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Making Safety Personal: Connecting with the Front-Line with Chris Yerikian

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This week we are in conversation with Chris Yerikian who shares some experiences in making safety more personal to connect with front line team members on a more emotional level to increase safety involvement and participation. From front line leaders and team members sharing their personal ‘why’ for staying safe to turning into habits and reinforcing the theme on an ongoing basis to deliver safety outcomes, Chris shares his successes.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now. Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. My name is Eric Michrowski, your host. And today, I’m very excited to have with me Chris Yerikian. He’s from Southern California. We’ve been in health and safety for well over five years, speaks at a conference, always be speaking at a conference very soon on the topic he’s going to presenting as well today to us. So, Chris, welcome to the show. You’ve had a background in health and safety, and before that, you were in the movie industry now mostly in the food distribution space. So, I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got from movies to safety and how you got your passion for the safety space. Eric, super happy to be here. Thank you. So, I worked in the movie theater industry. I actually started doing that in high school and kind of moved up the ladder a little bit within the independent theater space and Sokal. Yeah. And I started doing that managing. And then I was actually majoring in philosophy pre-law. And I wanted to become a lawyer. But I met somebody I met someone who actually was an industrial hygienist. And I was going to the same university he had gone to. And he showed me the program he had taken, told me the kind of work he does, the different companies he’s work for, and just the intricacy of the industry. And I looked more into it, and I was like, you know what this is? This is great. I didn’t even know this industry or this type of profession existed. So, I changed majors, and yep, took a little longer to graduate, but it ended up working out, and that’s how I ended up in safety. And that’s amazing. And we’ve talked about before, one of the realizations that you had is really the importance of focusing on motivation for safety. Tell me a little bit more about kind of where we’re that kind of realization came and some of your thoughts around it. So, I did notice early on when I got into the industry that it was and rightfully so, it was heavily focused on a scientific approach and metrics and trying to follow regulation to the T. And that works great for a lot of life safety. But it’s not that great when it comes to stuff like behavior and more subjective injuries that take place in the workplace. And I had one incident where I was following up with an employee who had a relatively severe back injury, but nothing too major. And when I was speaking with him, he told me that he couldn’t pick up his newborn baby as a result of an injury because it hurt too much. And I got to thinking. That is a powerful motivator, but most people don’t really have that realization before something happens, right. So, I got to thinking how effective would it be to have them tap into that emotion and into a motivator at that level to alter their behavior, to prevent injuries and develop habits that prevent injuries beforehand? Right. Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, a precursor to the behavior that you’re going to exhibit that’s going to keep you safe or unsafe is going to be your attitudes. You believe your mindset around safety and safety, something that it’s a rule that otherwise I’ll get into trouble, or is it something that keeps me away from harm or is it something that’s investment in the future? And to the things that I want to experience with the people that matter to me and so forth. So, you really focusing on that kind of precursor is going to have a significant impact? Couldn’t agree more. And so, tell me a little bit more in terms of how you’ve leveraged this. Right. So that was a great story, a great example. Kind of tapped into something this person could do. Tell me a little bit about what were you able how are you able to leverage that? So initially, what I started to do is get face time with a lot of employees within the workplace, just anything it starts out simple, making sure to talk to them, how their weekend is going, how their family. And then you develop a rapport and you’re like you’re like you mentioned, just following the rules, even with that approach isn’t going to cut it. So, they have to really tap into their why. And one tool in that space is the way I work. Safe border display. So, I. Implemented this tool, and for those that don’t know the way I work, safe display is you essentially are getting employees to think about why it is that they decide to work safe at work. Because at a fundamental level, if you think about why people go to work, it’s essentially to make a living, to have the means to do the things you love with the people and you love to do them with. So why WorkSafe really tries to incorporate that personal element into the workplace so they would bring photos or videos of whatever their ways. For example, for me, I love to do Spartan races, OK? And if I end up getting injured at work, that’s going to prevent me from doing that thing that I love to do outside of work. So, I better stay in one piece. For most people, it’s going to be their family is their motivation. Right? So, they’ll bring photos of their family, their kids, their friends. Some people love to travel, and if they’re injured or hurt as a result of their work, then they can’t travel. They can’t go to Disney World and Disneyland, and they can’t do their recreational activities. So that was really the premise behind it. Interesting. And can you share maybe a little bit about some of the stories and some of the successes around the way I worked, because definitely you view this quite a bit. I think it’s very powerful use as well, even in terms of video messaging campaign to really reinforce those themes of why am I doing this, really trying to shift it from it’s a rule to it’s an investment to really what matters to me. Tell me a little bit about some of the stories, some of the successes you’ve had within the organization around this. So initially, I was a little nervous, that man, what if they don’t want to participate and people don’t want to share their photos and be put on display, but I was shocked how eager everyone was to participate at the beginning. I think, for the most part, people like attention to a certain degree. So, or even recognition. Right. Seeing their picture and seeing their families pictures up, it’s an inspirational thing to look at. So that was the first piece. The engagement and then wanting to participate was huge. And at a relatively quick time, I started noticing the activities, started to build up the real activities that yield results at work. Right. All of a sudden, we had more hazard reporting going on. People were mentioning issues and pointing out things that could potentially be problems at work that they were they weren’t before. We noticed that when we were doing observations on certain work methods in the workplace and to see if they were following proper behaviors, that we saw a huge uptick in them wanting to do it the right way and not just because their manager or supervisor was there watching them do it, for example. Interesting. And did you have to draw the linkages between, say, why WorkSafe and some of the behaviors we want to see, like the observations, like in terms of the safety participation, in terms of team members volunteering hazards and trying to find ways to improve the workplace safety? Or do that happen naturally? While we when we first implemented, we didn’t really know what the reaction was going to be or what kind of results we were going to get, so ultimately, it did happen naturally. And then, as time went on, we did try to link, and it depends what industry you’re in. Right. One sort of behavior in one industry is not relevant in another. So, we did really try and focus on that. But it was really there. The effect it really had was just their motivation and the emotional connection they had with personal life being affected by whatever activities they did at work. And that motivation is what ultimately helped them drive the behavior instead of kind of forcing them to have a repetition-based building of a habit. It was the personal choice they made to want to build this habit, which is way more powerful in my opinion. And we did some to a decline. Yeah, we saw a decline in OSHA recordable incident rate over the course of 19 months. We cut it by half. That’s phenomenal. And how did you keep reinforcing those boards? Because what I’ve seen in some organizations is they go and they lost something they created and then it doesn’t get turned into a habit where we revisit everything and eventually you start forgetting about that link. So how have you brought those boards? So, they become part of daily life within the organization. So, we put them up on a display where it’s mostly visual or it’s mostly visible and so everybody would see it. It was we put it on a digital display so it would roll on a slide show. And what we did is once a quarter, every three months, we would go back to all those folks that had posted a picture or a video, and we asked them if they had anything new, if they want to refresh it. And then we would also go to different departments and do one specific to them as well. And a lot of folks they’re really excited to swap up their photos and show something new. It’s kind of like having an Instagram at work, and everybody is excited to show you how to show their photos and what new activities they’ve been doing. So, we also gave out rewards for anybody who participated above and beyond. You know, they would get a company hat or a sweater or something like that, which was just a little something extra to drive participation. That’s excellent. And other organizations I’ve seen where it becomes a Yagmur type field like you mentioned, the Instagram type approach, but where people are constantly kind of sending refreshers of almost activity activities is what I did this this weekend with my family. And that’s why I stay safe. So, it becomes almost a daily ritual or even embedded into Stanishev meetings. In terms of a reminder refresher, let’s talk about a couple of the people, the wise I say safe and in daily refreshers or in one case, one organization. I know even they are creating movies of the evolution of their life as they saw this the other day where somebody had done a storyboard essentially starting from when they first got married to then they had kids and how it evolved and now they have grandkids. Essentially the evolution as they stayed within the organization of their why they say safe. And they were super proud about it, which I thought was phenomenal. Wow, that’s awesome. Yeah, that sounds amazing. I probably might start doing that myself. Here we go. Because you got a 30-year employee where they started with 20, 30 years ago is actually cool because it was really showing how their Wii is becoming more important as there, they’ve gained more seniority within the organization. They’ve got a lot more ways for safety, which is a really cool story they even had in this particular movie they had had. And this is a not a movie theater is somebody who just decided this is what I’m going to do in my spare time. He even had, I think it was his daughter, granddaughter sing a theme song that kind of linked the whole thing throughout, which is like to me it’s above and beyond. Like there’s a theme song that’s been created and sung by one of the personal, really important people in their lives that they got tucked in. So that’s like a phenomenal way to go all the way. And I think, yeah, that’s awesome. They get it. That’s great. They absolutely get it. Obviously, that was a try. Number one, that was probably after a few times were different people doing that. It became almost a competition. So, tell me a little bit about how you were able to get buy-in from leaders and also front workers, because that’s that sometimes in some organizations that can be a shift to start saying, OK, we’re going from a real base of enforcement approach to starting to think about more the Y, the Q, the elements of what really matters. How are you being able to convince leaders may be first and then how you got frontline team members is selling the frontline team members. That was a pretty easy participation piece, but I love to hear your thoughts and put all that. So, actually I approached the leaders with the exact same wire work, say first. So, the leaders in the organization actually were the first ones to participate. And we could again; I wasn’t sure if the frontline workers were going to want to participate. And I thought having leaders do it first would be motivation enough. And the same thing, the leaders, they did not object to it at all. They were all in from the get-go. They brought their photos. And when you’re having those conversations, it’s the same kind of conversations you have with the leaders as you would with the front-line associates. Right. And you say is just like, you know, leaders feel that they are more attuned to being safe at work than a front-line associate might be just because they’re in a leadership role and they want to be a role model. But they think of it, again from the perspective of work that they have to set the example. But having that approach, that this is still tied to our personal lives, there’s an emotional connection here. And we come to work, and we do what we do to have the means to enjoy life outside of here. And safety is a foundational component of that. So, bringing that to the leaders really makes sense to them. And then it’ll funnel down to the front-line associates because with any program you do or the leadership; the leadership should definitely be participating in the program first before you even present it to front-line associates. Yeah, I think it certainly reinforces it matters. I think we’re where I’ve certainly seen maybe even leaders go above and beyond and have had conversations with them is really even getting them to start thinking about their wife for safety. So just why I stay safe, but why safety actually matters to me. And I know I’ve had a lot of success. He was just having conversations with leaders around it, helping them craft their story, their narrative, and what does it really matter to them? And because I’ve never seen a great safety leader that didn’t have a very strong conviction, a certain strong why it has to be something that’s personal. And I’ve had some amazing stories around the years and I’d say shared with teams. Right. Because then you’re saying I want you to do more. So, this is why I stay safe. But why safety really matters to them is even the next evolution. So, then you’re saying, I want you as well to do this. And I’ve heard stories around servant leadership, around people who were saying my stories about their dad and how their dad was a servant leader and then how they inspire them. And they were like really full of emotion, like almost a Hollywood story. But it was a real story to people that had suffered their loss in a work environment. And they never promised on my shift were on my watch. And it just ties into this is why I stay safe. This is why you stay safe. And this is why I’m asking you to make that extra effort for it, because it also matters to me. Exactly, yup, and, you know, leaders that they can get caught up in the KPIs of the company, right? Their numbers, whether it’s sales or operational efficiency, they will always see safety as kind of an impediment to achieving those KPI numbers. But if you take that, let’s call it the EU approach. If you use your IQ and engage leaders in that way, just like you mentioned, the KPIs, as a result, they’ll just follow it. Just it happens as a result. Exactly. I couldn’t agree more. And I think it just has to be consistent as people see the leaders show up in that particular way. Team members are flexing actually safety something for me; I’m not doing it for somebody else. I’m doing it for myself and for the things that matter to me. I think the only weird one I’ve ever had is I had one person when I say, what do you say, safe? And they came up with a picture of a refrigerator. I’m like, I’m not sure you want to tell that to your wife. You care for more than your wife. I have somebody. Coxon Sorry about that. Yeah, somebody. I had brought me a photo of footage they had taken with their drone. And I was like, hey, that’s if that’s your motivation. If you want to be able to fly or drones, it works for me. If it does, it’s whatever is your passion and you love that. That’s really what really matters. He ended up telling me afterwards that the reason why the refrigerator was his picture is because and I don’t know if this was a cop out answer afterwards is because the refrigerator was why he was working to feed his family and yadda. So that was the symbolic element of it. I’m like, OK, I think it’s probably better if you had a picture of your wife and your kids versus a refrigerator, but I’ll leave that to you to decide if he was; he was trying to be artsy with it, I guess. I guess they were perfect. Well, really appreciate you sharing your story, your examples, any other kind of closing thoughts you embraced. It sounds like get some pretty phenomenal successes by tapping into there. Why any other kind of thoughts or somebody who is thinking about doing something like this, making safety more personal within their teams? Yeah, I mean, it kind of goes without saying, you know, this is no substitute for doing the boots on the ground work, right. And you still have to have comprehensive training, good investigation processes, a good orientation, corrective actions. So, you do all that. But what this helps is with the engagement piece and getting leaders and front-line associates to participate in that process, because, you know, we can sometimes feel like we’re on an island, especially if you’re part of a smaller organization. So having buy in from everybody and using this approach to get that engagement will really help drive those boots on the ground initiative that really yields those daily results that we are looking for. Great. Well, Chris, thank you very much for joining me today for presenting this concept to on the show, phenomenal idea. Thank you for sharing this and conferences to spark ideas and other organizations. I definitely hope other organizations start thinking about personalizing safety to the workers, the team members, because that’s really what’s going to drive the motivations around safety. Yep, for sure. Thank you so much, Eric. Thanks for having me. This was super fun, and I really appreciate you actually doing this podcast and bringing more awareness and education to the field. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team—fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Chris has been in the EHS field since 2016 and received his undergrad from Cal State Northridge in Environmental and Occupational Health. Prior to EHS, he managed movie theaters for an independent chain in Southern California. After transitioning to EHS, he worked in the aerospace and food distribution industry. He is currently working to gain ground on using emotions and EQ to establish an engagement-based approach to behavior-based safety. 

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Learnings from the Flin Flon Smelter Explosion: Making Workplaces Safer with Brian Humphreys

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Brian Humphreys shares the story of the Flin Flon, Manitoba smelter explosion at Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting in his book No Smoke Without Fire; A Recipe for Disaster. He was the safety supervisor on the night of the fatal smelter explosion and details the tragedy and shares perspectives on what can be done to prevent potentially fatal workplace incidents. He touches on the importance of front-line supervision and the importance of a focus on Safety Culture on this episode of the Safety Guru.

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

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. This is your host, Eric Michrowski. And today I am very happy to have with me a gentleman that has an incredible career and incredible experiences in safety. And I want to have him share a little bit about his journey and some of his key learnings throughout his career. So today I have with me right. Brian, thank you very much for joining us on The Safety Guru.

Well, thank you, Eric, and thanks for inviting me on your show.

Great. So maybe if you can share a little bit about your incredible background and story in the safety space, OK, well, I left school when I was 16 to go into a steelwork as an apprentice, apprentice fitter. And at the age of 20, I finished my apprenticeship in the UK. If you didn’t get an apprenticeship by the time, you were 17, you didn’t get one. So, I’d forgotten the apprenticeship. We were released to go to a technical school one day a week for four years.

When I finished my apprenticeship, I got married right away, a twenty-five-year-old age of 20 to the love of my life, and I continue to work at the steelworks where my father, grandfather, brother and sister, along with thirteen and a half thousand other employees, was a fully integrated steelworks, which means it went into the iron ore at one and then came out of steel. And Margaret Thatcher entered the European Union in the late 70s and the steel making began its restructuring.

Unfortunately, the steel which where I worked was an old plant and 10000 people lost their jobs overnight. It no longer made steel. It processed steel from other plants. Hmm. I had an opportunity to come to Canada. They were advertising at the mine in flimflamming. And I had the interview and came out in April of 1981, along with my wife and two children. They were aged four and seven at the time and there were seventy-three other tradespeople came along from the UK at the same time, well within a year of one another of the first eight years.

And since then, I was an industrial mechanic. I was involved in the Health and Safety Committee and also a union recording secretary for the International Association of Machinists Union. I then got promoted to work in the Health and Safety Department as a coordinator when this was just coming on stream. They needed people for trainers. And I also spent eight years in the volunteer fire department and has a team and obtained my recipe in April of 2000. So, at approximately 28 years in the health and safety profession before retiring in April of 1997.

Hmm. So, tell me about your experience in the safety space. I think one of the areas you’ve written a book on, one of the key learnings around the explosion, but also a couple of other things. I’d love to hear a little bit about your story of going through an event of that nature, the explosion that had happened in Flint Flon. I believe you were on shift at that point in time when it occurred. Such experiences are a great opportunity to learn from.

So, I’d love to hear a little bit about your story there.

Absolutely. It was the worst night of my life, and it was one of the worst experiences anybody could imagine. And the maintenance shutdown of the furnace and the smelter was fairly routine. It had been done and the furnace was built in the 1930s and it was made of refractory brick, which needed to be replaced every year. And so, it was a routine job that many, many times before and over the years, better methods of controlling the furnace temperatures, better refractory breaks get extended, the life of the furnace.

So, it went from an annual event to a two-year event and then eventually a three-year event. So, the expertise of the people that were involved in the tear down and rebuild the experience was being lost so much over time and people were retiring. So that was one of the impacts of the. Of the process, the furnace will shut down at seven o’clock, it was a planned event for 10 days and it was a lot of high expectations going into the shutdown that it was going to be done safely on time and everything was going to go to plan.

Unfortunately, at about two o’clock in the morning, there was an explosion. The cause of the explosion was determined to be the amount of water that was being used to wash down the beams and the top end of the furnace operations for the demolition. It was an absolutely devastating event for the community. We have, sir, four air ambulances flying that evening to take the critically injured to hospital. One, unfortunately, passed away of his injuries eight days later.

And the, you know, three the other three individuals very badly burned. There was 43. The case is filed for workers compensation, 28 to stress related. And while 28 individuals lost time from work put down for. It had been planned to shut down for 10 days and it was two months before it was put back into operation. Hmm. Horrible. The company pleaded guilty to one count under the workplace safety and health regulations, and part of that, they wanted to spare the families and the community the ordeal of going through a long, drawn-out trial were ordered to pay the maximum fine at the time of the law, which was one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which was a pittance compared to that cost in terms of human suffering and cost of production, loss and credibility.

And also, safety problems had existed at the time of the explosion. They were not deemed to be adequate. And there were nine recommendations that came out of the inquiry. Right. In regards to the changes that needed to take place for any future shutdowns. And the investigation team conducted a third, conducted 36 interviews, produced seven 710-page report. The following shutdown, which took place five and a half years later, use no water whatsoever in the furnace up until the 2000 shutdown. 

What had been used washdown every year in every shutdown which prior to the.

And so how did it impact your perspective? So, going through such an event like this, having been in safety for 28 odd years, how did an event like this impact your perspective on the importance of safety, but also how accidents can take place?

Well, there’s a number of things I took away from it. And one of the things that is that, you know, you never stop learning and, you know, and the things that were once common practice can become totally unacceptable. And I use the example of smoking on airplanes. And I remember those was a bad example because it wasn’t acceptable practice at one time. And today, if anybody would have a cigarette on an airplane, people would be absolutely mortified.

And using the use of water around the furnace was it was an acceptable practice. I mean, it was a planned as I say, it was a planned event. It was part of the schedule. It was you know; it was in line of what the expectations were when the explosion occurred and the ramifications of it hit the community, everybody. So that wasn’t a great idea. Why are we doing this? It’s obvious after the event and not so obvious when the event was occurring.

And I wonder what we do today in the workplace, which often should be considered in the future. Totally unacceptable, you know. Yeah. And I’m sure that things and I think that’s well said because there’s a lot of standards, expectations that were accepted at one point. And at some point, people realized it was really never safe. Were there some clues early on before it happened that maybe this wasn’t the best way to proceed? And it’s possible that we don’t know that.

But was there a way that it could have been prevented through learning from small, small steps, small actions?

Well, the washdown was it was a preventative measure. It was put in place to reduce the number of injuries and improve the conditions around the demolition. There was always, you know, the area was a very dusty, hot area and it was lots of material calcined, as they call it. It’s roasted concentrate that is used to go into the furnace, the feed. So, there was a lot of dust around the area that needed to be disposed of.

No water, as I say, had been used since 1930. So, it seemed like you know, and the actual task of watching it down was dealing with fire hoses. The amounts and the quantity of water that was used was questionable in terms of the volume and how much was being supplied. But obviously it had been possible to do that type of activity without consequence.

Mm-hmm. And I’ve seen these similar settings in other shutdowns where you get normalized to certain pieces and it’s some variables are just a little bit more and then something gets out of hand. So. So your story is similar to that. I’ve heard some others that turn into two fires, et cetera, just because it became almost too normalized and people went a little bit above the spec and hadn’t really understood out of what the limitations were. And something catastrophic happens at one time.

Are there any key learnings that you’d like to share with listeners around your 49 years of experience? Because that’s a lot of experience, a lot of different settings. And you’ve you must have seen a lot of different incidences on top of this one.

Well, I think, you know, I by example, you can do the wrong thing and get away with it and you can do the right thing and still get hurt. You know, I’ve seen that over the course of my profession where people have been hurt and they were in the wrong place at the wrong time or they certainly were doing what they were supposed to be. Right. I’ve talked to people and I you know, and I did lots of interviews with people after accidents and I’ve done some training with supervisors and, you know, a moment of indecision or a lack of concentration can lead to a lifetime of regret.

Of course, it’s something that happens so quickly that when people get injured and the other things that I’ve noticed in my experience, it seems sometimes to be in conflict between education and experience in the workforce. Tell me more. And I think it’s unfortunate. You know, I respect both. I respect people that are well-educated. And I also have a great deal of respect for the experience that people have gained through the work that they performed. And I used an example in the book that kind of reflects a little bit on that.

It’s I think we’re moving in the right direction, but we’ve got a long way to go and we shouldn’t limit ourselves on things that we know and we can do. We need to challenge ourselves as much as we can. And we shouldn’t change. We should embrace it. Yeah, well, those are some of the key things that I’ve learned. And the number one, I guess, is you never stop learning.

Yeah, that’s very well said, because there’s so many things that just even the story you share before really illustrates this. I loved your point around focus as well in terms of all it takes is a second and you have regret for a very long time. And often too often what I’ve seen is people who think it’s not going to happen to me. And so, they don’t realize the extent of that, that little moment of focus that really can happen to absolutely anyone.

Absolutely. And I in my 20s, I had no fear of heights. And this is probably as good as an example as a kid used to almost feel invincible. I worked on the train over at the train crew. You know, we often didn’t tie off or even have a tie of things. And I managed to tie to. But it almost felt like you were invincible. And I think when you grow older, you start to get a little bit more respect to the environment that you find yourself in.

And today, I’m not. I must admit, I’m not good with heights. Nothing like I was when I was in my early 20s. So, yeah, there’s certainly that aspect to it.

In your book, you talk a little bit about culture and what are some of the signs around culture, some of the challenges you’ve seen and the importance of culture when it comes to the safety?

Well, I think people want and everything I’m talking about now is just from my perspective. So, culture to me is how we do things around here, you know, the norm. And that could be a good thing or a positive thing or it can be a very negative thing. Yeah. And but people can get swallowed up by an organizational culture and they can cultures can change over a period of time. But it’s a process. It takes a lot of time.

It takes a lot of time. Once you’ve got a negative culture in the work environment, it’s not an easy fix. It’s not something that you can just wave a magic wand. And the next minute, until I wish it was that simple, I wish it was that simple.

And the way I would measure a cultural environment that needs to be looked at closely is in terms of high turnover, high incident rate absenteeism. You know, those are kind of key indicators that, you know, the needs of lots of grievances filed on time. That’s where people aren’t getting along as well as they should be. And it’s creating an environment where people don’t want to want to be. So, it’s subtle, it’s and it certainly impacts morale and what about safety in the bottom line and if the cultural environment isn’t what it should be?

And I think your point is very good there in terms of really that that connection between safety and the bottom line, I think these things are integrated. I like your examples of signs that something’s wrong from a cultural standpoint. The fact is, everybody’s got a corporate culture and you’ve inherited the one you’ve got and it can be changed. But there is no such thing as I can buy a good culture about culture. It’s really it is what you have and then you’ve got to start shaping it and informing it.

But I love the precursors, the signs that you can see that something’s a little bit off and definitely have seen similar things that can construction as an example where you can have very high turnover in certain areas and other sites, work sites will have almost no turnover and to the difference can be actually extreme in like for like same region, same type of work. I’ve seen anywhere from two to construction sites side by side where one turnover is probably two percent or so or less and another one is closer to 20 or 30 percent.

 

That’s a substantial difference for same trades, same type of work. So, love your thoughts on culture and love you for you to tell me a little bit about your book. So, you wrote your book, No Smoke Without Fire A Recipe for Disaster. A lot about your experiences. Tell me a little bit about the book. It’s available on Amazon, but I’d love to hear from your perspective some of the key insights from that book.

 

Well, I never considered myself to be an author after the explosion. I did take some counseling and I had a very hard time dealing with the effects of the two of the disaster. And my counselor suggested that if I couldn’t talk to anybody and that included my wife even that I should just write my thoughts down on a piece of paper and go, which I did. And so, I had all this paper in the drawer. And when I finished my career and retired three years ago, I still, you know, felt there was so much to contribute.

 

So, I started on this adventure of writing a book, became a manuscript to an editor, Rick Johnson, from When Beach. And he was formidable in terms of giving me advice and coaching me through the process. One of the things that Richard mentioned was who is your target audience? I never even considered it, to be honest. And he said, you know, if you write it in for people who work at the mines, you don’t have to be very descriptive in what you’re talking about because they know what you’re talking about.

 

But if you’re writing people that have never been in a mine, you need to be. More detailed, not in mind, if you get into too much detail, you lose the people that work in the mine. So, this is a fine line there. And so, it’s a simple read. It’s not a complicated read. People have read it from other industries, worked in pulp and paper and construction and. And the oil and gas industry of that have read it have said, well, you know, I can relate to this.

 

This happened right in our industries. And I’m pleased to hear that, that it’s reaching and it’s broader than even I anticipated. And it’s one a Canadian Book Award. It’s posted on their website, which I was very, very pleased about. And it’s available in Kindle format, paperback and hardcover on the Amazon. And it’s also available worldwide through their distribution system. Yep. So, it’s been well received from not only the shop floor, but right through to the boardroom in terms of I’ve had people in senior management positions that have acknowledged it as well as, you know, people that have.

That work in the organization pretty well, every level, so it’s a good book for people going into the industries. It’s I think it’s good for supervisors you should to learn from because it talks a lot about their responsibilities and what they should be looking for. Well, each of a good supervisor, which is so important and a challenge and struggle that so many organizations face is how does the front-line leader inspire? How do they drive the right behaviors to drive safety on the front line?

Well, that is my belief and my observation. After 49 years at the front line, supervisor is one of the key players in terms of influencing the workplace, in terms of setting the standards, making sure that, you know, the people that are working directly for him are doing the right thing at the right time.

I completely agree, and so often I’ve talked to frontline team members who pretty much would say, I really don’t care about the VP. I don’t care about the president or the CEO. What really matters is the person who’s who is there, who gets what I do. That’s the person that I listen to. And so that’s the biggest opportunity most businesses have, is really engaging at that level because it’s there’s only so much a CEO can do in terms of connecting with every worker.

Yes. I couldn’t agree more. And the other thing that I point out in the book, that it’s seldom the supervisors or managers that actually get it. It’s the workers themselves that end up injured. And, yeah, I point out in the book that there’s all sorts of safety programs that come into play. And there’s again, you know, we talk about who’s responsible for safety. And to me, it’s a responsibility.

It is responsibility at every level, including the worker. And that is one of the things that the inquiry pointed out that. Know the companies and industries have a right, you know, I have an obligation to point out the hazards that people are being exposed to and provide and everything else. I couldn’t agree more. But there’s a checks and balances in that. And the worker has some responsibility to, you know, participate in the process.

If they see something that doesn’t look right or doesn’t feel right, they need to challenge it.

Absolutely, and it touches back on something you talked about even earlier in terms of the focus is so, so often is just something doesn’t feel right. Sometimes it’s even a gut instinct. Sometimes I see something, but I need to speak up and stop work if I see anything that’s a little bit off. And that’s also management leadership that I would say is actually mostly a management leadership component in terms of how do I create the environment where people feel safe doing that.

It’s easy to say to somebody stop work. I was talking to an executive once who is even saying I was noticing somebody else was doing something that was dangerous and was risky. And I was trying to get them to stop work. And I realized that I asked my leaders to do this every day and I couldn’t even make that person stop because it’s not always that easy. So even that influenced the comfort, the psychological safety, as a lot of people talk about all key elements that, like leaders get a chance to influence.

Thank you so much for joining me on the show. Brian, I really appreciate you sharing the perspective from front line from a leadership standpoint and also going through such a horrific incident like this one. And I appreciate you took the time to write a book, to share your story, to convey the message, because this is such an important message for so many leaders and team members. And I think your approach is phenomenal.

So, thank you so much. Have a wonderful day. And if you’re interested in the book, it’s available, as Brian mentioned, on Amazon. No smoke without fire.

Thank you again for having me on your podcast. I really appreciate it.

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Over 49 years of experience in steelmaking and mining as a tradesman and as a safety professional, both in the United Kingdom and Canada, has given Brian Humphreys a unique perspective from which to write about the Flin Flon Smelter explosion of 2000 and other workplace incidents that have impacted so many lives. Brian’s goal in writing his first book is to increase awareness by sharing these experiences with others and the lessons that have been learnt from them so they may never again be repeated.

To Read the Book: “No Smoke Without Fire”: A recipe for disaster by Brian B Humphreys

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Safety Communications with Dr. Josh Williams

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Effective safety communication is the cornerstone of a healthy safe production culture.

This is particularly important with one-on-one conversations with employees.

Employees who feel listened to and appreciated are more likely to go beyond the call of duty for safety and other organizational efforts.

Effective communicators demonstrate genuine caring, promote psychological safety, actively listen, and provide recognition regularly.

How strong are your safety communication skills?

Find out with our free Safety Communication Quiz: https://www.zeroharmleadership.com/

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

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru, where we explore topics around operations, leadership and particularly the role that leaders play in driving safety in their business. My name is Eric Michrowski, president and CEO of Propulo. Today on our show, I’m delighted to have once again Dr. Josh Williams. He’s a partner Human Performance and Business Transformation at Propulo, an absolute guru in the safety space. Thank you for being on the show. Josh, thanks. I appreciate it. Dr. Josh has a Ph.D. in psychology from Virginia Tech. He is one of the pioneers in safety culture with over 20 years of experience in the space, with a broad range of clients in industries ranging from aerospace firm military oil and gas, utilities and manufacturing, a really diverse group of organizations. He’s authored a book. He’s coedited a second one. He’s published over 40 different articles and various publications. He’s also a prize winner and national prize winner for the Cambridge Center on Behavioral Safety. And he has presented over a hundred times to some really delighted audiences that were happy to hear his story. So really excited to have you here. We’ve talked on prior shows about how you got into the safety culture space. Is there an element of why you really got into this space that you’d like to share with our listeners?

I kind of touched on it in some earlier ones in grad school, kind of moving from maybe traditional ivory tower to a professor, Scott Geller, who many of you may know really as kind of the fountainhead for the psychology of safety, sort of working with him. And there was a passion there that was contagious. And part of it is just the feeling of fighting the good fight. You know, you’re trying to do the right thing to make organizations better, more pleasant and keep people from getting hurt.

So that’s kind of where the HWI in it is there for me.

I couldn’t agree more. I mean, it’s really empowering to know that you spend most of your day, most of your life making it safer for others, thinking about how other people can come home to their loved ones every day. So, I completely agree with what you’re sharing there today. We’re talking about a really important topic. I know both of us are passionate about is around safety communication. And it’s a topic that a lot of organizations struggle with.

You’ve recently authored a quiz, which is a novel way to start thinking about how am I doing? How do I compare against some of the leaders in this space and what actions do I need to take to make a difference? So, again, on safety communication, if you want to take that frequency, no gimmicks, no nothing that will come out of it other than great insights and ideas go to zero harm leadership, dotcom, zero harm leadership, dotcom.

We’ll be right back with a couple more questions to understand some of the wisdom that Josh can share around safety communication. Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru, this is your host, Eric Michrowski. We know how many businesses have been impacted by the current covid-19 Black Swan event. Propulo has invested all its available capacity to create free resources for leaders on how to navigate this crisis. Whether you would like to explore some of our free tools, subscribe to our free biweekly newsletter or seek free advice.

I encourage you to visit covid. Black Swan dot com covid black swan dot com Propulo has committed not to profit from this crisis in any way. It’s our way of giving back to the communities that we serve. Thank you.

Like what we do here, this is your Socials and tell everyone, a lot of leaders come to me and they ask me, what do I do to really get more meaningful, more impactful communication? They worried that they keep putting different messages and nobody’s listening to the message being sent. Josh, any thoughts on the topic of safety communications to start?

Yeah, and we can look at it from an employer to employee. We can look at it from a leader with employees. I think from the leadership side is getting out of this mindset. And I think a lot of a lot of leaders do. But the mindset is it’s not compliance. I mean, we have to have compliance, obviously. But when I if I’m a leader out there on the floor, I should be asking people, how are they doing?

What do they need anything scaring them about the job? It should be, you know, asking questions, trying to get their input and having it more conversational thing. You can still get your point across if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed to address it. But I think from a leadership perspective, one, get out there more in two. When you’re out there, the more conversational asking questions, I think the better off we’re going to be.

I love when you’re talking about get out there, spend more time in front of a team members, more time in the field. One of our other colleagues, Bri, had done some research a long time ago where she really looked at the impact that spending time on the floor had. And how is one of the biggest predictors? Can you tell me a little bit more of that time in field time on the floor? Why is it so important?

I think it sets the tone for everything. I mean, first of all, you know, I think we all have experience where sometimes the decision makers may be perceived as being out of touch with people that are out there on the job doing the job. I’m not trying to cast aspersions at any group, but that us versus them thing is a real issue. It’s a real problem. It’s a morale issue. And if someone’s making decisions that have never been out here and they don’t always make sense, there’s been some goofy policies, frankly, I’ve seen over the years where it just doesn’t make sense and people understand it.

So, I’ll save some stories for another podcast on that. But bottom line is, the more we’re out with folks, everyone has a better understanding of what both sides are doing. It breaks down barriers. And I think people appreciate the fact that their leaders are out there talking to them, working with them and showing respect.

Is there a percentage of time that a leader should be spending in front of their team members? Is there an order of magnitude or is it just make a commitment to do better tomorrow?

That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a stock answer in terms of percentage. You could say 10x or whatever you’re doing, do it, do a more. But I think that the real challenge is part of it is people want to they just want to have time. And so, I know one of the things that we do, we have a kind of a tool that we use to set aside time for folks to get out there. It’s a scheduling issue in many ways.

So, we work with leaders to kind of figure out what can we do with all these various meetings? Can we combine these can we get rid of that one and carve out space so we at least we have a dedicated time to get out there and see folks that is so important. Too often what I hear is a message where I reduce the ranks of my frontline leaders, yet I’m expecting them to do so much more. And at the end of the day, what gets done is usually just the remaining task and they spend most of it in front of the computer instead of going in front.

So, I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. Start by asking what could be removed, what are some of the low hanging fruits non-value-added tasks that just should be taken out and do that, like as your first major initiative? Any tips for a leader who’s maybe new, who goes on the floor, who’s not sure how to how to start conversations?

Yeah, ask questions. And that’s for everybody. But especially if I’m a new leader. People but people are smart. And if I am not exactly sure, you know, what’s going on there. That’s all right. Strong leaders show vulnerability. It’s smart. It’s a strength. It’s not a weakness. And asking questions, being authentic. If you genuinely care and you have the right intentions, people have good sensors for that. They entered.

They feel it. They understand it. So, I think it’s good for everybody, but particularly new leaders. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a sign of strength to be doing those things.

That’s such an important comment. And I think this is something we should expand on in a future podcast. I know for me as a leader really early on in my career, I think probably six, seven years into it, I was given a task which was to go into business I knew absolutely nothing about, turned that business around, change everything from an operational standpoint. And that’s really where I understood humility from a whole different level because I can solve a single thing.

I didn’t understand what was going on in front of me, and I was forced to listen to Top End to go on the floor, ask my team members to figure out how to solve things, and I had no choice but to listen to what they had to say. Organizations that do this well, are there any tips on are things that you see that are markedly different in those organizations that are really good at this?

I was night and day and trust me, you walk in in the first five minutes, ten minutes, you get a feel for culture. I mean, immediately. You do a site tour, you can tell, and it is it’s a huge difference and that doesn’t mean the you know, the really good organizations. It’s not fairy dust and unicorns and rainbows and people high 5min and hugging. But it’s a noticeable difference when you don’t have that.

When you have people that are disengaged, when you don’t have interactions between folks, you get like I said earlier, you get some really dumb rules and decisions that are being made and you’ve got resentment on both sides. And there is no discussion, we all know from any kind of relationship when the communication goes away, people stop talking, problems come up. So that that communication to me is not just a safety issue. It’s a barometer.

It’s a litmus test, really, for your culture and how well you’re running things. So, if you’ve got those problems or you don’t have people talking to each other, you need to address it right away.

I think that’s a great point. What are the themes I want to double click on? You were talking a little bit in terms of what I call safety participation. So, in terms of how do I engage people to make better decisions, there’s some great work that was done by students, INSEAD professors, and they call it really open leadership or fair process, which was really this concept of I have a problem as a leader. I’m used to solving that problem.

But instead of trying to solve it, I’m going to go and involve my team members to come up with solutions. And it doesn’t mean I’m creating democracy. It doesn’t mean that I’m allowing everybody to do whatever they want. But just asking for input. In the end of the day, as a leader, I’m going to make the choice, but I’m going to explain that choice. And they’ve done some huge correlations between that approach and leadership and success in general in terms of that business, that it maybe took more time in the answer to get to a solution, but the end outcome was so much better.

Any thoughts around that concept of involving team members in driving safety?

Ford So quick example. I was working for a steel mill in the northern part of the U.S. years ago, and they had a problem with logout. Tagert And as you all know, if you’re not locking out equipment, particularly in a steel mill, you can get hurt or killed in a hurry. And so, the plant manager was like, look, if we see somebody that’s not locked out, they call it a lockout, tag out, try out there.

Anyway, if we don’t see locked out, you’re gone. And his thinking was, look, we take this seriously and if you’re not following along, you’re out of here. And the safety manager or the safety director was smart. He’s like, let’s hold on, let’s go talk to people. And they actually went out. They got engineers; they’ve got some supervisors. They got some employees out there actually operating the equipment, started talking to him.

The problem was it was so complicated, locking out the equipment. And by the way, they had almost the worst production pressure I can remember. I mean, it was brutal. So, you couple that with really complicated procedures that take forever to do. It’s not surprising sometimes people took shortcuts. So bottom line is employees with the help of some other folks came up with a way to energize the equipment. And half the time, half the steps, they wrote it down.

Really simple. I could understand it, you know, hit the button after you hit the button, do this. The problem went away immediately. It was not an enforcement issue. It was a communication issue. And by talking to people, people are, again, are smart and they are going to come up with good solutions if you let them.

That’s great. So, this time I’m going to say don’t hit the button. Keep listening on. We’re going to talk more about safety communication in just a second. But in the interim, if you have a couple of minutes, go to zero harm leadership, dotcom zero harm leadership dot com to do joshes safety communication, self-assessment to see how you stack up and what actions you can take to make a meaningful difference. We’ll be right back. Here we go again with some more great insights and conversations with Dr Josh Williams here on The Safety Guru talking about safety communication.

So, I want to dial in to another topic, which is peer-to-peer communications. So, to employees, how they communicate with each other. Tell me more of your thoughts on this.

You know, it’s a funny thing. When I first started doing this years ago, when I was younger and skinnier, I was doing a training in Allentown, Pennsylvania. And I am nervous. I’ve got all my notes. I’ve got them in order. I’ve prepared, I’ve practiced, but I am nervous. And about 30 minutes in, I’m saying something. I don’t know what I was talking about, but this guy stood up in this auditorium and said, I have underwear older than you.

Who are you to tell me whatever? And I was like, I was not prepared for that. My comment was, that’s a whole other problem. You got to deal with that first. But it’s a real serious mindset. Don’t tell me what to do. There was a famous country song years ago, if you mind your own business, you won’t be mine and mine. And I think sometimes we take that too far. We take it as disrespect.

Someone says something to me, you’re disrespecting me. I’ve been here thirty years. You’ve been here three. Who are you to tell me how to do my job? I’m maintenance your operations you don’t want. Do we have these barriers where we just bristle at the thought of someone trying to help us? So, I think it’s really important to start trying to break that down when you start thinking about people getting seriously hurt or injured on the job. Some you know, some of the listeners, Charlie Morecroft, you know, good guy and a lot of people know was burnt almost on his entire body, almost died and talks about that story.

Brad Gardner, another individual, lost an arm in a potato factory, felt the heat. He was pulled into an auger. He didn’t block it out first. All of a sudden, he’s being pulled in that machine. I hate to be gruesome, but he had a decision to yank himself out, left his arm in the equipment. And sadly, I’ve got a ton of those stories just from doing this for a while. If someone had spoken up, if someone had said, hey, man, I don’t feel right.

If you don’t lock us out, you can get hurt. Or I was doing the same thing, tore my shoulder. I don’t see it happen to you. If we’re communicating these things, we’re keeping people from getting hurt. We’ve got to start changing that mindset of this isn’t disrespect. This is simply just caring. I don’t I don’t see it happen to you and we need to work on that.

That reminds me of a story. When I was early on my first leadership role, I remember that I provided some coaching to somebody from a cell on a safety standpoint. And she turned around and she started screaming at me and putting her finger in my face very close to my nose and saying, I could be your grandma. So, it was it’s not always easy when you have to deal with that. So, any closing thoughts around safety communication as we close off our show for today?

Yeah, I mean, and it’s one of those things, too. I think, frankly, training and we incorporate in some of the stuff that we do. But you have to practice it. It’s a skill we don’t all grow up being communications experts. You know, I got into this job because I’m really good at whatever I do. And so, I think we have to work on it. And so, a couple of quick hitter tips. First is asking questions.

You know, the first thing, if you come up and I’m working on something, I maybe I’m working on turbine engine. I’ve been doing this for hours. I don’t have the equipment I need. I’m in a confined, you know, kind of a difficult space. And you come up, start telling me what I need to be doing right or wrong. It’s going to be a problem. You come up and ask me, how are you doing?

Anything I can do to help? What do you need? Asking questions kind of breaks down people’s barriers because now we’re having a conversation. So, I think step one would be asking questions. Of course, showing respect at all times is an obvious one and praising the good stuff to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t need a group hug for where am I hearing protection. But if, you know, if I’m going out of my way helping out a newer employee, I’m cleaning up a spill after my shift.

You know, a little tip of the cap now and again. It’s not a bad thing either. I think the last one, too. I mean, this may not be a great one to end on, but we’ve got to watch our language, you know, must never, always sometimes. You know, you mentioned that a Ph.D. in psychology, my wife won’t mind me saying this, I hope, but it did not prepare me for the first couple months of marriage.

And part of the funny part of it was we would get an argument and I didn’t understand why. And sometimes I would say words that elicited it like must never, always. And I finally learned, okay, don’t be a dummy. You know, quit doing that and also say, yes, I know you’re right. But just think about that. In fact, this will be a homework assignment for the listeners. This will be a test in social psychology.

Either use must never or always. As soon as you go home tonight, as soon as you see the person that you live with, if you live with somebody, tell them they never do something just for fun. Hi, honey. You never do this or, you know, you always complain about that and then see what happens. And if they start yelling at you, you could say, well, listen to that dang podcast. And the guy said to try it and he was right.

We just got to be careful and mindful sometimes because I think unintentionally, we by accident may send the wrong message, because, again, keep in mind, we’re all a little defensive. Sometimes when it is about our job, we take pride in what we do and it gets really easy for people to get defensive. So, I think the last point, and I don’t want to be soapbox here. I think the last point, though, we need to consider is talking to people are caring.

You’re looking out for people. It’s not about telling them what to do. And I think change in that mindset goes a long way to preventing those serious injuries and fatalities.

Thank you so much for those closing thoughts. Again, if you have a couple of minutes, go to zero harm leadership, dotcom, do Joshes quick, which will give you some meaningful insights in terms of what you need to do next. And this was, again, Dr. Josh William on The Safety Guru. Thank you so much. And we’ll talk again soon. Thank you.

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world to deliver customized, sustainable solutions to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert.

Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 50 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

A sample of Josh’s recent projects include delivering a series of motivational presentations, conducting comprehensive strategic planning sessions, and managing safety culture assessments and improvement activities.

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RELATED EPISODES

Safety Incentives with Dr. Josh Williams

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For years, organizational leaders have used incentives to try and motivate safety. The rationale is that providing financial rewards for not getting hurt will motivate employees to “try harder” for safety. 

In reality, this often encourages non-reporting which is why OSHA now discourages outcome-based incentives. Plus, people are already motivated to avoid injury. 

Effective incentives, if used, should focus on proactive safety behaviors and efforts. 

​Rewards should be symbolic and safety themed. 

Genuine appreciation and recognition trump all other incentives.  

Take the quiz below to see how well you’re managing safety incentives. 

Please try our Free Safety Incentives Quiz: https://www.humanperformanceleader.com/

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

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru, where we explore topics around operations, leadership and particularly the role of leaders in driving safety in their business. I’m Eric Michrowski president and CEO of Propulo and also the host of this show. Today on our show we have Dr. Josh Williams. He’s a partner in human performance and business transformation at Propulo Consulting. Josh, so great to have you on the show today.

I appreciate it, Eric. Thanks. Glad to be here.

That’s great. So, Josh has an impressive background. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from Virginia Tech. He’s worked over 20 years in the space around safety culture, one of the pioneers in this space, his broad range of client experience that ranges in clients from aerospace, pharmaceutical, military, oil and gas, utilities, manufacturing. And the list goes on. He’s co-authored a book, authored his own book and has over 40 publications in his name, a really impressive range of expertise.

He’s presented at over a 100 conferences and other presentations on the topic of safety and safety culture. He also is one the Cambridge Center National Prize on Behavioral Safety. Wow. Josh, an impressive background. So impressive to have you on the show today.

I appreciate it. Thank you.

So, tell me a little bit about how you got to where you are, what got you into the safety culture space.

Yeah, so I was in graduate school and kind of working my way through there, trying to get my piece of paper, frankly. And midway through, I was a bit frustrated. Everything seemed very ivory tower and kind of academic, you know, I appreciated it, but it wasn’t for me. I met a guy named Scott Geller who was me became my advisor. So, I worked with him and it was much more of real life going out into organizations, trying to help out fight the good fight, doing some good things there.

So that’s kind of how I came into the safety world was through Scott Geller. And so that was kind of my initial introduction.

That’s excellent. It’s impressive. And your client list and the type of work that you’ve done and the impacts you have of those organizations as well. Very impressive. Today, we want to focus on a topic that’s really near and dear to so many of our listeners. It’s a topic around safety incentives. So, let’s go first to a quick commercial break and they’ll be right back. Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru. This is your host, Eric Michrowski.

We know how many businesses have been impacted by the current covid-19 Black Swan event. Propulo has invested all its available capacity to create free resources for leaders on how to navigate this crisis. Whether you would like to explore some of our free tools, subscribe to our free biweekly newsletter or seek free advice. I encourage you to visit covid black swan dot com Propulo has committed not to profit from this crisis in any way. It’s our way of giving back to the communities that we serve.

Thank you.

Like what we do here, this is your Socials and tell everyone.

So today we’re here to talk about safety incentives. I know this is a topic that so many leaders struggle with, because if you nail it right, you can get the right impact on the business. And if you don’t, you can start causing all sorts of harm in your business, such as underreporting things of that nature. You’ve also authored a quiz, which I think is phenomenal, that helps leaders self-assess in terms of where they’re at and what actions they should do.

It’s completely free. We’re going to talk about it more. But if you’re interested, just go to human performance leader Dotcom, human performance leader, Dotcom. So, Josh, maybe let’s kick off by you sharing a little bit of your perspective over the years around what you’ve seen it that works well in the safety in cyberspace.

Well, I think one of the hardest things is incentives. Everybody struggles with him and the challenges that leaders have good intentions. They say safety matters to me is important to me is a core value, but they don’t know how to show it. And so sometimes mistakenly, especially, you know, 10, 15 years ago, you throw money at it. So, if you go if you all don’t go, you know, get her for the next three months, six months or a year, we’re going to give you money. 

And that’s our way of showing you that we care. Unfortunately, what that led to was people hiding stuff. I mean, I get hurt. And now not only am I going to lose my money, I might lose your money. And so just a quick example. I don’t know, maybe two or three years ago, we were doing some work with a company up in Canada. And they had a situation where if everyone went an entire month without getting injured, they got a gift card or for gas, it was like a gas voucher, maybe seventy-five dollars something.

And this is when gas prices were really high. So, it was a big deal. People were excited about it. They appreciated the incentive. Unfortunately, a woman was walking by her office, slipped on the ice they had and so slipped on the ice, fell down in front of everybody, had a tailbone injury, whatever the medical term for that’s called. So, she got hurt. She had the embarrassment of falling in front of everybody and she cost them their gift card.

They were upset with her. People made comments to her say, and you blue are incentives. So that’s the reality. What happens is people start hiding stuff. Small things can turn into bigger injuries because we didn’t deal with in the first place. So, as you know, Eric, you know, OSHA has kind of come down on those outcome-based incentives because frankly, they just motivate the wrong thing despite the right intentions.

I completely agree. I remember a story of somebody who shared with me several years ago, and it was about somebody that had been injured quite severely on the last day of the month. And the crew, this was a mine site, had put the person on a truck and driven away without anybody knowing and then waited till the next morning to bring that person to the hospital so that the recordable injury would pass into the next period and not impact their business.

So that’s just frightening to hear things of that nature. So, in your experience, are there certain things that leaders should be looking for when they’re creating an incentive program?

Yeah, the first and I’ll just touch on this is executive compensation. If leaders are getting a bunch of money for people not getting hurt, that’s something to consider. And that’s a topic for another day. In the immediate term for employees, process based is the way to go. And that’s what leading organizations are now doing. If you’re going the route of incentives, make it focused on what you actually doing. So close call reporting, safety suggestions, behavioral cards, human performance cards, whatever.

The point is, we’re rewarding specific actions, behaviors that we’re doing to try to get to our endgame. So being more process based is the first step in. The second step is focusing on quality. And that’s where sometimes we have issues there, too, because now all of a sudden, if I’m getting some kind of incentive for filling out cards, that’s great. But then I start pencil whipping through these cards for the incentive without putting a lot of time into it.

So, I think it’s important for leaders if we’re going that route or if you have process-based incentives, that’s fine. Focus on the quality. Good cards were being done, good conversations, leading safety meetings, etc. So, I think if we’re going that route again, don’t focus on the quota’s, focus on the quality of what people are doing.

That’s excellent. So, I’m a leader. I have a safety incentive program in place at this moment. I start realizing after listening to you or playing on the quiz to understand kind of how I’m doing that maybe I need to change things. What should I do? Because if I start removing incentives, I could have my team rebelling against me because they’re saying I want those incentives to show up safely. What would be your guidance to a leader?

Yeah, I think keeping the incentives it’s tricky because like, once you’ve got incentives, you’re sort of stuck with him. And it is tricky to get out. And if you’ve got outcome based, start switching to process. If you got process based, that’s fine. But focus on the HWI. The Big Five is what we. Call it four, why are we doing is the point of it, is going home safe to your friends and family? It’s not about payoff.

So, if you’re doing, you know, prizes, first aid kits are great. If you want to have some kind of celebration, have a safety fair where you bring in your family, you can do, you know, all kinds of hearing, testing and other things. But the emphasis is on safety and going home safe, your family and that we care about you. So, we just got to make sure that we’re emphasizing the right things and don’t have it seen as a, you know, a payoff.

Or a lot of leaders talk about management by objectives. They talk about how what you incentivize will get done. How do you deal with a team member that says, well, you’re not pay me my bonus to stay safe, so why should I stay safe?

That’s an issue. And there’s a big larger issue there, too, because, look, pay people more money on the front end. Really, you want to get better performance, not only having the right culture, but get the right people in the first place. There’s a whole lot that goes into the concern is trying to throw money at people is a quick fix. It is not solving the bigger problem. So, there’s got to be other things that need to be done.

Let me give you a couple if I can ask a couple of quick examples of some good things that were done. One organization where I’m from and where I live now and kind of southwest Virginia had a bunch of money, they were going to use for a poster campaign. And that’s great. But some of these signs and posters like I’ve seen some that are I saw a poster at a refinery that said think safety. And the whole thing was all kinds of rusted out, dirty, nasty.

It’s sending the wrong message. What they did was give the money to employees. They had everyone they shut down all operations. They brought in everybody into a big room. They had markers, flip charts, and they did a campaign, do your own posters. So, the money they had dedicated for that they gave as prizes to their employees. And it was, you know, not a big amount. Hundred dollars, fifty dollars per second something. But it was really fun.

And I sat in on it and there was not a lick of talent and that entire building, but it was fun and they were engaged. They had posters once they were done over the entire facility. The winning poster was like a Forrest Gump tribute face, like safety is a safety does with some guy running with a box of chocolates and hearing protection, whatever. But that’s a good example of a fun thing that’s done for the right way. Companies will do stickers for hard hats.

One company donated money to the Boys and Girls Club. So quick example, observation cards, rather than me getting a personal benefit. That money was donated every time a card was done, a small portion was donated to a local charity and that was real. They raised 40000 dollars in a couple of months. So those are some examples, maybe some ideas of when we’re going the incentive route. That’s what we should be focused on.

So, I just want to point any of the listeners, if you’re interested in kind of self-reflection in terms of how you’re doing around safety incentives, go to human performance leader dotcom, human performance leader, Dotcom. You’re going to go through a quick quiz. Completely free. No obligations, nothing come out. It’s just about sharing some ideas, some insights so you can see how you’re doing and then stack up against some of the leaders in this space and decide what are the right action plans.

We’re going to be right back in a second to talk a little bit more with Josh on what you can do next around. Senator, thank you. So, we’re back with some more with Dr. Josh Williams. So here we’re talking about safety and Sennett’s today. I don’t have a safety incentive program in place currently. And I want to know, after hearing what you had to say, going through and going through your quiz and reflecting on it, I so realizing that I have a behavior-based safety program and I need to do something to improve the quality of the reporting, what should I do first?

That’s a good question, especially with behavioral safety observations. Again, focusing on the quality. You can sometimes, of course, with people’s permission first is kind of show people examples of good comments, because that’s a good measure of quality, is what are the comments that are being made and really having discussions around what people are seeing out there, you know, in the start of the tail board meetings during the day, formally, informally, I think if you’re going to start doing an incentive program, one thing to consider is get input from people that are on the job doing the job.

They know what’s going on. They know what they want and they appreciate it. You’re going to get more involvement when you’ve got folks that are saying, well, let’s do this or we’d like to see this, keeping in mind we’re going to have a process focused and quality focused. And another thing quickly is unannounced rewards are a nice thing. There’s you didn’t tell me was coming all of a sudden, I have a pizza party. Not a big deal, but you’re getting folks together show an appreciation.

You guys have been working hard. No one’s getting hurt. Y’all are doing the right things. We just want to say a quick thank you here. Some pizza. Don’t forget the power of some of those unannounced, informal things. It doesn’t have to be programmatic when you’re going that route.

Great. And before I get to last thoughts. He talked about pizza parties. So, what happens if something didn’t go well in the last month or quarter? Should I still do a pizza party or should I just be if I do really well?

Look, it depends on what went wrong. I mean, if and I think we’ve got to be careful with punishment and that that’ll be another podcast. You know, if something goes wrong with their system factors involved, too often it’s easy to point the finger and say, well, they screwed up. They may have, but there may have been a lot of other reasons behind it. So that’s why I kind of mentioned the unannounced part.

I mean, we can still have a party. We can have a teachable moment to use. Use that term again with permission. We don’t want to be disrespectful to folks, but I think we still celebrate lots of good things that have happened because we don’t you know, I don’t think one misstep necessarily should screw everything up.

Thank you so much, Josh. The absolutely fantastic. Any closing thoughts around the topic of safety incidents before we part?

Yeah, I think, you know, everybody wants to be appreciated. People want to be respected. They want to be recognized. They want to enjoy work. They want to feel like, you know, all these things. They don’t cost companies money. They cost time because you got to spend time out there with your folks. They don’t cost money. So, I hope you know the listeners. You know, my final thoughts would be positive feedback, recognition, appreciation.

Like these people. Someone’s been doing this job 35 years. It’s their identity. It’s who they are showing respect, show appreciation, thank them for doing the right things. And I think if we and this is not just touchy feely, this is behavioral science. When you’re trying to influence behavior, it’s not just cracking the whip, praising the right things, rewarding the right things, increases the probability will happen in the future. So, I hope we keep that in mind that praise and recognition have a better work environment, but it also leads to more positive safety behaviors that in turn prevents sniffs.

So, recognition appreciation is the ultimate incentive.

Thank you so much. I couldn’t agree more. The whole thought topic of recognition rewards is so underutilized to really reinforce the things you want to see more often. So today on The Safety Guru, we’ve had Dr. Josh Williams, an absolute expert. Absolute pleasure having you on the show today. And if you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to go to Human Performance Leader Dotcom Free Quiz will only take you a couple of minutes. We’ll give you some great insights on how you’re doing around your incentives and maybe some ideas and some strategies to take forward.

And if you got more questions, Dr. Josh Williams is such a generous person with his time and his ideas so committed to the space. Thank you so much for listening to The Safety Guru. Thank you.

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

For more than 20 years, Josh has partnered with clients around the world to deliver customized, sustainable solutions to improve safety culture and prevent SIFs. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Virginia Tech and is a behavioral safety, human performance, and safety culture improvement expert.

Josh is the author of Keeping People Safe: The Human Dynamics of Injury Prevention and co-editor of Keys to Behavior Based Safety. He has published more than 50 book chapters, government reports, white papers, blogs and articles in leading journals. Josh has also delivered hundreds of presentations at leading national conferences and is a highly regarded public speaker. He received the Cambridge Center National First Prize for his research on behavioral safety feedback.

A sample of Josh’s recent projects include delivering a series of motivational presentations, conducting comprehensive strategic planning sessions, and managing safety culture assessments and improvement activities.

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RELATED EPISODES

My Safety Why

Eric Michrowski on Forbes Books Radio

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ABOUT THE EPISODE

This episode introduces my Safety Why. What is yours? It’s key to being a Safety Leader and to deliver results.

12 key proven credos to deliver the right safety outcomes.

READ THIS EPISODE

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

Hi, I’m Eric Michrowski, president and CEO of Propulo Consulting and host of his brand news podcast, The Safety Guru. I’ve been committed to changing the world of work and making it safer for people to come home to their loved ones for many decades. Today, with that commitment, we’re launching a different kind of leadership podcast. Our leadership podcasts focus on those who seek to leave a legacy while making sure that their team members stay safe every day. As a trailer says, real leaders leave a legacy that captured the hearts and minds of their teens; 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 today. I want to begin with my safety story. I remember it clearly like it was yesterday. It was a dark and stormy night. I was working in one of the world’s largest airline hubs, and the operations had come to several halts that night. We were struggling to get planes out safely, and lots of people were left disappointed, unable to get to their destinations.

These storms happen often in the airline industry, but this one was bigger than most and came suddenly. The sheer magnitude was unexpected. I was doing my best to run my part of the operation as best as possible. But we kept being pushed back with one red alert after the next red alert, the night was coming to an end, and I remember walking back to my office above the old airport terminal, tired and feeling like I hadn’t accomplished everything I could have that day.

As I was walking down the corridor, I noticed a man, a man in a yellow rain suit walking briskly behind me. He eventually caught up to me, and it was none other than the CEO. He called me by my name Eric and asked me that day to step up to a bigger role. That moment set my course in the safety world. There is no better place to learn about safety than the airline industry. It’s an industry that has learned so much from accidents and how to prevent them.

It’s an industry that has completely recognized that safety is not just a word that you put on a poster. But rather, it will make or break. Safety was ingrained into me from the first day I started in the airline industry. It was clear that everything was a priority that needed to be balanced, with one exception, safety. Safety was a prerequisite, a mass. You had to do everything at the highest level of safety with no compromise whatsoever. Pierde Aquafina and truth be told, airlines that have crashed too often have, the most part disappeared.

You just can’t compromise on safety. And I wish more industries looked at the airline industry to understand how to do it. Well. Rewind back a couple of years, and I was about to graduate from law school. And I was assigned to help on this legal aid case, someone had been injured at work and was on long term disability who was diagnosed with an injured his back that prevented him from lifting anything heavy. And they had to confine him to his home for many years until one day a private investigator showed up and took pictures of him in the forest, cutting down trees with an ax, then lifting these heavy logs and carrying them to his pickup truck before throwing them back into the truck.

The evidence was hard to refute, even if he kept begging to try to find a way to say that he was still personally injured. It was obvious that he was not legitimately off work, at least at that point in time. There was no argument that could refute the evidence, the insurance was obviously trying to claim that the injury had never been as serious as you claimed, but in the absence of any evidence prior to that point, we negotiate his benefits on the day of the pictures that an ethical dilemma pivoted me to change course.

After a lot of soul searching, I realized that I couldn’t live with the ethical gray zones of the legal profession. It was clear that I wasn’t going and doing good in this case. I was just finding a way to get out of the irrefutable proof. So that was the last day that I maintain, of course, of trying to become a lawyer. And on that day, I decided to change course. I could have been tainted by this person’s ethical lapses and gone on a hunt to control losses.

But instead, that pushed me more to reflect on how to help those that legitimately got injured to dedicate my business career to improving the world of work in a way that allowed people to come home every single day to their loved ones. Put this podcast isn’t about me. I spent decades leading various operational teams and finding ways to improve cultures. I found a secret source that gives real results in safety and operational performance. And it starts with a deep understanding of people and systems.

But this podcast is about speaking to real people that have either led through successful safety improvements to share their stories of success or speaking to experts in this field who have studied the safety and safety culture space in-depth to share their stories, their learnings, and their ideas for those that want to leave a real safety legacy. To many, safety podcasts are geared for experts and don’t speak to leaders or a dogmatic about one approach. And that doesn’t work. The fact is that safety is a leadership choice.

I cut my teeth in real-world operations where the rubber hits the road. I know what makes a business tick, and I want to create a voice for executives, for operational leaders that want to leave a legacy, a safety legacy. It’s time to move beyond trying to make safety a technical debate and move it to the border to have a real impact and drive real results, particularly in these incredibly challenging times that we are faced with today. That’s what I’m trying to do with this park.

Now, back to my story, I learned a few things for my safety journey. I learned a few critical things that matter and drive real results. Those are some of the credos that will come to life through this podcast. For the most part, No. One, people make choices. They make decisions that put them in harm’s way, nearly 90 percent of injuries of some degree of human error that contributed to that injury.

That’s a fact that it’s not about blaming the individual or trying to fix the person. Rather it’s about fixing the system that allows this to happen. A leader once told me that they were at-will and safe employers. In other words, they fire you if you make a mistake. That will lead you nowhere and fast. The only one that should be fired fast is that leader number three. All humans are imperfect by design. We are wired with a reptilian brain that was hardwired for different hazards.

It’s important for people to understand our limitations as a species and find ways to reduce the chance of error. Stop blaming of fixing the person. Start with a system and the leaders. Ninety percent of bad choices are caused by a system. That allowed. Number four, to make a real difference in safety, you do need to capture the hearts the minds of your people, shift their attitudes, beliefs, and mindset. We are asking for a more discretionary budget every moment.

It’s not just about behaviors. It’s about their attitudes, beliefs, and mindsets. There is no doubt that behaviors matter when it comes to seeing. But my number five credo is that it’s not just about behaviors, and too much emphasis has been placed on behaviors. As my number four-point identified, the attitudes of beliefs and the mindsets drive the behaviors. It’s a whole lot easier to understand behaviors, but it’s a lot harder to shift the mindset. But that drives success and sustainability.

If you have kids, you should understand this. You don’t teach your kids the behaviors they need to live. You teach them the values that they need to live by if you want them to be successful adults. That’s what you start with. Not just the behaviors, the same applies to safety. No safe sex, safety, and productivity are not opposing forces in business. That’s a limiting belief that is too often accepted in the safety space. You can balance safety, quality, and productivity.

They are complementary, and you need to look at these things together. Fighting for a safety-first mindset might be key at first but will set you back in the long term. Number seven, safety is not a specialization no more than operational excellence or quality. All try to achieve the same thing through different means. We need to stop building barriers between complementary expertise and work together to get meaningful real results. Number eight, a learning organization is the key to success in safety.

People need to see the value in it, and the systems need to drive extremely high safety, participation, and employ once sat on his retirement party. Thank you. You paid me well. I appreciate it for my entire career, but you could have had my brain for free. That safety participation, tapping into the brains of your teammates, and having an army of problem solvers to improve safety, but also quality and productivity. Number nine, we need to stop focusing on the one-time issues and focus on real trends. 

Quality spoke to this before safety, looking at control charts to start looking at which trends matter and driving action on those items versus trying to put Band-Aid solutions on everything. Number 10, safety doesn’t get fixed by creating more rules. Absolutely, you do need rules, but you can’t rely on it. You need people to be switched on and to think and to make the right choices every day. Number 11, our holistic approach to safety is essential. The charlatans that sell one tool that fits all are nothing but charlatans.

It’s not about behavior B safety. It’s not about human performance tools. It’s not about five steps that fix all your problems. There is no silver bullet. I cut my teeth in operations. If there was a silver bullet that fixes everything, the business would be easy, and we’d all be on a couch wondering what to do next. The fact of the matter is, safety is complex. Safety has many different drivers, and each system each fixed. Each solution needs to be customized to the needs of a business.

All those tools I mentioned are useful, but you need to look at things holistically, not trying to sell one tool. And finally, number 12 is that every incident can be prevented. And that’s a mindset we need to have every day in the safety space. I learned that lesson first when I learned to drive. The teacher was instilling in me this sense that if you start by thinking about how you could prevent every accident, you’re going to look at the world in a different way.

You’re going to look at who’s shifting. They’re driving around you. You’re going to start thinking about what could go wrong in your actions in a shift to make sure you never have an accident and knock-on wood with that mindset. I have never had an accident thus far. So why did I start with my wife for safety? Well, it’s simple because if you want people to do more for safety, you need to start by sharing why it matters to you, why you need to show up in a certain way.

I have never seen a great safety leader that didn’t have an incredible wife story, a story about why they wanted people to stay safe and show up differently, just like I had my lumberjack story. I met this incredible safety leader once who is telling me how he had started as a lumberjack swinging between trees, thinking he was invincible, and how one day he had an accident on a road and icy road in Alberta that changed his view on everything. And he realized at that moment that he wasn’t invincible.

Those stories are memorable for team members, and we’ll talk about this on another show, but you need to start thinking about your personal life for safety if you want to be successful and seek. In the next episodes, I will always feature a guest sign-up, keep coming back. Are you ready to leave your safety legacy? Distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team members and fuel your future. and sign up to this podcast, and I look forward to hearing your comments and also your suggestions for great stories or great guests to bring them as part of your legacy.

The success story begins now. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru. This is your host, Eric Michrowski. We know how many businesses have been impacted by the current covid-19 Black Swan event. Propulo has invested all its available capacity to create free resources for leaders on how to navigate this crisis. Whether you would like to explore some of our retools, subscribe to our free biweekly newsletter or seek free advice. I encourage you to visit covid. Black Swan dot com covid black swan dot com Propulo has committed not to profit from this crisis in any way.

It’s our way of giving back to the communities that we serve. Thank you. 

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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MEET OUR HOST

Leader | Speaker | Author

Eric Michrowski is a globally recognized thought leader and guru in Operations and Safety Culture Transformations. A highly sought-after Executive speaker on the global stage, he has led executive training programs, coached the C-Suite, and connected with thousands of Fortune 500 senior leaders. He has been featured on TV, in articles, and Podcasts, hosts  syndicated show on the premiere business podcast network and has an upcoming ForbesBooks book to be published this year.

His approach is anchored in evidence-based research and practical applications in Human Performance, Process Excellence, and Organizational Change. He brings over 25-years hands-on experience in Operations Management, Culture & Business Transformations, and Safety having worked across a broad range of industries.

Across his work, he has achieved substantial improvements in Safety, Operational and Financial Performance, and Employee Engagement, always by incorporating Epic Cultures to maximize results and sustainability.

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