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The Lasting Legacy of Poor Safety Leadership & Culture with Louise Adamson

The lasting legacy of poor safety leadership & culture

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“At the end of the day, whatever you’re working on is never as important as your family back at home.” This Thanksgiving season, we are grateful to have Louise Adamson join the podcast as she recalls the events that led to the loss of her brother in a fatal workplace incident in 2005. Louise accentuates the critical need for safety leaders to possess greater care for their team members than the work product and expresses the life-altering ripple effect that serious injuries and fatalities have on loved ones.

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

Hi, and welcome to the safety guru. Today, I am very excited to have with me Louise Adamson. She is a workplace safety speaker and a former lawyer. Louise, welcome to the show.  

Thanks so much for having me on. It is a pleasure.  

Maybe share a little bit about your journey and really the story about your brother that got you really focused on driving change, positive change around the safety space.  

Okay, thanks. Well, my brother Michael, was an electrician, 26 years old. He left a home that he shared with his fiancé on the morning of the 4 August 2005, and he did not make it home to Lisa that night. So, what had happened was he originally had come into a job in Edinburgh. He then got a call midway through the day from a job his employer was working on in a city called Dundee. It was an all-hands-on-deck job to get a sports store and a gym complex completed for a handover to a client by the next again a day or else some penalty clauses were going to kick in. So, for a job worth 720 grand for Michael’s employer there is a fifteen grand late penalty clause if it is not handed over by 10:00 the next again morning. Did you know if is Michael willing to go? Well, this is a man who is saving for a wedding. He has been offered over this over time probably right through the night. So of course, he’s willing to go. So, he heads up to Dundee with two of his colleagues. They’ve done pieces of work in the afternoon, and they’ve had their evening tea break.  

He then heads back to work at 06:30 in the evening and at that point, he was only to continue working for the next 40 minutes. So, what he was doing, was collaborating with his colleague Jim and they were installing a security system. So, they were needing to connect a cable that was already in place within a ceiling void to one lead pulled in and Michael is on a set of steps. He’s got his head and shoulders above a full ceiling, he cuts a cable, and he throws it down to the gym. And that cable had a label on it on insulating tape just wrapped around it. And written on the label it said not in use, I do as then Michael is stripping the insulating material from that cable, he suffers a fatal electric shock. So, he fell off the ladder, he fell at Jim’s feet and efforts were made to survive them. But those efforts were unsuccessful in the end. 

I’m so sorry.  

So, it’s a 26-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him to live and he didn’t make it home that night because it’s often said that Michael died because of contact with electricity. No, my brother didn’t die because of contact with electricity. He died because that series of feelings came together and resulted in his death. So, on that site, there was ineffective management and supervision. There was the paperwork that was not put into practice, you’ve got incorrect equipment being used. So, Michael only had a multimeter available to him when he should have been using a voltage tester. There were time pressures being brought to bear. Clearly, with the penalty clauses about to kick in the next day, you’ve also got shortcuts potentially being taken. So, did my brother use what I’m told is referred to by electricians as the bang test? So, did he just try to cut that cable with his snips, wait on the bang to tell him it was life or not? We don’t know if that’s what he did because only he’d be able to tell us, but that’s one of the possibilities that we left with. So, you’ve got shortcuts in the mix, you’ve got a safety on the job.  

It was just seen as a tick box exercise. You had a risk assessment that wasn’t a living document. It was dated more than a year prior to their contract start date.  

Oh, my goodness. 

Dated prior to the contract has not even been awarded because it was one of these generic ones and no site-specific tailoring has been done to that risk assessment. So even at the point at which they energize the distribution boards, so they’re now live working, that risk assessment isn’t revisited. So, it is described by the Health and Safety Executive inspectors as being completely inadequate, so nothing living about that. And it also contributed to Michael’s death. And then I think the sort of final piece, the final hole in all of this is there was a workforce there that wasn’t confident enough to speak up if something was wrong. They were in that mindset of, we could speak up, but nobody’s going to do anything about it anyway. We’re coming to the end of the job. What’s the point if I do speak up? I’m seen as the troublemaker the person dobbin pals, so let’s just get on with it. So, all of these things come together and result in Michael’s death. There was a trial of his employer more than three years down the line after his death, and the outcome of that was that the HSC said that Michael’s death could have been prevented had his employer ensured that safe working practices were being conducted in accordance with the company’s own written procedures.  

And that is just you don’t know how hard that is for a family to have to hear and then went on to say that managers and supervisors must be taking active steps to ensure that electricians work safely. Well, for us, it’s not just about electricians there you swap out the word electricians, you’re swapping in the word workers, operatives. That applies to anything that’s going on any site. In Michael’s case, there were charges laid against three senior individuals. So, there was a managing director an operations director, and a technical services manager who were all charged with criminal health and safety offenses along with the employer company. But mistakes were made by the prosecutor and in the end, those three individuals got to leave the court, and walk free from the dock before the case got before the jury. So, the lawyer then for the company is kind of doing his grand summing up speech as you expect lawyers to do. But he’s referring to his client as being the invisible man now sitting on the dock. That being the employer company.  

Sure.  

So, it was the invisible man that was found guilty of the failures that led to my brother’s death and it was the invisible man that was fined £300,000. But that for us as a family, it doesn’t approach justice and absolutely nothing in the way of comfort. So that’s why I’m now trying to use Michael’s story and to use it to strike a chord with other people, to stop it from happening to other people. That is what now provides my family with the comfort of knowing that positives come from the awful thing that is Michael’s entirely preventable death.  

Yeah, it seems incredibly preventable, and everybody goes to work and expects to come back, nobody thinks about injuries and what could happen. And in this case, there are so many elements here that just show woeful inadequacy in terms of how the organization was being run. From a safety standpoint, they’re looking at hazards but not really understanding what they were. The risk assessment to me is something that should be absolutely living, but also something that people review as they change throughout the day. As the conditions change, they need to reassess the houses in front of them. It sounded like there was labelling saying that it wasn’t even a live wire. So, by all accounts, he’s trusting somebody else had done their job. So, it’s a layering of multiple errors and multiple inadequacies on top of each other.  

Absolutely going to say in terms of the wire, the plans had changed much earlier in the job, but nobody had up, nobody. So, while the plans changed, the written plans didn’t change. So, nobody documented a change in wiring plans. So that then compounds that failure in relation to the cable. 

I see. The other problem is you’ve got multiple crews coming in without it seemingly an onboarding to the job and so there are changes like that that get layered on. So, one topic I hear a lot is the importance of speaking up. And there are two elements that you touched on because speaking up requires two parts in my opinion. One is the employer creating an environment where I’m comfortable speaking up. Leaders recognize, lean in when somebody speaks up, stop work, and says, this is positive, I want to see more of it. And then the other is the peer-to-peer element because that’s also very important. Leaders have an important role in terms of fostering that as well. So, it’s not an abdication. But there are two elements because there are cases where the organization has done really well in terms of encouraging it, but peers think that I think somebody shared a story where they said, are you a man or a mouse when the person spoke up and stopped work. And so, peer pressure also becomes an element of it that the organization needs to drive forward. Any thoughts in terms of that part? Because speaking up is difficult.  

I’ve done it once I stop work. And when you know the consequences of it being very expensive, you think about it 10,000 times, is it really the right call? But it was recognized after by the executives that they lose the right choice to make. What are some of the things that you’ve seen to really drive that forward? 

I think reflect on him first on the fact that my brother wasn’t a shy, retiring individual. He was a ball she individual who, if something was wrong, he’d have no qualms about speaking up about it. He’d already challenged his employer previously about some work that they’d been doing where asbestos was present. So, he wasn’t off that mindset. So, I don’t understand why he didn’t speak up in this situation. So, I have to kind of second guess it. And I think a large element of it is that whole drive to get the job done, guys, we’re up against it and let’s come together as a team and let’s battle the odds and let’s beat the odds and we’re going to get this done by ten tomorrow morning. Nobody thinks we can do it, but we’re going to get it done. There’s that whole thing going on. I think so. I think the sheriff, the judge in the case, in our sentencing statement, said that there was a male macho, cavalier approach being adopted in that industry at the time. So, in terms of battling that, you do need the MD, the Ops director, whomever it might be, they’re the ones in that situation. 

They were the ones who needed to take the step back and say, we’re not going to put our people in this position where they are being made to make these choices. They were the ones who should have stood back and had a grown-up conversation with the principal contractor, the principal contractor with the client. Because I can see that it would be easy in that situation for the men on the ground to be swept up in that. Let’s achieve the impossible goal. And when you’re working in an organization where safety isn’t any sort of core value, it seems then it’s dangerous being an important point. 

Because of that desire to achieve a goal, often even in organizations that are fairly good at stopping work and creating that relief valve sometimes a desire of achieving a goal can get people to start straying into forgetting about how to achieve it safely. And I think an example recently was the whole inquiry into the Boeing 737 Max, and it was all a goal to let’s get this plane done because otherwise, Airbus had a superior plane. And at the point in time where the decision was made to progress, American Airlines was going to move most of its fleet on the Airbus side, whereas they had an entirely bowling fleet. So that created this goal of let’s make sure we get this plane done. And then lots of things fell apart in between. Not that that’s the only item, but people then forget about it, we have to do it safely, we have to make sure we know how to build a plane, we need to make sure we’re capturing it the right way, we’re getting the right diagrams, et cetera. And that goal can rally against the right purpose, the right choices. It doesn’t mean don’t have a goal.  

I think it’s just a question of how you mitigate that goal. How do you reinforce that the goal is to get this done safely and to pause if we see something right?  

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 propulo.com.  

Yeah, and I often reiterate that because the Health and Safety Executive Inspector who investigated Michael’s death, I met him just a couple of years ago, and he was saying to me, supervisor level back at that time, and he was quite sure to a degree still today is that their number one priority is getting a job done on time. And I’m always saying that’s not what it should be. It should be to get that job done safely. Safely isn’t that added extra? It’s the on-time part that sure added extra so safely. 

And that requires a lot of messaging that really reinforces that story consistently within the organization. Particularly in the case of the production pressure, you’re mentioning, because here there are penalty clauses. Unfortunately, that production pressure seeps in a lot, even in organizations that have good management systems, just, we got to get this done. Have you seen anything or is there any advice that you share with organizations in terms of how to mitigate that production pressure, so it doesn’t impact the choices that somebody makes? 

I guess that’s really about explaining to people why they’re there. At the end of the day, the sports store my brother was working on, was going to open regardless of how long it took. They’re up against time pressures, so they’re throwing bodies at that job to try to get this all-hands-on-deck job completed. And in the process of that, they threw an actual body at that job, my brothers. And the goal at the end of the day, whatever you’re working on is never as important as your family back at home. And that’s what people need. They shouldn’t need to be reminded of that. But as we’ve already talked about, there is that whole getting swept up in a certain mentality sometimes. So it is that core value, that leadership. Actually, the biggest thing that they care about is the people that are working for them. Not whatever the product or building or whatever it might be at the end of that, it’s the people that they care about the most. 

Yeah. And I think that’s really the message that you share really an organization has to do so much more, has to recognize to create an environment, a culture where people get home every day to their loved ones. And the impact of an event like this, somebody passing away, somebody getting seriously injured, is a life-changing impact for multiple people around that person.  

Yeah, absolutely. And we still hear about new people who’ve been impacted in other ways by what happened to my car. And we’re now 17 years on from his death. But we know about the immediate family, friends, his colleagues who were there at the time. Sorry, we know about the impact it had on them because we see it. We see it day in, day out, we see it. We hold an annual memorial golf tournament for him. So, we hear from his colleagues that kind of the impact that it still has on them and how much they miss him. But then I’ll be speaking at an event, and somebody will come and say to me, oh, I know the first aider who stopped by the C-suite where Michael was working. He just happened to be walking past when this happened, and he helped provide CPR to your brother and he’s still impacted. And until more than a decade after Michael’s death, we knew nothing about this man and about the help that he provided. So, the ripple effect is so wide. I’ve just recently had a colleague of Michaels get in touch and she’s now working in safety as a result of what happened to Michael.  

So, there are so many ripples, so many negative ripples, but also, I hope, so many positive ripples are now being created out of Michael’s death. And I was speaking at a new-born graduation on Monday and I’m saying that I hope at some point these ripples all come together and then it’s that sort of ground swell of positivity so that we know that other lives have been saved as a result of what happened to him and being able to talk about what happened to him and getting lessons learned from what happened to him. 

Which is so important. Really. For other organizations. Other leaders. Recognize the importance of really leading for safety and for others in terms of the day-to-day choices or making how they show up as a supervisor. How do they show up as a leader? So, Louise, thank you very much for sharing your story. It’s still a very difficult, raw story to share because there will never really be closure. But I think the importance of sharing the story, the message, I think helps make sure somebody else comes home safe to the loved ones. So, I appreciate the work that you’re doing. If somebody wants to have you speak to their organization, how can they get in touch with you? 

So, they find me on LinkedIn, or you’ll get me on the website michaelsstory.Net or email [email protected], that would be fantastic. Thanks, Eric.  

Cheers. Thank you very much, Louise. 

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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ABOUT THE GUEST

Louise Adamson spent 13 years working as an employment lawyer for a top Scottish firm.  However, a personal tragedy led to her attentions becoming focused on the field of health and safety. Her brother Michael was only 26 years old and engaged to be married when he lost his life in an electrical incident which could and should have been prevented. Lessons must be learned and Louise now tells Michael’s story on-screen and in workplaces across many sectors and on major projects.  She has spoken internationally, travelling to Australia and widely throughout Europe.  And has delivered her brother’s story on-screen to workplaces globally. In the last year alone it has made a positive impact in health and safety leadership, culture and practices from the west coast of the USA, through Central and South America, across Europe and Asia, and on to Australia. She is a NEBOSH Ambassador and has previously been named the UK’s Most Influential Person in Health and Safety by SHP Magazine. Louise is also a trustee of health and safety charity Scottish Hazards, where she is focussed on securing long-term funding for an occupational health and safety advice, training and support service for workers. Her primary aim in all she does is to stop anyone else from losing their life or their loved one in a preventable workplace incident.  

For more information: [email protected]

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Scoring a Touchdown with Safety Culture with Dr. Josh Williams

Scoring a Touchdown with Safety Culture

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“Improving safety culture is vital to long-term performance excellence.” We are very excited to have Dr. Josh Williams join us on the podcast this week to dive into how to bolster safety culture as he shares his insights into the five core competencies of safety leadership. Forward thinking leaders must continually consider ways to enhance safety culture. Explore ways to improve the effectiveness of your safe culture by visiting https://www.ratemysafetyculture.com/ to complete the safety culture self-assessment uniquely created by Dr. Josh.

READ THIS EPISODE

Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies, ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. 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 extremely excited to have with me Dr. Josh Williams, who’s probably one of our favorite guests on the podcast. He’s a great resource in terms of safety culture, safety leadership, and observation programs do a lot of work in this space. Josh, welcome to the show once again. 

Thanks, glad to be here. 

So, tell me a little bit again about your background and how you got interested and passionate about safety leadership, safety culture, the behavioral side of safety, and so forth. 

When I was in grad school, I was getting a Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology, and honestly Eric, I was kind of bummed out. It just felt very theoretical. There’s a lot of statistical stuff. It was good, but it didn’t feel practical. And I had the chance to work with a guy named Scott Galler, whom many of the listeners may know was at the forefront of safety culture and behavior-based safety. He and a guy named Tom Kraus, formerly of BBS, really started behavior-based safety or at least popularized it. And it was great because we were doing real stuff with real people and I just immediately enjoyed it and the mission of two things, one, trying to keep people out of harm’s way, but also getting leaders to listen to folks a little more when making decisions. It just felt right. It felt like we were fighting a good fight and I’ve been doing it, I guess for 25-something years now.

Welcome back to the show. So, let’s start a little bit by talking about safety culture, why it matters, and you’ve authored a great quiz on safety culture. We’re going to talk about some of the themes within it that allow listeners to reflect, to see how they’re doing around safety culture and whether should they go deeper in terms of understanding how to drive improvements. But let’s start first in terms of why safety culture matter. 

Culture is everything. It really is. I’m going to struggle with a sports analogy here. I’m not a huge Alabama fan or a Nick Saban fan necessarily, but you’ve got to respect what he’s established. That Alabama. He comes in and just completely turned around a proud team that had fallen on hard times for many years. They were cycling through different coaches. He came in and it was an immediate turnaround and it stuck. I was watching the game a couple of years ago and I’ll make this as quick as I can, but I was just kind of flipping through channels and I see the score. Alabama beat New Mexico State 62 to ten. 

Wow.

And they’re doing a press conference and Nick Saban is irate and he’s kind of containers anyway, but they’re asking him questions and he’s not happy. Why aren’t you happy, Nick? These are his quotes I went through and kind of went back and forth and wrote down almost verbatim. But these were his comments. We didn’t play up to our high standards for large parts of the game. We didn’t get better this week compared to last week. And when you don’t get better, you start developing bad habits and bad habits lead to problems down the road, especially against better opponents. And then his final comment was you’ve got to play to your own high standard every day. And that stuck with me because you know as well as I do, a lot of times we get called in because you have a rash of injuries and all we’ve got a problem, we’ve got to fix it. And people get so tied into these injury numbers and injury rates. The flip side is sometimes you could be doing really good on the injury numbers, but complacency is setting in. The normalized deviation is setting in. We haven’t seen it yet because nobody’s gotten hurt.

But the point I’m trying to make is playing to your own standard, having a culture of excellence in everything you do, doesn’t mean you’re perfect, and it doesn’t mean things aren’t going to go wrong. But you play to your standards and not some number, whether it went up or down last month, last quarter, this, that, or the other. So, I hope that makes sense to the listeners. It’s just that safety is part of who we are and how we operate, and we want to establish that culture of excellence it takes effort, it takes vision, it takes looking in the mirror. Safety culture assessments are big in large part because it gives people an opportunity to see where I am good. Where am I not so good? What’s the plan to get better? 

I think that’s a really important element and really getting a good view, talking to people about what was happening. What are the themes, how do we address them it, and how do we drive improvements? So, tell me about some of the themes in the quiz that you authored because I think it’s a good tool for listeners to have a quick scan to say how’s my culture? Not doing an assessment, just doing a quick scan self-reflection in terms of where I could get better. 

Yes, a lot of its own leadership, having that ownership mindset at the leadership level, it’s not EHS’s job, it’s everybody’s job but mine as a leader. I’m setting the tone for everybody. Active participation from employees. He talks about employee engagement. That’s the big buzzword. What’s this big mystery? It’s not that much of a mystery. Listen to your people, be responsive, and then advertise improvements based on their feedback. That’s how you get involved. It’s not some secret. It just takes effort and energy. Learning culture with close call reporting, making sure incident analysis is system-focused and not blame-oriented. And then other things like making sure rules make sense, they’re practical, having the right tools and equipment, et cetera. But leadership is really, in my mind, where a lot of it starts. And if I can just let me go through a couple of things really quick here. In terms of leadership competencies, we did a bunch of research looking at what are good predictors of effective leadership. And in terms of safety leadership, five core competencies come through. I’ll go through each R1 quickly. 

Sure. 

The first one is active caring. And of course, my mentor, Scott Gellard, used the term active carrying many years ago in reference to something that happened at ExxonMobil. People in a room, we’re asking questions. Why aren’t we doing X, Y, and Z ah? Nobody cares. Nobody cares. Then he started talking about it, that people care, but they weren’t doing something about it. So active caring is not just being a good guy or a good person. Active caring is going out and doing something. Quick example, I was working at a steel mill, not at an I was consulting for a company that was a steel mill, and they had an awful plan. Manager, old school, crack the whip, scare people off, rule by fear. It was a mess, and they fired them, which was a smart move. They bring in this new guy named Bob. And Bob’s, the first order of business is to set up meetings with everybody in this facility, and everybody is unhappy. 30 minutes. Meetings called 30 minutes with Bob. And not a sexy name for the meeting, but it got everybody in there, and he just asked people, what do you need? What can we do? 

And it was an immediate change in tone and immediate change in culture because this guy comes in and says, I want to hear from you. How can we get better? And so active caring is having the right intentions but doing something about it. Walking to talk, of course, is setting the right example and making sure you’re doing what you say you’re doing. So, for leaders, it’s being out in the field, listening to people, talking to people. Something as simple as wearing your PPE. I’ve seen that too. We’re going to do a couple of stories here. But we were at a facility, and this is 20 years ago. I’m dating myself, but we’re working with this company, and they are struggling. I mean, they can’t even get PPE. People are fighting over hearing protection glasses. So, we’re making some progress. And then they interviewed the CEO who was talking to Morley Safer. It was a big show, like 20 2016 minutes. One of those, anyway, he’s in the middle of operations with four trucks flying around talking about profits and how they were successful financially with no PPE on zero during operations. And we’re like, oh my God, that was it.

All the progress excuses me, with PPE out the window immediately. So, walking the talk is not just having nice corporate messaging. It’s doing what you say you’re going to do. Here’s another example in terms of leadership and listening to your people and how you’re treating them. I’m in a big facility that creates these small little bearings for vehicles. I think I didn’t remember now, but this is again, many years ago, and they had a guy who cuts his head open, and they’re doing an incident investigation, and the plant manager is in there and he asked the guy, why didn’t you have your hard hat on? That’s a requirement. And the guy says to him, I thought I did. I had my baseball cap on it. I followed my heart hat and is telling the story. And the plan manager stops the, quote, investigates, goes on a PA system and says literally to everybody, attention all employees. Baseball caps are no longer allowed in the building. You have ten minutes to return all baseball caps to your vehicles, and effective immediately, they’re no longer allowed in the building.

True. 

Anyway, people are like, what’s going on? They go to their cars and trucks and whatever, throw their caps and come back in. They’re not happy. They’re grumbling about it. And anyway, so the next day they come in, and most people, and of course not wearing their caps, but one little section of this big building, this big factory, they kind of did a mini revolt. They came in, no baseball caps, but they had on cowboy hats. One guy had a football, one guy had an authentic Mexican. Sombrero from Tijuana, the little tassels come down and they’re their jobs doing their work. And it was their way of saying, this isn’t right. And the point manager was smart, and he kind of pumped the brakes on that and they had some discussions and made some changes. But it kind of goes to show you people don’t like being told what to do. And oftentimes you have an injury and all of a sudden, what do you do? Okay, we’re going to retrain the employee. We’re going to throw a new rule out there. Then all of a sudden, you got 61 million rules. So, I think you got to be careful with how we handle that. 

Again, watch the knee-jerk reactions. Listen to your people, and just be smart about implementing new things and building and living. The vision is the next one. So, you’ve got a vision, you share that vision. People feel that vision. It’s legitimate, it’s real, it’s authentic. Recognition is another part of it. Number four is reward and foster growth. When we provide appreciation and sincere recognition, two things happen. One, I’m more likely to do it next time. That’s why we give our kids allowances. It’s like, you did good, here’s a financial reward. Now the reward and recognition don’t have to be money appreciation. I think the default recognition is not a program, although it can be good. Default recognition is just appreciation. People working hard under difficult circumstances, they got a lot going on in their personal lives. There’s a lot of stuff happening when you see people going beyond the call of duty, in particular for safety, mentoring a newer employee, etc. E. A little pad on the background again, goes a long way. People appreciate being appreciated. So, the last one is driving thinking and speaking. People that are on the job, doing the job know what’s going on. 

And if we listen to what they’re saying, it doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything they recommend. But people understand what’s going on and we’ve got to drive that ground-level engagement and participation to be successful. Another quick example is Eric. The same steel mill I mentioned earlier had a problem lockout tag out. They called it lockout tag out tryout. And the challenge was people weren’t doing it. And in a steel mill, if you’re not locking something out, you can get hurt or killed in that area. It’s dangerous. So the supervisor is like, okay, well, we’re going to if we don’t, they start threatening people. One of the employees had a suggestion to get a team together and talk about the issue. Just, let’s just take a step back. And when they did, they found where you were locked out was not in the appropriate place. The rules for lockout tag out were convoluted and hard to understand different opinions on how to do it. By simply getting together, they shortened the process of how it was done. They made everything closer to the person to make it easier to save time because they had ridiculous production pressure. 

But the solution was made from an employee’s suggestion to change the system. Don’t just come down with a heavier hammer. So, driving thinking and speaking is a big part of getting that engagement and improving the overall safety culture. 

It makes a lot of sense, and a lot of focus in terms of leadership as a key lever to drive improvements in culture. What are some of the other things? Leadership obviously really is the key lever to drive change around safety culture. But in some cases, culture can be also a legacy. Could be something that comes from the past. 20 years ago, a CEO did X and it’s still in the present memory and it’s still shaping the behaviors, the choices, and the attitudes of people.

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 propulo.com. 

100%. And the first thing I’ll say is the system. So, if you want to look at it holistically. Big picture. If you’re trying to get more predictable results with your incident rates, it doesn’t fluctuate out of control. If you want to get more control over that and also improve sift prevention, three things to look at are one mindset, and attitudes. Number two, your behavior, what people are looking for. Number three is the system. And for many years, particularly in the house Ion days of BBS, the system was taking a backseat. And if we don’t focus on the system, we have problems. So, systems are things like when things go wrong, our first response should be, where did the system fail? Don’t blame somebody. Where did the system fail? It could be excessive time pressure. It could be we don’t have enough people for this job. It could be we don’t have the right tools and equipment readily available to do it. It could be we got a bunch of boring online training. When I first hired on, I don’t remember any of it, and now I’m throwing the wolves out there. Those system factors are big, and I think organizational leaders are well served to focus on tightening up those systems as a close call, reporting behavior-based safety. 

These are systems and when the systems are running smoothly and we’re getting ongoing communication up and down the organization, everything else works better. And by the way, it’s easier for leaders to hold people accountable. We talk about positive accountability. You don’t want to be heavy-handed, but you also can go too far the other way and let everything slide. And when your standards drop, the injuries pop up too. My point on that is, as a leader, if I know my systems are tight and most people are doing the right thing, when you have outliers that are repeatedly not doing the right thing or doing egregious things, it’s easier to punish, quite frankly, because we understand we’ve got our system. It’s not the system that’s the challenge. We’ve got that figured out. So, I think system factors are a big, big part of it, I would say on the other side too. On the behavior side, we know from National Safety Council 9 that 5% of all injuries do in part to add risk behavior. That doesn’t mean blaming people now, but it just means risky actions. You’re increasing the probability of something going wrong, basically. And if we can minimize risky behavior, that can be done in a lot of ways.

One, engage people more behavior-based safety. I just mentioned we did a study with NIOS many years ago. Picture this, Eric, me and a bunch of other grad students are going into this environment doing training with these guys, looking at us like, who are you, youngsters? We’re going and doing this training with two different groups and they’re not either one is really happy, but we do our training, and then we implement a behavior-based safety process. So, you’ve got if you’re familiar with behavior-based safety, folks, the cards, you’ve got various things like proper tools and equipment, body position, things like that. Anyway, one group was given a card and said, go use it. The other group, we work with them to create their own card, how it was going to be used when it was going to be used, and where it was going to be used. That group that had their own card that they created themselves, we call it the ownership group used their card seven times more.

Seven times more. 

We were shocked. If we had gotten double, we would have fallen out of our seats seven times more. Said very clearly, employee engagement matters. And I think people want to get more involved, and they want to speak up with each other more too. On one of the surveys, they used to use years ago, one of the questions is, should you tell somebody if they’re being risky? 90% of people are saying, yeah, you should tell them. The next question on the survey is, do you, do it? And it was like 660-something percent.

Wow.

So, to me, that’s an eye-opener. I want to get involved, but our culture is macho. You do your thing; I do my thing. Don’t tell me how to do my job, all that nonsense. So, we want to do it, and sometimes we’re reluctant to speak up. So, I think part of that learning culture we talked about too, is making it acceptable and normal to speak up with each other. It doesn’t have to be a supervisor or safety when they see something that doesn’t quite feel right. So, there are just a couple of thoughts there. Make sure we don’t get focused on one thing. Focus on attitudes and behaviors and the system.

I love that safety culture is something that’s widely discussed and accepted. How do you measure it? The right way.

The wrong way is to give somebody 150 items, as a survey, and everybody goes to fill it out. That’s the wrong way. Surveys are good, but they’re a good tool. But they’re only one tool out of many. So of course, when we do our assessments, we focus on talking to people and interviewing people, whether it’s in groups, whether it’s one on one. But we’ve got questions that we’re asking on important things like learning culture and leadership, things like that. But people will tell you, and we use a survey to supplement that. But that gives us an overall picture. When we do it. We’ve got our maturity model, and it goes from disengaged a citizen, and there are various steps in between, but it shows you where you are, where is your starting point, and what’s your baseline. Because if you’re trying to get better, you got to know where you stand. And those assessments do a good job of that, and it also affects what you can do. So if your maturity is low, you don’t want to be trying to shoot the moon, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. You need the basic foundational stuff to try to get better. If you’re further along, you’re more advanced.

You can start doing things like human performance, or we call it Bhop, behavioral safety, and human performance. Those kinds of things are more achievable if you’re further along the road. So those assessments are really good. The other thing I’ll say on that too, and I’ve seen this with other organizations that kind of do what we do is sometimes that’s the end of it. Here’s your 1165-page report. Enjoy it. Also, if you have any questions, we’re here for you. And that’s it. Of course, we do. Planning all that information you get, all that is ammunition for your plan, like, what are we going to do? And that’s where you get groups together. We recommend getting hourly folks involved, field folks involved, and union folks involved. We’ve got a union at some levels, and we plan it out. All right, so this is good. Got to keep doing that. This is not good. Got to get better. What are we going to do? And line it all out. And sometimes, as you know, we’ll do five-year plans with it. It could be simple, it could be complicated, but what are we going to do?

What are the three, or four big things we got to get done? Who is going to do it? When are we going to do it? Where do we need to help? What potential resistance is there? And by lining everything out, very specifically, going back to Nick Savin. He didn’t roll into College Station to play Texas A and M winging it. Let’s see what works here. They’ve got the plan, and they’ve got contingency plans if plan A is not working. So, part of the preparation for getting better is to understand where you’re at and get a smart strategic plan.

Moving forward, a couple of things just come to mind based on what you just shared. So, one for me is it’s not a safety culture assessment if you don’t have a combination of surveys with interviews and focus groups kicking the tires in terms of how the work gets done at a site level, and then finally, also looking at artifact reviews, looking at how is a culture shaped by system items. Any thoughts on that? Because to me, that’s the part is a lot of people do one part of this and think it’s a safety culture assessment, but it’s only by looking at all those three elements can you really assess the culture. In my mind, 100% a part of it.

That too is talking to executives. Sometimes there’s a heavy focus on field employees, which is good. We’ll do system assessments with executives like we’ll do artifact reviews. You say close-call reporting is good. Show us what you’re doing. I don’t mean that to be challenging. But sometimes reality and perceptions aren’t always the same. So, I think speaking more to executives and getting some tangibles in terms of stuff that you’re doing also gives you a more complete picture.

Okay. The other part that drives me bonkers when we’re talking about surveys is an obsession with benchmarking. I want to compare myself with everybody else in my industry, and I get that, for example, in employee engagement surveys. But because of the nature of surveys in safety culture, I’m not saying there’s no value in it, but my challenge is too often I’ve seen a company that has lower maturity from a safety culture standpoint, have higher scores and a really good maybe have lower scores because as you get better, you start becoming more self-critical. And if you know very little about what you could look like or should look like, you might look very positive.

Yeah, I’m with you. I mean, I think benchmarking is a nice thing to have, but people take way too much faith in that. As I said, I’ve seen the same thing. Some awful organization, they get a bunch of vests and they’re like, oh my god, they care about us. You should have had vests 15 years ago, man. It can be misleading. And sometimes the really, really good organizations are more critical because they have the mindset of excellence, and they may raise themselves lower than they really are. So, I get your point there. I think it’s nice to have, but I’m more interested, frankly, in various iterations of the survey. Like five years ago we were here, two years ago we were here. And I think that’s something that’s smart too for companies. It’s not a one-and-done deal. You do an assessment, see how much you’ve progressed, do another one, two, or three years later. It doesn’t have to be as intent. It can be on a smaller scale, but that to me is more interesting. And also, comparisons between groups, whether, for instance, managers are telling us this, employees are telling us something different, and the scores on the survey may be quite different sometimes the higher you go anyway, so that’s one issue. 

And also, different groups. Maintenance is saying this, operations are saying that. And so the scores are interesting when they’re different, but also the comments from the interviews in the focus groups. So again, I think the best benchmarking is within your own organization, and also from the time one to time two to time three.

And I think the points you bring up there I think are important because it’s looking at even between-group differences. You have an overall culture, but you could have a microculture within a particular environment. We had somebody on the podcast that had a serious injury, and he came from an organization that had, by all accounts, a fairly, fairly mature safety culture. But in his specific area, there were a lot of challenges from a leadership standpoint, and people showed up in a very, very different, noncongruent way from the rest of the organization. So, understanding those differences, as you said, I think is incredibly important. The other element is longitudinally understanding how we’re shifting. I love pulse surveys as an indicator of how we’re making progress, even with higher frequency. So, as you’re driving improvements to check or is it landing with employees, are we actually seeing the impact? If I’m doing leadership training, am I feeling my leader showing up in a different way?

100% and that’s hard. I can add more really quick here too, in terms of how our leaders show up. Executive coaching, I think, is a big one. And just from experience, when we’re able to get into higher levels of the organization and talk to people, at the executive level, it’s different and it doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but that sets the tone. And again, I think sometimes with assessments, in particular, we miss the mark as we only talk to the EHS director, which is a very important position, but there are a lot of things that are also happening at the C-suite level that we need to address. So, I think executive coaching, when it’s paired with assessment-type work, is really good because you’ve got a strategic plan, and you need help from the top to get there. I don’t care who you are. So that’s something I think to consider as well.

And it also relates back to your story when you’re talking about Bob, who came into me, is when a new leader comes in and needs to show change, it’s very important to have a good strategy around what signals are you going to share. Because we talked about how culture can be based on something that happened 20 years ago in the organization that’s still in the present memory. So how does a leader come in and send some very intentional signals to show things have changed? I am going to show up differently or we’re going to show up differently.

100%.

So, great place to start. I love your quiz. Ratemysafetyculture.com so that’s a website. No gimmicks, no catches, completely anonymous. It just allows you to ask a couple of questions, 15 questions in total. To give you a bit of a sense in terms of where you’re at, should you consider some improvements, what are some of the areas of focus? So ratemycafetyculture.com it’s definitely not a safety culture assessment, it’s just a personal self-reflection to see how my organization is doing. So, I encourage people to go and visit their website, try it out, and get a few simple insights. And Josh, I’m sure they can always reach out to you if they want to have more conversations about, what does it mean, how do I make improvements, and how do I know where I’m at?

100% and I’ll give you more sports analogies.

So, Josh, thank you so much for joining us. Once again, I really appreciate you sharing yours. Wisdom around safety leadership, safety culture, and again, recommend anybody to go to the website ratemycafetyculture.com. No gimmicks. Just a good self-reflection quiz to say how am I doing? You’ll find links as well to all sorts of other quizzes that Josh has authored that help you look at different facets of safety culture, safety leadership, learning organizations, and so forth to see how you’re doing. So once again, thank you so much, Josh, for joining me today.

My pleasure. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the past. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Dr. Josh Williams is a partner at Propulo Consulting. For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert. Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 150 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

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

Suicide prevention a call to action for safety leaders

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

READ THIS EPISODE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure. 

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

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

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

In the United States.

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

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

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

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

Peer support is another piece.

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

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

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

No, not a good idea. 

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

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

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

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

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

Sure. 

If that’s of interest.

Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excellent. Thank you so much, Sally. 

Thank you. 

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafetycoach.com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo consulting. 

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D.

Keynote Speaker & Impact Entrepreneur

Co-Founder & President, United Suicide Survivors International

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

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

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

For more information: 

National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention where they can “take the pledge”: https://workplacesuicideprevention.com/

A White Paper for HR Professionals and Employment Lawyers – Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention in the Workplace Policy and Response Recommendations to Help Employers Positively Impact Workers and the Work Environment: https://workplacesuicideprevention.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/20220630-FINAL-FINAL-HR-EmploymentLaw-WhitePaper.pdf

A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide  https://workplacesuicideprevention.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/managers-guidebook-to-suicide-postvention-web.pdf 

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

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

VitalCog: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace https://www.coloradodepressioncenter.org/vitalcog/ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What am I to say? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a Legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your Safety.

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

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

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

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

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

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

Website: https://www.alyssagrocutt.com  

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alyssagrocutt/  

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlyssaGrocutt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This episode of the Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and Safety Culture Advisory Firm Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions. Propulo has you covered. Visit [email protected] 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure. 

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

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

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

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

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

Wow. 

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

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

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

I totally agree, Eric.

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

All right. 

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

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

Awesome. Thanks. 

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a Legacy. Distinguish yourself from the pack. Grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Elevate your Safety. 

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

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

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

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

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