job of estimating the other benefits that ergonomics interventions might have. So, they can’t really help you to say, okay, well, if I improve the quality of work on this job because the person is not working in this awkward sustained posture anymore, how much money will I save the organization by doing that, or if I’m able to make them a little bit faster. So, part of our research project was we wanted to be able to try and build a better tool for factoring those costs in, particularly where the injuries haven’t happened. Maybe they haven’t happened yet because it’s a new facility, or maybe they haven’t been attributed to a specific job because maybe there’s job rotation, or it’s just difficult to get those stats.

But most of the tools that are available only work if there’s injury cost that you can grab onto. And so, we wanted to build a tool through our research project that would help economics and safety professionals and whoever else is trying to implement an economic improvement to capture those other costs and try to build those into a cost justification case.

What are some of the things that an organization can look like in terms of driving the quality productivity, linking it back to to economics? Because I would imagine it can get into a workstation design if you’re in manufacturing in terms of perhaps less movement, more sustainable movements, which can also demonstrate productivity gains. If I’m thinking of, for example, an automotive, it’s very easy to show that shaven a second, or not easy, but once you shave a second, there’s a significant impact on the full production line. So, all of these pieces, is there environments where they have looked at that linkage between quality, productivity, and economics?

There’s a ton of research out there that look at specific case studies and where they’ve been able to make an improvement and capture some cost. But there isn’t a paper that helps you figure out how to do that in your own organization. I can give you three examples where we try, maybe not quantitatively, but that people will be able to relate to. As a quality example, I spent years looking at a job, looking at it, meaning I walked by it and I saw it and I knew it was a problem, but there weren’t injuries there. The job involved inspecting a part. The part was a flat piece that had contours on it, and the worker was responsible for inspecting grooves that were horizontally oriented on the top of this part. So, in order to see the grooves, they had to see if there were components in them and if they were properly placed. In order to see the grooves, they either had to bend over the part on the conveyor as it moved by, or they had to lift the part up and re-orient it so that they could see inside the grooves. Because while they were standing, there was no possible way for them to actually see the components.

So, I knew that there was a lot of neck bending. I knew that they were lifting this part unnecessarily, but there wasn’t a case for it. I couldn’t say there’s a high risk of injury. They were rotating, so they weren’t there all day. And so, after years of saying, why can’t we tilt this conveyor? I just want to tilt this conveyor. And apparently that was a big deal. And the engineering manager said, I carry, we don’t need to. There’re no injuries. It’s not important. I walked into the quality manager, and I said, I think they could do a lot better job of this inspection if the part was tilted towards them. And he said, oh, you know what? We’re actually spending X number of thousands of dollars a month to have a person at our customer’s site, reinspecting those parts because they’re slipping by. I’m like, Wow. After all these years, I just wasn’t talking to the right person. I think that was an example where we could make a big impact if we had just been working with quality more closely and trying to help them understand where it’s a human capability that we’re not designing for. So that was one example. A productivity examples. I’ve been working with a client who has a lot of people doing grinding. So, they’re grinding off long tubes, and its super quality sensitive. So, there’s never going to be a quality issue because they’re going to keep working at it until it’s perfect. So, it’s inspected all the time. But the cost of that quality is that the job is very demanding. So, they’re bending over, they’re running this grinder, they’re pushing really hard. It’s awkward, it’s forceful, and they do it for long periods of time. And so, we started looking into, well, are there better abrasive materials that they could use on these grinding guns that maybe you wouldn’t have to push as hard? And so, we started looking for that, and we brought in some vendors, and they tried some new products, and we found some abrasive materials that reduced the amount of time that it took for them to grind the tubes. And it also took less effort, so they didn’t have to push as hard on the tool. So, we were able to make an economic improvement that had a big impact on the workers’ comfort, but also had a big impact on their productivity because they were able to do the job in less amount of time.

Again, there’s a productivity example, but it wouldn’t have any effect on the quality. The quality was going to be perfect either way because we were going to inspect it and keep doing it until it was right. And the third area where we’re trying to have an impact outside of musculoskeletal disorders is an employee engagement. So, what happens when an employee is working in an uncomfortable position for long periods of time, or they’re doing something that’s heavy and awkward and they’re at risk of developing an injury, they start to become disengaged. They’re not able to work as effectively. They aren’t as happy to be at work. If they’re in customer service, it probably affects their interaction with the people that they’re talking with, their customers. So, I see this right now as a huge opportunity, I guess, for people who are implementing remote work programs. So, in an office environment, we’ve done, to date, a pretty good job of building furniture that’s adjustable. So, we’re sitting in good chairs. Our lumber back is supported. The screens are all height adjustable. The keyboards are adjustable. We’ve gotten to a good point in economics in office environments. But now we send people home and they want to be home, so they’re not going to complain about the work environment.

And so, we’ve been starting to do virtual office assessments for people working in their home offices, and they’re required to send us in a video so that we can see what they’re doing before we work through an assessment with them on a video chat. And what we’ve seen is abominable. People are working at kitchen tables on wooden chairs or on a sofa with a TV table and their arms are fully outstretched. And I think if their supervisors could see them, if we had all these people in an office working in these clusters, we would be awestruck. We would say there’s no possible way that they could work productively in that environment and be engaged and work effectively. But it’s happening and it’s happening all over the place. And I think that eventually these people are going to be in so much pain that they’re not going to be able to get anything done. So, I think there’s another huge opportunity for us there is to try and think about how are we expecting people to work when they’re in a home office environment? And how can we optimize that? How can we help them to be working in an economic environment?

So, I think those are really good examples. I think the first two, really for me, sent a message that it should be ideally part of a continuous improvement process that’s part of quality management, where people are looking at it both from a safety standpoint but also how do I improve the quality of the product that I’m delivering and really looking at it holistically because it sounds like from the opportunities you have or you’ve seen, it’s not just a cost benefit analysis, it’s also how do we improve the overall workflow so that the worker is happier, safer, but also delivering to a better outcome with its quality of productivity.

Yeah, absolutely.

What can safety organizations do to get closer? Because that tends to be a challenge in many organizations. The two parts are separate, even if there’s a lot of connections. Have you seen some areas of success around this?

I think we must work more closely with engineering. If there is a continuous improvement, a Six Sigma, a Lean program that we need to reach out to those people and offer to collaborate because the problems that they are working on probably are the same types of problems that we’re working on. I think in Canada, most autonomous come in through the safety door. When I’m called for an economic consulting project, it’s usually HR or safety that’s calling me. But we also get calls from engineering. When we’re getting calls from engineering, we know that those changes are going to be implemented because it’s in the engineer’s interest to try and optimize the design of the work. I think with safety, it’s harder because they’re reliant on legislation or injuries in order to be able to justify a change. So, an employer might make a change because it’s the right thing to do. But if it’s an expensive change, it becomes more difficult to justify. Sure.

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Your last example, the one around the economics from home, I’ve seen a lot of organizations implement that at the front end of COVID when people were sent home to do some ergo checks at home because as you mentioned, a lot of people didn’t have the right office environments for it. I think you bring up a good point that people are happy being at home, so they may not necessarily report the discomfort until it’s too late and becomes a significant issue, what are some of the things that organizations can do to get ahead of this? So, you mentioned doing the ergo assessment. I’ve seen some organizations do virtual ergo assessments, not necessarily even with an Ergonomics, but just to show me your workstation, not in a negative way, but just to say, okay, let’s understand what you have and say what you need to invest in your work design to be more productive. Tell me a little bit about some of the things you’ve seen in that area.

I think it’s important to provide employees with training so that they’re able to set up their workstation, but also the resources that they need. So, a lot of employers allowed people to take stuff home from the office at the beginning of COVID, so people brought their chairs home. They might have brought their… If they had a sit stand desk, I know some people have been allowed to take that home, but we need to make sure that people are able to work in a decent posture and get some posture changes during the day and that they feel that if they have a problem, they can reach out and get some help for it. And some organizations offered a budget, so they would say, okay, here you can have $1,000 a year for wellness. But they gave so much flexibility around how that money could be spent that people would spend it on yoga classes and things that are valuable but they’re still sitting on the sofa and working on the TV table. So, I think it needs to be a priority. I think at the beginning, we thought this was temporary, right? So, we all just did what we could to get through it but now it’s become permanent, and I think we can’t have people working at the dining room table permanently.

It’s interesting because a lot of the tools, even standing desk, have become much more affordable for home office compared to before. Because if you think about the ones in the investment and incorporating competent environments that used to be incredibly expensive, but now they’re available in a very tight budget, even in many cases, where there’s different modular elements that people can create. There’s a lot more options.

Yeah, there is. There’s a lot of products on the market that I wouldn’t recommend as well. A lot of the sit stand desks don’t go low enough for most people. It’s like anything, I guess, supply and demand. There are suppliers out there that are producing cheap quality products that when you buy it, you’re going to be disappointed. But by and large, there are some good products that have come down a lot in price as well. So, it’s become a lot more practical to set up a decent home office.

Sure. Thank you for sharing. You had some good examples in terms of connecting with different parts of the business in terms of how ergonomics has a bigger, broader impact than just on safety. One of the key elements, obviously, in terms of driving safety, but also ergonomics is a supervisor. Tell me a little bit about some of the strategies that can empower supervisors to have a great impact around ergonomics.

We found that supervisors are the middlemen between the workers that know the jobs and management who know the organization but might not have their feet on the floor as much. When we approach organizations trying to look for opportunities to improve ergonomics, we try to approach the supervisors and get some time with them. They’re busy but try to get some time with them to try and understand where the opportunities might be. So, we ask them about what jobs people are trying to post out of. So, if there’s a job that it’s an entry level job and the first opportunity people want out of it, that’s probably a job where there’s economic issues because there’s a reason why people want out of them. And we ask them, where do the mistakes happen? So, if there’s a quality issue, if a defect gets out of your department, or people are making mistakes, or if they’re missing things when they’re inspecting, where is that happening? Because again, perhaps it’s because the job isn’t designed well for them. Where do bottlenecks happen? So, if people are standing around waiting for somebody to finish something, who is it and what are they doing?

Because that might be another opportunity for us to try and fix things. And if there is a job where people are most likely to call in sick, which job is it? That day that such and such a schedule, all of a sudden, you’ve got three people absent and you’ve got to try and cover that. A lot of times, absenteeism is really a better indicator of the ergonomics issues than WSIB type of stats. Those are kinds of things that supervisors will have a better sense of, perhaps in the HR Department or the manager in the department because they are the ones who are having to try and solve those problems.

Absolutely. The other part you mentioned earlier is you did the research project trying to look at quality and economics and productivity and trying to find some of the linkages. Can you share a little bit about some of the findings and learnings from that project?

Yeah. We had a project set up that was partially funded by Sonami, and we were doing it in conjunction with college. Our original goal was to try and find partners, industry partners that would allow us to try to cost justify an ergonomics improvement that they were already working on for another reason, but try and do that based on quality, productivity, and employee engagement metrics. So, the first interesting piece that we learned was that it’s hard to get industry partners to sign up for those kinds of things. Most of our contact people are HR and safety, and so the idea to them, the idea of trying to reach out to their quality and their production people was maybe overwhelming. I don’t know. We don’t really know why we had so much trouble, but we didn’t manage to get enough industry partners to do the project the way we had originally planned to. So that was interesting. So, we pivoted and decided, okay, instead of trying to apply a cost benefit analysis tool, let’s try to build one, build a spreadsheet, and build training around how to use it. So that’s what we did. We created a course for engineers, safety, and ergo people that would help them to identify and quantify those improvements in productivity, quality, employee engagement, so that they’d be able to cost justify an ergonomics improvement.

So, we created this one-day course, and we piloted it. It went really well, so we’re going to be running it again. But it was essentially, we taught them about some of these Lean and Six Sigma tools because part of our research team had some expertise in that area. And then we helped them to apply it and helped them to try and mock up and quantify what would happen if you changed this. So, we used a board game operation, and we helped participants to see, okay, well, I can see that this is an ergonomics issue. If you’ve played the game operation, you know that it involves bending and holding tweezers, and it’s repetitive. And so, we created this situation where they had to quantify what the problems with that were and how productive a surgeon would be in that job and what quality issues, so how many times they hit the buzzer when they were trying to remove the organs. And then we were able to mock up in the workshop some improvements. So, we gave them the ability to change the working height and the reach and lighting and tools and all kinds of things and then mock up and quantify.

And so, it’s through that process of experimentation that they were able to actually put some numbers to how the how the surgeon felt about the job. So, what engagement effects would we have? And how productive was he or she? And how many times did they hit the buzzer or drop an organ when they were transferring it? And so, we were able to build a little spreadsheet that would quantify all of that and help to cost justify an ergonomics improvement using those other metrics. So, we’ve been trying to use it when we have the opportunity within our practice, and we’re looking for obviously more opportunities to use it more and fine tune it. But it’s got a lot of promise, and I think that’s the way we want to go in the future to try and help clients cost justify their ergonomics.

Improvements. sounds good. So, Carrie, thank you for sharing a lot of insights across the spectrum for economics. Important elements from a consideration in terms of safety programs, in terms of where to eliminate, where to go find some opportunities. I’d like your comments around the supervisors and all the way down to home offices and some of the opportunity’s organizations have to make sure that people are working in the right work environment. So, thank you so much for joining me today, Carrie. If somebody wants to get in touch with you. What’s the best way to do that?

Probably through our website,

Sounds good. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day.

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 execsafety coach. Com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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Carrie Taylor, M.Sc., CCPE, CPE, R.Kin., Principal Ergonomist

Carrie Taylor launched Taylor’d Ergonomics Incorporated in 1995, after working in the field for several years. Carrie holds an undergraduate degree in Human Kinetics, and a Master of Science degree, both from the University of Guelph. She has attained professional ergonomics certification in Canada (CCPE) and the United States (CPE), and she is also a Registered Kinesiologist. Carrie has experience in many industries, including automotive parts and assembly, food processing, small motors, offices, chemical processing, airlines, nuclear, health care, and many more. Carrie is based in our Cambridge office.

Taylor’d Ergonomics is a team of ergonomists, spread between London and the Greater Toronto Area. Our ergonomists enjoy developing and facilitating training, tackling challenging client projects, and supporting regular ongoing clients with ergonomics programs. Projects include physical and cognitive demands analyses, design reviews, office assessments, best practices and, of course, cost-justification projects.

For more information: or email [email protected]  




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