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Making Safety Simple with Steve Howe

Making Safety Simple



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


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

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

Thanks for having me.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s okay. Correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correct. And a lot more, not just equal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

Morning. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think all of us could have done something different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is a problem. Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five a day.

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

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

Thank You. No worries.

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

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

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

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




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

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

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.
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Ergonomics as a Lever to Improve Safety, Quality, Productivity, and Employee Engagement with Carrie Taylor

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



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


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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably through our website,

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

Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Safety guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams, elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at execsafety coach. Com. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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

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

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

For more information: or email [email protected]  




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Workplace Wellbeing Ideas to Address 3 Core Injury Drivers with John Toomey

Workplace wellbeing ideas to address 3 core injury drivers



We are excited to have John Toomey join the podcast this week to offer ideas to combat the three core injury drivers: stress, fatigue, and distractions. In this episode, John shares heartfelt personal experiences that focus on the importance of connecting and showing care for others. Tune in to learn inspiring ways to reduce serious incidents and increase personal well-being in the workplace through an intentional culture of care!


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 John Toomey. He’s a workplace well-being thought leader out of Melbourne, Australia. He is also the global chairperson at the Global Workplace Wellbeing Initiative, part of the Global Wellness Institute in Miami. So, John, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me.

Hey Eric, it’s really good to be here, thank you for having me on this show.

Excellent. So, we’ve got an exciting episode, lots of themes to talk through. Why don’t you start out talking about your story? How did John get into this topic in this area? 

Yeah, look, that’s a fair question. I mean I’m 62 years old and I did my first seminar in a workplace in 1984 because I was actually running fitness leader courses at night, teaching people to be gym instructors and somebody invited me to come and present at their company. I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I’ve worked in high performance roles in professional football for a long time, but I always had this incredible curiosity and I’ve always been one of those people if somebody gives me an answer to a question and it doesn’t land for me, I’ve got to keep looking till I learn. So that takes me to a place where I grasp things and understand them, complex things, and I have a skill to give it back to somebody in a simple way. So, I suppose my superpower of educating workforces in all areas of health and wellbeing, whether it be fatigue prevention, resilience mental wellbeing, all those personal, I suppose self-care topics and I’ve been doing a lot of that in white collar marketplaces. And then in 2008 when the GFC hit, my business evaporated overnight, and it took me a while to find my way into a new realm and that was through safety budgets because they needed the sort of education that I could deliver.

And I found my sweet spot because I grew up in a pub in working class area in Melbourne and I know how to speak to guys in those realms. So yeah, that’s an amazing journey that’s been going on for about twelve years now.

Nobody goes to a pub in Melbourne. I’ve never seen that occur.

No, never done. Never seen how many pubs have been turned into cafes now. Really?

So, we touch on fatigue. Why don’t we start there in terms of the physiology of fatigue and some of the key highlights there because we know fatigue is in a very strong era precursor. If we’re fatigued, we’re more likely to make a mistake. It’s been researched and documented in aviation, but lots of other spaces. So maybe let’s start there.

Yeah, look, it’s a great place to start. And there’s been so much work done really pushing and shoving companies to come up with better off sing systems. And it’s been amazing, the work. And most companies have tried really hard to do everything they can to make it as easy as possible for the worker. Where I focus here on is the personal responsibility of the worker to know what creates fatigue in their universe. Right now, obviously, sleep is one and everybody knows you need to get plenty of sleep and good sleep. And if you’re not a good sleeper, you need to get help with it so that you can master the art of sleep. I mean, I could sleep for Australia, so we help people with that. But there’s a couple of hidden ones. And probably the most significant is dehydration. And this is one that gets skimmed over time and time and time again. And to not go into too much detail around physiology because it takes a bit of time, but basically your body’s trying to get rid of heat all the time and it uses water to do it. Sure, it traps heated molecules of water and those molecules of water end up going to your sweat glands or to your lungs.

Every time you breathe out, you pass out water vapor and all that water’s coming from your bloodstream. And if your blood’s not replenishing, the water level in your blood drops, your blood thickens, which then compromises the efficiency of your circulation. And as soon as that happens, you stop getting adequate blood flow to your brain. And when your brain is not getting enough blood, it’s not getting enough oxygen or glucose. And the very first reflex response that your body kicks into is a yawn because it’s trying to blow off carbon dioxide and get oxygen in. And what happens to most people when they start yawning? They go looking for something to give them a Pick-me-up. So, they might have a coffee or.

A dehydrate or more exactly, or they.

Go those energy drinks, which are even more of a disaster, and they come back to their workstation, and they feel better. But that was because they walked, and the walking pushed their blood pressure up. Now, the challenge for people who are doing manual work, because they’re working physically, their blood pressure is up high, so they can be getting really, really dehydrated and not get that first symptom. And eventually, the second symptom of dehydration is when you haven’t fixed the problem, the body wants to get you horizontally and slow the metabolic rate to reduce heat production. And so, the second symptom is sleepiness. And that’s why people fall asleep at the wheel of motor vehicles. They’re just dehydrated. But again, if somebody is working hard, they can crash into heat stress because they become so critically dehydrated, there’s just not enough water in their body. And to give you a bit of an example of that, I was working with some guys who do road maintenance out in the north of South Australia. And sometimes in the summer out there, the temperatures hover around 50 degrees centigrade.

Just a little bit warm. Very hot.

Yes. For those who are not quite sure what that would be, that’s about 100- and 2223-degrees Fahrenheit. And so some of these guys I was working with, by 04:00 in the afternoon, they were so dehydrated, their urine was dark orange, and they had already consumed 15 liters of water. So, it’s critical. And the tip I give, I mean, I give people a tip that you should drink a liter of water for every 25-body weight per day. But if you’re out working in exposed conditions and it’s hot, you need to drink enough water so that you’re having a big urination every couple of hours and it’s close to watercolor.


For some workers, that’s 20 liters of water a day. And obviously, if you’re drinking that amount of water, you also need to supplement minerals. So yeah, dehydration. If most organizations really focused on that one, they would clean up a lot of their fatigue problems.

Interesting. So is this something you talked about, personal responsibility. How do you convey this to an organization? Is it something you train workers to do? How do you touch on it? How do you get into the personal responsibility side?

Yeah, see, the thing is, people are not dumb, right? And when I go into an organization and I give them I’ve got a group of construction workers in front of me, for example, I could have 200 construction workers sitting there in the room, and I take them step by step through the physiology of dehydration, and they recognize the symptoms. They know they have yawning attacks. They know they get sleepy when they’re driving their car in the afternoon. The penny drops for them. And when I give them the instructions as to how to fix it, they just can’t do it. In fact, I’ve had sites where managers have rung me up and said, you won’t believe what I saw today. One of the old gnarly, old blokes, they were loading up the truck to head out to the job, and one of the young blokes turned up and was about to get onto the truck, and the old bloke said, where’s your water bottles? Knocking on this truck without your water bottles? And the thing is, somebody who has been battling dehydration, as soon as they start drinking heat and water, their energy levels go through the roof, so they get instantaneous knowledge of results.


So, it’s pretty cool. Yeah. And then it just becomes an easy life habit for them.

Okay, so you touched as well in terms of personal responsibility, how do you drive that within an organization? And I know you’re going to have a pretty incredible story fairly soon from a Melbourne construction project, but tell me about a little bit in terms of how do you drive personal responsibility in an organization?

Yeah, so it’s a really interesting thing, and this is an education thing, and it’s a buy in thing for everybody, and it’s a bit of a process. I’ll give a two-hour seminar on this where I talk to guys through it, but basically anything that shows up in my universe is mine. That includes the response I create to something. So, for example, I could be sitting there, and you could walk into the room and start yelling at me and insulting me.

Sure. Not likely, but we could pretend I. 

Could blame you for destroying my day.


The reality is the response that I created to you doing that to me, that’s my response. I could also have a compassionate response like, wow, what’s happening with Eric today? I hope he’s okay, but we become reactive, and being reactive is no good because you’re out of control. Then people really get this when you actually stop to take note of how you’re responding to things. Even when you and I use storytelling to give guys examples, I say to them, how many of you have ever had somebody cut you off in the traffic and you decided it was your job to teach them a harsh lesson on why you shouldn’t do the traffic. And of course, they’ll put their hands up, and I said, well, think of a time when somebody got caught up in the traffic and they’ll contemplate that. And I said, how do you know that person’s child just didn’t just die? You don’t know. Your mind jumps to all sorts of conclusions because you’re in a reactive state. And the thing is, just by hearing that lecture, that doesn’t take you out of a reactive state. But in the workforce, everybody can help each other a little bit and go, man, you’ve been a bit reactive at the moment.

What’s going on? And it can be compassionate. It can be done with kindness and friendliness to the point where everybody starts to get better at managing their own universe and not just being swept along by temptation and circumstance which can get.

You are also in harm’s way and in danger’s way the minute you start getting reactive. Because you’re not thoughtful and in tentful in terms of your actions.

Well, you know, I mean, I’m careful when I say this, but how many people are in prison in your country, in the US. In Australia, because of a moment of reactive madness? That’s the bottom line. And so as a society and as a community, it’s a good idea to help each other with our reactivity. Absolutely.

You had a great story when we first connected from football to me, connects really well with us. Maybe if you don’t mind sharing it, because I think it’s about the response that you give at one point in time, if it makes sense to jump into that one.

Well, yeah, it’s a good story and I do tell them about workplaces a lot because it’s a genuine wakeup call, and it was a huge wake up call for me. So, for any of your listeners that don’t know what Australian Rules Football is, pull up YouTube and just watch some highlight videos of Australian Rules Football. It’s the best game on the planet and it’s a very fast game and it’s played on a very big field. The fields about 200 yards long and 180 yards wide and it’s oval shaped and there’s no offside, so the players are spread all over the field. And after I finished working in football, I was in my early forties, I went back to play at a local level. And the thing about Australian Rules Football, it is played all over the place, suburban levels. It’s incredible. Anyway, we’re playing a game one day and the team we’re playing, we’re from a pretty tough working-class area of town. There was a guy on their team, big powerful guy, bodybuilder, and he was running around throwing Haymaker’s king, hitting people and getting behind packs and just throwing these punches, belting people from behind.

And I said to the umpire, what are you going to do about that? And the umpire said, just concentrate on your own game, which is umpires speak for I’m too scared to do anything. And fair enough, too, umpires are not big people. I thought to myself, well, I’m the big hero in this team. I’m the biggest. I’m 64 and I’m the most experienced. I’m going to have to pop this bloke off to sleep before he hurts somebody. So, I was running around looking for my opportunity to swing one of him and knock him out. And I must have been just starting to mature a little bit by then, Eric, you know, because I started to have second thoughts on that, and I started to think about the consequences of that action.


And I realized that that would be a stupid thing to do because his teammates would then react to that, and it would be full on. So, when the quarter time siren went, I ran over to him and I said, excuse me, mate, you got a SEC? He Shaked up to me. I said, hey, I just want to talk to you. And he said, “What about? I said, Listen, mate, you don’t know me, but I’m a pretty good guy. And all my teammates, brilliant guys, some of them are dads, and their kids are here watching. And I said, look, I imagine you’re a really good guy too, and I imagine all your teammates are really good guys. So, I can’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, right? And I swear his face nearly fell off. And he looked at me and he said, oh, mate, I’m so sorry, mate. I can be such an idiot sometimes. I said, really? He goes, oh, I get carried away. I can be such an idiot at times. I don’t even think. I said wow. I said, “I’ll tell you what, put your fists away. Let’s have a good game of Fleet and I’ll buy your beer after the game.

And he goes, yeah, all right, mate. So off I trot and all I can hear behind me is him yelling out, Sorry, mate. So, the rest of the game, we had a great game. I can’t even tell you who won, but there’s a few times you’ve run past me and go, oh, well done, mate. Become an encouraging person. And anyway, after the game I was in the social rooms, and he came walking through the crowd with a couple of beers and handed me one. And I said, I was going to buy you the beer. And he said, oh, no, mate, I owe you the beer. And I said, why? And he said, “Because I’ve not enjoyed a game of footy like that since I was a little kid.

Oh, wow.

And he goes, no. He goes, I loved it out there today. And I said, well, you play a good game. Because I had attention on him. I saw the things he did, and I was able to rattle off a lot of things he’d done. I said, you’re a pretty good player. You should play like that more often. Yeah, you probably should. And the conversation went quiet, and I said, but how about that other stuff? How’s that working for you? And he said, yeah, they’re not pretty good. I said, do you have kids? And he said, “I’ve got three. And I said, do you see them? And he said, no, I don’t. And now for me, that’s heartbreaking, right? That is so heartbreaking. And I thought in that moment, what is his football club doing? Because that’s what football clubs are for, right? So, I said to him, I know a fellow who specializes in working with guys like you. Would you like some help? And he said, I probably need it, don’t. I said you better do. So I went through the process, connected him up with my mate on Monday, hooked him up, and about eleven months later I got a text from my mate and the text just said he’s seen his kids this weekend.

Oh, well.

And as I say to the guys in the seminars, not everybody who’s behaving like an idiot is an idiot, right? So, there’s so much care that we can take of people and the ones who are behaving the worst, they probably need the most care, right?

And I think it’s a powerful story because you could have responded first for first you could have been aggressive. You were about to go down that path, just like the person who cuts you off responding, but instead you leaned in, showed care and tried to connect with them and obviously had a lasting impact in his life.

Yeah, well, it’s like, I could have done it, eric and I would probably still be a legend at Red Hill Football Club today, but he’d be dead. Right.

So, I think it’s very powerful story in terms of personal responsibility and the choices that you make, but in terms of how we show care in an organization, absolutely.

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].

So, tell me more about this culture of care, because in safety, we talk about this all the time, the importance of actively caring. You talk about this quite often. You just shared a story around caring. What does it mean culturally to show active care?

Yes. It’s so interesting, Eric, and it’s something that disappears in wealthy societies, and I’m going to justify that. So, if I go back, even if you go to cast your mind back 200 years to where you live right now and think about your forefathers and your four mothers living in those times, there was a lot to pay attention to. Just having water supply was difficult and required constant maintenance. Having a roof over your head that was going to survive when the snow came in, that required constant maintenance. How do you grow your food? How do you manage? How do you care for your crops, your animals, their pens? What do you do with sewage? And so, when people stepped out their front doors in the morning, life demanded their attention. So, their attention went out into the world to monitor, to notice. But it wasn’t just themselves, it was their neighbors as well, the community. You walk down the street, you check things all the time, and when your attention is out in the world, your mind’s not busy, right? But when was the last time you arrived home and put your key in your front door and stopped for a moment and had an anxious thought about the welfare of one of your neighbors?

The reality is, in the modern world, everyone’s okay, everyone’s got a safe place to sleep, they’ve all got food, so we don’t really need to worry about anybody.


But the problem is, the dangers are different now. It’s not the physical survival stuff, it’s the survival of the self, the mental survival, the spiritual survival, I suppose. Because what’s happening when life’s not demanding your attention, your attention wanders. And there’s lots of people out there working as hard as they can to seduce it. And probably the biggest master of seduction in the blue-collar industry are the betting apps. The gambling apps, sure. The thing is, when I was growing up in Collingwood, if you wanted to place a bet, you have to walk out the door, walk down the street, round the corner to go into the bedding shop, so everybody knew you were having a bet and if they got close enough, they could see how much you were betting. But the reality is, you could have placed a bet while I’ve been talking, and no one would know. So, there’s all these things and Shaquille O’Neill and all these other luminaries are, you know, getting paid huge amounts of money to seduce young men and young women into gambling. And the problem is, they get themselves into trouble and then they try to hide it.

And so now they’re living life, all their attentions back in their mind, gnawing over their regret for their losses and how they’re going to get out of it and have a hidden problem from their partner or whatever. And so they’re stepping onto a worksite and none of their attention is on.

What’s going on around them, which then gets you at higher risk of an accident, because your attention is not on the task in front of you, it’s distracted.

Yeah. And even if you haven’t succumbed to any of those things, most people in the modern world, most of their attention is on themselves. They become very self-absorbed, then they focus on my rights, my rights, my rights. But we actually all have obligations as well. And so, what I’ve been teaching the workforce to do is to relearn how to live in a more virtuous way. Now, I’m not talking about being religious here, I’m talking about bringing kindness back as one of your tools of life. Bringing back encouraging others, acknowledging others, being grateful, you’re practicing all of these things. Because what happens is, you see, if I walk up to you and I’m really kind to you, I’m likely to reciprocate, but I feel good about who I am.


Like, I was just sitting on a plane in Perth, waiting to take off to Melbourne and there were people loading onto the plane. You know how some people can be very slow getting into their seat?


And there was a woman, I think it should be a subject at school, actually, how to get on a plane and get off the plane. But anyway, this woman was standing next to me, and I could feel her frustration rising.


And she was obviously tired. It was the end of the day, and I could really feel her start to get really agitated. And I just looked at her and I said to her, “That is such a beautiful blouse that you’ve got on. And it was a beautiful blouse. And she goes, oh, thank you so much. Your favorite, isn’t it? And she goes, there it is. I really love it. Immediately. Right? And the guy next to me who runs all the indigenous employment affairs for a company that’s got 8000 employees, he just nudged me, and he goes, that was really cool. I saw what you did there. I feel good, she’s calmed down, she feels better. But when we do those things for others, yes, we give them something beautiful, but we can’t escape the fact that our own self-acceptance rises a little bit. And most people who have got mental health conditions, they’ve been in big time self-deprecation for a long time.

If you don’t mind, let’s pivot to your story about Melbourne. It was a Melbourne construction project where you brought in a culture of care, and I think it was a very powerful story. Can you share that story similar to your football story? I think this is very important.

One to COVID Yeah, sure. We can give people a link to this. I actually published this on Huffington Post, but yeah, see, Melbourne has had a huge program going for the last eight years or so, because Melbourne seven times the world’s most livable city. But its Achilles heel is level crossings. Train crossings where boom gates come down and stop traffic so trains can go through. And so, Melbourne’s train network hit usable peak 30 years ago. And they couldn’t schedule any more trains in the rush hour, peak hour, because if they did, it would send the city into gridlock. And so, we’ve had a very efficient train system, so the only thing that could be done was get rid of those level crossings and there’s over 200 of them. So, this program started and so some of the level crossings, they’ve gone over and some that have gone under. And on this particular project, there were three level crossings. And they call this a package. And so in this job, they had to do all the preparation work, get everything ready, so much to be done. Probably took 18 months to do the preparation work. And then they have what they call an occupation, or effectively known as an Akko, right?

And in the occupation, they close the train line, and they go to, and they do the work. And so, in this occupation, they had 63 days to tear up the train lines, tear down three train stations, dig a valley that amounted to the biggest removal of earth in urban Melbourne history. They had to turn three roads into bridges, they then had to lay new train lines, new overhead cables, and build three new train stations, basically underground. And they had 63 days to do it. And there were going to be a thousand people working on site around the clock. Anyway, I was going past the site office, and I thought I would drop in because I’ve done some seminars for them, and I dropped in. I wanted to see the safety manager and he’s busy. So, I was just walking around chatting to some of the guys and you would have sworn that they’d been told they were going to be facing the firing squad. They were anxious, they were stressed, they were agitated, very reactive. And each one I went to, I thought, oh, my God, this is a disaster. So, I went and knocked on the project manager’s door.

Steve is a beautiful guy, really competent, great leader. And he looked up and he said, John, come in. So, I walked in, and he said, “what’s going on? I said, Steve, somebody’s going to die on this project. And he looked at me and he said, “What do you think? And I said, I’ll bet money on it. And he said, why? I said, because they’re all so stressed out there, you can’t go into this project with them like that. And he said, yeah, I know. What can we do? And I said, you need to get him in a room next week. I want to talk to him. So, we got hundreds of guys in, and I got up and had to talk to them. And I talked to them about what makes a great city. And really the fundamental, the skeleton and the circulatory system of a great city is its infrastructure. We talked about roads, and we talked about sewerage and electricity, and then we talked about train lines, and then I talked about how Melbourne’s archeries are blocked because of these level crossings. And the vital nature of this work was to unclog the arteries of Melbourne. So, I then started to paint the picture of what things were going to look like when these guys finished their job.

And I said, all those people who are stuck in commuter traffic in the mornings, they’ll be able to get on the train and they’ll get a seat on the train because they’ll be able to run trains from the major destinations every two- or three-minutes during rush hour. I said, that means they’re going to get to work quicker, they’ll be more refreshed, they might have been able to knock off some work on the train. I said, they’ll get home quicker, and they’ll be home earlier, which means they get to spend more time with their kids. It means that they get to get more involved in the community sports clubs, so more adults nurturing more kids, and that creates more stable families. And I just kept painting this picture and those kids are going to be able to grow up and live in that area and raise their families as well. And it’s going to create this beautiful, amazing city of incredible communities because people have got more time and they’re not stressed and they’re able to move around the city more quickly. And I said, so you guys are laying the foundation for one of the most incredible cities the world will ever see.

Now, it took me an hour. To paint that picture and take it on that journey. But by the end of it, they were all up on their feet, like, can we start now? And they were so filled with purpose. Anyway, the project started and why it went. It became the biggest tourist attraction in Melbourne for the next couple of months. There were people queued up five deep around the fence watching the project. There was not a single accident, there was not an hour lost for anything. And the only two complaints were two slightly negative tweets about the bus service that was replacing the trains. And they completed it in 61 and a half days under budget.

Wow. And it’s all by painting a picture of purpose, creating pride in the work in terms of driving that impacts very powerful stories. In the last little bit, you’ve talked to us about three of the main drivers of injuries. Stress, you’ve talked about fatigue, and you’ve talked about distractions. And all bring themes and ideas from well-being, but that ultimately impact recordable injuries that ultimately impact serious incidents, because we know that those three drivers are two very important drivers of safety outcomes. So, really cool ideas, principles here. I’d love to pivot to your book. You’ve published a book in it for the long haul. Tell me a little bit about the book, the story, and why somebody should pick it up on Amazon or whichever retailer you use.

Actually, I just sold it off my website, actually. But it’s really interesting. In Australia, we call it FIFO. So, it’s fly in, fly out. But there’s remote workshops all over the world. And you said it earlier, Eric. There’s oil and gas platforms all over the world and the mines up in the north of Canada and remote mines in South America and Africa. And people are leaving home, going away for a specified period of time and working remotely, living in camps and then going home again for a period of time. And it’s become really significant in the last 30, 40 years as the world’s demanded more resources, sure, but people have been going away from home to work for a very long time. As I say to the FIFO workers, when you fly across Australia, if you look out the window of the plane, you see that there are roads down there. Have you ever asked yourself how those roads got there when they did that? But anyway, what’s been happening here in Australia? There’s a lot of suicides on fiber work sites and there’s a lot of relationship breakdowns and there’s a lot of stress and mental illness and that sort of thing.

And I’ve been traveling out there delivering seminars and I know the lay of the land and my life as well. Prior to COVID I was traveling 240 days of the year around Australia to North America, and I was living out of a suitcase. So now it’s like to be away from home and anyway, I heard about another suicide, and I just thought, man, I got to do something. I ran a survey, and it was amazing. Like, 60% of the workers who responded to the survey said they went out to start their FIFO role with no plan. It was amazing. And so, I thought, I know how to do this. And so, I wrote a book. It’s a 250 odd page book. And I wrote about all of the things that come into play to teach these guys and their families how to really master the skill of being a successful FIFO worker. To turn it into something really, really good. Because they get paid a lot of money, and if they do it right, they can do it for five years, ten years, and set themselves up for life. So, I wrote the book and the response to it has been great.

I’m really just trying to push some of the big companies now to buy it in bulk and get it to all of their people so that they can really help. The thing is, I know for sure that some guys won’t read it, but they might take it home and their partner will read it. Sure. Somebody in the house gets those skills. And what’s more, the ones who do read it on site will have more understanding and knowledge to help their workmates.


So that was the purpose of it. And that’s the COVID of the book there. And it was so interesting. When I got the COVID design, I told the designer what I wanted, a young Indian guy off that website, fiver. And I talk in the book a lot about finding your light at the end of the tunnel, your purpose in your life, your passion. And also talk about taking care of your mates so they don’t go off the rails. Now, I didn’t say any of that to him. He’s come back with this picture of these miners standing with their backs to the light. Some of them are on the rails and some of them are off the rails. It’s beautiful.

Very cool. So, John, thank you so much for joining us. I think you’ve shared some very interesting, provocative ideas, again, against at least three key drivers of serious injuries that I can think of. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, talk about these themes and how do you bring wellbeing, how do you bring some of these concepts to the workplace? How can they get in touch with you?

Yeah, certainly I’m easy to find on LinkedIn and also my website is Au for Australia. There’s lots of resources there and I’m more than happy to connect in with somebody and have a bit of a chat if they want, because at the end of the day, this is about my whole mission in life, is making sure that every kid on the planet has a good life. That means mum and dad coming home from work and coming home from work in a good mood, feeling good, very powerful.

And remember those stories you shared? I think they’re very powerful. The football story, the Melbourne construction project, and then the lady who is getting frustrated and agitated on the plane. I think we can all think about some additional ways to bring some acts of kindness and care for others. So, appreciate you sharing those stories. Thank you again for joining us.

Thank you, Eric. It’s been really cool, and you do great work, mate. Thank you.

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 [email protected]. Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. Podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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John Toomey is an International Speaker and Thought leader who delivers seminars that inspire, educate, and empower people to take 100% responsibility for their lives, wellness and mental wellbeing. His impressive background in High Performance Roles in Professional Sport, including 7 AFL Clubs, and Culture Development roles in two A League Clubs, and as Coach of an Olympic Gold Medalist, brings richness and depth to his presentations. John holds a Phys Ed degree from Deakin University, did his Masters Studies in Applied Physiology at Victoria University, studied and taught Human Consciousness as an Avatar Master for 15 years, is a published author and has lectured at multiple Universities in PE and Medicine. Currently, John is Global Chair of the Global Wellness Institute’s Workplace Wellbeing Initiative, the world’s premier advisory group on Workplace Wellness. He’s delivered over 3,300 Corporate Presentations, spoken at Conferences worldwide, written hundreds of published articles, and completed 4 National Thought Leadership Tours for QBE. He recently published a book, “In It For the Long Haul: Making the Most of the FIFO Lifestyle,” his effort to reduce the amount of mental illness and suicides on remote worksites across Australia.

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Sleep Deprivation’s Impact on Safety with Ahna De Vena

Sleep Deprivation's Impact on Safety



Having trouble sleeping or not getting enough sleep? Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality can affect judgment and mental health, potentially increase the risk of accidents or injuries, and have a negative impact on safety and job performance. In this episode, Ahna shares the importance of quality sleep to improve workplace safety and energize your team. Adequate and quality sleep is a must to keep ourselves and those around us safe. Tune in to learn how you can begin the journey of prioritizing restorative sleep!


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

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me, Ahna De Vena. She’s a sleep expert and consultant, has been in this space for well over 20 years, and has worked across many different industries as well as in her not-for-profit work. And the quote on our website that really caught my attention, was from sleepless to sleep, superstar. Anna, welcome to the show. A really important topic to talk about is sleep tiredness has so many impacts on safety and well-being so maybe why don’t you start out by sharing a little bit about your journey in the sleep space and we’ll take it from there?

It’s great to be here, thank you for having me. I would say that my journey began as a sleepless teenager in my early 20s as a result of lack of sleep for over eleven years I had a breakdown mental and physical and ended up collapsing in public I was taken to hospital and diagnosed with some quiet serious autoimmune conditions, and I did a big review of my life and realized things needed to change. When I was offered meds and told I’d have to take them for the rest of my life I said no and decided that I really wanted to learn how to recover from the sleeplessness that I had endured and just live a really healthy life because I could still remember back to when I was younger and was able to sleep very well and I just knew that I could get back there. And so, I changed course and studied natural medicine mainly for my own knowledge and my own recovery. And after applying that for a few years I fully recovered and then decided I really wanted to help others with this issue where there was very little help at that time. And so, I started in schools because for me when I looked back I thought wow, we’re meant to spend one-third of our lives asleep and yet I didn’t receive any sleep education and that’s the primary reason I got into such difficulty. And so, I decided I wanted to be part of changing that in the world. And I began working with kids and teenagers first, which I did for years, and then adults asked me if I could run courses for them, and then I started working with one-on-one clients more and more and very successful private practices throughout the world. So, I’ve lived in quite a few different places. And essentially the work that I do now for groups, I do still work with people one on one, and I’ve got some products and then I work with groups is really a distillation of all the work I’ve done with individuals over the past 20 odd years. And it’s just very takeaway orientated so people can elicit change immediately. And that’s what I’m about. I can have a five-minute conversation with someone at the grocery store and just tune in and give them that little bit of knowledge they need to make a shift. And so, one of my biggest messages is we all have a natural ability to sleep well. When we can tap into that and support that, then we can shift so much and literally change our entire life. Because when we change our sleep, we change our health, we change our outlook, we change our relationships, our productivity, everything. And so that’s, for me, a very important message for people to get. But it’s not rocket science. But we’re very much out of sync now. We’re in a global sleep loss epidemic. It’s worth every year. So, we really need to be focusing on this.

Definitely. We hear more and more about the impact of sleep. And when we think about in the safety space, there are a lot of safety implications if you’ve got some sleep deficit. I’m thinking also about a lot of the work that people are doing that has high risk and involves shifts, which also has its own impact on sleep and there’s also an impact on executives. Can you maybe share a little bit about the importance of sleep and how we can impact safety, performance, and culture overall?

Well, I think one of the easiest ways to look at it is that when we lose sleep when we don’t get the amount of sleep we need, we’re essentially acting in the same way as when we’re drunk. And so, we have very slow reflexes. Our brain doesn’t make good decisions. All our executive functions are impaired. And we become dysfunctional on so many levels. So being tired, in a way, isn’t the worst thing. It’s really our ability to respond, to recognize where we are fully and what’s needed from us on all levels. So, if you’re operating machinery when I lived in New Zealand, I lived at a port in Nelson and I worked with a lot of men who worked at the port and there were accidents because they couldn’t respond, or they were driving machinery and didn’t drive the machinery well enough. I had one guy who was in charge of a large room full of machinery, and he said to me when he came to me for help, he said, someone almost died a few weeks ago. No, because I was so fatigued I couldn’t see how dangerous the situation was.

And I was supposed to be overseeing all the workings in this room, I think on every level from the person operating the machinery to the people overseeing any kind of environment where there’s dangerous equipment being run. There are a lot of risks and then there are risks, say, for the CEO running a company who can’t keep that long-term vision and perspective when he’s making decisions today. And McKinsey did a study involving 1900 individuals across 91 companies and they found that sleep-deprived brains lose the ability to make accurate judgments which then leads to irrational and unjustified claims and I’m quoting here, such as I don’t need sleep, I’m doing fine with just a few hours of sleep. And so, what happens is the brain is so dysfunctional that the sleepless person can’t even realize they’re sleep deprived, and I think their lives are one of the greatest dangers of sleep deprivation.

Interesting, and the other element is if I think about a lot of higher-risk roles, there are a lot of shifts. People maybe are working through the night, maybe they’re alternating from day shifts to night shifts. How does that impact somebody’s ability to rest and to really recover through sleep?

So, shift workers really have the worst end of the stick in many ways. Matthew Walker talks about it a fair bit. They’re at much higher risk of dying than anyone because their body clock and their brains are just so scrambled, you could say. And I have worked with many shift workers, and I’m appalled at the lack of consideration for basic human needs. Honestly, I’m shocked. And then people like nurses and doctors who are performing surgeries or procedures that are potentially life-threatening and having to make decisions that really impact people and they do not have the cognitive ability and even the physical coordination to be able to function properly. To me, this is one of the most kinds of disappointing and astounding aspects of society really, that we’re not protecting people more and particularly shift workers. Like there are very simple things that they could do for shift workers, which I know quite a few companies are starting to do now. But keeping the same shift for a week rather than doing three different shifts in a week allows the body to at least get some rest in a rhythmical manner. Whereas if you’re doing three different kinds of shifts in a week, it’s almost impossible to get the rest that you need to function properly.

But if you are diligent and you are very careful about how you manage the time your downtime, then you can at least get deep rest. And I think that deep rest isn’t respected enough, and people think if I’m not asleep then it’s a waste of time. But, if we know and train ourselves to rest deeply, that can then turn into sleep. But deep rest is extremely valuable. Back to your question. Shift workers need to learn the skills needed to switch off quickly more than anyone else on the planet. They really need that because their downtime is so precious and so they don’t have the luxury of hours of agitation that they can’t they just don’t have it. They’ve got to be back at work in X number of hours. So, they need to understand how to support their bodies down out of high stress, which is where everybody, and when I say everybody is I mean our bodies go into very high stress and high inflammation when we’re sleep deprived. So, it’s just so critical that shift workers know how to bring that inflammation down and how to bring the stress hormones down and then come into a state of deep rest where sleep is possible.

And you’ve got some other elements that are also mixing into it. For example, maybe their rest time is when the sun starts coming up and all the lights are up, and activity noise is higher because that’s when most people are active. So, you’ve got all sorts of things I’m even thinking about airline crews that are flying all sorts of different hours’ time zones. Jet lag all these pieces really require they mentioned some degree of awareness training in terms of tactics and then.

Carry a kit with them where they can make a room they can rest in because if we just go willy-nilly without being prepared then we could lose that time that we could be sleeping. Where are a pair of earplugs, an eye mask, and some tape? Tape is something that I tell everyone who’s sleeping in hotel rooms or unfamiliar places that they should take some black tape. It doesn’t leave marks on things. So, they can black out the room or cover over bright light shining down on them or out of the wall. Yeah. So just those three things can make a massive difference when you’re traveling and then also knowing how to manage time zones and how to prepare for travel but obviously, that’s a bit different. But although shift workers sometimes are traveling over time zone fly and fly out people.

So, it gets a good segue into getting into a little bit of the elements that an organization can do in teams of bringing sleep as part of a wellness or safety program. What are some of the best practices that you’ve seen in this space?

I think that the first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that sleep and work aren’t separate. I think for too long companies have thought of sleep as something outside of any realm that they need to address which, having worked with thousands of people the impact that work has on someone’s sleep. I’ve seen first-hand the number of people who can’t get to sleep who lie there thinking, worrying, or problem-solving in the middle of the night for their job because they’re so committed or they’re so stressed or they’re just so impacted by their work or inspired. I’ve had quite a lot of clients who are just overly inspired to the point where they can’t sleep. So, it’s not always a negative.


So, I think companies need to acknowledge that sleep is impacted by work, and work is impacted by sleep length and quality hugely. If their employees are turning up tired, it’s costing them in many ways. And Deloitte Access Economics did a study combined with the Australian Sleep Foundation and the final report was aptly named Asleep on the Job. And they quantified the cost of insufficient sleep in Australia, and this was in 2016 to 2017 and just the productivity loss of productivity costs Australia 18 billion a year. So that’s huge. So, if we think about it, what sleeplessness is costing us professionally and personally, it’s just hard to quantify really, because if you’re living your days feeling exhausted, unable to be present, afraid of making a mistake, or even just making mistakes that have a serious impact, then that’s not really living. So, I think there needs to be a shift in how people view sleep, and any company that wants to help their employees well then needs to come right up to the top of priorities. Because traditionally diet and exercise and weight loss are areas that wellness programs have covered, and sleep has a massive impact on all three of those areas.

If you don’t get sufficient sleep, your diet just goes out the window. You actually don’t have control over what you eat because all the peptides that control appetite are just completely thrown, and you put on weight, and exercise can be detrimental. When we haven’t had sufficient sleep, if we do it in a way that elevates our stress, for instance, or if we do it at the wrong time of day, or it just doesn’t get done at all because we’re so tired, sleep needs to be the foundation of a wellness program. That’s my opinion after so many years working in this industry and its time and I feel that people are starting to wake up to this fact. I’m very grateful for Matthew Walker who’s written the fantastic book Why We Sleep. That’s a great read for anyone because we all sleep. I just want a little warning there for people who read it to be aware that you might become absolutely terrified of not getting enough sleep when you read it because he goes into all the nitty-gritty of what happens to our bodies and our minds when we don’t get the sleep we need.

Definitely, something to read to provoke thinking in that space.

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In a wellness program. It sounds like there are elements around teaching people the importance of sleep. Correct me if I’m wrong, but also have some strategies around how to get better sleep and maybe recognize signs of fatigue. Are those the types of themes that typically are covered?

Yes. I think that people need to understand why sleep is important and not just getting sufficient sleep, but sufficient quality sleep. There’s too much emphasis put on the length of sleep we’re getting and not enough at all on the quality of sleep we’re getting. And if we flip that around and focus on getting quality sleep then we will naturally get the length of sleep we need. And that’s something people need to become more aware of you can sleep seven to 8 hours and still wake up tired. In fact, when I do my pre-course survey, about 60% of participants report that they were getting around 7 hours of sleep but still waking up tired. And so, this is part of the epidemic that we’re now in that people might be in bed for that time, perhaps asleep, but the amount of quality sleep they’re getting, the amount of deep sleep they’re getting is way lower than what they need to truly rejuvenate while they’re sleeping.

Interesting. It makes me think that there’s also a need for awareness at the boardroom level in terms of decision-making because there are impacts that the organization creates that have an impact on safety around. We talked about before shifts and shift patterns. The other thing that comes to mind is overtime, which can be a delicate balance because sometimes overtime can be very high remuneration for the employee, and they see it as an encroachment. But if you’re working 18 hours a day or 24 hours a day and getting minimal rest and recovery, it strikes me that in high-risk role, that’s incredibly dangerous actually probably in any role, not just in a high-risk role.

Yes, it is. And I’ve seen a lot of people compromising their health and their well-being and their capacity to perform at an optimum level, taking shifts, doing overtime, or just saying yes because they’re afraid of losing their job. If they say no, that’s something that happens. There’s bullying. People know that they shouldn’t take it, but they’re afraid to say no or they’re afraid not to do it for fear of losing their job. So, in terms of a company culture that needs to be interwoven so that people aren’t afraid, that people are able to really take stock of how they are and make a decision that reflects their ability, not oh God, I better say yes because otherwise, my job is at risk. Sure, that kind of company culture is beyond toxic. That kind of thing just so needs to change.

And I’ve seen it even at a crew level. So, there’s corporate culture and then there can also be team dynamics that create that need to be in check where somebody’s like just do the extra or just push a little bit harder or something like that, that can also be toxic. 

Yeah. And if you’ve got a leader of your team who’s doing over many extra hours and kind of creating this we don’t need sleep, I don’t need sleep. So, you shouldn’t need sleep, what’s wrong with you? Type thing wearing a badge almost of being a hero for operating on very little sleep. That’s extremely dangerous. And just on that note, there is a small percentage of the population, 3% of the population have a gene that makes it possible for them to function normally on 6 hours of sleep. And so, if you’ve got them as a team leader, if you got one of them as a team leader, that’s a scary position to be in because then you start trying to exist on the same amount of sleep as one of these people.


If you look at burnout now and the prevalence of burnout now compared to even just ten years ago, it’s so much more prevalent. And I think since covert our stress levels are so much higher and there is a direct link to high stress and lack of sleep and those they feed each other. So generally, lack of sleep will start occurring due to some kind of height and stress. And then if we don’t have the skills and the ability to get out of that cycle, then one just feeds the other. Lack of sleep feeds the high stress. The high stress leads to more lack of sleep and then it just goes on and on and-on-and people feel they can’t get out, but they also just start to think of it as normal. And that’s something I try to tell people. It’s not normal. Even though it feels normal, even though you think you don’t have a problem, there actually is an issue here that needs addressing. And so that’s one of the hardest things to get people to recognize there is a problem and it needs addressing.

And I think that’s where the need for as well the organization to bring this at the forefront from a safety standpoint, from a wellness standpoint becomes really important.


So let’s pivot to some of the strategies to improve sleep. You shared one around when you’re traveling to have some tape to be able to make sure the room is dark. What are some of the strategies that you teach in your programs to help somebody become a better master at sleep?

Well, the first thing is to see sleep as a must-have instead of a nice-to-have. So, I think people don’t have enough of a healthy perspective on how important quality sleep is. And I would say that the first thing needs to be an acknowledgment of how important it is because once you have that, then you can start connecting with why you want to get great sleep.


And of course, those two things are kind of interconnected. But unless we have a strong connection to why. We want to get great sleep. Win the battle with the creature of habit that makes us do the same thing over and over and over again and continue getting mediocre or poor sleep already. Is anyone listening to this? The creature of habit inside you is standing on guard and saying. None of this stuff is going to work for me. Whatever she says, it’s not going to work, or I don’t want to do that even before I speak. And so, you’ve got to be aware that this battle has already started and will be there for a month. As you incorporate new patterns of behavior, even a new mindset, you have to battle. And in order to begin to win that battle, you’ve got to have a why. And I say to people, how do you want to feel when you wake up in the morning? And how do you want to feel as you engage with the people in your life, the people you love, how you are able to perform at work and how you’re able to contribute in the world?

How do you want to feel? And so, when you can get in touch with that and then come to a place of saying, you know what? I want to be fully alive. I want my brain to work as well as it can work. I want super brain powers and I want endless energy. And I want the ability to be patient and to be able to listen and to be able to communicate clearly, to be able to keep a long-term perspective. When I’m making decisions for myself, for my family, for my colleagues, and for my company, we have to really have a strong why in order to make any changes. So that would be my first suggestion. The second suggestion is around your relationship with light. We have a segment of our brain called the super charismatic nucleus. And this part of our brain actually regulates our sleep-wake cycle. And the main environmental cues that trigger the sleep-wake cycle are light and temperature. And so, when we are exposed to full spectrum light, that signal from the environment is read through brain cells that are in our eyes called Retinal ganglion cells. And those brain cells in our eyes send a signal to the super charismatic nucleus and say, hey, it’s time to wake up.

And then the super charismatic nucleus says to the adrenal cortex, start making cortisol. Cortisol isn’t just a stress hormone, it’s an energy hormone. And also, is a regulating hormone. It’s an activating hormone. It’s actually very good for us in the white quantities at the right time. So, we need this signal of light. We also need to increase our body temperature to switch on in the morning and then in the evening, we need the signal of darkness, which is also read by these retinal ganglion cells. And these signals are sent to the SCN, okay, stop making cortisol and start making melatonin. Darkness is the best sleeping pill. I’m going to repeat that. Darkness is the best and really the only sleeping pill. We should use long-term signals to our bodies to start making the hormones that we need to get good quality sleep. And this is true for people of all ages and children. All humans need darkness and then coolness the opposite to morning coolness. The body needs to cool down in order to sleep well. So overheated rooms or overheated beds are just going to make you frustrated, and your body won’t be able to fall asleep.

So, if everyone follows this advice, everyone’s quality and length of sleep would improve. And it’s simple, but it’s tricky because we’re living in a time where our evenings are polluted by artificial light. Now, the amount of sleep we’ve gotten globally has declined since artificial light started polluting our evenings. In 1942, the average sleep adults got on the planet was 7.9 hours a night. Now it’s 6.5 and decreasing every year. The last time that was measured was actually discovered. So, in the surveys, I’m doing, my estimate is it’s down to six already as an average. And we need 7.5 to 9 hours, depending on who we are, the average is around eight. To be well mentally and physically, children and teenagers need much more than that. 90% of teenagers are sleep deprived. This is a problem that is yet to be acknowledged and yet to be addressed. I plan on addressing it in the next few years with my sleep kit for teens. I’ve already got a sleep kit for kids. But yeah, everything I’m saying applies to people of all ages.

Interesting, these are all techniques that people can easily implement, and I think it also links back to what you’re talking about. The tip when you’re traveling is to make sure you’ve got a dark environment, is there something as well about when you’re talking about artificial light? People are watching TV more and more using their computers, which from everything I’ve read, stimulates and also counteracts what we’re trying to do in the hours before sleep.

Yeah, so as I said when we get the opposite cue to what the body needs, so the body needs darkness. And when we have this very bright light being read by these brain cells in our eyes, these retinal ganglion cells, they’re getting the opposite signal to what they need. And so, it confuses everything, and it inhibits the production of melatonin, which melatonin should start being produced quite a while before we go to sleep. Whereas people are taking their phones to bed, right, and they’re sending this light signal. And so, one of the things people say to me when they come to me for help, they say, I just don’t get tired at night. I just don’t get tired. I don’t feel sleepy. I said, well, what are you doing? And so, it’s always something that involves light, whether it’s a screen, generally, it’s a screen. But we need to understand what’s happening physiologically. Not just our screens aren’t good for us, but understand that when you’re doing that, but understand that when you’re doing that, that you are confusing your body and messing with your body chemistry. And so, when you do eventually get to sleep, it’s light sleep.

And yes, there are some things you can do. You can wear good quality blue light-blocking glasses. One of the things that I suggest is setting an electronic sundown time and having that be something that everyone in the house adheres to so that parents are setting an example. So, you have a box, and all the phones get put into the box. Anyone letting a teenager or child take their phone or device into their bedroom, yeah, it’s one of the most disastrous and unloving things that a parent can do. That sounds very judgmental, but it’s true because it’s interrupting their development at such a deep level. And it’s just like sending an alcoholic into a room with a bottle of scotch. They don’t have control and they’re severely addicted, so they’ll tell you they’re not on it, but I can tell you they are interesting.

So, you do a lot of programs for organizations. You coach, work, and people with people one on one. If somebody is interested in learning more, how can they get in touch with you?

Great. So, through my website. Sleep well and thrive. Or you can just contact me through LinkedIn Ahna De Vena. They’re the two best places to get in touch with me. And you can read about my corporate programs on my website. And there are lots of testimonials from different companies that have worked with me, and there’s lots of information there.

Excellent. Thank you very much for joining me today. I think it’s an important topic and definitely one that’s been top of mind with the pandemic. Lots of articles have talked about this, but I think it’s important for organizations to, as you propose, really look at it seriously in terms of their wellness programs, their safety programs, looking at their decision-making, how different decisions around shifts, around overtime, can impact restful sleep, but also provide tools for team members around this. So, thank you so much for coming to share your thoughts on this.

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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

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Ahna De Vena has been a pioneer in the sleep-improvement field for 20+ years. She has extensive experience working with individuals and organisations throughout the world and her corporate program is changing thousands of lives every year. Ahna has developed a unique approach to sleep improvement and stress reduction from observation in her clinical practice and created effective products including a Sleep Cd that was featured on Qantas inflight entertainment for 4 years and a Sleep Kit for Kids that has already helped thousands of kids and families throughout Australia. She’s also the founder of the Sleep & Dream Foundation—a charity that supports children and families who’ve experienced trauma to sleep well and heal.

You can learn more about Ahna’s corporate sleep improvement program or 1:1 sleep recovery package by visiting her website: or by emailing her directly: [email protected]



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