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The Importance of Connecting Your Safety Management System (SMS) with Your Safety Culture with Jim Francis

The Importance of Connecting Your Safety Management System (SMS) with Your Safety Culture



“When you center the Safety Management System on the worker and the worker’s perspective, it allows them to have more of a say in the objectives, the goals, the initiatives, and the things that you’re going to go do. It also really started equipping them and engaging them in the solutions.” We’re excited to have Jim Francis, Vice President of SMS Consulting at ENTRUST Solutions Group, join the podcast this week to share his expertise about implementing Safety Management Systems that lead to noticeable and positive change. Tune in as Jim uncovers how to connect your Safety Management System with your safety culture in a way that is relevant to the way your organization functions to reduce risk and produce the most meaningful and beneficial outcomes.


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 Jim Francis with me. He’s the VP of SMS Consulting at Entrust Solutions Group. We’ve known each other for a little while now. Jim, why don’t you share a little bit about your background and how you got passionate about safety?

Yeah, sure. Good to see you. It’s funny. I have a long history working for a utility, and I come with an engineering and operations background, and most of my career was spent on the compliance side of things. But naturally, when you work in a safety-forward industry in an organization like a utility, you naturally get into the safety aspect of things. My journey really began on the pipeline safety side, with a lot of compliance-related programs and things that we would do to try to improve the performance of our pipelines and reduce risk. Naturally, that connects you to the workforce and the folks that are actually working out there all the time. As my career matured, I picked up more opportunities to work in safety and safety management systems and all sorts of things related to risk and risk mitigation. It was a really good journey, and a lot of things built upon themselves. It took me forward to where I’m at today at the end trust Solutions group, where I’m consulting with utilities and others all over the country on safety management systems.

Sounds great. Let’s go there. Let’s talk a little bit about what is a safety management system and what the main value is.

Yeah. The safety management system is a, I’ll say, structural approach to reducing risk. So, you put a very formalized process and procedures in place to identify and manage risk, really from the worker’s perspective. There are a lot of standards out there by which safety management systems are built and constructed, and it really just starts to define the key elements and the things that really ought to have in place. You need committed leaders, you need to find ways to engage with your stakeholders, you need to find ways to identify and mitigate risk, to validate whether the improvements in the things that you’re making, to communicate effectively with people, to have a process to know whether or not your results are being achieved and the outcomes of your goals and objectives are being achieved. And really, the safety management system puts all of that in a well-defined, constructed approach where those processes all work it interdependently, and just to make sure the system is functioning in the right way and achieving what you wanted to achieve out of it, reducing risk ultimately.

When would you consider starting looking at a journey around a safety management system? Is it something you do early on? What stage? And again, it may depend on the organization that you’re in.

There are tools that, frankly, if you’re starting with something brand new, you could use some of the tools in risk management to try to understand, hey, what am I trying to accomplish here? But generally speaking, there’s no real well-defined starting point with it. It’s more of a question of how your organization is performing. So, let’s look at the results and the things you’re trying to achieve. So, are you having more safety incidents than you really ought to? Are you concerned about the way you’re operating? Do you have inefficiencies in the way you operate? Is your cost structure off? There are a lot of ties to the business functions that might be a trigger to you wanting to implement a safety management system. But ultimately, what you’re trying to do is reduce risk and improve safety performance. So, let’s start with the safety numbers. Let’s start with your charts, your injuries, your incidents, any fatalities, the serious things that might happen to you. And those are really good indicators of, hey, maybe we ought to look at how are we functioning as an organization or as a company to see whether or not we need to be building a safety management system to help us improve ourselves.

And so, you touched a little bit on different models that exist, ISO and Z10 as an example, different models that exist. Is it about the certification, or could you build one in the absence, essentially, of a desire to certify? And maybe what would be the considerations to say, I want a certification, and maybe which one I should take?

Yeah, you know what? I’m of the opinion that you don’t need the certification, and you really ought to not start with that, with the intent in mind, because I think when you start with the focus on, I need a certification, the drivers are likely coming from an external pressure. There’s a regulatory issue, there’s a legal issue, there’s some legislative thing that is driving you to that. Not that there’s no value in those. I think the value of a certification is having a third party validate whether or not the processes in your safety management system are functioning well. Really, the motivation really ought to be about internal improvement in the way you’re functioning as an organization and whether or not you’re driving the safety outcomes that you really want. What’s interesting about it, too, and this is a question that I get a lot, is, if I’m a small company or I’m a large company, is this thing, am I able to do it? Am I able to apply a framework around that? I think the beauty of the safety management system is you don’t necessarily have to do it all. You have to build it for you as an organization and what fits your operations, I’ve seen it where literally somebody can put every single employee they’ve got in a room together, and they can talk every single week.

And there are great advantages to that. And I’ve seen it where there are companies so large that that communication piece becomes challenging. But yet, their system can function for both of them very effectively.

That’s interesting. So, we’ve talked before in terms of how a safety management system can be an accelerator for culture. Can you give me some examples of where you’ve seen that become an accelerator, something that helps business performance on the cultural side?

I think back to my own journey in this, and I’d say it really began in the mid-2010s. We were struggling, frankly, from a cultural perspective. We’ve had to have somebody come in and evaluate where we were, the relationships between us and our unions, and some of those sorts of things. We had some bad policies, we had some bad processes, some things we had to get out of the way. That was led into us building our safety management system. Once we did, one of the beauties of the system and the approach we took was that we were now collecting risks and things that were relevant to the worker. And when you center their safety management system on the worker and the worker’s perspective, it allows them to have more of a say in the objectives, the goals, and the initiatives and the things that you’re going to do. It also really started to equip them and engage them in the solutions, which far too often, I think, sometimes management tips back, and they start to create all the solutions without contemplating the worker.

Too often.

Because they don’t want to pull those guys from their day-to-day jobs and the things that they’re doing. Then what do you see? You get the workers complaining about the new processes and the things that are in place. What I saw, what we experienced was a group of people who are suddenly like, oh, my gosh, they’re listening to me. They’re actually taking my advice. They are prioritizing the things that are relevant to me, and they’re asking me to help with the improvements. They’re asking me to work on the solutions for that. I literally saw guys chasing people from our quality assurance team and our SMS team down on the docks of the buildings trying to make sure, Hey, I got something I want to talk about. That thing was like, Holy cow. It was one of those intangible moments where you go, this thing is really functioning. It’s really working. It was largely based on that.

One of the criticisms I sometimes see around safety management systems is that it’s too much paper exercise. It becomes lots of documentation, lots of paperwork, but it doesn’t necessarily change the experience the employee feels. Tell me a little bit about how you can overcome that challenge so that it doesn’t become purely paper-based exercise.

I think part of it is making sure that you’re right sizing the system to fit your organization. As I mentioned before, it’s got to be something relevant to you and the way your organization functions. Even simple things like how are you going to engage your workforce in the conversation around identifying risk? The mechanisms to do so may not be some big fancy IT system that you’re trying to get somebody to plug something in on their laptop or whatever. It may be, Let’s just sit in the conference room and have a conversation. I think the important piece of it is defining processes in a way that your organization has resources that are dedicated to the exercise of it. The point of a safety management system is to reduce risk. When you take risk management as an example, most of the workforce doesn’t understand risk management. They don’t really care about what a risk register is. They don’t really care about all the processes and the risk matrix and those sorts of things, but you got to have that structure. So build that structure relevant to you and your organization and allow a group of people to facilitate it. And then you engage your workforce in the right way so that it’s meaningful to them. Unfortunately, and I think with any standard, there’s a compliance aspect of it. You have no choice but to have some of the paper pushing and the documentation and the record-keeping aspects of it. Because at the end of the day, you got to prove to somebody that you’re actually reducing risk and you’re in your racing on the right things. But I would say you build the processes that are relevant to your organization that are meaningful and then figure out where some of the other ones fit and how they’re related and whether or not you need something that’s really structured around it or whether you can leverage things that you’re already doing as an organization.

That makes sense. In terms of, what you talked about on the risk register, there are lots of different components of a typical management system. Where is it that people typically find the biggest value or something that they’re not currently doing that really drives critical thinking? You also brought up employee involvement in solutions. What are some of the areas where you’ve seen the biggest improvements?

I think there are probably three or four key areas. Now, one, risk management is the engine that drives the whole thing. But the moment you go into that, you’ve got to start engaging your stakeholders. The stakeholders are not just your workers but it’s also your leaders. The one thing that the system starts to do is it starts to connect those two groups of people into a common conversation. That doesn’t mean they’re always sitting in the room together, but they’re having a common conversation about the things that are most important to them so that, as an organization, they can collectively put their resources toward it. I think that’s where you see a lot of value in that the organization becomes a little more efficient in the way they operate. So, management gets excited about that. They start to see actually injuries and incidents, and other things start to decline. And so, there’s a cost-benefit and that thing to it. And then the workers see the value in terms of the way they start to function. So their processes are more efficient. They’re not spending nighttime hands out collecting data or filling out a form or whatever the simple things are because that becomes a meaningless exercise.

They really start to focus and narrow in on the controls and the things that are going to ultimately make their job a lot safer. Those are the values you start to see. I think those are some of the key processes around it. There are a gazillion processes that seem like they function within the system, but there are just a few of them that play together, and you just need to make sure you’ve got those well-defined, and you understand how to create those relationships in the right conversations.

I think the risk register is one that I see is often missing in many organizations. They could have good back-end elements in terms of involvement of the workforce but then not necessarily focusing on the reduction of the biggest risk. Can you tell me a little bit more about how an organization can improve on the risk register side? What are some of the key elements so that you get what’s the right risk I should be investing in and functions you want to see there?

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

The register itself can be a simple tool. Most of the time when we work with clients to develop it, when I did it back in the day, it was just a simple Excel spreadsheet, but it contains the key aspects and the elements of it. Obviously, it starts with the definition of the risk. We always say to define it in terms of the worker. Let them talk. Let them talk about the things that concern them. And ultimately, you’ll figure out how to define that risk. And then, of course, the risk element, there’s a mathematical component to it. And there are typical standard risk matrices and how you start to measure the consequence of the likelihood of those things occurring. But what is important is to make sure that you’re tying actual metrics to that. So, if I said my biggest risk is related to excavation damage on a pipeline, there’s data that tells me or supports whether or not you’re improving or regressing in your performance around that. And you should be able to leverage that data to validate the risk. And ultimately, you have to have some scoring mechanism to calculate your level of risk, so you know, hey, I got to draw a line in the sand, and I could only work.

It’s a prioritization effort, is really what it is. And absent that, that’s what the risk register really starts to do. And ultimately, you start to connect the risk register and the items in there to the further evaluations that you might do through a bow tie analysis or the risk mitigations and the project you’re going to do to improve that. It just starts to tell a story for you, and then it creates the math for you to actually prove to your board or your other stakeholders externally that, hey, we’re actually making progress here.

And how do you handle something that’s an incredibly low likelihood but significant consequence? So just like I started out in aviation, a crash is an incredibly low probability, but the severity is incredibly high, and you don’t necessarily have a ton of leading indicators. Well, I shouldn’t say that. You have a leading indicator on drivers, but you can’t necessarily see if you’re improving.

It’s funny. Far too often, we spend all our time on the lagging side. You wait for the incident to occur before you, and you can’t afford to do that on a high and you can’t afford to wait for an airline crash or something like that.

Or a gas pipeline a burst and explode and take down the neighborhood.

Those are all the things we’re trying to avoid through the context of this. And that’s why I think that’s why having a model doesn’t just pick one attribute. It’s not just about whether somebody gets injured or not. There are other aspects to evaluating a certain amount of risk. It could be an environmental factor. It could be just related to the asset. If I had an asset failure, what would it cost me? It’s a reputational issue. There’s a whole variety of attributes that could be contemplated in your risk register, and you need to figure out the definitions around those. There are standard books and other things to give you a starting point for those definitions, but you make it relevant to your organization and the things that you do. And ultimately, there’s a governance model, and there’s an approach to making decisions around that. So, you present it with the data. Now, I will say the one beauty of a safety management system when you start digging in deeply, and I mentioned the bow tie analysis, the bow tie starts to look at what are those preventive controls to keep that catastrophic event from happening. And ultimately, you start to do your measurement on the leading side, which is within those preventive controls, what are the processes, what are those detection points, what are the things that you’re going to start to identify that might be triggered to that lagging incident occurring, which is what you’re trying to avoid.

So, if you can catch it on the front end on the leading side within the process, you can now go fix it. And spending time within that and trying to understand the connection between the risks that your workers have and the controls in those process points and those measurement points to those things gives them great power in trying to understand, hey, now we got an issue, let’s go solve it once again before that lagging issue happens.

Okay. So, we talked about culture and where you start in the culture maturity journey. How do you implement a safety management system and also make sure at the same time that you’re also improving culture? Because the two should be connected, but they’re not necessarily connected. You could implement a system that doesn’t improve anything culturally, or it could have some blind spots as well. So how do you connect the two, and what have you seen work?

Yeah. So, there are requirements within a typical safety management system standard to evaluate the effectiveness of it. And probably one of the more impactful ways to do that is through feedback. And in many cases, the standard might say, I got a very specific feedback mechanism or approach. You’ve got to find a way to engage. And to me, this is where you start to tie things like your auditing processes or an effectiveness assessment that you might do. But I think the most important piece or one of the more important feedback is a safety culture assessment. Because once again, we talked earlier about, okay, management puts a process in place, and how do the workers feel about it? And if you never ask or you never have the conversation about it. And to me, the safety culture assessment is one way to really get at, we are making headway. Are we making inroads into what we’re trying to accomplish? And it creates an avenue to try to get feedback from that. So, whether you’re doing just a straight assessment. I think, frankly, it’s the post-assessment conversations that probably get you the most value, whether those are small group discussions or individual conversations.

I think having opportunities to engage your workforce in those meaningful things. You should hope to see the results. I saw that at the company I used to work for, we implemented this. We saw improvements not only in our safety culture results, but we saw them in employee engagement results. The two very much go hand in hand with the culture of the company. But those survey results and the follow-up conversations, you get a lot of valuable insight into the way you’re functioning and how they’re engaged and all of the other things that you’re trying to push as part of your system.

I think from the cultural side, one of the pieces I’d say is, a survey is important, but I think where I see is really making sure you’re looking at multiple different elements. You’re checking, you’re watching how the work is performed. You’re focusing on some focus groups to understand what’s behind the themes because the surveys can hide a lot of issues. I can give you a very binary view. I’ll give you an example where people said, yes, I dislike the processes and systems, but it’s not necessarily that. It could be, like you said before, you’re not engaging me in developing the processes and systems.

Great point. I agree. When you ask somebody a survey, are they going to tell you whether or not the safety culture, do I not believe that I work safely? They’re always going to say I work safely. Almost totally. But I completely agree with you. It’s the conversations on the backside of it. You get different levels of feedback and different opinions there that really give you a better insight into the culture of your company.

I think the other element that I think is very connected is trying to get to, and I don’t see a lot of organizations do that yet, but to get to a very local level to start seeing at a safety commitment standpoint, so how the leader is perceived, how they show up and seeing the differences. It is a site. Then working on focus groups, maybe on how we take that actions, how do we take the right actions to address locally, because you can have a common culture, you can have a common system, but leaders have different personalities that show up differently and are perceived differently around commitment and not always aware.

That is so important. It’s funny you mentioned that. I’ve used the story where when my company implemented our safety management system, and people started to get it, and you intuitively knew the good leaders out there, but it was just a notion around it. Then what we saw was the good leaders were the ones that at that very local level were like, I understand the system. I understand how it can benefit me, and I’m going to actually start to execute it. They didn’t wait around for my team or others to push the agenda on them. They just took it upon themselves to go exercise it. Then they engage their workforce in a way. Once again, when you start to look at safety culture results and the feedback, their results are better than their peers. It was that engagement with the right leaders and the people to understand that the system was just something to help them, give them structure to help push the agenda along and to help drive change for them. But that cultural piece, the way those leaders act, really went hand in hand with that. So really important.

And sometimes, people have blind spots. One of the things I’ve seen often is around people saying, Yes, I prioritize safety. And in their mind, they’re saying that because they start the day talking about safety, they’ll have a safety moment. But then they’re going to reinforce, they’re going to give an attaboy to the person who got the job done, irrespective of maybe cutting corners, not consciously, not intentionally, but they give recognition to the wrong behavior. Or the worst I saw was somebody saying, Now, let’s talk about the real stuff as they transition from the safety moment to the other pieces. And those are pieces that then workers interpret saying, well, you tell me safety is important, but it really isn’t.

Yeah, that’s so true. I had somebody who worked for me, and she did an unbelievably great job of recognizing people for the right way. So, we would have workers being engaged in our system. And ultimately, they were the ones that drove out the risk. But we saw the discretionary effort around it. And so, when those things occurred, we were recognizing them in that way for the actions that they were taking for the right things. We were not privy to the production pressures and some of the other things. It was more about whether they were reducing risk, whether their actions were aligned to the kinds of things we were trying to work on and improve upon. And so that recognition went a long way for those folks to start putting pressure maybe on their peers and demonstrating that. And it was pretty powerful in some of those places. Even the frontline employees now, they were the perceived leaders around that within their organization. It was a great way and a very positive way to drive the cultural aspect at that local level.

And so, really, taking away these complementary elements between the safety management system and culture, things you want to drive and evolve in MRL, there may be some cases where you really only need a safety management system. And I think we talked about this before where if you’ve got 80 % turnover, 90 % turnover, including at your leadership ranks, in our likelihood, culture becomes a very hard piece to actually contain. And you need the structure more than ever because you’re just accepting that you have a rotating door, which introduces risk. But in other settings where you’ve got more stability, you probably want to do a little bit of both, and at least you have stability at a leadership level.

Yeah, absolutely. One can certainly support the other. And I do think, depending on… And the turnover is a great example because that should show up as a risk. That’s a huge risk. And that may be the one thing that you have to work on almost entirely in making sure, once again, you got the right structure and you’re onboarding people in the right way. Otherwise, you’re introducing way more risk from a safety perspective than your organization really can handle.

One could argue that if you have 80 % or you have a culture issue, you need to fix it first, or you’re going to see that nobody wants to play in.

Yeah, there is a bit of a chicken and egg with culture or the systems. Frankly, I think you need to just understand your organization and where you need to start with it. One may support the other, certainly, in that relationship there.

Excellent. Jim, if somebody wants to get in touch with you, obviously, the work that you do is predominantly around implementing, assessing, around safety management system. How can they get in touch with you?

Yeah, probably the easiest way is my email at [email protected]. Or check out our website at And there are connections there you can find me. You can find me on LinkedIn as well. Jim Francis, just look me up, and happy to connect and talk to anybody more about this.

Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Jim, for coming and sharing some of your background, your experience around safety management systems, and the value and really to get a better sense as to why and how you should implement one.

Yeah, thanks, Eric. Appreciate the time. Great talking to you.

You for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams, and 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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Jim Francis is the Vice President of SMS Consulting at ENTRUST Solutions Group. In his role, Jim supports ENTRUST’s clients and the implementation of their safety management systems and other pipeline safety programs. Prior to joining ENTRUST, Jim spent 30 years serving utility customers in various engineering and operations roles at Vectren and CenterPoint Energy.




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Why Self-Care Is a Safety Issue: The Business Case for Expanding Training with Liz Kirk PhD

Why Self Care Is a Safety Issue The Business Case for Expanding Training



Do you or your team members engage in a computer-intensive role in the workplace? If so, we’re confident that you’ll greatly benefit from the expertise of Dr. Liz Kirk, founder of Beyond Ergo and one of Australia’s leading researchers and trainers in ergonomic and self-care competencies. In the newest episode of The Safety Guru, Liz expresses why self-care is a safety issue by sharing the negative effects taking place as a result of our increasingly sedentary and screen-intensive work style, including a higher risk of musculoskeletal injuries and disorders. Tune in as Liz shares her research into personal protective behaviors, such as postural mindfulness and developing habits of releasing muscle tension, to decrease musculoskeletal aches and pains at work.


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. Liz Kirk. She’s from Beyond Ergo. She won Dean’s Award for her research at the University of Queensland in reducing muscular computer-intensive pain. Beyond Ergo goes beyond ergonomics for a broad range of personal protective behaviors, particularly for computer-intensive roles. So, Liz, very excited to have you with me today. And you’re joining us from Western Australia. Beautiful spot. So, tell me a little bit about your background.

Thanks, Eric. And thanks for letting me join you today and for everybody to hear a little more about this new range of injury risks associated with computer-intensive work. So, my background originally has always been in training of some kind. Before I went back into corporate health, I was doing adventure-based experiential training programs for team building and leadership. And in those great days when we used to send everybody out into the wilderness and sell them and do problem-solving, things like that, which was much fun. But the Beyond Go programs that I deliver now were born out of my own experience of needing to get back into corporate health. And to do that, I joined a large corporation, actually in a contact center. And it was the first time I had to use computers for a really long period of time. And what I thought was going to be a very easy 9 to 5 sit-down job, turned out to be the most stressful job of my life. Very quickly, I developed back pain, shoulder pain, headaches, and sore eyes. And by the end of the day, all I wanted to do was go home, pour a large Scotch, sit in the cupboard, and talk to nobody.

So very quickly, I realized that I was the least likely person to be injured because I knew about this stuff. I knew about healthy exercise, injury prevention, the basics of workplace health and safety, and office ergonomics. And I had the disposable time and income to care for myself. But I still experienced that growing pain, the stress, and the accumulating medical bills, and I still ended up injured. So it was after that experience that I understood that it really doesn’t matter how much you know if you can’t convert that knowledge into practical work skills. And that’s what sent me back to do my PhD in these programs that now form the founding. The founding foundation of the Beyond Ergo programs. So, the things that I’d like to share with your listeners is that the largely unrecognized issue of pain and injury amongst knowledge workers, and how the stunning success of technology has created this great surge in health and injury risks. Why we need to now have a broader focus when we’re planning training, and why that training must go beyond an economic checklist to build the self-care competencies that people need when they’re involved in computer intensive work.

What’s changed in the business context where the dynamics need a much broader view?

Well, as I say, the stunning success of technology means that knowledge workers can now work from almost anywhere. And people still have this perception that computer work is easy. I mean, how could you get injured in an office? But sitting at computers all day is surprisingly mentally and physically demanding. Computers have also become integrated with every part of our lives, leisure, and in work. And that has removed those natural breaks from screens. And it’s reduced the recovery time from those poor postures and the small repetitive movements that contribute to overuse injuries. This, combined with our increasingly sedentary lives, means that, in general, we have a decline in physical conditioning, and that leads us to an increased risk of pain and injury and increased recovery times when we do get injured. In fact, Dr. David Marshall, who was the medical director at the Sports Medicine Children’s Healthcare Atlanta, said that their technology injuries have now surpassed sporting injuries in their clinic. And we know from the research that Gen-Z is now entering the workforce already injured, and primary school children are now showing signs of prehistoric postures, all because of their now current high screen use.

So, it’s a growing and concerning problem, and you can see it filter down through the generations. And I knew from my PhD research that over 86 % of knowledge workers report aches and pains, and over 11 % suffer from chronic pain. And just in Australia, and we’re not very big, just in Australia, chronic pain costs our economy $55 billion a year. And of that, $7 billion was simply lost in productivity. That’s before you’d add any other business expense to cover any other injury or illness in the workplace. So, for Australia, we only have 30 million people. That was a loss of $540 in lost productivity for every person in the Australian workforce. And sadly, that’s not all the bad news because when COVID forced everybody home into flexing work, those reports of doctor visits and allied health services increased significantly. And together with the other social isolation and depression, and loss of productivity that we’re now seeing filtering through in the research when COVID forced everybody home into flexy work. And I think one of the pieces is you’ve got people moving from the work environment, desktop to home using a laptop, probably not the most economical or economically sound work environment, which aggravated the circumstances. Is that a fair statement?

Absolutely, Eric. That’s absolutely right. So clearly, the whole world of work for computer-intensive work has changed drastically over the last 20 years. And now we have to question whether an economic checklist is adequate for staff trying to manage an increasingly complex array of work choices like hot desking, working remotely, sit-stand workstations, multiple screens, and mobile devices. And we’re now getting research on the new health risks associated with this increasingly sedentary behavior, including the increased risk of heart attack, type 2 diabetes, various cancers, and depression. And for businesses that where flexi work has created a situation where managers must still ensure safe work conditions, but they now actually have less control over the work environment and less oversight about how staff likes to work or how they choose to work. So, the jump into laptops was so essential during COVID. Still, it’s added that extra layer of risk of injury because we’ve all heard stories about people sitting on their beds to work, using ironing boards as tables, or getting leg pain because hard deck chairs were never meant to be designed for eight hours of sitting each day. We also know that we need to expand the economic recommendations that we’re sending home for flexi work because they do need to cover laptops.

And as an example, the economic recommendations state that laptops should not be used flat on the work surface for more than two hours a day. But I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody here in Australia, and I don’t know what it’s like there for you, but managers have not realized that. And they haven’t sent the equipment home or given the training to make sure that staff that are on flexi work can set up their workstation properly. And of course, using laptops flat on the work surface forces people into that turtle posture that now looks so natural because we see everybody doing it. But your head is now jutting forward to look more closely at the screen. Your neck is in compression, which leads to fatigue and headaches, poor concentration, increased muscle tension, and can even lead to injury of your vertebrae over time. That slouched posture, sorry, slouched posture, say that twice, actually compresses your abdomen and slows your circulation. And of course, the small keyboard increases your input errors. So ,it’s a really big issue often people are wondering whether that’s really how that’s affecting our flexi workers. And I like to give them an example of a lady that I worked with some years ago.

Her name was Jean, and she worked for a help line, a 1 in 300 help line for seven years, without any injury or health concerns to do with her computer work. But when she had the opportunity to go home to work, she just thought that was going to be great. So, Jean took that economic checklist and purchased the right office chair, a document stand, plugged in her mouse, and sat down to work. But after just six months from working from home, Jean was experiencing significant pain and mounting medical bills. Weekly physio and acupuncture appointments had replaced her yoga classes and her beach walks because her neck, shoulders, and back pain was so extreme. So, in just six months, Jen’s shoulder needed cortisone injections, and surgery was already planned. So that was just in six months of working from home because she hadn’t been given all the support and training that she needed to cope with this new range of skills and information she needed because the checklist couldn’t cover all the issues she faced. It couldn’t demonstrate how to adjust her furniture. It couldn’t check if the equipment was positioned correctly. And there was no one to check Jen’s work posture while she worked.

And that was, I have found, a major concern and a major cause of people building pain and ending up in injury. So, whenever I take a workstation assessment, I always quietly stand behind the person and take some photos while they work, so they can see their work posture. And when I showed Jean her posture, she was absolutely done found it, because she had no idea. She had been constantly leaning on her elbow to work. And we find that a lot. People are unaware. It feels so natural the way they’re sitting. They don’t realize how poor their posture really is. So, after I made the economic adjustments and we built Jean a very positive work behavior program, she could return to her yoga and start her early morning walks. But the real tragedy was that the damage to Jean’s shoulder was considerable, and she still needed surgery. And that’s certainly one of my frustrations, is that I’m not called in until people are already in extreme pain. By then, the damage is often already done, and it couldn’t be reversed. So, it’s one of the reasons we need to broaden this scope of training for knowledge workers, from the reactive wait until somebody’s in pain, to the more preventative style of building these self-care competencies.

Sure. And so we touched before on the importance of having a broader focus on going beyond just ergonomics. Tell me a little bit about those additional components being yond just the economic and desktop set up.

Yeah, sure. And what I’d like to do, too, when I do that, after I do that is show the business costs that are associated with not giving people the new self-care skills that they need. Because, of course, companies allocate significant time and money to their employee assistance programs and the return-to-work programs, all to cover these work-related injuries. But logically, it’s better to promote injury prevention. And, of course, being safety, the first step in any safety prevention program is to follow the hierarchy of controls. And in relation to computer-intensive work, that still means defining and implementing the tiers of elimination, substitution, engineering, administration, controls, and, of course, PPE. But PPE for knowledge workers is different. My research shows that this final tier for injury prevention should be PPBs. These are personal protective behaviors. So, these are the competencies that allow individuals to consistently identify and take early action to eliminate or at least manage the triggers that are personally causing them pain and then prevent that pain and stop it from progressing to an injury. So, these skills will enable staff to take greater personal control over their health and safety in computer-intensive work environments, no matter where they work.

So, the most efficient way to do that, of course, is by building training that extends to build these personal protective behaviors. So, it’s a more holistic range of knowledge that goes beyond the economic checklist to build transferable, actionable self-care health and safety skills. So, in the Beyond Ergo programs, we describe these holistic ranges of skills as the three pillars of personal protective behaviors. And the first, of course, is getting the ergonomics right. But it’s not just about going through a checklist. We also demonstrate how to refine those generic recommendations to match stature. And the example I love to give is that one of the most common mistakes I see is people having their screen set either too high or too low. And the economic recommendations say that the center of your screen should be 17 and a half degrees below eye level, but nobody actually knows what that means, and they don’t know how to judge it, so they don’t even bother to try. And I’d love people to try this as they’re listening to your podcast to check screen height. If you place your arm parallel to the work surface and point to your screen, you should be pointing to the center of your screen because your fingertips are now about 17 and a half degrees below eye level.

So, it’s so easy. And you’re not pointing to the center of your screen, you know you have to adjust your screen height. So, by using this action, you’re actually refining those generic economic recommendations to match your stature. And it doesn’t matter if you’re 6’8 or 4’0, it automatically works no matter where you are. And actions are also easy to remember. You don’t need any special equipment. And of course, you always have your body with you. So, it doesn’t matter where you are, you can adjust your workstation set up to match your structure properly and the tools that you’re using. So that’s the first pit here. The second pillar of personal protective behaviors is building a wider range of positive work behaviors. And that, of course, goes beyond eating a healthy snack and taking the stairs. And these include the obvious, like supporting mini and micro breaks, doing the stretches, and knowing how muscular carotid disorders start. But the biggest benefit I found in the work that I did is by coaching postural mindfulness. And we touched on that with Jean. She didn’t know she was sitting in an awkward posture. So, learning to feel when you’re working in poor postures, and developing habits of consistently releasing muscle tension and resetting posture back to relaxed and neutral is really important.

This behavior has proven to provide the greatest benefits and decrease aches and pains, and of course, those injuries that go along with it. Because if you can’t feel when you’re working an awkward posture, and you don’t recognize that there’s an eight star, then you can’t go ahead and fix it. Because if you can’t feel it, you can’t fix it. So that’s the second pillar is these broad ranges of positive work behaviors. And the third pillar is building the targeted physical conditioning we need to speed recovery and help prevent common aches and pains, especially of the neck, shoulders, and upper back. So, recommending aerobic classes and massage and yoga and going to the gym is, of course, great. But there are very specific dynamic stretches and strengthening exercises that knowledge workers need to habitually do if they’re going to avoid pain and injury. And as an example, the research shows four recommendations for recovering from and preventing neck, upper back, and shoulder pain. And these are, and of course, the first one is ergonomics, getting your ergonomics right. So, you’re setting everything up so you’re not sitting in awkward postures. The second is your stretches.

So designed to release that muscle tension and recover through periods of work. The third is aerobic exercises. And trials of aerobic exercises found it significantly reduced migraine frequency, pain intensity, and duration. But while the most dominant approach we talk about is getting the ergonomics right, the fourth strategy was targeting the strengthening of muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle. And that always worked consistently. So, in the podcast Download, there’s a link to an article that explains those and the four exercises that strengthen the neck and shoulder girdles. That’s probably a lot more valuable than me trying to describe them.

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

And there’s really good visuals to help with those exercises in the show notes.

Yes, absolutely. The article has those as well. And of course, the big question I’m always asked when in relation to doing these extending training and whether it’s really of benefits to extend training is whether there’s a business case for increasing that investment in training, and why that’s important. Because it’s easy to see how individually and accumulatively, the risk for computer intensive work is obviously a concern. But the examples I have that show the cost benefits are really important. Actually, the calculator I use actually comes from OSHA. So, the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration have designed the Safety Pays calculator. And this calculator is designed to calculate the potential damage to a business’s profitability from various work-related injuries. So, to explain why it’s important to extend training and to this wider range of personal protective behaviors, I input into the calculator three common overuse injuries. And the figures will demonstrate the direct and in direct cost of those injuries to a company. So, I chose three. The first one is carpal tunnel syndrome. And the cost of that injury to the company was over $64,000 just for one case of carpal tunnel syndrome.

One case of an inflammation injury, so we’re thinking tendonitis or repetitive strain injury, was nearly $82,000. And one case of a strain, like upper back pain or shoulder pain, was calculated at $70,000. So, most managers I talk to find those figures very surprising. But the safety pay calculator actually goes beyond that because in that calculator, you can enter the percentage profit that you would make on each sale. And if there were any cause for concern, they need to try the calculator because the figures that come out of the amount of sales you have to make to cover the cost of those injuries are absolutely eye-watering. But my concern, of course, is more about thinking about the injured employee because while the cost of the business is high, the immediate financial burden for the injured person is much higher because they cover over 70 % of the associated costs of that injury. And a significant muscle, little disorder can reduce their earning capacity for the next 4 to 5 years. So that’s not only the pain and disability that affects their work and their private life, with stress and injury and pain, but also their earning capacity and their quality of life because it decreases their income now, but also how much they can save for retirement and their financial security in the future.

I love the example you shared earlier around the angle for the monitor because I think whenever you see the diagrams like you said, the 17 and a half degrees is really hard to conceptualize. Here’s a very easy tool for somebody to quickly particularly assess their workstation. I’m wondering if you could also share maybe some tips on the laptop side of the equation because you talked about how people have moved to laptops, and I know a lot of people have set up at home where their laptop connects to monitors and have external keyboards and mice, which then makes it look more like a desktop. But then you’ve also got the person who travels who can’t travel with a monitor as well.

That’s exactly right, Eric. And the whole reason we love laptops is that they’re so portable. So, by having a broader range of skills and doing the physical conditioning means that when you can’t set up your laptop on your little laptop stand or with an external keyboard and all the things that you need if you need to work with it flat, you also know that you’re going to start getting some discomfort, that it is awkward. So, then you have your strength-enhancing exercises, you have your dynamic stretches that release that tension. There is a great exercise that I love to do. And the research showed that this one exercise can reduce upper back and neck pain by 50 % when it’s done regularly. And it’s even more important now that we use laptops so much. It’s called the Roll Reset Relax. And what it does is that, as you know, when you work on any computers, but particularly laptops in this hunch turtle position, we build up a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders. And the only way to release that tension is by doing big movements and consciously relaxing. So, the Roll Reset Relax is designed to do that.

You do big shoulder rotations; you do big rotations forward and then big rotations backward. And then, you take a deep breath and consciously relax your arms into your lap and reset your posture back to a neutral position. So, you get the feel of your body being squared up to your monitor and your laptop keyboard. And you release that tension because those fine motor units switch on, and they can’t switch off again until you do those big movements. So often, when we’re working, they can be switched on for eight hours a day, but we don’t consciously relax them, which is a great cause of pain and discomfort. So, roll, reset, and relax. You do big shoulder rotations, take a deep breath and consciously relax, and reset your posture, leaning back in your chair, squaring yourself up to your monitor and your keyboard, and relaxing back into relaxed and Neutral. And as I say, the research showed us that by making that a habit, doing that throughout the day, anytime that you find yourself leaning to one side, or you’ve lent forward to read from the screen, or you’ve been sitting down for a while, just repeating that can reduce that upper back pain and neck pain by 50 %.

Excellent. So again, how do I organize my workstation, and then the exercise I really liked as well your other elements around a broader range of tools that look into posture and mindfulness, things of that nature. So, tell me a little bit about how companies can help address some of these risks. Obviously, flex work is still present, and the pandemic is mostly past, but people are still working in dispersed environments in many organizations, and even if they come back to the work environment, these risks are still present.

Oh, that’s right. And in fact, I think flexi work is going to be here to stay. It’s certainly one of the conditions that people are looking for, and that will adjust over time. But of course, these managers are really looking now to health, safety, and wellness programs to meet their workplace health and safety obligations, but also to provide that commercial edge of reversing the decline in productivity that a lot of us are seeing and acquiring and retaining new talent. So, decreasing the attrition rates and improving levels of labor costs, because we’re not seeing so much absenteeism and present teens and stress. So this is best done by expanding training and the expectations of the training that knowledge workers need to include this broader range of health and safety self-care competencies. So, as I say, I’ve dubbed it the personal protective behaviors, the PPBs. Individuals need to consistently identify and manage the new complex range of health and injury issues that are associated with computer-intensive work. And for businesses, that means enabling staff to take greater personal responsibility for their health and safety, no matter where they work. And in turn, that will improve their productivity and reduce the chance of work injury claims.

So as I say, remember, Jean there, that after seven years of being a dependable and valuable staff member, in just six months from working from home, she was in so much pain that the company was covering the significant direct and indirect costs of lost productivity, medical bills, return to work programs, overtime payments, and of course, the company had a reputation hit as well because people don’t want to work where they know they’re going to get injured or they’re not getting the support that they need for these. So, in terms of the programs that are out there, obviously, people should really look for this broader range, not just doing the checklist of hiring a seated massage or giving people discounts to go to the gym or go to yoga classes. But if they would like to see more of how the Beyond Ergo programs work, then, of course, there’s links in the program to my website. But there’s also a free webinar that’s coming up on the 19th of July, which is about the practical skills team leaders and managers can use to build resilience and stress management. And it’s all about frontline leaders being able to nurture their teams, before they need the big stress management conversation, that Are You Okay conversation, which can be very intimidating for team leaders and for their teams as well.

And it can feel quite intrusive. And, of course, I’m very happy for people to connect with me on LinkedIn. And I’d love to share ideas and information. I’d love to know how I can help people.

Absolutely. So, your website is It has many resources, including, as we’ll include in the show notes, the stretching exercise we talked about earlier, as well as the OSHA calculator. And if somebody wants to reach you, is that the best way to start the conversation?

Yes. LinkedIn is probably the best way to do it. Yeah, absolutely.

Excellent. Well, Liz, thank you very much for coming and sharing your wisdom about economics and going beyond just a standard checklist economic program. I think it’s something organizations definitely need to think about as we embrace flexible work environments. But even in an office environment, the environment still requires good economic environments and the right reinforcement for success.

Yeah, thank you, Eric, and thank you for letting me share these concerns and ideas about all things new with these computer-intensive work environments.

Absolutely. Thank you for joining us.

Thanks, Eric.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, and 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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Dr. Liz Kirk (PhD) won the Deans Award at the University of Queensland for her 2013 PhD research focused on defining and reducing levels of musculoskeletal pain and MSD among knowledge workers in the Australian Contact Centre industry. While the original research focused on using clients’ anthropometry to refine ergonomic recommendations to match stature, the Beyond Ergo talks and workshops now go beyond ergonomics to build a broad range of Personal Protective Behaviours (PPBs). These are the new WHS and wellness self-care competencies knowledge workers need to take greater personal responsibility for their health and safety in computer-intensive work environments, no matter where they work.
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Building a Solid Foundation: Navigating Production Pressure and Prioritizing Safety for New Frontline Workers with Tom Corfield

Building a Solid Foundation: Navigating Production Pressure and Prioritizing Safety for New Frontline Workers



We’re excited to have Tom Corfield join the podcast this week to share his inspiring and heartfelt story of lessons he’s learned in overcoming adversity and prioritizing safety. At the age of 17, Tom was working as an apprentice in construction when he was involved in a workplace incident that left him blind. In this deeply moving episode, he shares the impact the incident had on his loved ones and his mental health. Tom’s message is sure to motivate you to build a safety foundation based on effectively navigating production pressure, leading with vulnerability, and prioritizing safety for frontline workers who are new within an organization. Tune in!


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 Tom Corfield. Tom is a motivational speaker. He’s here to talk about an incident that happened 15 years ago and some of the effects that it had and some of the roles that leaders have, and particularly he was new into his role at the time. Tom, welcome to the show. Very excited to have you with me.

Hi, Eric. Thank you. Thanks for the offer. It’s been a pleasure. Hope you’re well. Really want to get my story out there and tell you guys all about it.  

Definitely. Why don’t we start there? What happened? You were new in your role, you had recently started. Tell me about what happened. 

I’ve always been interested in brick laying and being a construction worker. I got myself into an apprenticeship in the UK, a bricklaying apprenticeship with a big construction company. I was doing really well in my building. I was getting my level, my sitting guilt. I was progressing and doing really well with the brick laying. But then that was in the college part, and we then got put out onto. I went out onto this site, got on the site and just started. 17-year-old Tom just coming out of school. And it’s a big change. So, from being in school days and then, wow, you’re on this big site with machinery and noises and drills and everything going on around you. That day I got to the site. I always remember the day that happened. It was a wet day and tyrannical rain. It was like walked out and put my boots out and walked out onto the job and it was covered in mud already. But at that day, I was helping some laborers, helping the laborers load out for the brick layers below. And obviously as a starter coming up from the bottom, that’s the first major job you get done given is to help the libraries load out the bricks, the compo, things like that.

So, I was up on a scaffold, and I was carrying blocks. And like I said, I was only 17 years old. I was carrying concrete blocks and I could only carry one. And at this point, I was on the scaffold and the supervisor was working for, I’d seen him, and he shouted up to me, Tom, if you can’t carry two blocks, don’t carry none at all. So, I thought, oh, that’s my supervisor saying that I better stop what I’m doing. So, I asked the lab as I was working with, what do you want me to get him? Because he wants me to carry two blocks and I can’t carry the weight of two blocks if you understand. So, I started filling up the bucket and the compo, which is the wet cement in the big tub and picking it up onto my shoulder in a bucket. And I’m walking along a scaffold and having to come down to a staircase below where there were two group lads waiting for me to pass them their compost. Like I said, it was torrential rain. The rain was getting worse, and we’ve been told by the supervisor that day we would get the job done and we’d be able to have the Friday off.

The Friday was apparently it was a wet day as well, so I said, get the job done today and everyone will have an early day frauded. So, you can imagine the pace has picked up. So, I’m back and forth with these buckets of wet cement. And at the one point, I took it off my shoulder and as I took it off my shoulder, it slipped out my hands. But I’ve automatically gone forward with it. It’s all in one motion. Sure. And the buckets hit flat down on the floor and the splash back has gone straight up into my eyes, my nose, my mouth, everywhere. My whole face was just covered in wet cement. I don’t know if a lot of people know, but the cement is a lime base. So, they add lime to it, which helps it more workable. So, at the point, I’ve been told about lime burns and things like that at college. And all of a sudden, I just screamed out. And the two libraries I was working with, they came, they picked me up and said, come on, we’ve got to get straight to the toilets to wash your face out.

And people didn’t understand the amount of cement that got into my face and into my eyes. I had to wash my eyes out in the sink, and it was that bad. Took me to the side office to use the little oil wash solutions that most companies have in the first aid box. They unfortunately ran out and didn’t have enough to clean my eyes out with. So, my supervisor then picked me up. He took me then to the nearest hospital. We got lost on the way to the hospital. Eventually, got to the hospital for them to tell me that I am probably never going to be able to see again and this was all due to the lime penetrating the eyeballs. And it was just burning the eyes. So, I got to the local eye hospital in Birmingham, and I was then told at 17 years old, you’re probably never going to be able to see again. And the guy what it led up to was having my eyes scraped. They were putting cotton wool buds, long cotton wool sticks and scraping the eyes and trying to get the cement out of my eyes. And this had happened around midday, and they were still scraping cement out of the back of my eyes. Like it’s nine o’clock in the night. Oh, my goodness. My parents, they got the phone call to say that I’d been in an accident at work. My mom’s last day at work for around two years where she was then my career. I was not knowing if I was ever going to see again. And yeah, that’s where my life drastically changed and went to the worst. Depression, suicide, a lot of things changed then because I was a 17-year-old lad who had the freedom to do anything he wanted. He just wanted to be a builder and have his own construction company later on in life to then one day, never knowing if I’m ever going to be able to see again. So, yeah, it messed with my head. I can’t really say words that can explain it, but just lying in a hospital bed, not being able to see a thing and just listening for the noises around you, it was heartbreaking. No kidding. And it was heartbreaking for family and friends to see me in that way.

So, if we go into that day, you’re new in the role, you’re 17 years old, unfortunately, hear that story too often. Somebody who’s new comes on a site, wants to do a good job. Supervisor is sending a message of – “Let’s get it done”, and specifically putting pressure on you, what are some of the things that organizations can do with a new employee that comes in? Because you want it to do well. My guess is you were going above and beyond trying to show I’m doing my best.

You want to show that you’re keen and you want that job. You know what I mean? You want to show people and that supervisor or that manager that you want to work hard for them. And that’s what I was doing. I was trying my hardest to get to keep up with the other l avers because when you’ve got about 10, 15 brick layers in front and who are constantly lying, you’ve got to keep constantly throwing bricks there, blocks there, cement, compost, mix. It’s a stressful time. And coming from a young lad to then straight ship straight onto the building sites like that. And you’ve got supervisors screaming down your head. And it’s a big pressure. It’s a lot of pressure for these young lads. And I’ve met a lot of young apprentices over the years now working on site. And they’re in much change, but people need to realize you’ve got to give these young lads a chance. They might not know everything that’s going on the job and people are expecting them to know a lot. And you can’t just expect someone to come out of school and know what everything they need to do, and I think that’s where a lot of supervisors do push people. And when it’s your supervisor, you’ll think that’s what you should be doing. And that’s how they want everything to be done. And unfortunately for me, that day I was stressed, and I was rushed and.

I was soaking wet, working in wet conditions and it all hit in one. And things I do now, I make sure I take a step back before I get given a task. Step back, take a step back and check your surroundings and things like that. Just look away and look at what you got to do instead of jumping straight into it and then eventually could lead to an accident.

What are the things that a supervisor could do to set the right frame? Because I’m assuming you come to the site, there’s some form of site induction orientation about the risk, the hazards. What are some of the things that leaders and organizations can do to influence driving the right choice? Obviously, the supervisor and how he showed up wasn’t helpful because he was talking about try to shorten the day, you don’t have to work tomorrow, things of that nature. That creates a pressure across everybody to try to move faster. And yes, productivity is important, but that’s where short cuts can happen, and we make mistakes.

This is it. Things like where they told everyone on site that they probably wouldn’t have to come to work tomorrow because of rain. That probably should have been done at the end of the day. So, people didn’t rush to get the job done and think, I’m getting a day off tomorrow thing. It could have been the super bowl. I could have left that till get the job done and then tell the lads they wouldn’t have to come in tomorrow. It would have been a lot better for people to hear that. But just in general, just really just to have more induction and start. When people come onto the sites, it’s probably a best thing to show people examples of accidents that have happened. For example, mine, over the years of me working, I did used to do induction for the lads on site, and I always told them about my accident and give them a bit of knowledge about what happened to me, just so when they go out onto site and they have to have a job which is task specific, wearing glasses. And then I’ve told them more about my accident. It might make them think, oh, that lad told me about his accident.

I better just put some glasses on before I do this job in case something flicks up and hits me in the face. And this is more like what a lot of supervisors should be doing to their employees, just telling them things that could happen and that has happened, not to scare them, just to make them realized and make the awareness. And that’s what I’m trying now is just to make people aware of how easy an accident like what happened to me happened. Because one day you could be going to work, the next day you might not be coming home. And that’s the sickening thing about it. And a lot of people have got families which depend on them, especially us. We are like the main source of family income.

So, a lot of supervisors, to me, these days, they need to just think about the jobs they’re saying they need people to do because at the end of the day, you could task, you could set someone a task or a job and you might know it’s not safe, but you’ve still sent that employee out to do this job. And then something could happen to them, an accident or even worse, death. And that supervisor’s then got to live with that for the rest of his life. I probably said supervisor who was looking after me, knew about what happened, and I’ll stick with him for the rest of his days because I don’t suppose he knows what’s happening to me now. 15 years later.

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

Is there as well some elements here in terms of preparedness? So, you mentioned safety glasses. Should you have been wearing safety glasses? Is this something that should have been thought through before that the site should have prepared you for? Should there have been enough solution for an incident like this so that on site they had enough?

This is the thing that obviously, yet they didn’t have enough wash solutions on site, which it was a separate salt to the company I was an apprentice with. So, I was like a subcontractor to this main contractor.

So, the glass is policy that wasn’t really heard of back 2006, 2007. It was more or less if you were wearing glasses, it was down to your own. It was off your own back. It wasn’t pushed to your bottom line, like the companies or the health and safety. It was more like a task specific, wear them glasses if you were wearing it, if you’re doing cutting steel or cutting bricks or things like that or chopping bricks. So, it was up to you if you wanted to wear them. But then my accident happened. The company I was working for, they had the health and safety obviously got involved. And a lot of companies over the years since have made it mandatory for all their employees to wear glasses on site. I know the company I was working with, as soon as you walked onto that job, you had to wear full PPE, glasses, hardhats, boots, gloves. And that was from when you started to work to when you come off the job. So obviously, before nothing was heard of until Tom here as this accident, dropped this bucket of cement and it splashes in his eyes. And that’s what I mean I wasn’t given glasses to people. Didn’t realize how bad it was. A lot of people still to this day don’t understand how a bucket of cement can cause someone to go blind until they see a picture.

But this is the thing. Safety specs and safety glasses on site are obviously I’d always wear them myself. I’m site now, I’m constantly got my safety specs on because tiny bit of dust could get into my one eye and I’m blind again. And like I say to people on my motivational talks, I drive around on dumpier trucks and things like that. And if something goes in my eye without a pair of specs on, I could potentially hit someone, and the worst could happen. So, I have to be wearing more safety glasses all the while.

That’s what I’m trying to make people realize is that wearing these glasses, yeah, people might feel like they look a bit odd wearing these big glasses on your face. But if they’re going to protect these eyes, and this is the main thing that people need to realize, you have an accident like I had with my eyes. And you’re self-employed, working on a grant or working on a grant or you’re working on a site and your self-employed lads and you have an accident and you’re off for work for a year and no money’s been made, who’s going to be making that money? And it’s just a breakdown of things that you’ve got to make people realize is if you lose your job, you could lose your home and you could lose your family, you could lose your life. And the horrible steps that he could go down. And looking for me, I didn’t have to go down that way because my family, I had a strong family bond and they kept me in the right position. It did mentally mess with me in my head. And it happened. But now I’m trying to make a negative into a major positive.

Tell me a little bit about that. In terms of the knock-on effects, you touched on the impact personally in terms of how there was a physical pain, the physical impact. Tell me a little bit about what was the knock-on effect on family loved ones and then where you are now.

At the accident, like I said, I was a 17-year-old, still lived at home. My parents both lived at home. My brother lived at home. He was just going to university. Like I said, my mom, from that day forward, my mom was my career at 17 years old, being 17 years old and having your mom care for you and look after you. Just two weeks before the accident, passed my driving test and that’s one of the main things I wanted to do as a kid had my own car. Then you got your own freedom. I had my own freedom for two weeks. I was in work; I was driving my car to work. Then one day, not knowing if I’m ever going to see again, my mom being my career. He put pressure on the family, he did. I’m not going to lie, he eats. Mum and dad, they had arguments and things. My mom was taking me to the hospital every Monday. That was more or less a full day sitting around hospitals. And that happened for about a couple of years. She had to do a lot of things. I more or less was bedbound, or I was laying a settee.

So, she was more, made my food, made my drinks, things like that. Like put my drops in. I had to have drops. I was having all drops in every hour of the day, day and night. So, I was having that many different all drops, so she had to make her own spreadsheets so she could then make sure she was putting the right drop in the right eye. So, it was like a day. It was like a full-time job just looking after me for two years. And it was hard. My dad, he was the one who had to then keep the money coming in. Like I said, my brother was about to go to university. He obviously did. He needed money to pay for his university and things like that. So, he did put pressure on. I can’t not fault my family for everything they’ve done. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be speaking to you now. The state of mind I was in after the accident, I was ready to give up. And luckily, like I said, having that, then parents look after me and be behind me, it’s made me into that better person today. And now I have nowadays, like I said, I’m trying to do these motivational talks to make people realize and make things aware of how easy these accidents can happen. I lost the confidence. That was another big thing for me. Confidence was a big loss. I couldn’t talk to people. I couldn’t have face to face conversations. I couldn’t speak to women. I was paranoid about people looking at me in a different way. So, I didn’t put myself out there to meet girls and things like that and then a few years ago, five years ago, I met my beautiful fiancée who now is making me a stronger person and making me to the biggest person now to get up and speak to hundreds of people and make people aware. I can’t fault her for anything. She’s done so much for me in the last few years. That’s how the change in my life has happened. It’s like going from being down in the dumps and not knowing what’s going to happen to me in life to now being up there about to get married, have a baby on the way, have a beautiful girl, my fiancée, and a lovely house, and doing these motivational talks to hopefully prevent other people going down that path, and just making awareness and realization of what could happen.

I think it’s a great ending to a horrible incident in terms of where you’re at. I think there’s some important pieces here just in terms of, as I shared, somebody new to the job is much more likely to get influenced by production pressure, things of that nature. There’s a lot to be done when you bring in your employee. I’ve seen some leaders that do a phenomenal job recognizing that and showing up, making sure that somebody doesn’t feel they need to need to rush, that making sure that they reinforce that what matters is their safety. And if it takes a little bit longer to do it, that’s okay. Just really making sure that somebody who’s an apprentice, who’s learning, is taking the time and is not negatively impacted by production pressures. There’s a lot of elements that can be done in terms of creating a setting that’s welcoming and also identifies the risk and the hazards to prevent early on. And I think that’s an important story or message from his story.

It’s true. Young employee should be supervised from the date that someone step on that site to the time they finish. They shouldn’t be left alone because like I said, anything could happen. And this is what people need to realize. These supervisors need to understand that when they send people out on sort, then they need to know that even the person they’re sending out on sort is their monster straight because a lot of us have problems at home and we don’t know what to tell people about it. I could have a problem at home, I go to work and that problem’s in my head and it’s taking my whole concentration off the tasks I should be doing at work. Like I said to these supervisors, even before you send someone out, just check them all out in the morning, just have a chat with them. Did you get up too much last night? Did you have a good weekend? Just find out a bit about the lads you’re working with. It helps people out mentally. It really does. I love having the conversation with people at work. Now it’s great. I love going to work and especially working on site.

It’s a different… It’s a good crack. Everyone gets on with each other and we all have a laugh. But you’ve got to make sure because all men, most men work on site and a lot of men do need to talk up and speak up a bit and speak about the problems because if I didn’t speak about my problems and I bottled it up inside, it could lead to other things. And that’s what a lot of us men do. And that’s what I like to cover in my talks, a lot more about men speaking and opening up to other blokes. And don’t be worried about what other people think about. But I could probably say people would say things about me doing the things I do now because it’s what I used to do. But you’ve got to make a change in life. It’s not all about sitting in the background. You’ve got to get yourself out and make people understand you a bit more. That’s one thing, like I say, us blokes don’t like to do because we feel like with a strong bond, we’re that main person in the family and things like that.

You don’t want to show people your weaknesses, but it’s all wrong to show people your weaknesses. Don’t be scared about showing other men or other people that you’re weak because we’re not all weak, we’re strong. This is what we all need to start doing these days is just opening up a bit more to other people. Not too much. Like I said, in the morning, you’ve got your lads coming in the office and just have a chat with them and just check that they’re all right before you send them. See how they’re doing.

Just before you send them out on a job, or you could be going up a big building, or it could be high or down the ground. But just check they’re all right before they go out onto the job. In case something isn’t all right, and they then do have an accident, which you could have prevented as a job supervisor.

Simple things, but incredibly important things.


In terms of creating the rapport when you get somebody on site. And I think also recognizing that a new employee and apprentice is trying to do their best and they interpret from their leaders what good looks like and are more likely to rush or do something, cut a corner if they think that that’s what’s desired of their leader. That’s it.

That’s it. This is why I’m trying to do this now because… Well, like I said, I was a young lad at one point and that’s what happened. And if I can stop other young lads losing the salt or losing anything, you know what I mean? I know I’m doing a good job and that’s what it’s all about is making sure they’re aware of everything that’s going on in the workplace.

Sure. Tom, really appreciate you sharing your story and congratulations on your new addition to your family coming and the upcoming wedding. Wishing you all the best. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, Tom, and is interested in hearing your story or having you share your story, how can they do that?

I’m on LinkedIn under Tom Corfield, Motivational Talker, and Facebook, Instagram, everything. But yeah, LinkedIn is the main source of where you can find me or anything. That’s where I put a lot of my talks, a lot of my speeches I’ve done over the years. Everything gets uploaded onto LinkedIn. So, if anyone is interested or would like to hear my speech and my story about the accident and my life and awareness and health and safety, mental health, yeah, Tom Corfield. That’s where you can find me. But I appreciate the invitation, Eric, and I hope I can make a difference.

Absolutely. Well, thank you for sharing your story and for joining the show today.

Thank you, Eric. Cheers. 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.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Tom Corfield suffered a workplace accident 15 years ago where he lost sight in his left eye. He was just 17 when cement splashed back in his face, covering his eyes leaving him blind. Tom raises the key message that such a small incident had a huge impact on himself, his family, and his colleagues. It strengthens the message that managing health and safety, no matter how trivial it may seem, is so important.

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Safety Bonuses Leading to Life Changing Events with Steven Kirby

Safety Bonuses Leading to Life Changing Events



In this episode, Steven Kirby joins The Safety Guru to share his inspiring journey of resilience, hope, and purpose. Steven was involved in a workplace incident in 2011 that deeply affected him both physically and mentally. In our conversation, Steven shares his extraordinary story and reveals how he has transformed his personal life-changing events into a lifelong mission to inspire others. His message will undoubtedly prompt you to reflect on how to motivate individuals and organizations toward safer practices. Tune in to hear Steven’s powerful story about safety bonuses leading to life-changing events.


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 Steven Kirby. Steven is a life coach out of the UK. He’s a keynote safety speaker. His background has been in construction. He’s got an incredibly powerful story to share with us today. Steven, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Eric. How are you doing?

Very well. Let’s get started with your story because your story is mind boggling when you first told me about it.

Yeah, right. My background is construction and demolition. I’ve been a life coach for the last four years and that’s due to the story that I’m going to come back and tell you. I started off as a site laborer, site operator in demolition, and I went my way over a few years to get my 360-excavator card and became a plant operator. I had a lot of experience on different sites. I moved from demolition to construction. I did a little bit in utilities. And then I was on a job 12 years ago. So, I’d been in the industry for 12 years. I was on a job 12 years ago and we’d just had two weeks off for Christmas and we’d gone back. And before the Christmas break, we had installed 60 meters of 600 mil pipe for a fire hydrant system. So, if you can imagine 60 meters, wasn’t it? Just in a straight line. And we were told that section, before I could dig the next section out, that section needs hydrostatic pressure testing. Now, I’d never seen or done a hydrant test before, never witnessed it, didn’t really know nothing about it. Four of the other guys, there was six of us in the team, they had an EVA or one of them knew of it, but he’d never done it. But there was one guy working with us who he had a street works card and apparently that street works card gave him the competency to be able to do a hard test site pressure test. And he said that he’d done it before on different sites. So, on this day, 11th of January 2011, so 12 years ago, we went through all the risk assessments, method statements, permits to work, and everything sounded and seemed really straight forward. Literally, fill the pipe with water until there’s water coming out the valve on the stagger end. Close the valve up and then put a compressor on and pressurize that pipe, get it to 28 bars of pressure. Once it’s at 28 bars of pressure, then job done. So, it sounded really simple. We get onto site, after we’d sand all the paperwork, we get onto site, its thick snow, it’s freezing cold, and this trench was maybe about 6 foot deep. It’s not a massive deep trench, but deep enough. Me being a typical digger driver, it was freezing cold, so I didn’t really have much to do. I got into my machine, turned the engine on, turned the heaters on and sat there.

And that was my intention for the rest of the day until these lads had got this tested and I could start digging the next section out. I didn’t really have much to do. So, the guys did what was told. They filled the pipe with water, put the compressor on, started pressurizing. We were told to get it to 28 bars of pressure. And it took about an hour to get to three bars of pressure. And at that point on the test end, it started leaking on the flange just down the boat. So, the guy who had the experience said, Right, stop the compressor, get in there and tighten that nut and bolts. Two members of the team was on the 18, Anthony and Jordan, two young lads. And they were keen to crack on and do some work. They were eager to do some work. So straight away, both of them climbed into the trench down the ladder. You’ve got one of them, if you can imagine, the spigger end is 600 millimeters round and about a meter wide. It weighed 460 kilograms. It’s a big lump of steel. Anthony sat on the pipe facing that way while Jordan stood in front of the of it so they could both get leveraged to tighten up the nut and the bolt.

They tighten it up, they get out the trench, turn the compressor back on, and now, we’re so low there, it’s about five and a half bars, five bar, starts leaking again, but in a different area. So, they do the same thing. We started at just after eight o’clock in the morning. By lunchtime, it was at about 10 bars of pressure, and it started leaking. So, at that point, I get out my machine. Something didn’t feel right. So, I opened my machine door and I said, Guys, before you go any further, someone go back to the office and speak to the manager, the supervisor, explain what’s happening, see what you see. So, one of the guys gets in the van, it’s a five-minute drive back through the site to the office. He explains the wrapped 10 bar. We’ve already had a couple of leaks. And he went on to his computer and he went on to Saint Gabain’s website because they manufactured the pipeline. And they went on Saint Gabain’s website, and he just said, No, it’s state for you. It can be tested up to 38 bar. We’re only going to go up to 28 bars.

Carry on doing what you’re doing. It’s fine. So, he came back, the James came back. He said, I said, carry on doing what we’re doing. At that point, the guy’s getting tightened up. It then gets to just after three, two minutes past three, I remember looking at my watch, it was two minutes past three in the afternoon, and we finish work normally at half past… Pack up at four o’clock. Now I’m thinking to myself, it’s taken all day to get to 18 bar of pressure and it’s leaking. I’ve only got less than an hour and we’ve still got another 10 bar to go. And I thought, there’s no way I’m working late. I’m working late tonight. I want to be away. So, in my mind, I believe that all 24 nuts and bolts on that planned phase wanted tightening up. The guys obviously weren’t doing it tight enough. And at the time, I was about 16 stone. I was body building. I was a big lead. So, I jumped out of the machine, and I said to the guy, look, give me the harness because you have to wear harness to enter the training. So, I said, give me the harness, I’m going to go in there and I’m going to tighten up all 24 nuts and bolts.

They started laughing at me and saying, go on then. They used to call me fatty. So, I was like, go on fatty, you go and do it. So, I climbed into the ladder, and I forgot to take the spanners with me. I get into the trench, and I’m stood directly in front of the pipeline. The trench is only not much more than a meter anyhow. The pipe is 600 mil.


And as I reached up for the spanners of one of the other guys, of one of my colleagues, I don’t remember nothing in that moment other than I reached for the spanners and then next minute I’m underwater, I’m trapped, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know which way is up, I can’t get out. I truly believed that I was in the local river. I didn’t know I was at work. I believed I was in the Humber. The only way I can describe it is like being in a washing machine. And basically, what happened is as I reached up, the pipe had failed, the snigger end had blown off. My eight and dig around was not there to stop it, but it was there in the trench. And the end of the pipe had hit my digger arm and moved that to the end of the trench, a couple of meters. So, the impact was huge. And I was literally as that 60 meters of water had come out the pipe, it was washing around at the end of the trench where I was. And I just couldn’t get up and I was trapped there.

I didn’t know I was at work. I didn’t know where I was. And I just remember my two boys was four and eight years of age at the time, Harry and Joe. And I remember thinking to myself, I can’t die. Please, please, please. I can’t die. And when the sea of life flushes before you, I was trapped under there now, what I know now for about 40 seconds. And in those 40 seconds, I was screaming for my mom, I was screaming for my kids, my partner at the time. I was praying to a God that I didn’t even believe in. I’m not a religious person. I wasn’t a religious person. And I was praying and saying, please, please, I’m 32. My kids, I can’t leave my kids. I just can’t leave. And then all of a sudden, everything seemed to stop. And I rose out the water and as I rode out the water, it turns out that Jordan, one of the young lads, the 18-year-old, had jumped in, seen me, grabbed what was left of my harness and pulled me up. And as he pulled me up out of the water, people had heard the blast from other jobs and other ideas.

So, all these people had run across and run over. And I just remember all of them looking at me and telling me to breathe, like screaming at me and saying.

My care, be brave. They’re like, Care, be brave. I remember stood there thinking, I want to but I can’t. Will somebody please help me? So, as I’m stood there, what the guys have said now is my face was gray, my lips were blue. I was in and out of consciousness. As young Jordan threw me out of trench, the water was released and I was able to get my breath, luckily. I just remember laying there not knowing what had happened. It was just even looking back now; it was crazy that I can’t put into words how big the blast was and what the lads had said. And people knowing what I know now, people don’t survive that incident. And the fact I got dragged out there and I still had my legs because if I’d have been directly in front of it, it would have cut me in two.

But I walked away from that physically with nine stitches in the back of my head. My overalls had been, and my harness had been blown clean off. And as that was blown off, my arms must have gone and hyper extended. So, I’d overstretch my tendons and injured my elbows. And my boots were found 20 feet away, both boots were blown clean off my feet. My feet were hyper extended as well. So, my feet, even today, I still have trouble with my feet. And I had pipe bedding like shrapnel stuck in my face, my neck, my head. But physically, I know how lucky I am. It was to be able to sit here now and talk about it, it’s crazy that I am still alive.

But, then for me, it was… And why I share the story, obviously there’s lessons to be learned from that, but it was my mental health. I never believed in… 12 years ago, you didn’t talk about mental health, you talked about depression. Somebody was depressed, and that was it. If somebody told me before the accident, they were depressed. I was the guy saying, it’s an excuse to stay off work. It’s all in your head. You can physically do it, crack on and get you on your work. The very first night after that incident, I started having nightmares. As soon as I went to sleep, I was trapped under water. I was screaming for my kids. And then as the days went on, it was the same. As soon as I drifted off, whether it was daytime or nighttime, I was trapped there. Even the smell of water, if I turn the kitchen tap on, the smell of water, I’d start shaking and I’d be trapped under there again. And knowing what I know now, that’s PTSD, but I didn’t know I had PTSD at the time. So physically, I was battered and bruised, you can imagine 18 bars of pressure, air trapped in the…

If it was just water, it’d have been fine. But there was air trapped in the pipe, so we’d created a cannon. So, we had literally created a bomb without knowing. So, the amount of air that came out and literally battered me, I struggled physically for about six months. But my mental health deteriorated from that first night. My way of dealing with it was I’m going to have a couple of beers just to take the edge off. I thought if I have a couple of cans of beer, take the edge off, I’ll get some sleep. By the end of, after about five days, I was drinking anything I could get my hands on, whether that’d be cheap cider, vodka, anything. Katie wouldn’t actually go to the shop and buy me it. I physically couldn’t go to the shop because I couldn’t move. Me and Katie started arguing quite a lot because I was drinking too much. I used emotional blackmail with my mom and my sister and my dad because I’d be saying, Will you bring me some alcohol? I need a drink. And Katie would get me it and say, no, you’re not having it.

And I remember saying, Look, if you don’t get me it, don’t come and see the kids because you’re not seeing them. You’re not seeing your grandkids. And I was nasty. It was horrible. But that went on for about 12 weeks of me self-medicating. And then it got to a point where I was angry all the time. I was agitated. The kids didn’t want to play. Harry didn’t want to come and sit with his dad. And I physically pushed him away and said, go away, go to your mum. Then I’d know that I’d done that. And I’d found myself sat in the bathroom crying my eyes out. And then I’d sit there for 10 minutes, splash my face, walk out, and Katie or my mom or anyone would say, Are you all right? And I’d be like, Yeah, I’m good. I’m all right. I’m dealing with it. But I wasn’t all right. You were hungry. Yeah, I was broken inside. And the more I drank and the more I fell into that spiral of depression looking back now.

I had a voice in my head. Now, we all have a voice in our head, but the more his voice in my head was telling me that I was supposed to die that day. That was my day to die, and I cheated death. It’s a bit like the film Final Destination, you cheat death and then it comes for you. And in my mind, that’s what happened. I cheated death and death is coming for me. So, I was in the physio, and I had doctor’s appointments because of my injuries. And I wouldn’t leave the house because I don’t leave the house because I thought if I leave the house, then it’s going to happen. Then it got darkling in that and I started to think, well, why am I waiting for death to come to me? Why don’t I just do it myself? These would be better off without me. I was supposed to die. That was my day now. I’ve cheated it. And I’d sit there thinking of words of ending it where my family wouldn’t find me. But the only way I could think of that was jumping off a bridge into water, which after that incident, I was petrified of water.

I didn’t want to do any other way because I didn’t want them to find me. I was in a really, really dark place. And then Katie said to me, we had a big argument. And she said, look, you need to get yourself sorted out. She said, you’re drinking too much, you’re angry, you’re sad, your emotions are everywhere. She said, you need to speak to a doctor. I started, she said, if you don’t speak to a doctor, if you’re not going to get help, then pack a bag and leave because we can’t carry on like this. And at that point, I started packing a bag to leave and I thought, I’ll just go. But as I was packing my bag, I had a full-on flashback again of being trapped under water, praying to a God, please, please, please, I can’t leave my kids. And here I am leaving. And I literally had a… In that moment, I had a full-on mental breakdown. I had a panic attack, couldn’t breathe, completely sobbing. Katie rang the doctor. Doctor came out to me, and he said, Steven, you need to see a mental health specialist, basically a therapist or counselor.

He said, but I can tell you now you’re suffering with PTSD, anxiety, depression. And they got me an appointment the next day to go and see a therapist. That therapist was… Well, the first therapist couldn’t help me. I explained what had happened in the accident and she said, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. I’m not qualified enough. She said, Leave it with us. I’ll get back in touch. We’ll get you another appointment. And again, the way my mindset was at that time, I walked away from there thinking, nobody can help me. I’m not supposed to be here. I went home that night, drank a full bottle of vodka, hoping I wouldn’t wake up. But I did. And that same day, another therapist rang me up, said, Can I go and see her? And she basically taught me fight, flight and freeze, and made me understand that voice in my head is my voice. It’s just then thoughts are coming from me. I just got to change it. I had three months of therapy twice a week, and that’s what led me on the path to what I’m doing now. When my last session was over, she said, Right, Steve, you’ve got two options.

You can either go carry on drinking and doing what you’re doing and never understand what you’ve gone through or why you’ve gone through it. Or you can go and start to learn about the mind, learn about human behavior, and start to understand exactly who you are and why you think in the way you think. My first intention was to go to pub and get drunk. That was all I was thinking. I was going to go and get drunk. But something stopped me, and I thought about what she said. I went home and I downloaded a book called Free Magic Words. And as soon as I started reading it, I got into it. And that book then led me to read hundreds of others, like the power of the subconscious mind, all sorts of mindfulness stuff, which if you would have asked me to read it before then, I’d have said, oh, shut up. It’s a lot of rubbish. Meditation doesn’t work. It’s all… You can’t do it. But the more I read, the more I opened my mind, the more I understood exactly who I was and where I was at and why I was thinking and feeling the way I was feeling.

And that took me on for now. The lessons I’ve learned, the courses I’ve been doing, it’s because of that what’s created SK Life Coach UK. So, I wouldn’t change any of it in a way. Maybe the way I train my family and my mom, but the actual accident happening, I believe everything happens for a reason. The people I now have in my coaching and in the speaking, maybe I was supposed to go through what I went through and survive it in order to pass on that message. And then four years ago, when I decided to sell SK Life Coach 2K, Steve Care, the Life Coach 2K, I got in touch with a client, and I’d never really looked at the accident up until that point. Even when I was going to start sharing my story, it was literally what I’ve just said, but in a little bit more detail and obviously the pictures to back it up and give people an understanding.

The more I investigated it and the lessons that I actually learned from it, like we had no training, there was no communication. That manager should have come out of his office, not just looked on his computer. He should have come out and taught and had a look himself. What had happened, the two weeks we were off for the Christmas break, the full area had flooded because it was quite a low area and there was a lot of rain, lots of snow. The 60 meters of pipe that we installed, as we were told, perfectly flat, had flooded and the pipe work had risen where there were joints. So, it was in four-meter sections and at each joint it had risen. So, when we filled it with water to do the pressure test, there was pockets of air in there because the pipe wasn’t level.

And that literally would create a cannon. If we’d have had training, if we’d have known, if we’d have had to understand it, we’d have known that that pipe always had to low level. It couldn’t have peaks because there’s chance of air in there. And you can’t compress the air like you would the water to do the test because it creates too much pressure. If that manager had come out of his office, he’d have seen that, stopped the job, stopped us doing what we were doing, told us to strip it all down, put it right, and the accident would have never happened. If we’d have had the training in the first place, we wouldn’t e had a look for that, and it wouldn’t have happened.

It turns out the spigger end as well, what slotted into the pipe work, it was a compression fitting and that slotted into the pipe and then it’s tightened up at the collar and it has to be tightened to a certain talk in order to keep it in place. The guy who put that together didn’t know that and he just got a normal wrench, tightened it up as tight as he could get it, thinking he was doing the right thing. But it actually weakened the bolts and the nuts and the bead world. So, it would create a loose cannon between us without even realizing all because of a lack of training. So that’s all the lessons that’s learned. And that’s what I get across the company’s, especially over here when I’m talking in person. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re working in; an accident can happen anywhere to any one of us. And if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing or you become complacent in some of that you do regular, that’s when it gets us. That’s when it happens. But then when I’ve gone to the client and explained all this as well and said I wanted to use all this in the presentation, not going to name their names, but I want to start lessons learned along from a safety perspective and the mental health now knowing what I know about mental health, I said, I believe there’s a need for it.

And they tried stopping me and said, no, Steve, we don’t want you to do it. Our bosses don’t want you to do it. I said, well, you can’t stop me doing it. It’s a life story. It’s something that’s happened to me. I said, I’ll get legal advice, but as long as I don’t mention you, you can’t stop me. And then he said, I’ll leave it with me. I’ll get back in touch with you and I’ll let you know what’s said. So, I said, Yeah. And then about three weeks passed and I still have not heard from the client. I’d work from that site for a good 12 years in my career. I tried calling them, I sent them emails, got nothing back. So, then someone said to me, if I write to the HSE, the health and safety department, if I write to them, I can ask for the investigation report through Freedom of Information.

Sure. What happened?

Yeah, exactly. And then I can use points of that in my PowerPoint when I’m sharing the story. So, I thought, Right, great idea. So, I wrote to the HCC. I got an email back and it said, sorry, Steve, we’ve got no record of you on our Neonatal systems. We don’t know who you are. We’ve got no record of an incident. Unreal. Yeah. So, I thought, Well, that’s really strange. So, I emailed the client and I said, I’ve been trying to get hold of him for three weeks. And I said, why don’t the HSE know anything about the accident? And he rang me up instantly. He said, you’ve spoken to the HSE. I said, I have. I said, I just want some information to use. I said, but they don’t know nothing about it. He said, oh, can you come to site, and we’ll explain how we report it and why? I said, yeah, yeah, that’s fine. So, they invited me to the site, and I was expecting to see a full investigation report, a folder, a laptop summit. And there was an A4 piece of paper on the table. And on this A4 piece of paper, there’s a little box in the top and it said in this box, Operatives suffered minor injuries during hydrostatic pressure test failure. And it was reported, he said, as a dangerous occurrence rather than a report.

Right, serious. Right.

So, I said, Right, so if that was just a dangerous occurrence, I said, If I was still in my machine and the lab was all around the trench and that pipe failed and we all went, Whoa.

That’s a different story.

That’s a dangerous occurrence. I said, I was stood in front of the pipe work. I was literally blown up in a way. I had stone stuck in my face and my head like shrapnel. I suffered injuries. I needed stitches. I had physio for six months in my feet and in my arms. I was able to have cortisone injections in my elbows just to be able to move my arms. I said, but you’re telling me that was only a dangerous occurrence. That’s minor injuries. They said, Yeah, because you didn’t break any bones or lose any limbs, it was minor injuries. I said, and on top of that, I had to go and have therapy and see counselors for over six months in order to get my head straight because I was suicidal because of that.

Happening. what had happened?

That happened, what had happened. He said, Yeah, I know. I said, But I said, and you’re telling me it was just minor injuries. It was just a dangerous occurrence. And he couldn’t look at me in the face. He just passed me this piece of paper and I walked away. I got back in touch with the HSE and give them the number off the top of this form, what he’d given me, this dangerous occurrence. And she said, Steve, it hasn’t even been reported as a dangerous occurrence because we’d still have it on our system. She said, so that’s just something that they’ve generated in house to show clients, principal contractors or whatever that they’ve got a report in. The paperwork. It’s a bit of trickle it. But she said it was never actually reported. She said, we’ve got nothing at all on our system. But because it was over seven years ago, the HFC physically couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t look into it.

Couldn’t do anything. Wow.

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Why I’m passionate about this side of the story as well is I’ve done quite a lot of work for scale, which is a big company in the UK and in America and across Europe. They had a fatality on one of their sites with one of the contractors three months after my accident. A guy died at a pipe, a pressure tested to build that free bar of pressure, three and a half, four bar of pressure, and he died instantly. Now, how I see it, if my incident had had been reported in the right way, then the HSE had to put out some briefing, newsletters, some report, some regulation stating what had happened and what not and what to do on their side. And that could have prevented that fatality.

It could have prevented another similar accident happening had it have been reported properly. But because it wasn’t reported, you can’t learn from it if it’s not reported. But I was looking back now, those guys in that office, who if they’d have had a lost time incident, wouldn’t have got their end fee a bonus. And basically, when you’re rewarding companies for having no incident, you’re always going to get cover up. So going back to my accident again, they had their own on-site ambulance. And when the accident happened, I thought 15 minutes they came to, I was strip naked, I was given white coats. They got me in the back of the ambulance. They put a bandage on the back of my head to stop the bleeding. My face was battered, I had a small cut here. They covered that up. They gave me a paper as a suit because they had nothing else in the wrong side of the ambulance. So, they just put me in a paper suit with white coats to keep warm. And then they took me in blue flashing lights. So, I thought I was going directly to the hospital. The hospital?

They took me in blue flashing lights and then all of a sudden after a few minutes, the stops, the doors opened, and I was in the car park. And basically, they got me out of their on-site ambulance, put me in a colleague’s car and told him to take me to the nearest medical facility, which was a 10 minute drive away, to go and get stitches in my head. We went there, we get to the local medical hospital, small little place on a house in the state. And the guy in reception said, oh, what are you here for? So, my colleague said, Oh, you need stitches. Didn’t really look at me. I was sat in there for half an hour in and out of consciousness before anyone came through. My goodness. And then the nurse came through, she took one look at me, and she said, What are you doing here? She said, what’s happened? I said, there’s a company not rung up. I said, I’ve been involved in an accident. Or James had to tell her. She said, no, nobody’s letting us know that you’re coming. Then she said, I can’t help you, you need to be at A&E, you need to be at the emergency department.

So, she was going to get me an ambulance. But James said, By the time an ambulance comes here, I could have gotten there in my car. She said, I’ve got him here, I’ll get him to the rest of the way. When we get back in his car, the shift site manager rang James and said, what’s happening? James turned around and said, we’ve been to the medical building. They can’t do nothing for him. He’s got to go to the A&E. The shift site manager was on the phone and then his words was, I think he swore, he said something along the lines of F&L. And then he said, Right, make sure you’re both on site tomorrow. And then he put the phone down. Then James got me to the hospital, and I got stitched up and got all the stone out and I had lots of X rays and whatnot. And then because I’d been unconscious, the hospital wanted to keep me in, but all I wanted to do was get home to my kids. So, I was like, I’m not staying. While I was trying to get me a bed, I was like, I’m not staying, I’m going home.

I got home about after midnight that night. The accident happened just after three. I didn’t get to hospital until half past six. So, it was like three hours nearly before I even got medically seen to. And then the next morning, I’d sign myself out of hospital, didn’t sleep because I was having nightmares. I was having flashbacks. Every time I nodded off, I was reliving it. Eight o’clock the next morning, there was a knock at the door, and it was a colleague from site had been sent to pick me up, take me back to site to give a statement. So, I couldn’t move. My arms were stuck in a T rex position. I had to say that the thing I did for extended, come back and then it just… I couldn’t move. I was bruised everywhere. I was battered. I said, I can’t go to work like this. He said, I’ve been told you’ve got to come in to give a statement. So, he helped me into the van. Good to say, I went straight to the principal contractor, to the MD and said, Can I give my now so I can go home? He said, No, Steve.

He said, I need to speak to the other five guys first, then I’ll speak to you. It’ll be about half past one this afternoon. So, I was like, well, what am I supposed to do? He said, just go and sit in the office. We’ll keep your tops up with coffee. Don’t worry, we’re not going to send you out to work. You’ll be all right. So, I am sat there and one of my supervisors walked by and he said, what are you doing here? I said, they’ve told me I’ve got to come in to give a statement. He said, Yeah, I bet they have. He said, they haven’t brought you in to give a statement. They brought you in because they don’t want a lost time incident. Because now.

You’ve checked in.

Now I’ve checked in. So, he said, Get in my van. I couldn’t walk. I could triple, but I couldn’t walk. He helped me into his van, and he took me home. The next day, the principal contractor and the client came out with a witness to my house to take a statement from home. Looking back now, then they sent an occupational nurse to my house as well the day after that. And her words to me was, they want me to say that you’re going to be fit to work on Monday. This is on the Thursday. She said, they want me to say that you’re going to be fit for work on Monday. She said, But I can tell you now, you’re not going to be fit to work on Monday. work at work for months for a long, long time. And then she went away, and she said, Look, just heal, just get better. Looking back now, if they’d have got me an ambulance, if they’d have rang an ambulance through, their on-site ambulance wasn’t MOT for the public roads. So, they couldn’t have took me out in their on-site ambulance. That was their site emergency only.

So, they took me in their emergency ambulance with flashing lights to the car park. But if they’d have got me an ambulance, the ambulance had even formed the police because it’s a white horse accident. And then it’s the police’s duty to inform the HSE.

The HSE involved, obviously, massive investigation into that. And people would have been getting in a lot of trouble because we should have been put in that position. Getting me on site the next morning, they had 2.3-million-man hours about a lost time incident. If I had gone into site that next day, there’d have been many guys at the top who wouldn’t have got their end of the year bonus. And I’ve been told that by a manager who’d since left. And they said they didn’t report it because they didn’t want a lost time incident on their end. No company wants an LTI. So, looking back, it was just one massive cover up. But if it hadn’t been covered up, like I said, other companies might not have had fatalities that same year because of the lessons learned from that near fatality. So, there’s many, many lessons to be learned from it. And it’s definitely a story, if you like.

It’s incredible because I’ve heard of stories like this in other countries. Never heard of it in the UK. But essentially to me, the main takeaway is that’s the risk that happens when you start putting financial incentives. As it starts warping what’s the right thing I should be doing as opposed to actively caring for you. It’s how do I make sure that this doesn’t seem as bad. Definitely. The impact in terms of reporting significant is a value in all of this for the organization, but for others too.

Yeah, exactly. Well, the principal contractor I was working for at the time of the accident ended up within months losing their contract. So, they lost the contract and another T1 company was brought in. Whether they’ll admit it was because of that incident, which they probably never would have, right? Because it was all covered up and kept in house. But yeah, that company lost the contract, and everyone said basically even the people that work for the client, it was because of that accident. It was because of that incident. So that one accident changed a lot of lives. When they say the ripple effect from an incident, whether it’s a fatality or whether it’s not, it still has massive, massive effects throughout any business. But again, this was 12 years ago. You’d think lessons learned and move on. My uncle still works on the same site. And back end of last year, he’s stood near his van and there’s a guy in a Mew, an elevated working platform, driving towards him with a sun in his face. And this guy doesn’t see him, he calls, stood near the van. And literally, the front right wheel drove into the back of him.

The wheel trapped all the inside his legs and he was trapped against the van. He was looking not to… He was lucky enough to told by doctor it was millimeters away from breaking both legs. And the same thing happened to him. Now, there’s a different contract on there now to when I was there, but it’s the same client, same place. And he was taken to a nearest medical center to get checked out. And then someone sent him the next morning to pick him up to get him back onto site and put him on light duty for three weeks. Now, that accident was never reported. I told him he should report it himself. If he ever has trouble with his legs and he needs to jump, there’s no record of anything. And he was like, oh, no, it’s not worth me losing my job. I was like, Yeah, well, that’s why I went in. I was worried about my job. At that time, I was living, like a lot of contractors, week to week on my wage, didn’t have savings. You are concerned for your job and that’s why when they’re telling you to do certain things like come in the next day, it’s like, Oh, yeah, I will.

No matter how you’re feeling, you don’t want to lose your job. But at the same time, it’s not worth it. If something goes wrong, report it. If you’re not trained to do a job, don’t do it. Your life isn’t worth your job. There’s plenty of other jobs out there with companies that treat you right. Again, that’s why I get that message across. If you’re unsure, stop and ask. Don’t just struggle alone. Whether it’s mentally or whether it is your job, never, never just struggle along because what you’ve got to do is ask, reach out for help and there’s always somebody to listen to you. I think.

As well, as we talked about for leaders, it’s also reflecting in terms of what’s the impact that some of these metrics, these incentives are driving. How do I test to make sure that the companies I work with have the right culture where they’re not doing things like what you described that they are encouraging reporting, they’re trying to learn, they’re trying to drive the right insights, but also that you’ve got the right pieces around communication training leaders that show up the right way. Like you said, you should have come to look at the work as opposed to just look at a website. Yeah, it was too busy, so I just looked at what you stated on their website as to putting this pipe work together and testing it. He’s like, Yeah, it can go up to 38 bytes. Fine. Every talk I do now, whoever I’m speaking for, if I’m speaking to supervisors and leaders, I’ll say, Look, don’t be that guy. If one of your guys comes up to you and he’s unsure of something, or she’s unsure of something. Yeah.


Stop what you’re doing and go out there and have a look because you’ll see it from your own perspective then. And that could save a life. It could save a serious injury. It can save not just them, but it saves the company millions of pounds as well if it goes wrong. Get out there and check for the welfare of their employees. Don’t just be that guy who says, Yeah, carry on, it’ll be all right. Or go and Google it. If you’re in Google it. That isn’t the way to be. It’s about safety culture within the company, within the business. And if you’ve got the managers, the supervisors on board with that mindset, that culture, that will spread right throughout any company, any business. And it’s talking to people in the right way. It’s the employers trusting that. They can come and speak to you. They can stop a job and not get in trouble for stopping the job because of time, contracts, all the rest of it. We know there’s deliveries on sites daily. If you’ve got so many hundred tons of stone getting delivered, but you stop a job because someone’s in trouble, everything falls behind.

But again, you deal with that as and when your life or somebody’s life always comes first when it comes to safety. And a lot of companies I’ve worked with over the years, over the 20 years, and a lot of companies that I even now speak to, some of them will say to me, safety is our number one priority. And I’ll laugh and say, no, it’s not. Safety is never going to be a number one priority because it costs so much. You need to be earning money in order to run a business, to have a successful business. You need to be earning profit. You need to be meeting contracts. You need to be meeting time, deadline. Safety could be on par with that, which it should be. Safety should be on par with whatever you’re doing. That culture should be level across. No shortcuts whatsoever. If you need PPE, if you need safety equipment, if you need guards, if you need barriers, it’s all there. Everybody on site should know all the regulations. They should know all the procedures. As long as all that’s in place, it’s on par. But safety will never be number one because a lot of companies just go bust.

They just go under. So, you’ve got to have that culture within the company. And I know of a lot of companies who… Even getting me in can be just a tick box to say they’ve got someone in to speak, but then I’ll speak to the guys afterwards and they say nothing’s changed. They’re like, we’re still doing this, we’re still having to do that. And I now get that message across that when I speak to companies, I speak to the managing directors, and I say why I’m doing this and what I’m passionate about. And the changes they need to be implementing in order to have that safety culture right throughout the site, it’s got to come from the top in order for the guy’s lower down to follow them procedures. But yeah, it’ll never be number one priority because companies can’t follow that, but it should be on par. Or number.

One value. It’s how we do the work. It’s definitely number one value.

It’s definitely number one value. And again, that comes to making sure the employees have got everything that they need. And having the confidence to be able to say, I’m struggling with this. Or if there’s a lot of pressure on them and there’s a lot of stress and they’re going through a lot of stress and they’re taking that on with them on a night and they’re having to drink self-medicate to calm down a little bit. They should be able to explain that the rubber stress and some of that pressure taking off them. But it doesn’t work that way. Somebody tells somebody that the rubber stress and they’re not managing, and they may be drinking too much, then they’re told, Right, we’ll get somebody else. And you’re told either do it or you lose your job, basically. And that’s the situation that people should find themselves in. Each company should be able to help their employees if they are stressed, help them with the dealing with that stress and take that stress off them a little bit. Not risk, not threaten the jobs. It should be working with them and helping the staff. And again, it’s that mindset throughout the business.

If everyone’s working together, if you speak to somebody in the right way, you’ll get a lot more work out of somebody if you appreciate them than you are if you’re belittling them and talking down to them. And it’s trying to get that through all the business. No matter what size the business is, all businesses, all companies, if you’re talking to people and you’re acting in the right way, then they’ll follow you and they’ll do the same. It’s about creating that culture. Thank you, Steve.

Really appreciate you coming and sharing your story. It’s a very powerful but thought-provoking story as well. Thank you for coming to share your story, but also for sharing it to other audiences. Tell me a little bit, if somebody wants to engage you for presentation in their organization, or you do a lot of also some life coaching, tell me how they can get in touch with you.

Basically, you can Google SK Life Coach UK, which is Steve Kirby Life Coach UK. And all of my social medias will come up. So, there’s the website, there’s LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and business page on Facebook. You just go to, all the information is on there. I normally I prefer to talk in person because the message comes across. I’ve got all these pictures of the accident. And the guys, or not just the guys, there’s a lot of women construction, but they can relate to me as to who I am and what I’ve done the work they’re doing. Rather than just being some guy who’s gone to university and studied the mind and I’m coming in to talk to him about it, I’ve actually done what they’ve done for the last 20 years. And now I found myself in this world because of an accident. So, I talk about the accident and the mental outside of it. But I also do it online as well. So, it does work as well when I share the screen and share the presentation online. So, any companies want to either book me in person or online, just go to

Thank you, Steven.

Have a lovely day. Thank you very much, Eric.

Thank you for inviting me.

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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Steven Kirby is a former demolition/construction contractor with over twenty years of site experience. In 2011, he was involved in an accident at work which caused him to suffer both physically and mentally. In 2019, he set up SKLifeCoachUK Ltd. He now uses the tools, techniques, and knowledge that got him through his darkest times to coach individuals who are struggling. He also shares his story with companies to improve safety culture and mental health awareness.

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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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