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Making Safety Simple with Steve Howe

Making Safety Simple

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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.

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

Wow.

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.

Yeah.

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

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.

For more information: https://keynotespeakerscanada.ca/speaker/steve-howe/ and https://safetystevehowe.com/

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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

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ABOUT THE EPISODE

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!

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. 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.

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

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, TaylordErgo.com.

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.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

More Episodes: https://thesafetyculture.guru/

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

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

Eric Michrowski: https://ericmichrowski.com

ABOUT THE GUEST

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: www.TaylordErgo.com or email [email protected]  

STAY CONNECTED

RELATED EPISODE

EXECUTIVE SAFETY COACHING

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

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

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