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The Importance of Not Letting Complacency Set In with Alan Newey

The importance of not letting complacency set in

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“We’ll never realize the accidents we prevent, but we sure will know the ones we don’t.” In this episode, Alan Newey details the sequence of events that led to a devastating workplace incident in September of 1999. The plant where he had been employed for 15 years had placed production over safety, and the voice in his head knew he hadn’t received the necessary training to do his job safely. Alan highlights the role that complacency and comfortability play in workplace incidents and the need to speak up to work together to send every team member home safely.

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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 me Alan Newey. He’s a safety motivational speaker with CNBC Safe in Australia. He’s been unfortunately part of a workplace accident, lost his dominant arm in a conveyor accident. So, Alan, welcome to the show. Love to hear your story, really in terms of what happened in that role and some of the core themes around that you talked about when you speak to different organizations.

Yeah. Thanks for having me here. This is really important to me for people to hear the message because I don’t want people to go through what I did, especially my better half. Kathy doesn’t want the families to go through at all. And I’ll get into that. But a little background on it. I’d actually been working for the company for 15 years and I’ve done the role that I’m going to describe 4586 times before my actual accident over 15 years. The accident was September 30, 1999. And I can tell you exactly what time 735. It doesn’t matter what the press says. They said 747, 35. I was there. I should know. But no, I just left the home in the morning. This is a kiss goodbye roll up to my website a little mate that I’ve been working with for 15 years. He started work at the same place about two weeks before I did. And we’re just joking around like normal. He was a little short guy, five foot six. And I make Snow White and Seven Dwarfs jokes about him every single day. I was a heavier set guy, so he’d make set jokes about me. 

And we had a great working relationship. And we got down to this place, the plant that I was working, which would load 112 trucks a day on average, 34 times to a truck, eight minutes to a load 100 trucks a day. And he’s only five foot six for a little mate. And I’m six, too. And he wasn’t feeling well. And it was his job this day to drive cranes and operate the conveyors up high. And I was supposed to control room downstairs. Well, he wasn’t feeling well, so we swapped roles and we’ve done that before. We look after each other. I went up and started to adjust the conveyors and make my way up to the crane. And as one of the incubators is always tracked out to the side due to moisture from product or urea. It’s a fertilizer. And we have to dry the belt down and track it back into place. And the training I was showing, and he was showing was to grab this little green bucket with some drying dust inside it, reach inside the moving conveyor, throw the dust on by hand, and then once the track back into place, start the next section goes to the crane.

When I was blowing, this drawing dust belt didn’t come back far enough. So, I threw one extra handful of dust, which normally an extra handful from the normal amount. And I heard it bang. And I thought nothing of it. And I went up and looking up and down the conveyor looking for this noise that was in the machine. And I went to scratch my head, but there was nothing there to scratch my head with. That noise was my arm going around the machine and I felt nothing. No pain, nothing. 

Wow. 

Nothing at all. So, you could say I said a few explosives is I climbed down a 30-foot ladder running out to the front. My little workmate with a shock horror in his eyes has come over and jumped onto a stunt to try and stop the bleeding, which he couldn’t because what we didn’t know at the same time, it actually torn the chest on the inside at right angles. The chest was pointing at right angles on the inside. Now this is where my little mate owes me for beers. And I’m getting delayed because of the way it affects people. He owes me a few beers for this because he passed out. But he was hanging off there. He kept his strength on there. So, he’s still hanging on. So, I picked up my good. I’m not carrying that little high in the first place. So, then it all started from there. I played a high grade of tennis. I dumped Australian Open on the lines and all that beforehand. And the police officer who showed up to the accident. This is where it affects different people that people don’t think about. The police officer who showed up to my accident was a man of mine who I played in a tennis tournament three days before. 

And he just happened to be the police officer. He was sent to my accident. When he walked in the room, he’s gone into like a shot because he knew who it was. And down the track a little bit, he challenges me for a rematch because I haven’t got a double handed backhand anymore. But he’s not getting it, I can tell you now. And then it all went from there. Five reattachments on my arm to try and save it, which I couldn’t. In the hospital, they told my better half they only had 2 hours to live, and she had to make plans after its reattachment. So, she was trying to get through and with my family. So, I can’t only imagine what she’s going through. They took me back into the surgery and they gave her an. A four piece of paper, would you believe? And she had to sign for this. We’re going to pack Ellen back into surgery. Police sign here. And it was removed all of them permanently. Sign and date here to cover the backsides. Legally, they removed it. One of the doctors made a little clamp about that big about 50 cent coin type thing in Australia.

And it was lifesaving, that little clamp they put inside the chest with the 300 staples of stitches already holding me together. Saved my life. 2 hours later, I was watching television and then everything really started, really started with the rehabs and the things and wife goes through and everybody else. And it’s still going on today, 20 years later, and it hasn’t stopped.

So, tell me a little bit about some of the follow-on effects. You talked about your significant other at the time when you have an injury, the effect is significant on everybody. You talked about the police officer telling me about some of the following effects because it’s your injury and what happens to you. But there’s also a significant effect, everybody that you care, and you love. 

Yes. And I think myself, the impact on the others after my incident is actually greater than mine. It’s even greater. You’ll find out who your friends are and who can’t deal with it and people you’ll never see again. My mother-in-law rested us off. I’m still alive, mind you. And she put on the black outfit like I did the Greek. So, I was meaning to a Greek family, and she put on all the Greek outfit, all in black, and she’s doing all the things and everything. My mother went quiet. My father, he worked at the same company for 47 years and retired three years before my accident. The culture was they never spoke about safety. Safety was never mentioned, really on that site and never, ever mentioned on that site. It was always production ahead of safety. So, we all pick our jobs and all that type of thing and the profits up, I guess. So, he was kicking himself. But that’s an even older culture than me. Can understand that because the culture built up over 100 years like that. A father-in-law, he reacted differently where he actually came up to the bedside with his worry teams. 

Clicking them in my ear drove me crazy. And he still got that thick European accent. And he’s gone to me, Ellen, you know, die. If you’ll die, this is no good for me. You sign contract. Kathy your problem. She must stay with you. And that actually helped a lot. Believe it or not, they actually helped a lot. Because if you’re saying that’s not good for me, this is my father-in-law, right. But the biggest flow on effect was my little work mate. He was with me that day in the accident. And that’s the saddest one of all. And the one that can really today get me upset. And that’s over 20 years ago. He passed away about eight years after my accident. The stress he put himself under caused medical issues. A cancer formed in his stomach and he’s no longer with us. The doctors say maybe it wasn’t that. I know differently. In my heart, I know differently the stress he put himself under because he never accepted the fact that I got hurt and he didn’t. I was doing his job that day and I couldn’t get into his head because I’m 62, he’s five, six.

I miss being pulled into that machine by two inches, less than two inches. And I would have been pulled into that machine and made miss me. So, if he did that job that day was in that particular spot, he would have reached past that point and he would have been to that machine. 

Wow.

So, this is bad, but it’s the better of the two Eagles, if you can understand that. But he couldn’t accept it. He couldn’t accept that I got hurt and he didn’t. And that was the biggest flowing effect of the whole incident. 

So, you worked there for many years. Safety was never talked about. It was about getting the job done, getting it faster, improving profits. You had a voice inside of you. Tell me a little bit about what that was. 

When I first started there in September October 1999. Sorry, 80, 415 years before my accident, I was showing that plant where I had my accident. And this little voice inside me said, and when I showed me how to do the drying of the conveyors and all that type of thing, because I had all the front hand load of crane operation licenses, no problem. But the training was five minutes of this is how we do the job. This is how we drive the plant. End of the story. Five minutes. Five minutes is awesome. And if somebody came under that plant, that’s what I’d show you. And I’ll be putting data. Sure, because that’s all I knew. And the voice insider said, you don’t do this. This is dangerous. And they did tell me it was dangerous. And to be careful.

That’s not very helpful.

Right? No, there’s no guarding on his conveyor or anything like that. And it could mean the accident could be prevented for less than $800. But I sent a quarter of a million dollars in reacting to it. That’s the sad part about it. The money was there. But the voice was, you don’t do this job. This is too dangerous. Don’t do it this way. Speak up. But you wanted to keep this job because you got your mortgage, you got your bills, you got everything else. So, you didn’t speak up. And as time went on, the voice got less and less because you became more confident in the area, and it became second nature. So, all of a sudden you stopped listening to that voice and knew yourself, put yourself in danger with your complacency and just pushing forward. You didn’t listen to that voice anymore. You’d become part of the environment and you didn’t see the whole picture. 

So that is a really important theme because really we start getting complacent when we start doing it too often you talked about how you did it 4000 sometimes and nothing had gone wrong and present in those 4000 sometimes your voice starts going slower and less and less and you start accepting, what are some of the signs that people should be looking for to say, Am I getting complacent with this and really reflect in terms of how do I relook at the hazard in front of me? 

One of the big signs I reckon in that is when I start and I said it to myself many, many times, I’m used to this job, I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m doing, I’m bulletproof, I know what I’m doing. Don’t tell me what to do if somebody actually came past, but nobody ever did that. Anyway, if you stop listening, if you start hearing or you stop hearing that voice, that’s time to take five and get a fresh set of eyes in to look at where you’re working, and you can go do the same for their spot. Okay, swap for that thing, that’s the tower power sign. But the idea is once you become complacent and you hear and you don’t get anybody in and you just keep going, it’s hard, it really is hard. But what I should have done is step back. I did realize that I was getting easier, and the job was getting easier. If you start saying to yourself, I’ve been doing this job a long time, I know what I’m doing and then you start repeating it to other people, that’s the sign, you should be stepping back. 

You’re complacent with what you’re doing. That’s the big red flag. If you start paying for people, I know what I’m doing, I’ve done this job a million times. That’s the big red flag. You’re actually putting yourself in danger and heading towards a major incident without knowing it.

I think that’s a really important point. Listen to that voice, look for the signs that I’m getting comfortable with it, too comfortable with it, too comfortable and then kind of pull yourself. I think one of the things I was recently looking at is in aviation, they’ll go so far in many cases to make sure you’re not flying with the same crew, you’re not doing the same route all the time. So, you’re not flying Sydney to La or New York to London. Every time that we switch it up a little bit, so you have less chance of it becomes routine in many cases, not Airlines, but really trying to drive that switching of roles to same as takeoff and landing. There’s an alternating who’s responsible? Is it the captain of the first officer that’s going to be responsible for it? 

No, that’s right. That scenario sort of happened after my incident. People started doing different roles and changed around into different places. The culture of where I was. That person like Alan, knows that crane back to front. He knows that conveyor system back to front. We keep him there because we know we don’t have to watch him. He knows the job. And then the person in the maintenance hall that does something. And there was one guy who had an accident that I was working with, and he’s been in the maintenance hold for 37 years doing exactly the same role every day.

Steps in, you get completed. 

Right. And he had a major accident at our same site and went home nine months later. 

You talked about the other accident. What was interesting is there were no reports. When we first talked, there were no reports, no recordables. I think you said 463 days, is that correct? 

That’s correct. We went 463 days of no lost time injuries and no recordables because nobody reported it. Nobody reported them. Okay. After that 460-day bracket, and that was a big red flag in itself. We’re heading towards an incident without going. We had four majors in 18 months. Four majors in 18 months. And I think the average is 860,000 reportable a day. That’s ten every second. 

Somebody actually does say something which is not common. 

You’re getting over. What is it? 15,000 unrecorded incidences per minute. And they’re the ones leading to the major actions. There’s 5000 /minute that are recorded. Well, they’re doing something about it. They’re recording them. If you’re not recording them, you’re in that 15,000 bracket, which is where I was and my whole work crew was. It led to major accidents. It’s the amount of people getting hurt just because they’re not reporting very simple communication in it. If they reported things, they could do things about it. But if you don’t, you can’t. Nobody knows. 

But also, a lot of leaders start reflecting. I’ve had 463 days. We must be doing something right here. Things are safe. You see it as a leading indicator. I fixed the problem, but obviously it wasn’t. 

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No, because what it was with where I was working, they had the 463 days, and they had all this. After we passed one year, there’s this big celebration, I can tell you now, they put on drinks in a barbecue type of thing for everybody. And that type of stuff. And it was down to the fact that even when somebody did come to inspect the place, they knew they were coming. So, the place was cleaned down to make it look good or they inspected, and they always pass the test. But nobody ever picked up no guards. And I asked for a guard for that belt, and I was told it was too expensive and the guard would have cost less than $800. And they went a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of guards after the accident, in reaction. And if you could have seen the guard they put onto it, that actually caused my workmates risk than putting them at risk with the guard they put on there. It was so big and so massive you couldn’t move it. The safety system to protect them was on the inside of the guard and they couldn’t reach it. 

What solution is that? Because everybody got scared with my accident, I think being the fourth one in the list. And when they got scared, that’s when everybody was running and ducking for cover, that type of thing, they’re getting wrong legal advice. That’s where all the legal people come in and then really make the waters muddy and murky because everybody’s trying to think, what do I do now to cover my backside? And that’s what it got me. They got through it all, but it was years. It wasn’t just done overnight. The plant closed down. Five years later after the 2012, I think it closed down. Why? Because it was unsafe. 

Oh, it was shut down for being unsafe.

Yes. Not because it was unstoppable profitable. Not profitable. They were making millions and millions of dollars every week. They had to do all these improvements for safety. And they reckon it was better for them just to move the plans to another C-suite and rebuild the whole structure. So, where safety was, they were told production would keep their jobs. It’s not true safety would have caused their jobs. 

But too often people don’t look at that way. When you speak to audiences around your experience and some of your learnings, one of the themes I know you talk about is around regret. Tell me a little bit more about how you impact that theme and the stories there. 

The regret I have personally is one thing I can listen to my wife when she drove past that plant one day and she’d never been on site, never looked inside the four walls, and she came home and told me, leave the company, there’s going to be an accident there. She just had this feeling.

You just had this feeling? Yeah. And me being the mail and everything else and headed about it because I actually did love what I was doing. I turned around and said, I’ve been here for almost 15 years. I know what I’m doing. Don’t worry about it. Everything’s fine. Four weeks later or six weeks later, I had the accident. 

So, I regretted not listening to her, putting her through all the stuff that she went through, all the house she must have had gone through. And she kept a lot of things to herself during that process to try and protect me. And I did the same thing. And then almost causes a family element breakdown post thing. I walked past thousands of times on that plan, thousands of times. And I saw things and I had closures and all that. And I did the same thing, not reporting them. Same with my little Workman bosses walked past the whole thing. Nobody ever spoke up. And everybody knew was dangerous. Everybody knew it was dangerous. And when the accident happened, the big word that came out of everybody, why didn’t I do something about it? Why didn’t I speak up? I’m going to regret this for the rest of my life. 

And now they all live with it. And I see some of them 20 years down the track and run into them because we all live in the same areas. Yeah. And they say the same thing to me. Why didn’t we speak up? We had four people seriously heard at sight because we didn’t do anything about it and we all lost our jobs anyway. So, what was the point? If we spoke up for our workmates, we all have our jobs. We’d all be playing tricks on each other and having the fun that we were having and going home to our families. 

Speaking up is not that straightforward. It takes a climate and environment where people create an environment. The leaders create an environment where you’re comfortable speaking up. Everybody, yes, does have that responsibility to speak up when they see something that’s unsafe. But also, I’d say there’s a leadership responsibility to say, am I creating this at all my sites, all my locations? Are people comfortable speaking up? Am I seeing near misses being reported? Am I seeing people talking about concerns and are those being addressed? 

They weren’t people as they just walk past. They lived with the regret of not acting up. And they just keep wishing they did act up and speak up about it. Because when I actually got around to the plan after my accident and spoke up, other people started to speak. They started to talk to each other. They started to communicate with each other, realized that they all wanted the same thing and that’s for people to go home and enjoy life. And if they were on that wave plan, even just, hey, Eric, if we could fix that, we’re going to possibly save an incident from happening. And it all moved on from that. Because the thing is, what they all realized too late is we’ll never realize the accidents we prevent. But we are sure as we’ll know the ones we don’t. 

Right? Absolutely. Well said. But I think your message as well around focus on the bottom line won’t get you there because the cost of serious injuries are expensive. 

And not just the legal costs, not just the insurance costs, but the toll on everybody else that’s involved. 

You can’t replace him with me. You can’t replace what your wife, your significant other goes through your family and all that. But to give you an idea, just an idea. The accent was preventable for less than $800. There was an airline in this shed that I work which could have been produced for under $100. It would have prevented the accident. Now that I’m missing the right arm and it makes it blunt, that little Bolt that’s sticking out at the end is $14,000. Okay. This is $0.50 from a hardware store, which stops me from ripping the shirts and T shirts. If I don’t put it on, I’ll rip the shirt with a Bolt. But I’ve been through four leagues so far. This is a robotic limb and it’s controlled by brainwaves, so I can open and close it with my hand and operate to have a drink. I don’t even write a sentence with it, but it doesn’t replace the real thing. It’s just an A, but it’s a quarter of a million dollars. Australia in a survey about 170,000 US. I don’t want it. I would love to throw it out the window, no doubt, but it’s something I have to use because it straightens my spine up and stops future medical issues.

It keeps you in shape because I’ve no longer have the weight there. So, the spine starts to move. So, then you get back pain and it causes other issues down the track. 

All these following effects. 

Yes. You’re always living with going to the doctors, putting in a request for something else because of the incident. And then you’ve got to jump through all the medical boards and all the hurdles and all that other stuff. One thing that I love to talk just mentioned to you, that was a flowing effect of my wife. She got a letter just in, a little letter sent to her in the mail, and she could have got this day one and it was to look after her because all the people looking after me when I’m in boys looking after me, she just sits there. But she could have got somebody to talk to or counseling or something to help her. She received a letter stating that fact. There’s people there to help her, but she got the letter ten years after the accident, ten years, ten years later. 

Unbelievable.

On this, because if I had a right arm, I swear on the Bible and all those things there. But my doctor got a letter about me, and I was getting interviewed every three months for three years. So, there’s three years of my life lost being interviewed every three months by investigators. And you couldn’t forget the accident if you wanted to. My doctor was getting the same 22 questions but had to answer from a medical perspective. Okay, so this time we got 23 questions. Now, if I was to ask you what the 23rd question was because it upset Kathy so much, she wanted to go down in the head office and go postal with everybody, and I had to laugh it off, what do you reckon the question would have been? 

Okay. What was the likelihood of Mr. Newest condition to be proved and the prognosis towards the limb growing back? 

Got to be kidding.

I’m not somebody one of their officers actually asked, would the arm go back?

But cutting was not impressive. 

I’m sure she wasn’t. So, I think that the message here is it’s more than financial like, as you said. But I think organizations also need to look at it in terms of how do I drive safety? If I drive safety, I’m also driving. Like you said, the plant would have probably still been operating. All these following effects. It looks like a cost benefit analysis, but it’s so. 

And also, a good business is a business that’s safe. 

And a good business that’s safe is also going to be a productive and a successful business it is because part of the flow and effective they’re closing the plant was 54 of us lose their jobs, permanents 112 part time and casuals lose their jobs. The little shops where you buy your teams next door, we’re gone. 

Because we’re gone. The flow on effect from an incident like mine was not affecting just me, my family, workmates, friends, and all that type of thing. But the little people that you’ve built up relationships in the little shops around you for 15 years and you never see them again. It was like a little village if you wanted to say it and it’s all gone. 

It’s horrible.

All because safety wasn’t taken seriously. 

Alan, I really appreciate you sharing a story. I think it’s an important message for a lot of organizations. You speak a lot about safety motivated organizations and team members around safety. Somebody would like to share your story, bring your story. How can they get in touch with you? Is it through CNB Safe? 

Yeah, cnbsafe.com James Woods runs it and he’s a very good friend of mine. And we were in our apartment. We are both involved in major accidents now. We compare who’s got the worst one. The ball plays in a wheelchair and I go, I can push you in circles. And he goes, well, I can swim straight. You can’t. I can find my shoelaces up. You can’t. So that’s the flow on effect. Tie my shoelaces, one hand, put on your pants. And to everybody I’d say this, go home, drop your pants. I mean that in a nice way. Drop your pants, grab an Apple, and put it in your dominant hand. Then try and put your pants on with your other hand. 

Right. 

And that will give you an idea of straight away. What’s like with one arm?

Wow.

It’s just a simple test for CNB Safe. I go anywhere and I’ve one of the few people that can tell the CEO of the company and I’ve done it to some major companies. If they don’t pick up their ass and they gain you’re going to jail, and I’ve said it in front of the workers and everything and that’s not it. I’m not here for that. I’m here to make sure he does his job. You do your job, and you all go home safely.

Ultimately, everybody has to come home safe.

That’s right. And everybody’s going to work together. That’s it. 

Alan, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really appreciate you sharing a story and have a wonderful rest of your day or morning for you. 

Thank you very much.

Thank you for listening to the safety guru on C-suite radio. Leave a legacy distinguish yourself from the pack grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Alan Newey is a survivor of a workplace incident. He lost his right dominant arm to a conveyor belt in September 1999. For over 13 years, Alan has been presenting to various groups around Australia on the effects of his workplace incident and the impact that it’s had on himself and his family. Alan speaks from the point of view of an injured worker and gives a real insight into what happens to you during and after such a life-changing experience. Alan is extremely confronting on the issues and effects of a workplace incident and his presentation not only addresses the sequence of events leading up to his incident, but the flow-on effects such a life-changing experience entails.
For more information: https://cnbsafe.com.au

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18 years ago, Spencer Beach’s life changed forever when a workplace incident left him with severe burns on 90% of his body. Today, he is a safety motivational speaker who shares his story and wisdom to help prevent future incidents. In this engaging episode, Beach discusses the importance of listening to your gut feeling and speaking up. He also shares insightful ideas on how to develop a trusting relationship with employees and how to talk about safety in a way that motivates workers and increases safety awareness. Tune in to listen to Beach’s important message!

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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, productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Spencer Beach. He’s gone through a life-changing event and stumble into a lot of elements around the behavioral side of safety and is now a motivational speaker around safety. So, Spencer, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Eric. Or can I call you Mr. Guru?

Eric’s just fine. And if you could maybe start out by telling me a little bit about your story and from there, we’ll get into some of your insights around safety and driving real impact around safety.

Sure. So, I grew up as a third-generation flooring installer. So basically, hardwood carpet, vinyl flooring. That’s what I did. I went on my first job when I was six years old, which I understand breaks all the safety rules. But back in the 1970s, there was a little different. And so, I grew up in the trades and when I graduated high school, I knew what I was doing and I followed my father and grandfather’s footsteps. And at the age of 29, I no longer installed floors.

I fixed them. I was a service guy on a flooring crew where we did mostly new homes. And my job every day was to drive around the city of Edmonton going from new home to new home, fixing other qualified installers mistakes. On April 24, 2003, I was sent into a service where I was told to remove vinyl flooring with the chemical because another crew installed the wrong color. The way my dad taught me is you remove vinyl flooring with a sharp scraper and a lot of sweat equity.

My lawyer at the time, he had a method where we used the chemical. It was a contact dinner and skipping a couple of steps so nobody can do what I did. Basically, it would reactivate the glue, the floor would fill up in sheets and what used to take days off to full-grown qualified installers to strip a flooring up. My employer had a service guy doing in his off time. It saved us tons of time and lots of money.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any safety in the new home industry at the time of my incident. Although the law was there, nobody followed it. So, I had no training in chemical use. I did not know I had the right to refuse unsafe work, didn’t do hazard assessments. Any PPE I had, I provided myself. It was basically for yourself kind of environment. Well, and the only rules I had was to turn down the thermostat and open up doors and windows for ventilation.

When I did this job, which I did do, I got up. I started working at about 1:00 in the afternoon and I had to do the laundry room, hallway, main bath and front entry. And I worked my way from the laundry room down to the front entry as I was working my way out of the house. And at about 4:00 in the afternoon, I was almost done. I just had a little bit of floor and behind the front door to do and I closed the front door to build access that. And when I did the garage door, which I had opened for ventilation closed. Oh, no, it’s changed. And yeah, I remember I looked down the hallway and I was just like, I’m going to be locking that door in five minutes. I’m almost done, you know, what’s the point of me getting up and we open that door again? I’m tired of doing that. Right. And so, I mentally chose to leave my escape route open or closed. And, you know, another tradesperson? Well, I didn’t know that at the time either. But there was another tradesperson in the house who had just finished the job. He came down the stairs, stepped over top of me, said goodbye and closed the front door behind them. And when he did that, all of a sudden, I heard a loud whistle and then an enormous bang and the fire erupted out of nowhere. It engulfed my oh my goodness.

It was the chemical fumes of burnt and they burnt those fifteen hundred degrees Celsius. Oh, it’s more than twice the heat of the average house fire for our American friends. That’s about twenty-one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. And so, at that moment I just went into panic mode. And now this is where I always tell groups how important it is to have that safety plan done. This incident happens if you don’t have a plan, your only plan then is get the hell out of here.

You have no route you’re going to take or understanding of what you’re going to do at. Going to be all just gut instinct, trying to get out of the situation, so I sprung up on my knees and I grabbed on to the front door handle and as hard as I could, I could not open that door. And I was a person back then. I was used to carrying rolls of carpet and linoleum and buckets of glue, and I didn’t have the strength to open that door.

What it occurred was that whistle just prior to the fire was all the air being pulled into the house through the crevices of the doors and the windowsills and fire required so much time, so much oxygen. And that created a pressure difference, which is why I could not get over the door. I had no clue what was happening, though. I just the store not opening. So, I let go of the door handle and I turned to my right.

I ran to the hallway past the half bathroom into the laundry room, and I stopped in front of the garage door, grabbed onto that door. It didn’t open. So, I just and now am trapped. There was nowhere to go there. So, I had to go back to the front entry. I tried that door. It didn’t open. So, I went back to the laundry room, door to the garage door in the laundry room. I tried that again. 

It didn’t open. I estimate no more than 20 seconds transpired. And for me to do that routine and I’d had enough; I couldn’t take it anymore. The pain was so deep. It was we’ve all been burnt. It was nothing like any burn you’ve ever had. It wasn’t a surface burn. I could feel it inside of me and I could smell my hair burning and I could. But the skin on my face felt like it was shrinking.

I just wanted it over. So, I collapse into a ball, interlock my fingers on the back of my head. I tucked my face close to the floor as I possibly could, and I gave up. I had a near-death experience, which I thought of. My wife didn’t, and she was pregnant with our first child. I thought about all the things I was going to miss. You know, I’ve been wanting to be a father my entire life, and now I’m so close to being achieving that and having the child.

And I’m going to miss it all. And I was never going to help my wife with the chores, the simple things around the house, or be there when she needed me the most when she gave birth to our child and I for them. I tried one more time and I got up and tried that garage door and it opened what had occurred because it’s a flashlight. The fumes are burning down now and the pressure difference was dissipating. So, I was able to open up that door without hesitating.

I just jumped into the garage, which at that time the garage was the garbage disposal area for new home industry. So, I fell literally into construction garbage, which if you can imagine, is the leftover siding screws to cause you to jump falling in. And on the very top of it was all the flooring I just removed, soaked in the very in the exact same go. Right now, I’m physically on fire. So, when I hit that garbage pile, it ignited another fire.

The only difference between this fire and the other one was that the overhead garage door wasn’t installed. So, I could see some. My escape was just 20 feet away from me and I just regain my balance. I scrambled to my feet as fast as I could, and I ran out of that Great Britain from head to toe. I made it almost to the sidewalk for four. I finally collapsed onto my back into the dirt. And that’s my story. That’s what happened to me.

That’s incredible. And it’s really scary in terms of the circumstances that you went through. I know one of the themes we had talked about when we first connect was really around this sense of gut feel. Tell me more about what that means for you and what gut feel you had.

So, I love the gut feeling thing because it’s something everybody has had. And quite often when we get that gut feeling, we tend to dismiss it. And I was shocked when I woke up that morning and I told Tina I didn’t want to go to work and I’m not that type of person. I was I said I want to work when I was six years old. I have two older brothers and my dad always chose me to go to work with them because I didn’t cry or put up a fuss.

I did the work. So, when I’m telling my wife I’m thinking of phoning in sick when I’m not, you know, that’s just not me that’s out of character. And the reason being was I didn’t want to work with that chemical again. Then when we were Kelkal, we’d be breathing in the fumes and the fumes would go into our lungs and our lungs would put into our blood. And hours after leaving the job, it would leave our blood on our lungs that I could taste it as if I didn’t want to taste that again.

I didn’t want the funny feeling it made in my head again. I knew this wasn’t right. But I as I said earlier, I also didn’t know anything about safety. So, my I. Was you do what your boss tells you or you lose your job and then you’re found myself. So, I took that feeling of telling my wife, you know, I don’t feel this is right. I’m thinking of phoning in sick and all that feeling down deep inside.

I put it to I couldn’t hear it anymore. I convinced myself to be just fine and I want to work and I did nothing. This is the worst part is I had this feeling that wasn’t right and I did nothing about the feeling. Even when I was at work, I didn’t change one aspect. I didn’t speak up at work. And you can express my concerns to my employer. I just you know, I was a good soldier and I just I did nothing. And I now look at that gut feeling and, you know, why didn’t I listen to it? You know what? And the reality is, is I’ve examined and that was literally that was me talking to me. And you got to think about this for a moment. If your gut, is you talking to you and then you don’t listen to yourself, if you’re not going to listen to yourself on safety, what chances are you going to listen to a safety professional or call an employer about safety?

Right. So that was one of the first things about the gut feeling is we need to start listening to ourselves. You know, if we’re told. Yeah, who are we going to listen to? Right. Right.

Because I think it’s so important. Right. To such an important message to get people to listen when something doesn’t feel right. To say something, to speak up.

Yeah, for sure. But quite often, if you’re not going to listen to yourself, are you going to speak up either? You know, there’s a mindset there and this is where, you know, I focus on people’s behaviors because this is where we’re going. There’s no rule or policy or procedure or regulation that’s going to get somebody to speak up or they don’t listen to themselves. We need to address the behavior on what’s occurring there. And what I found is when we do address people’s behaviors, the people who tend not to listen to themselves or their gut, they tend to also push back very strongly when you approach their safety.

And I had to examine that. I looked at like, why are they pushing so hard? You know? And I looked at like, what other topics in life could what I if I talked about, would they push back the same? And I felt like if you talk about people’s religion or politics, their sexuality, how to spend their money there, how to raise their kids, if you talk about these things, people tend to push back really strong for sure.

And all those topics are on me telling you how to live your life. So that’s and I looked at what also they see safety as me telling them how to live their life. And I totally get it at that moment because it has been addressed or brought into workers. Like safety is going to be a part of your job and your job is precious to you. It’s part of your identity. So, I’m telling you that you’re going to be adding something to how you live your life.

If it doesn’t, it’s not about controlling how you live. Your life also does is control hazards so you can continue to do what you’re doing. I mean, that’s an improvement. So, I’m not telling you how to live your life. I’m helping you to live your life because I’m helping you control those hazards so that when you’re done your job, you can actually go live your life.

So, how I love that comment, how do you propose or how would a leader change their story, their language to make sure that that’s really the message they’re sending?

Well, one of the things is you just actually set a tone then most people don’t realize it. But I hate the word change in our society. We use that word change all the time and change is viewed very negatively by people. We avoid change, honestly. You get a person to stay the same or go through change. Most people will want to stay the same. And safety was told to them as a change. And when they heard that and so pipefitter or a welder or truck driver, they heard, I’m going to change.

I don’t want to change. I like my job. I like doing what I do. I don’t want to become this thing. I just want to be the pipefitter. And the reality is that we didn’t change anything because at the end of the day, as much we put safety into your job, you’re still the welder, you’re still the picture. You’re a truck driver, you’re still them. All right. All I did was control the hazards, but I didn’t change your job.

I controlled the houses within your job. And that is an improvement. So, let’s use your language. If you said to workers, we’re going to change the way we do things around here, which is shows nobody reacts favorably to that. But if you said we’re going to improve the way we do things around here, people are more open to hearing what you have to say. So, language we choose and how we use it is very having a phenomenal impact on promoting or hurting what we’re trying to achieve.

Gotcha. Very important, so that gets us to vulnerable to base trust. Can you share a little bit about some of your thoughts around this topic?

So, I love Followable because trust is where my passion is taking me right now. So, there’s two types of trust out there that is predictable trust. And that’s like I said, I’m going to be here at this time. And you trust that type of person or if I borrow money to pay it back, because I’ve proven to you that you don’t have to chase me down or, you know, if you share a secret, I’m not going to go behind your back and share what it is, you know, that’s predictable too.

Vulnerable based trust, though, is the type of trust where you really are developing the relationship with the person. So, it’s more like you admit to your mistakes and politicians. Now we’re Canadian, so we’ll use Justin Trudeau multiple different offenses and he’s not quick to admitting to it. And what is occurring is people, because he doesn’t admit to it, they don’t believe in him anymore because it hasn’t gained that valuable trust with people. And that happens with politicians all the time.

And they’re really good examples to use what can occur when bond-based trust is not gained with people. But what happens, though, is always trust. If you have people and I hear this a lot when I’m out of patience before I’m about to start presenting and I’m just having conversations with the workers, it’s like the company doesn’t care and safety and here stay with them. That means that people don’t believe in the leaders, sure don’t believe in the leaders and what they’re proposing.

What chance is there that they’re actually going to want to follow along with stuff? Yeah. So the connection is not on the policies. It’s not in the regulations. It’s not in the procedures. It’s in the relationship between the management and the workers. And then that’s where you need to work on it. And that means that management needs to invite the workers into policy development instead of creating something like here. This is what we could do, this change.

Yeah. Or it also means, though, like if you’ve got an over time that maybe the management spend some time doing the overtime or they bring in and they develop that relationship. The only way you can develop a relationship with people is by spending time with them. A simple example I could use is whenever I do safety standards for companies. Right. And put management not at one table in the front of the room, mix them throughout the thought process.

They spend the day with the people, write simple things, but things that have a lot of impact in terms of showing vulnerability and demonstrating that trust that around safety. I think a lot of the themes I also hear is leaders that are talking about safety is the most important thing, but then pivot and will drive productivity. And it seems like two different messages side by side. And then people don’t trust what’s being said.

And that’s one of the problems with the safety. First, I’m sure we’ve all heard safety first. It’s Safety First was an awesome statement that has been misunderstood. In fact, it’s going to be my next safety video was on it. But the reality is, is what? Safety first. And here’s more communicating. It’s an incomplete sentence. It’s missing all the structure of a sentence, which means it’s open to interpretation. The workers are going to try and plug in what the missing parts of the sentence are. And what they did is the workers hurt. Safety is the most important thing we do. And that’s a lie. The most important thing you do. Your actual job is production because you were hired to produce. And I can prove that if you spend your entire day doing nothing but safety, your company will go out of business. It’s just that simple. You need to produce what you’re there to produce. And safety or hazards are actually a byproduct of a production.

The workers know this. They know that they spend 90 percent of their day on production and two percent of their day on safety. And yet they’re told safety is the most important thing you do. That’s what they heard was safety first. The reality is, though, in that statement, safety first. It wasn’t a matter of importance. It was a matter of priority. What we were trying to say is not safety is the most important thing you do, but safety is the first thing you do before you do anything else. Right. I think well said.

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So other topic I want to talk about is reactance you if you often talk about that topic, tell me more about what it is and what it means from a safety standpoint.

So, reactance is going back to the gut feeling instantly. You don’t listen to yourself kind of thing. What reactance is by Laman definition is when you make somebody or they are perceived to be made to do something, they will push back. And you get caught as a great example of use of it as a behavioral experiment, the same as a worldwide pandemic. But before even masks were mandated, people see they’re being told to wear masks. And there was a large part of the society that said we’re not doing it.

And they start to push back. And then when Mass was mandated, they pushed back even further and they created the most phenomenal examples on why they should not need to wear a mask. They also became experts overnight on it. And I can tell you from someone who was in isolation and germs was the one thing that could kill them. I might ICU doctors and nurses and everyone, they wore masks entering my room and my room was specially made that germ could not enter it.

The only way germs could enter some people and these professionals were wearing masks to prevent germs from leaving their body to get to me because they weren’t and these weren’t fancy. These were just normal paper masks that you would find in a hospital setting. Sure. But they weren’t. But they people want phenomenal means. You want to promote why they didn’t need to wear a mask because they push back. There’s a couple of things but reactance that we need to know. And one is everyone is prone to reactance. We’re all prone to push back. You just have to know which topic it is that you hold close to and from. For some people, if you talk about religion, they push back on other people. And gun control is a great example. You talk about gun control, especially in America. People are going to push back because it’s cost them and they’re being perceived that they are being made to give up their guns are being perceived, that they’re being told that they’re not allowed to be religious and they push back. And it’s the same with safety. They’re being perceived that their job is changing. So, they pushed back. And the way to deal with that reactance then is you need to include people in the process. When you include them in the process, the developmental process, they become more in tune to want to go along with the development because of the process, because they’re part of the development of that for sure. They were involved. It was partly their ideas.

They were listening to all things that reduce the barriers to change. We know that the more the more it’s part of a change I was part of, the less likely you are to respond negatively to it.

Yeah, I do think, though, when you talk to management about involving people in the process, they’re like, well, that’s going to slow down production and it’s going to have to pull people off for the development. But you’re going to save so much time on the back end. Yes. Having to crack this reactance behavior that in the long run you will have a net gain on the amount of time you save instead of a net loss on pulling people off the line for the time it takes to develop the process.

Yeah, there’s been a lot of research that was done on this. Just this very topic around the total time doesn’t change is just where you’re spending it. It’s either you’re spending it on the front end getting a better solution or you’re spending it on the back end trying to get people to do something that they don’t want to do. So, in many cases, it’s actually the opposite. It may be faster to involve people to go a little bit slower the front end, but then you get adoption acceptance and there’s one more benefit to it. And I have a leadership presentation. I do where at the end we do an organized session and I stand up in a box. Everyone has a piece of paper and it’s the only slide and all my presentations that have any PowerPoint bullet points on it. And in there are just ten simple instructions and I invite the very beginning. I’m like, if you have any questions, ask them, you know? But I’m also from a legal standpoint, we’ve got to get moving on here because there’s stuff to be done for today. And I go through the PowerPoint or the organic session, and at the end of it, about 10 percent of the audience, it’s always about 10 percent get what I was wanting to achieve. And what happened was I just stopped being a leader. I didn’t engage the people at in any way that was in a positive way. So, the 10 percent of people that got it were the ones that excelled at being able to take written form and understand what it was say, but that.

 This failed and the experiment failed, and 90 percent of people have crumpled up paper, I make them use the same paper and I’m like, we’re going to get a much better result. And all I do is I take the people that got what I wanted for the first time and I tell them, help the people in your group. And because they weren’t before, I have to like, go help the people. You know what it is. I want to help them. And I leave my podium and I go down and I help the audience to spend the same amount of time. And I don’t even go to the ballpoints anymore. I put the slide up, but I don’t touch them at all. And I have a 90 percent success rate just by empowering people. And what it does is that reactance. Now, I’ve cut the reactions because I help people development, but they also become my leaders and they now are on the floor saving me time on communicating to the vast majority of the people. And I only go to a few tables during the present. That second part. And I have this whole squad of people doing the exact same thing and we achieve so much more success. And the best part of the entire exercise is the room goes from stubbornness and frustration and anger to laughter and joyfulness. And people are happy and they want to be there, all because I changed how I how I lived.

I love it and I love all the themes you talk to because the very, very powerful themes that also touch to the role leaders have in creating a great environment and really reflecting as to how you show up, how you demonstrate vulnerability, how you engage and involve people in the in the decision-making process, all things that are easy, simple to do, but have a very tangible, meaningful impact in increasing adoption, acceptance of practices around safety. And I love this comment you made around. Stop telling people how to live their lives, really thinking about really in terms of how do we define how we talk in message around safety. And I like to believe that everybody’s a leader, and so you have leaders that are pulling the company along, you have leaders that are fighting the company, and the other workers are seeing them as leaders. And they’re joining in that group. And then you have leaders in training, but, you know, identifying who these leaders are. And those are the people, the subgroups that you should be pulling into your developmental processes. Take the people who already believe in the company and what they’re doing, get the people are fighting it and bring them their herd and then bring in people who are leaders in training. And when you do that, I think you’re going to find that you’ll engage the people’s behaviors and improve the roll out of your policies and procedures.

Yeah, I love it. Incredibly powerful message and simple to make happen within an organization. So, Spencer, you talk about safety to a lot of groups. You present share ideas. And if somebody wants to reach out to you, what’s the best way to do so?

Not just through my website. Its Spencer Speaks dot ca or you can just Google my name, Spencer Beach and you’ll find either a real beach in Hawaii which I’ve been through already. So, it’s pretty simple to find me. And from there I’d love to come out and speak to your people. I have a unique presentation style where my goal is I reach to people’s hearts and I found so when I’m speaking to workers, I don’t use PowerPoint because I’m motivating and motivation doesn’t require PowerPoint.

And what I found is I could use PowerPoint and try speaking to their head, but they wouldn’t hear me as loud because when I speak to people’s hearts, your heart actually talks to your head louder than I could talk to your head. So that’s my whole presentation is based on people’s hearts. I’m there to help put that safety policy that’s sitting on a shelf into the workers hands. And that’s my whole goal, is when it’s in the workers hands, that’s where safety belongs.

Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Spencer, for coming on the show, sharing your wisdom. I appreciate the time you thought through to come up with these ideas and really communicate it to the listeners. Thank you so much.

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 team’s. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru Eric Michrowski.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Spencer Beach was a 3rd generation flooring installer and among the best in his field when he endured a horrific flash fire that left him permanently and severely scarred. After spending 14 months in the hospital and a year more of rehabilitation he has gone on to carve out a new path for his life. He has now achieved such designations as a Construction Safety Officer through the Alberta Construction Safety Association, as well completed with distinction the University of Alberta’s, Faculty of Extensions, Occupational Health & Safety Certificate program. Spencer has been an international professional speaker for 14 years and delivered over 1,500 presentations. His messages focus on people’s behaviours to improve workplace safety, overcoming hardship, drug and alcohol abuse, understanding self and self-esteem, healthcare groups and more. Spencer is also the author of his bestselling book In Case of Fire, works with the Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta to motivate injured workers, is a volunteer for the Friends of the University Hospital of Alberta, was awarded the 2013 Avenue Magazine Top 40 Under 40 for his community work and was the first recipient of the Award of Courage through Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

Connect with Spencer at https://spencerspeaks.ca

Spencer’s Book: In Case Of Fire –https://www.amazon.ca/Case-Fire-please-remain-rebuild-ebook/dp/B079G9NM1G

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