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Coming Home Safely: Advocating Safety First, Last, and Always with Dr. Lana Cormie

Coming Home Safely: Advocating Safety First, Last, and Always

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“Safety is the most important part of your job.” Tune in as Dr. Lana Cormie shares her heartfelt and moving story of navigating life after losing her husband in a workplace incident in 2018. She passionately advocates for improving safety and enhancing an intentional culture of safety in the workplace through ongoing training on the job and prioritizing the reporting of hazards, concerns, and near misses. Lana reminds us of the importance of keeping safety at the forefront and empowering team members to become safety advocates in the workplace, ensuring everyone goes home safely at the end of every workday.

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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 safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. Today, I’m very excited to have with me Dr Lana Cormie, who’s joining us from Australia and who’s a safety speaker. Lana, welcome to the show. Very excited to have you with me today.

Thanks for having me along.

Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about your story.

I guess if we start from before, I feel like my life is split into two halves these days, the before and after. So, prior to 2018, I would say that I had a pretty great life with my family. I was married to Charlie, my husband, and we had two young children who at that time were one and three. And we were living on 40 acres in country Victoria, the south of Australia. And we, I guess, had bought our forever home. And it was very run down. We were working to improve it, both the house and the acreage. And I guess we had moments where we thought to ourselves, we’re pretty lucky, how great is this? We’ve got two healthy children. We’ve got this amazing place which we’d love to spend our life living in. And we were really looking forward to our future. Of course, we didn’t know that things were going to change. We had, at that time, I should say I was working as a veterinarian, working in animal welfare. Absolutely loved my job and my career. And my husband Charlie, he’d had a background working as a stockman on, I think you call them ranches in the northern part of America.

And the He was very talented stockman and horseman, but he’d later gone on to become a qualified carpenter and in fact, a registered builder. But at this time of our lives, he was working in civil construction, mainly because it gave us a regular income. So, it felt like, I guess, a safe option financially while our children were so little, and I was working part time looking after our baby. But of course, we didn’t realize it wasn’t a safe at all. And on the 21st of March 2018, Charlie went to work, and he never came home.

I’m sorry to hear that.

So, on that day, I was at work. The children were at daycare, and we had a lot of work on. So, we were busy doing surgery on animals. And I became aware through the press that there had been an incident and that the highway near to where I worked had been closed. So, we had a short conversation, which went something along the lines of, oh, I hope no one’s been badly hurt, must be a bad car accident. And then we carried on with our work. So, then A few hours later, I went off to lunch because I’d forgotten my lunch that day, and then came back in the driveway at work. And I looked up and there was this helicopter hovering in the sky. And I guess that helicopter signifies the end of life as I knew it. And it was not long after that we discovered through social media that there had been an incident on a work site nearby, that one man was dead and another was injured and fighting for his life, and they were still trying to rescue him. Now Charlie, we found out not long later was the man who had died.

So, my nurse and I drove around to the roadblock to speak to the police officers because I hadn’t been able to get hold of Charlie on the phone. Sure. And I couldn’t get any information through the company that he worked for. So, we went around to where they had blocked the highway, and the police officer informed me that it was my husband who had been killed. The other fellow, his family had also not been notified and had done a similar thing at the at the same time. His name was Jack. He was buried up to his neck with just his head and one arm free. And unfortunately, he never got the opportunity to speak to his family because He was flown to Melbourne, went through multiple surgeries and died in hospital the following day.

It’s horrible.

Yeah, it was horrible. Yeah, look, it has been terrible. I suppose I It’s probably obvious to say perhaps that the worst part was having to tell our children and having to drive to daycare and pick them up and be in what felt, I guess, a little bit like I was in a movie or some nightmarish out-of-body experience where there was some other lady whose husband had died and she was now having to go and pick up her children who now had a dead father. It was really a situation where I was in so much shock that I picked up these children with my mom who had come to help me and took them home and really didn’t know what to do next. So, it wasn’t until later that evening that the police turned up at our house, which was presumably our notification, which you can imagine was far too late. And we, I guess started to, I don’t know if it really sunk in by that point, really, what had happened. And it wasn’t until early the next morning when my children woke up that I had to tell them that their dad had died and that he was never coming home. And that was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do.

No doubt. Tell me a little bit more about what transpired in the work site because you thought it was a safer environment. What was happening in that work site?

I’m a little bit limited with how much detail I can provide here because whilst there has already been a court case and a prosecution, the case is still sitting with the coroner. However, what I can say is it was a deep trenching job, so they were digging trenches to lay sewer to round about the four meters in-depth. And of course, that work requires a lot of safety practices to be followed. There’s a lot of rules and regulations which need to be adhered to. For sure. And on this day, two men died. So, I think that probably tells you about where that was at.

So, the precautions that you normally would need to have because there’s a high risk in an environment like this, that the sides collapse seemingly weren’t present. When you speak about the incident, because you regularly speak about safety and talk about the importance of safety. What are some of the themes that emerge from your experience?

I think a big one is really about near misses. It took a long time for us to understand much detail about really what had happened to Charlie and Jack. In fact, only recently, the coroner found out some information which to her indicated that they were not in the trench at the time of the collapse. So, you can understand how distressing it all these years was not to really understand what had Sure. But certainly, it became clear a lot earlier on that there were some near misses that, I guess, were an opportunity, an opportunity that in this case didn’t result in safety systems being improved. So that’s something that I often talk about when I speak about this to companies, which is really that a near miss is a gift. And if you see that miss and you take the opportunity to improve your safety systems, you have a look at your systems of work, see what’s working, what isn’t, and rectify that. It’s not overstating it to say that that could be the difference between life and death in your workplace.

A hundred %. It’s a huge lever to tap into that so many organizations miss. Issues don’t get reported, they don’t get addressed. And organizations don’t drive the right follow through, which is a huge component. So really a gift when you’ve got those learnings.

Yeah, that’s right. I guess if you’re at the point of having a near miss, you’re a huge component. So, it’s really a gift when you’ve got those learnings. Yeah, that’s right. I guess if you’re at the point of having a near miss, you’re really close to having a catastrophic event. And I think reporting is just so key and not just of near misses, but obviously of hazards and concerns in the workplace every day, all day. It needs to be kept front of mind. And I guess that’s another reason why I’ve taken the opportunity to speak about my experience to workers, to employers, to managers, all of them, because keeping this front of mind is absolutely the key, because we get so tied up with all the pressures on us. We’ve got KPIs to follow. We’ve got production targets to meet. We have financial issues. There might be things happening at home. There’s so much going on in our mind, that often safety falls down the level of priorities, I suppose. And it can’t be that way. It must be number one every day. And it must be the first thing that we do before we think about anything else to do with our work.

So, I always say that safety is the most important part of your job. And that is to make sure you get home at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter how great you are at your job, how much money you’re making, how great your team is, any of Those factors if you’re not alive and if you’re not home at the end of the day. So, it has to be number one. But it’s easy for it to sometimes not be at the forefront of our minds.

It’s a huge It’s a huge challenge for it to keep always being at the forefront every given moment. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by something else or think, this might not happen to me. This whole element of keeping front row center. I remember I worked with somebody who says, if you put a card in front of your head and that’s remembering about safety, it’s so easy for it to slip to the back of your mind as you’re doing the work because you’re in a zone, you’re delivering. How do you bring that card to the front of your mind to always remember that this is the most critical thing right now for every decision I’m making?

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Yeah, it’s absolutely a challenge that us as individuals, but also as organizations need to tackle. Part of that, I guess, is on management to be absolutely vigilant, zero tolerance for unsafe practices, really encouraging people to report and to be thinking about things all the time. It’s also about training. I mean, we don’t know what we don’t know. So not just the initial training, but ongoing training. I didn’t know much about safety, even though I was working in my own workplace. I wasn’t really up to speed with the Occupational Health and Safety I didn’t really understand what that should look like in practice in the workplace. And I think that’s a common experience. I certainly believe that if Charlie and Jack would have had more knowledge or even if I’d had more knowledge, I would have also picked up that something wasn’t right. But certainly, if the workers don’t have the knowledge, they can’t protect themselves. They also aren’t well placed to keep bringing concerns to the employer, which, of course, is so key because managers can’t be everywhere. They do rely on their teams to say, I’ve got a concern, or I’ve seen something. Having our workers really well trained to recognize hazards That’s all part of the picture.

But the other thing I think that’s really this is part of the reason why I speak and go and discuss these issues and do presentations is that I think sometimes rules and processes and numbers, they don’t stick that well in our mind. And so, it can be really hard work to keep maintaining that. And it is hard work. It’s a central but what I’ve discovered is that stories, we’re good at remembering stories.

Yes.

And not only does hearing a personal story of tragedy in the workplace help to wake us up a bit, that this could happen to me, this could happen in my workplace, this happens to normal people like Lana, like Charlie, like their family. There’s that. It’s the fact that we can identify that it’s not some random person on the news. It’s a real person. But it’s also, and this is what I hope happens, is that if we have a story that links the rules with our emotions and our sense of self, then we’re more likely to carry that story with us in our memory. And not only is that a sense that I have, it’s also something that’s been proven, that stories are something we remember. Absolutely. So, I hope that in the work that I do now, I can be part of that picture, a small part of improving the safety in the workplaces which I speak to.

Sure. I know when we first connected, one of the themes you talked about was how recognizing hazards is not really part of how our brain functions. So, tell me more about that.

I’ve spent six years now and I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about these things and certainly speaking to some really interesting people, some of those working in universities and doing studies on such matters. And I always wondered, how could they not see it? How could they not see that they were in danger? But of course, they didn’t. And they didn’t do anything that they felt was dangerous or, in fact, that most of us would think was unsafe. Unfortunately, the systems weren’t in place to prevent something from happening. But what I’m trying to say is that we’ve evolved into this modern world where we now build skyscrapers. We go to work, we dig trenches, we do all sorts of activities. But really, our brains are still cave people. And I’ve had some interesting discussions with some researchers on this that we’re not well-designed to recognize hazards. We’re not well designed to understand danger, particularly if we’re exposed to it on a regular basis. So, if we see something and we think it’s dangerous, Initially, then over time we become desensitized. And as a cave person, we would understand that, okay, initially I was a bit worried about that barrier on that bush.

Now we’ve tried it. It hasn’t made anyone sick. Now it’s a good source of nutrition. We’re not concerned about that anymore. And we had to have that understanding that an exposure that didn’t result in in anything of concern was then something safe to interact with. And of course, as humans living in our life, we can’t run around thinking that we’re in danger all the time or we just wouldn’t function at all. We’d be hyper stressed. We would be. But if we’re in the workplace, of course, this works against us a bit because there are hazards. Sometimes we work in very high-risk environments, and we need to have our mind turned on to recognize those hazards all the time because they could be life threatening. That doesn’t matter whether we see them every day and nothing’s happened yet. It still could progress to an injury or a fatality. And that’s not what we want. So, it’s not really our fault as humans that we’re not great at this. That’s why we need training. That’s why we need to have ongoing processes in place that keep it front of mind, that ensure we’re reporting and that we’re rectifying things as we go along.

I think that’s a really important piece because our brain will naturally start accepting that certain risks are okay. It’s how do we bring a front row center always reflecting the same as people who are working in high-risk professions will often have the retention on the highest risk task. If you’re working next to an electrical conduit and it’s energized, you may be very cautious of the work you’re doing there. But then suddenly driving doesn’t seem dangerous. Or other functions that you may be doing that are not as high risk may also not appear as dangerous, but there’s still danger associated with it. There’s a lot of little tricks where we can get into a lull sense of security around the hazards in front of us. That’s really even the peer reinforcement. But something like trenches, you mentioned, before I got into the safety space, it’s not something I kept thinking about, oh, this is a big risk. Because when you grow up, it’s not something you’re thinking of, front row center. That’s the education when you come on a job site. When you talked about near misses, to me, a big component is also how do you reframe that this is a positive?

Because you talked about the gift, but if you don’t feel psychologically safe to bring it up if people minimize it. I had somebody was sharing a podcast that he had highlighted a risk, and he had been told, are you a man or are you a mouse? That’s going to precondition you to never highlight risks or never highlight near misses.

Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s not something that comes naturally to us, is it? To feel, to put up our hand and raise an issue all the time, particularly if that’s going to slow the job down or certainly if it’s going to have some negative response. And I think that is Absolutely key. And that’s where the culture of a company and their response to reporting is absolutely integral, particularly to get that culture started. You need to be actually pushing people all the time. Report, report, report. And certainly not even having the remotest level of negativity when that happens and in fact, actively encouraging it.

Encouraging the new misreporting, but also encouraging somebody stopping work if they see something unsafe, because that decision to say, I’m going to stop work is also a very tough one. People will often say, you’re allowed to stop work. But having stopped work early on in my career, knowing the financial consequence of stopping work, which was not a small number, it was a five with lots of zeros after, You start really rethinking, especially when the next day you discover that what you thought was the right reason to stop work actually wasn’t a dangerous case. It becomes very… You really think two times, three times, 10 times before pull the plug. And that needs to be reframed.

Yeah, I completely agree. I honestly, I don’t think that a lot of work, and this comes back to training, a lot of workers actually realize that they can stop work for a safety issue and that that’s protected in the law, that right to do so. But also, as you were saying that something else came to mind, which is that I had a conversation not long ago with actually an OHS manager. And after listening to my talk and hearing my story, he came up to me and he said that he had had times quite recently where he was exactly as you say, really unsure about stopping a job because of a safety concern that he had. And he was the manager. But of course, he’s got pressures above and below. And he was really unsure about that. And one of the outcomes of listening to my story for him was that he felt that made him feel more confident in making that decision. That in his mind it made him feel the pressure to do the right, the safe thing is greater than the pressure, the external pressures of the job, the work, the money.

What might my manager say? What if it doesn’t end up being unsafe in the end? All those things, I guess, reduced in his mind because the story was something that he felt lifted up his safety concern and made him feel justified in doing his job and doing it well.

I think, hopefully, stories like this reinforce it but it’s also the response of leaders. I know when I made that decision, then the next day, it was discovered with new facts that it was the wrong call to make. But based on everything I knew when I made the decision, it felt like the only right thing to Like you said, you’re lucky if it’s a legislator requirement. In some cases, it’s not. It’s a company requirement. But what really made the difference is the COO flew down the next day, even if I’d made the wrong decision to say I had made the right decision and to give me a pat on the back. That reinforces as a signal saying that’s more valuable to me versus making the right call. It was the right choice to make sure people were safe.

Yeah, absolutely. That’s the response that you’d like to see from your upper management.

A culture we’d love to roll out through all workplaces, I think. But it’s also a reflection what do you do as a senior leader when something like this happens? I’ve seen in some organizations, in this case, he literally flew down and not reinforce it. But I’ve seen in other organizations where they celebrate publicly those instances and really reinforce that this is a desired value. Because it’s one thing to say it’s legally allowed, it’s a different thing to actually feel you can actually pull the plug.

Yeah. I I think that comes back to our psychology discussion that as humans, with our brains that we have, we need to be constantly encouraged in a certain direction. And it doesn’t take much to end up sitting not saying anything. It can be scary, even in a good company, to have to stand up and say, I don’t feel safe, or I don’t think this is a safe practice or indeed to stop work. It’s quite a scary prospect for most people. But I think it comes back right to the beginning. Before you get anywhere near an incident or a near miss or a serious concern, that day to day conversation around hazards, about risks, about the right way to do things and educating your workforce. It’s a big task, but like I say, It’s the main one, because if we can’t do that bit right, there’s no point doing the rest.

Correct. So, Lana, thank you very much for sharing your story with audiences across Australia and around the world. If somebody wants to get in touch with you to have you share your story with them, again, like you said, the power of storytelling is huge. In this element of we remember those stories and they’re memorable, and they can be the little catalyst to elevate a decision to where we want it to be, how can somebody get in touch with you?

Yeah, sure. So, as you said, I do face to face talks in the Southern part of Australia, but also do online talks both nationally and internationally. So, if anyone was interested in having this as part of their work to improve safety in their workplace, I can be contacted through CNBSafe and their website, cnbsafe.com.au.

Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Lana, for joining me today and for sharing a story with our audience.

Thank you so much for having me.

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Dr. Lana Cormie and her two children are navigating life without a husband and father as a result of a workplace incident. Lana was at work when her staff saw the rescue helicopter hovering over a nearby construction site. She didn’t think much about it until she called her husband Charlie on her lunch break and he didn’t answer. The helicopter was there for her husband and a workmate who were fatally injured in a workplace incident.

She had been a happy mum, wife and vet who, like most people, was blissfully unaware of what happens when a loved one doesn’t come home. Her life changed dramatically from that day forward.

Lana has become a passionate advocate for safer workplaces, campaigning for better policies and improved legislation for workplace safety. Lana now shares her life experiences in an effort to help improve safety and educate employees and employers on the importance of a safe workplace.

Lana believes by sharing her lived experience she can influence safety cultures and that the most important part of work is to go home at the end of the day.

For more information: https://cnbsafe.com.au/lana-cormie/

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Championing Safety in Everyday Decisions with Brandon Schroeder

Championing Safety in Everyday Decisions

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One moment can change your life. Join us as Brandon Schroeder, a motivational safety speaker for over a decade, shares his candid and inspirational story of overcoming physical and mental barriers that resulted from a serious workplace injury in 2011. Brandon’s uplifting message encourages everyone to avoid shortcuts on the job and to work together as a team to champion safety in everyday decisions. Tune in now to hear Brandon’s powerful journey!

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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 safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to the safety guru. Today, I’m very excited to have you with me, Brandon Schroeder. He’s a safety motivational speaker with a very powerful story. Brandon, welcome to the show.

Hey, thanks for having me. I always get excited when I get to talk about this and get my story out there because I think it can help the masses. And I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you.

Excellent. Well, let’s start with your story because I think it’s a very powerful story from moments growing up on a farm, understanding risks to get into the trades, and then we’ll get into the turnaround you did in safety, but let’s get to that later.

Yeah, absolutely. When I was a little kid, I grew up on a farm surrounded by agriculture. My dad had corn, soybeans, and cattle. So, I was around a lot of large machinery from a very young age. I was driving tractors and skid loaders, helping my dad and my grandfather on the farm. One thing that I always noticed is my dad. He liked to take shortcuts. He liked to get things done as quickly as possible. And my grandpa would always be like, let’s slow down a minute. And it always seemed like my grandpa’s projects always got done quicker, even though they didn’t. I had a little bit of both sides of that in me. And I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t always perfect. No one is. But I had a lot of influence. My dad was a very hardworking person, and growing up, I always wanted to be like him. But I saw from a very young age that the neighbor kid caught his arm in a PTO shaft, and I saw the damage that it did to his body.

Yikes.

So, I knew that if I didn’t take safety seriously and think about what I was doing out there daily, there would be consequences. So, I was very careful growing up on the farm. After high school, my dad said to me, what do you think you want to do? All my friends are going to college. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wasn’t going to go sit in a classroom for another four years. So, I started looking at all the different trades out there, and I came across the electricians and thinking, you know, I can work inside, I can work outside. There’s good pay, there’s good benefits. I really didn’t know what I was signing up for, but I went down to our local apprenticeship and training office, and I applied in Des Moines, Rock Island, and Cedar Rapids. Those were the three big areas around me that had apprenticeships.

Sure.

And the first thing I went to be Des Moines. That was the biggest metropolitan area in Iowa anyway. And I could tell very quickly that I was out of my league. I was an 18-year-old kid who had only worked on the farm and at a grocery store. And I was going in there competing with people that had quite a bit of electrical experience and life experience that I just didn’t have. And that really hurt my confidence going to that first interview. Well, I knew I didn’t get in when I left, but I knew what to expect for the second interview. So, the second one was in Cedar Rapids, and I nailed that one because it was exactly the same as the first one, I knew. I kind of practiced my answers, and I got better at interviewing. I got into the electrical apprenticeship right out of high school. And when I got that letter, I thought, I’ve made it. All I have to do is get through the next four years of five years of training, and I’m going to have a great life. Right? And I show up at the office that first day, and, I mean, I was the first person in the parking lot.

And I’m all excited to go to work. And I get in there, and the first thing they have me do is fill out my pre-employment paperwork. And then they hand me a pair of safety glasses, some gloves, a hard hat, a lockout tag out thing. Sure. And we go through a book about two inches thick, and over policies, rules, safety procedures. This is a long time ago. This is back in 97. And once we went through that, it took about 15 minutes. They gave me an address, and all I had was the PPE that they had handed me. And they gave me an address. And I go out to the job site, and I don’t really know what to expect, but I notice right away when I get out there, one of the first things that I noticed was people did not have these heavy-duty work boots on that I had. And my dad worked in construction. He farmed when we went out on the farm, we always had heavy duty work boots on. And my grandpa, every time, he always went out into the tractor, he always had a pair of gloves with him.

And I have these gloves, these safety glasses, and this hard hat on. And I remember I go to the first break, and nobody has this stuff on. And I asked one of the guys, I said, don’t we have to wear a hard hat and safety glasses? And he said a lot of people don’t.

Really?

Yeah. This was a long time ago. People thought safety glasses fog up, they’re uncomfortable, and a lot of people didn’t wear them. A lot of the journeymen that I worked with, they were very resistant. I’ll wear those if I’m drilling or if I think I’m going to get something in my eye, I’ll put the safety glasses on, but I’m not wearing them all the time. And they’d give us these lanyards, so at least you could take the safety glasses on or take them off, but you’d have them hanging around your neck. But I noticed a lot of people standing on top of ladders. If the ladder wasn’t quite tall enough, they’d go to the very top. I’d noticed people getting into energized equipment, and as an apprentice, I couldn’t do any of that. I couldn’t get into energized equipment. Sure. Fifth year apprentice. Well, after I went through my five years of apprenticeship, I was all gung ho. I wanted to run jobs. I wanted to show the company what I had. And they started giving me more and more responsibility. Pretty soon, I’m doing service truck by myself and then running small jobs, and they gave me a large commercial site to run.

And I remember I was pretty nervous, but I was excited about the task, and safety was not a priority to me. I used to go to safety meetings and think, I hope they have good coffee and donuts, because that’s about all I’m going to get out of this. I didn’t really think safety applied to me. I thought it applied to the new guy. Anytime we had a safety meeting, it was always some toolbox talk or some box that we needed to check. It was never anything meaningful that was really going to impact safety. That was going to make me think that pertains to me or that could happen to me. For instance, I remember in the summertime one time we had a safety talk about cold weather and frostbite.

I’m thinking, good timing.

Yeah, it’s 90 degrees out here, and we’re going to talk about frostbite today, or we’d have another one about traffic signals. Well, we’re nowhere near traffic signals. And I would get frustrated with these toolbox talks because people would just open up these toolbox talk books and they’d read whatever the next week was. It wasn’t like we were going to. That’s relevant. We’re not going to try to move the bar. I think one of the best tools that any company can do is to report near misses and use those for safety meetings. To me, that’s a built-in safety meeting. Every week. You can talk about near misses, or I can go on a site, and within 15 minutes, I can find something to talk about, Hazard, something that’s relevant. But we didn’t really do that. So, I got into just thinking safety was a box check or something we had to do to make the office happy, or you better have your paperwork filled out. It wasn’t really anything that I thought was going to happen to me, or it didn’t really pertain to me because I was a professional. I knew what I was doing.

At the time of my accident, I had 15 years of experience, and I hadn’t had too many close calls. I thought I was good at my job. 03:00 I’m done at 3:30, and I get a call from the general contractor, and he says, I need this cord relocated. And I go out, and I look, and this cord runs through some aluminum framework in the front of the building. So, the only way, or the easiest way for me to relocate this cord was to unhook the cord from the panel, pull it through the aluminum framework, back out through the doorway, and hook it back up. And some people, when they see my presentation and I talk about that part, say, why didn’t you unhook it from the other end? That would have been so much safer. Well, if I would unhook the cord from the other end, hook to a transformer running through the building, steel through all this framework, 200, 300ft of cord that I got to pull back through the building and unhook it, and it would have taken ten times as long. So, I have this cord that’s running through this aluminum framework, hooked up to this electrical panel, and it’s less than 50ft from the building.

It’s a clear, wide-open shot. All they want me to do is unhook this cord, pull it through the aluminum framework, and hook it back up. They want me to do this at 03:00 because it’s going to kill all the power to the building. I go out there, and I look, and most electrical panels have a main breaker. This panel didn’t have that. This panel was fed directly from the utility side of this transformer. So, the only way that I can shut this power off is to call the power company and have them send it.

Right, which is not at 03:00 p.m. Not.

At 03:00 when you’re done at 330. I know that I likely won’t even get anyone on the phone who knows where this piece of equipment is, let alone get a line throughout here to help me. So, I think I will have to do this energized. And from the time I got in in 1997 until around 2008, I did this type of work all of the time with no PPE art. It wasn’t until around 2008 that I started hearing about electrical safety in the workplace. NFPA. Yes, we went over electrical safety and apprenticeship, but I thought that the electrician’s main hazard was electrocution. And I had seen equipment blow up, sure, but really didn’t equate. I knew what an arc flash was, but I didn’t know anybody that it happened to. I hadn’t heard a lot about it. I didn’t really know what I was putting myself at risk that day. And this is back in 2011, but they gave us these arc flash suits. And I realize that not everyone on this that’s going to listen to this knows what an arc flash suit is. But an arc flash consists of a belle calva, which is just a cotton ski mask.

We have an arc-rated face shield hooked to a hard hat. We wore 1000 volts rated gloves with leather protectors over them, arc rated coveralls, hearing protection, safety glasses, heavy duty leather shoes. All this is in a kit in the back of my van. So, I’m thinking I need to go get my arc flash suit. I open up the back door of the van and the suits not there. So needless to say, I’ve done these tasks many times. I thought I could do it one more time. Long story short, within a few minutes I’m flying to the University of Iowa burn unit by helicopter, hanging on for my life, not knowing if I’m going to die. I had a brand new baby. I just don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I’m very scared. My hand is half blown off and I get into the University of Iowa, and they wheel me in through this doorway and I’ll never forget my wife coming in there. And just when my eyes locked on her eyes, I knew this was serious. She didn’t say anything. She just ran down the hallway crying. It bothers me today.

I had to live there, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t console my wife. I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t be the strong person I always tried to be for my family. I was in the hospital for about three weeks, and then I went to a rehab unit where I was doing physical rehabilitation, working on my hand, but I couldn’t make a fist. I had to have multiple surgeries on my hand. I had to have skin grafts taken off of my legs and put on my hand. My face was blown off and not gone to the point where I needed it. It wasn’t going to the point where I needed plastic surgery. But when I looked in the mirror, no way did I think this was going to heal. I got very depressed. I wanted to commit suicide. I did not want my wife to be married to this monster. I didn’t want this monster to be the dad to my daughter. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I thought the world would be much better without me. I didn’t want everyone to feel sorry for me. And I just wanted to get out of there and get this over with.

I wanted to leave every day. I just said, can I go home? And all that talk did was lead to more medication. I got through that very difficult time in my life just because of my wife’s strength. And not everyone has a family and a wife like I do. I won the wife lottery. There’s no way I could have gotten through this without her. When I got home, then the problems got bad for me again because I got addicted to morphine, trying to get off of that stuff. I have a whole new appreciation for people that are addicted to any type of drugs. I had some personal experiences that my biological dad, he was a drug addict. I’ve only met him like five times in my life. And when I found out or I thought that I was addicted to the morphine, once I recognized it, I just quit cold turkey. Because I remember when I was twelve years old, seeing him stand out by the side of the road like a bum. And I thought, this isn’t going to be thanks. I’m not getting addicted to anything, right? There’s another thing that helped me get through this, and that’s something that not everyone has.

But I didn’t care what happened to me physically or mentally. I was done taking the medication, and I stopped. Then I get through all this, and I have to go back to work. And I’m thinking I’m going to get fired for sure. When you have an accident like this, there are a lot of consequences for the company you work for. We have a serious OSHA violation on our record. Companies do yearly safety audits. Our experience modification rate was above one on our trip. And you have to fill out all these applications for all these customers and all these bidding processes. And it really wasn’t the cost of the accident that really affected the company. It was the customer’s perception. Once you fill this out for bid forms, and I say this during the presentation, companies like working with other safe companies. They don’t want to take a risk. They’re not going to roll the dice. If the company you work for doesn’t have a good safety record, many companies will find someone else who does. And I had to go to a lot of meetings, a lot of explaining, a lot of remediation on how we were going to fix this, right?

Ultimately, the company decided, and I think it was more of a charity case because I couldn’t work with my hands, but they decided to make me the safety director. And I’m thinking, how are my coworkers going to look at me, look at the decision that I made? I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to push safety. After what I did, this didn’t make sense to me, but I had no other way to pay my bills. I didn’t have any other options. And they’re asking me to do it, and my paycheck is going to keep coming. So, I decided to do the best I could.

It’s probably a good call because you have a way of advocating that nobody else can, right? Because you’ve personally experienced it. It’s real to you.

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

And I think that the company’s attitude is: who better to talk about safety than the guy who had to take the hard road and learn the hard way? But I can tell you half of the, you know, I didn’t work for a large company. A lot of the companies that I speak for are Fortune 500 companies. I worked for a company that had maybe, on average, 80 employees. At our peak, we might get to 110. And half of the people in the company looked at me like, I can’t believe this guy has a job. And the other half of the company looked at me like he was pretty good at his job. If this happened to me, this could happen to him, or if this happened to him, this could happen to me. So, I really couldn’t control the people who thought I should be fired or didn’t think that I should be in that position. I can’t control what they think of me. But I had a job, and I was very focused on that job. How I was going to make up for my accident was to deliver the company a big fat zero incidents for a calendar year.

And to say I was obsessed with this goal. And I’m a very goal-oriented person. If I don’t have a vision, if I don’t have a roadmap, I already know I’m not going to be successful. And one of the best quotes I’ve ever seen is an idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan. And I put together a plan, and I got to pick the members of my safety committee. I went out, and I picked six people who were highly influential in the company that I knew people would listen to. And we started having safety meetings. And we said, look, we didn’t have a good year last year. The year I got hurt, we had twelve OSHA recordables. That’s worse than bad for a company with 100 employees at their peak.

Yeah, it’s bad.

That’s bad. We have to improve. So, the first thing we did was put hard hats, safety glasses, and gloves in place. We’re not asking people to wear them anymore. That’s a condition of employment. If you want to work at our company, you will wear these things. And if you don’t want to work at our company, you can work for our competitor. That’s fine, but we are going to change the way that we do things now. And I had the buy-in from the company’s president, and the safety committee helped me. And one of the first things I did was I didn’t know anything about safety. So, I started going to as many safety conferences as I could, and I would identify companies that were much larger than the one that I worked for, who had very good safety records, and I would talk with them, take notes. What are your policies? What are your procedures? How do you guys walk through the job sites on your safety audits? What works, and what doesn’t? I got invaluable information from each one of the safety conferences that I went through. I was networking like crazy, and I was very much out of my element as an electrician who works alone.

Going to these safety conferences, meeting these experts, and talking to them was out of my comfort zone, but it was something that I had to learn to do if I was going to be good at my job.

Right.

So, I went and met with them. One thing that stuck with me was that you have to create a lookout for one another’s safety culture, and if you can’t do that, everything else doesn’t matter. And I believe that. And I tell people that if we made every employee in an organization a safety manager or a safety advocate, we’d have no accidents. But the reality is we have to go out there, and we have to be productive. But safety has to be a tool. And something that we use daily can’t just be something that we use when the safety manager comes around or there’s a walk-through. It has to be a tool that you use on a daily basis. And if the people most influential at the company aren’t willing to use those tools, you won’t be able to spread that.

Sure.

So, one of the first things that we did was I started doing walkthroughs, safety audits, and I would go out, and I would tell people, you’re going to get one warning to wear your safety glasses, gloves, and hard hat. And after that, I just give your name company, and whatever happens, happens. It’s out of my hands. But you’re going to get one warning, and that’s it. This is a condition of employment. The rest of the items we can work on that could be a training issue. That could be. You didn’t know, but everybody here knows going forward, we’re wearing our PPE. I went and did a safety audit, and I had a guy who wouldn’t wear safety glasses, and he’s like, I don’t need them. I’m like, well, this is one warning. And he kind of blew me off, like, okay. And I found a few other safety things that I talked to him about, and he was kind of on my radar. When you do a safety audit and someone gives you attitude and you find things they’re not receptive to what you say, you kind of want to go visit that person again, you should.

It’s not somebody you’re going to say, okay, they’re all right. They know what they’re doing. We don’t have any problems over there. You know that. That’s something that’s going to take more of your attention. So, he got more of my attention. In the next safety audit, we found another problem. In the next safety audit, we found another problem. And these weren’t things that he didn’t know better. I would say only 25% of my audience do electrical work, but my experience as a safety manager was in electrical.

Sure.

I went into this project, and he’s got all the covers off the panel, live exposed parts, and a metal fish tape in the panel, pulling wire. I mean, he knew better than what he was doing. And this was the third time. And I just told him, I said, I don’t know what will happen here, but you need some more training. We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about this, and I don’t think that you are an asset to our organization with your current mindset, and I’m not able to change your mindset. So, I think you need to go talk to management to see what we’re going to do moving forward. I was pushing for an OSHA 30 course, additional training, something because this guy had a lot of experience. I didn’t want to lose him in the organization because safety is something that you always have to improve and evolve on. Nobody knows it all day one. And we had a culture of not-so-good safety culture. So, I wasn’t expecting to turn this company around in a year. I knew it would take time, and our employees are our greatest asset.

So, I didn’t want this guy gone, but I went, and I told the owner what happened, and he said, you know what? I’m tired of this. Your accident should have been a big awakening, people that they need to change, and every once in a while, we need to have a sacrificial lamb. And I said, what do you mean? And he said, unless you tell me something I don’t already know right now, we’re going to fire him. And I got very emotional because I blew my face off. I blew myself up. I was in the hospital for a month. I broke every safety rule in the book and cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums. And I’m still coming in, and I’m getting a paycheck. And you’re going to fire this guy? I did what I could, and they fired him. And it affected me. Like, I didn’t sleep for three days. I called the guy. I tried to meet with him for lunch when he was gone. The last thing a fired employee will do is meet with the guy he thinks got him fired.

Right.

And I don’t know. It still affects me that he lost his job, and I couldn’t continue to coach him and try to make him better because that was what I was there to do. But I can tell you, after that happened, it sent a message to the rest of the company that these guys aren’t messing around. Safety is going to be practiced in our company. We made mistakes last year, but going forward, things are changing, and you’re either going to get on board with these changes or you’re not. And if you’re not going to get on board, we don’t have a place for you here. Right.

It sends a message.

It did. And I would rather have that message sent through me. I don’t know why it wasn’t, but his firing me will probably affect me for the rest of my life because I should have been the person who lost their job, but I wasn’t. After the first year, we went from twelve OSHA portables down to three down to one, and eventually, we could get that zero.

That’s tremendous.

It was. But I can tell you that I thought about this from the time I got up until I went to bed every day. And when I looked at the work orders, I looked at the jobs. I came from the field, so I knew what stage these projects were in. I knew what they were doing. I knew the employees, because I only worked with a company that had 100 employees. I knew their safety habits. I knew who would take the time to do things correctly and safely, and I knew who would take shortcuts. And I tried to get myself through those shortcuts before they even happened. Don’t even put the. And that’s something that I think that I preached a lot at all of our owners’ meetings: let’s take these safety decisions out of the field employees’ hands. Let’s plan safety into the job before expecting the field employees to perform work safely. Let’s plan and engineer safety in before they even have a chance to touch it. For instance, when we’re looking at bids, and we’re looking at jobs, we know we’re going to need a shutdown.

Let’s plan that shutdown for them. If we know we have an overhead hazard. Let’s plan two weeks ahead of time that we’re going to rope this area off, and no one’s going to be able to go through here because we know we have this work to do. And that’s where I think shortcuts happen. Somebody thinks I have to get this done to meet this deadline. I have a short time to do it, and safety kind of goes by the wayside. But with proper planning and the employees with the four, every construction project that I’ve been on has a two-week look ahead. Four weeks look ahead. We’re always planning. We’re always trying to hit goals and schedules. Let’s plug safety in there, too.

Right.

And I think it can be done when people work together as a team. One of the big things that I’m seeing now is people are, if you’re not safe, let’s say you set your hard hat down for a second, they’re going to walk you off-site, no warnings. Or you make a mistake on a ladder, no warnings. We’re going to walk you off-site. And that’s not something that I can advocate for. I think everybody makes mistakes. The thing that I advocate for is if I see somebody standing on top of a ladder, yes, I’ll admit that’s a poor decision if they’re on the very top of the ladder. I have a bigger problem with the people who are standing on the ground and aren’t saying, let me get you a taller ladder.

The brother’s keeper you were talking about, right? Is somebody else watching you do it?  

Yeah. Let me find a better way to do this. And to me, that’s how you solve your problems. You don’t know what’s going through that person’s mind now. You don’t know what they’re dealing with. Maybe their mind isn’t where it should be that day, but when you walk right on by somebody doing something unsafe, that’s worse than committing the act itself. And there’s no better part or feeling than knowing that your part of a team and someone’s looking out for you. And when someone comes up to you and they say, hey, stop what you’re doing, that’s not safe. I’m going to help you find a better way to do that. That instantly sends a message that this person is looking out for me. I’m part of their team, and they’re going to help me improve. But one thing that I see a lot on LinkedIn that I don’t agree with is somebody will take a picture of somebody who’s doing something foolish and they’ll post it on LinkedIn. That sends a message that safety is just looking for idiots, and we’re all idiots sometimes, but correct. When people walk, you want to limit that.

As you get older, I think you learn from your mistakes and realize you’re not bulletproof. Bad things do happen. But I think being on a team where people look out for one another is the key to safety. And that’s what I try to convey in my presentation: you have to look out for one another. And being part of a team, you have one weak link. The chain breaks if there is a failure. Let’s not point the finger. Let’s figure out where the team went wrong.

I heard a few things from you. One of them was around the safety committees you started it with in terms of getting grassroots engagement and involvement. You also looked at some hard and fast rules that were communicated and were clear. I think planning is a really important one, which is just, let’s plan this through. Like, if I think about what you talked about, your accident, it seemed like it was a last-minute thing. Let’s try to squeeze it in the last 30 minutes of the day. And so right there, there isn’t that advanced plan. Say, okay, what’s the best way to do this? If you call the utility and it was planned work, they’d probably be able to cut it out, but not if you’re calling a three, expecting it to happen at 305.

Exactly.

Then, the last one was really this looking out for each other, the brother’s keeper concept, and really getting people instilled, which I think is a very powerful element, as long as you’ve got multiple people working together.

Right.

If you’re a lone worker, your kind of stuck looking out for yourself unless you get a second that’s there, that’s looking out for you.

I agree with that, but it does take discipline when you’re working by yourself. You know how many people know that, to me, nuclear power plants are the safest place in the world. And I know people in my neighborhood that work at a nuclear power plant, and I watch them put up Christmas lights, and I’m like, I know you wouldn’t do that at work. And there’s more than one time when I went and got my extension ladder out of my garage and said, here you go. I think, you know, there’s a safer way to do, you know, most of the time, people appreciate that, and that’s what I try to do: just go out there and do my part and look out for one.

So, Brandon, thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s a very powerful story. References back to safety on the farm and how that was there, but also how you got into trade and the environment was different. And then, it was a very powerful story regarding the incident, but mostly in terms of what you did to pivot safety within the organization. And was it three years that you drove this?

Yeah, I did the job for three years. I wanted to make some more changes in the company. And when I try to do something, I want to be the best. I’m not saying I can be the best, but my vision is always to improve and always take steps forward. And the company did not. They were good with where it was at. They didn’t want to make a lot of changes. They didn’t want to keep evolving. And that’s a big mistake that I think some companies make. They say, well, we didn’t have any accidents last year.

We’re good.

We’re good. And that’s to me like a CEO saying, looking at their numbers and saying, our sales goals were great last year. Let’s try to do the exact same number that we did last year. This next year.

It doesn’t normally happen that way.

No. You always want to do better in business. You always want to try to increase efficiencies and drive revenues up. That’s the whole reason a business exists. And safety is the same thing. You have to try to improve and do better each and every year. You can always do better, no matter how good you are at it.

Agree. So, Brandon, you share your story with multiple different audiences. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

My website is believeinsafety.com. That’s the best way to get in touch with me. You can read a little bit about my story. I do have some YouTube videos out there that I’ve shot where my wife talks about, and they show some of my family. And that video has been very popular. It is in my presentation as well. But believeinsafety.com is the best place to reach me if you want to contact me about future speaking engagements.

Sounds good. Thank you, Brandon. I appreciate you taking the time to share your story with many audiences across the country. I think, hopefully, it helps change people’s mindset about how to show up for safety.

All right, well, thank you for having me. This was a big honor. I know this is a popular podcast, and I very much appreciate being part of it.

Thank you, Brandon.

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

In 2012, Brandon Schroeder‘s path as a speaker unfolded following a workplace incident in 2011. Having served as a journeyman electrician since 2002, he had envisioned a future in the electrical trade. Brandon was known for his proficiency, diligent follow-through, and on-me task compleon. However, the pivotal moment of his accident led him to see an alternave journey awaing him.

In 2012, he was approached to address a company about the circumstances of his accident. Despite initial reservaons, Brandon agreed. Inially, he thought this would be a one-me endeavor, but he soon discovered that requests for his story would persist. More than a decade later, he connues to share his narrave, influencing safety perspecves. Brandon has delivered presentaons for numerous companies, ranging from global giants to local co-ops. His objecve remains singular—to reach that one individual who needs to hear his story.

For more information: https://believeinsafety.com/

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From the Mines to the Heart: Advocating for Safer Tomorrows with Helen Fitzroy

From the Mines to the Heart: Advocating for Safer Tomorrows

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ABOUT THE EPISODE

As the holiday season reminds us of what truly matters, we are honored to feature Helen Fitzroy on The Safety Guru as she shares her moving message that will carry us through the holidays and beyond. Her husband, Steve, experienced a workplace fatality in an underground mining incident in 1991. Her story isn’t just one of personal tragedy but a call to action for all of us. Tune in as Helen advocates for a safer tomorrow with her unwavering commitment to safety, dedicated to ensuring that no other family has to endure what she went through.

READ THIS EPISODE

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

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today, I’m very excited to have you with me Helen Fitzroy. She’s a safety advocate, an author, and a writer, as well as a miners’ widow. I’m really happy to have you join us, Helen. You’ve got an incredible story to share regarding the positive contribution you’ve made to safety. But I think maybe let’s start first with Steve’s story.

Thanks very much, Eric, and thanks for having me on the show. Thirty-two years ago, my husband, Steve, went to work underground. He didn’t come home. I was left with three little kids under the age of seven and basically stuck with a new title, Widow, which didn’t impress me very much. Then the whole journey began of how do I traverse this? A couple of years before Steve’s death, one of his really good mates, who was also a very experienced miner who worked at the same mine, refused to go to work on this particular shift because the particular supervisor had asked him to work under unsupported ground, and he refused to. They sent a young, inexperienced 21-year-old in there, and tragically, he was killed. Just five months before Steve’s death, another very good mate of his, who was also an experienced minor working at the same mine, fell down a ladderway underground and was seriously injured. He had compound fractures in both of his legs, along with some external injuries. He had to get elected out to Perth by the flying doctor, had two little kids under the age of three, and so he spent 12 months up in Perth having intensive rehab.

Wow. Leading up to all of that, there were some concerns, and Steve used to often come home and talk to me about his concerns. I suggested, how about we take a couple of weeks off, and we can go up to Perth to see how your mate’s going? We did. We shot off to Perth, had a couple of weeks, and caught up with his mate. He was back at work a week, exactly a week when he was killed. That’s when it all started.

He was raising concerns with you. He saw those trends, and I think this is the part in often cases like that. There are signal signs. How was the organization receiving this feedback? Because they’ve had a fatality, serious injuries, a very short period of time.

It’s probably worth also mentioning that he was considered—and we’re talking we were living in a mining town. It wasn’t a very big mining town. There was a whole… In the gold fields, there are a whole lot of little mining towns that probably had a population of 34,000 people max. He was considered in that particular mining town, probably the most experienced, the best, and the most safety-conscious minor. He consistently would come home and say to me because he would go and voice his concerns to the management, and they would say to him, What’s the matter, Fitzy? Aren’t you earning enough? They basically just deride him. There was no… It was a joke. That was frustrating. My advocacy is really based on if there’d been somebody out there that was going to stand up and assert themselves and tell people a story about this is what can happen. Perhaps you might have had a second thought about actually not going there anymore, going somewhere else. The thing is, in terms of when you asked me about management and what their views were, I was talking to a mine inspector a few years later. He had come out from South Africa, and he’d worked in the adjoining town to where we were, about 40 minutes down the road, another little mining town about the same size.

He said that when he arrived there, and he had extensive experience in South Africa, even though he was an English guy, he said that the company, which was the same company that was managing the mine that Steve worked in, would budget for seven fatalities a year. Seven? Just there, seven. My goodness. He said they generally achieved their target. That’s horrible. I know back then; fatalities were just a normal part of business doing business. It’s cheaper, really, to kill somebody at work than it is to permanently disable them because you know what you’re dealing with. It’s cut and dried. Whereas a permanent disability it could be, well, how long is this going to go on for what other… There’s that uncertainty about what the cost may end up being. Yeah, that was the culture then.

One of the things you advocate about safety is to remember the people we come home for. Tell me a little bit more about some of the messages you share.

Well, since Steve’s death in Australia, there’s been 506 more fatalities. 506 fatalities in mining. That’s 471 kids who’ve lost their dad, 100 widows. Now, that doesn’t take into account the parents, the siblings, the mates. It also doesn’t take into account those who’ve lost their lives through a work-related illness or disease. I think when I’ve looked at the stats for Canada, you’re not far behind. I think I tallied, and it may not be totally correct because I don’t have all the stats, but I think it was about 478 in the same time frame in Canada. That’s disgusting. After Steve’s death, it was probably around about ten years later when I first started traveling out to sites, talking to people. I was inundated with all of these phone calls and messages. On average data, I was getting about six a week, people asking questions. How long will that report take? How do I find this out? From families and workers. I started to make contact with agencies to say, well, what do you offer? How can you help? I can see the data and the pamphlets you’ve written and things, but they’re all doubling up, or the information is wrong.

I met with a lot of the regulatory bodies and agencies to try and encourage them to establish a support network for families following a situation like this. They didn’t think it was necessary, so I did it myself in the end, and I left a not-for-profit with the backing of a fairly big mining company here, BHP, with their support. But my conditions were that it had to be totally independent of any particular company, political party, or union. It couldn’t have any vested interests. That was established in 2010, and it’s still going strong. Yeah, it’s still going strong. I’m not as involved as I once was anymore. They’re doing fine without me. Yeah, it’s good to know that there’s now somewhere people can go to seek assistance. It might be financial, it might be just emotional, it might be a whole range of things, practical assistance to help them through that process because there was nothing when Steve was killed.

Absolutely nothing. The company didn’t step up either on that.

No, they didn’t. That wasn’t unusual back then. I know that even my husband was a member of the local union. They were disinformed as well. Everybody’s performance was inadequate. I think things have come a long way since then, though, and I think they’re a lot more tuned in now that people expect more. Yeah, we had to bundle our way through. I had to find my way through by myself, really.

In an environment where they were budgeting seven fatalities, it was.

A process. It was something that I accepted. That’s horrible.

Then to put up with the legal, five-year legal battle, where there was just—and I’m not just blaming the company, I’m talking about the insurers and the lawyers and just constantly delaying and ridiculous ploys that they would use to try and deter. Go away. Just go away, will you? I was determined not to do that. I was determined to stick to it. I felt I owed Steve that to get to the bottom of it, and eventually, I did. But it was a long battle, and that still happens today. I’m still in touch with many families who are still going through that process. It’s a struggle.

You share the message with the people that you speak to, but you also have a message for leaders.

Yeah, I do.

Tell me a little bit about your message for leaders in this case.

Well, I understand I appreciate, as a leader, that there’s a lot of significant data that crosses their desk on a daily basis, whether it’s budget issues, whether it’s related to production targets, whether it’s related to deadlines and staffing. I accept the significance and importance of all that information. But the point that I’d like to make is that in acknowledging the importance of all of that for a viable business, that has to happen. But behind every single decision that they’re making, whatever it may be, there’s generally a human being attached that may or may not be impacted in a negative way by that information. I would implore them all to consider carefully every decision that they make to ensure that there aren’t going to be any unforeseen circumstances. it won’t be them, but somebody else might be impacted negatively by the decision that they make.

What does that translate? Ultimately, I agree it’s understanding that there’s a person behind the paper, the decision. The further away you are from the decision-making, from the sight, from the work, the easier it is to separate yourself and your actions. In an event, it becomes very easy to disassociate yourself because you don’t want to have to carry the responsibility. You push that burden to somebody else.

Absolutely. You’ve nailed it because that’s exactly what happens. If you’re sitting in an ivory chair in the middle of the CPD somewhere and you’re making decisions and you’re looking at that promotion that may come next month, if you produce the goods, of course, the pressure is going to be on there for you to perform and to do things that perhaps it might be impressive at a board level, but at the front line, at the coal face, there could be somebody who’s going to be impacted by that decision that you haven’t considered. I suppose it’s just about being a little bit more aware of how that decision that you make while you’re sitting in the comfort of your cushy office might impact somebody down the track. It may not always be that easy to determine, particularly when you’re looking at production targets and things like that, where workers are often rewarded if they reach particular targets. They’re given bonuses and things. What happens? If you’re going to encourage a bonus mentality, you’re going to encourage people to take risks. You’re going to encourage them to do maybe things that they otherwise wouldn’t. Those sorts of cultural norms, I think, can create issues as well.

Absolutely. When you mentioned this, I had a guest on the podcast a few months back, and he talked about one: the complexity and safety is when you save a penny on every dollar, it probably won’t have a financial… It will have a financial consequence but probably won’t have a safety impact.

But, that second penny, probably not. Then there’s a temptation of just, Well, what about the third, the fourth, the fifth penny? But at some point, something breaks, and you never really know which penny it was, but It’s really understanding the chain of causality. Also, the element he brought up was that the closer you are, and you have proximity to the site to the people that are working, the more you’re making better decisions, the more you’re disconnected, staying in an Ivy tower, no pictures of the team members that are doing the work, never been there, it becomes a transactional balance sheet decision.

Yeah. I think also with that comes an added… It can be quite problematic for contractors. You can have the client and engage contractors to come in and do a lot of the work for them. Most of the time, when they do that, it is the coal-faced, front-line, hard stuff that they’re doing. They have to ensure that they meet their budget constraints. They also have to make sure because they want the tender. They want the next tender as well. The pressure is always on them, probably more so than the client’s employees, to perform and produce the goods because otherwise, there’ll be no tender.

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

We talked about the paper. Every paper matters. You touched on before that items were raised. There were signs. Organizations need to be looking for those signs or symptoms and not say, squeaky wheel, but trying to understand. Sometimes, you may have somebody who is a squeaky wheel who complains about everything. Oh, yeah, they’re at the – But how do I really see those? But there are a lot of others that are not complaining, and that surface an issue. Or even the person who complains, there will sometimes be some real legitimate pieces. How can people help triage through all of this to take action? Because this was clearly a case where there were enough signs and symptoms to say actions were needed.

Well, I think it comes back to good communication and leadership. Good communication and leadership means trust and respect. In the hundreds of sites I’ve been to over the years, I could virtually walk into a muster room where they’re doing their training or be in there and watch the crews walk in and predict who the good leaders are just by the body language of the crew as they walk in. That says a lot to me. It’s played out numerous times where you can just tell by the way the guys are communicating with one another, the way they’re walking, the way they’re… You can read the play. I think if we have good, supportive, respectful leaders who can communicate with every crew member, no matter what their little idiosyncrasies are, then you’re going to have the morale is going to be good. If morale is good, you’re going to be productive and safe. To me, it all comes down to selecting carefully the leaders that you choose. Look, leadership starts at the top. They say, Fish stinks from the head down. If you haven’t got a supportive leadership team at the top, you’re never going to get it at the.

Ground level. But even if you have a supportive leadership team at the top, it doesn’t always translate to the ground level because it has to be embedded in the selection process. It has got to be that if I find that you’re not showing up this way, I do something about it, and I act on it fast because we have that dialog on a regular basis in terms of who is a good safety leader, that I act on it.

Yeah, and you’re dead right. I’ve been to numerous sites that have been run by the same company, and the culture is different for everyone. It’s not just the top team. It comes down to who’s running the show here and what attitude they have towards safety, and to our workers, and the morale of our team. What do they rate as significant to our guys on site? It was really mind-boggling to me that I could go to five different sites, all run by the same company, yet the safety culture was different at every one of them.

I think it’s an important point you bring up because I often advocate that, yes, you may have one culture, but there can be a lot of subcultures that exist. Not wrapping your head around these subcultures can be really a blind spot. Because you may be 90% good, but you may have a bad side. I remember I had a couple of years back, somebody on this podcast who worked for an organization he acknowledged had a very positive safety culture. But he raised an issue. In his small location, which was a very small, remote rural area, it was a utility. When he raised a concern, which later proved to be a serious injury that happened, he was told both by the union leader and the local management, are you a man or a mouse? In other words, go do the thing, don’t complain, and literally, shortly thereafter, get seriously injured. The organization as a whole was good, but obviously, there were pockets of leadership in the union and management that shouldn’t have been there. I think where you’re bringing up is really this element of you got to know, and you got to act on those differences.

That’s hard. It’s one of those things that you’re probably getting inevitable that you’re going to get those pockets everywhere. There’s some that just slip through the hoop, and they’re out there, and they’re macho men who… I’ve seen them. I know they’re out there. You’d just like to think there’s someone a little bit higher than them. It’s going to pull them into gear every now and again. But it’s a sad reality.

I know when we first connected, you touched on a theme that is very near and dear to me, which is the difference between safety as a core value versus safety as a priority. There is a clear difference. Some speak of it as a priority. Some talk about it as a value. Tell me a little bit about what that means and the importance of that.

Well, it started to evolve way back when I first started traveling out to the site, and it didn’t seem to matter, particularly, I think, in the first couple of years. I went to every jurisdiction in Australia. It didn’t seem to matter where I went. In that first couple of years, somebody, usually within the management team or supervisor, would come up to me in conversation and say something along the lines of, we make safety our number one priority here. Now, with all due respect, and this is just my personal opinion, that’s just bullshit. Priorities always get shifted. If you make something a priority, you’ve given it a shelf life in my eyes. It can only be a priority until something more important comes along. That’s the nature of the world we now live in. That’s why it has to be a value. It has to be embedded, endemic, and intrinsic to every single thing that you do. You can’t just pick it off and on when you’ve got time, or when someone’s watching, or when you’ve got the resources. You take it home with you. It’s all the things in your life that you value. I think we need to encourage from the top down because we want to ensure that we have a genuine, consistent commitment from every single leader in the organization to ensure every single person on that site goes home safely.

Actions speak louder than words.

But I think it links back to what you shared before is if people are raising concerns, raising issues, if it’s a value and it’s really understood like that, then people wouldn’t close their eyes to it, neglect it, it’d be really core to understand it.

That’s right. That’s right. The quote that I came up with after that little encounter, after numerous encounters, was if safety were a core value in my workplace, there’d be no need to prioritize it. You can hear people say over and over and over again. I still hear it when I go out to the sights. Look, safety is our number one priority here. Well, look, I know you probably mean well, but just rethink that, will you? Because you have to be realistic, and you’ve got to do it a different way. It can’t be priorities inevitably get shifted, and so I’d prefer that they rephrase that.

But I think the consequences are much more than rephrasing. It’s also how people show up. Because I’ve seen it in organizations where it’s the number one priority, and then they have the strategic imperatives for the next five years, and safety is not on the chart, and then somebody raises their hands, say, shouldn’t safety be there? They’re like, Oh, right. Because it’s not a dialog at the C-suite, it’s not a value. It’s not something that people are evaluated on. It’s not reinforced day in and day out, and so it gets forgotten.

You’re right. One of the really interesting things that I’ve discovered over the years is I’ve noticed on the media online that when there’s a fatality, the company might come out. They’ll report that there’s been an incident, and tragically, somebody’s life has been taken, and we’re supporting the family, and we’re doing this. We’re supporting our colleagues, and whatever, then the last sentence will usually be the daily share price. Now to me, I have real issues with that being in the same article. Now, whether that’s the fault of the journalist who’s throwing it together or whatever, it seems to be a consistent pattern that I find quite offensive that you’re talking about the welfare of somebody who’s gone through a tragic experience or the loss of life, and then at the bottom, you’ve got the share price. The two don’t go together, in my view, and never will. Right.

The last topic I’d like to touch on is boom versus bust. Mining is probably more extreme than a lot of other industries. What’s the impact of boom versus bust in mining and safety?

Well, I guess back in the mid-2000s here in Australia, and I don’t know whether this was a global thing, but definitely in Australia, there was a boom. Every company is scrambling for more employees. They want to get that stuff out of the ground as quickly as possible. It got to the stage where they were employing people. One supervisor that I spoke to out on the side in the goldfield said to me, Basically, all you need to get a job in the mines now is you need to be standing vertically and breathing. That was how it was. He said that he had had a busload of young guys that he picked up from the airport, and one of them, he said, What’s your job? What are you coming out here to do? He said, oh, I’m going to drive a truck. This is an underground mine. Have you ever driven a truck? Have you ever been underground? He said, How the hell do I manage and supervise these young guys? That was the circumstance in the boom, and I saw it firsthand. Then, around 2015, there was a downturn. Actually, throughout that mid-2,000 boom period, in five years, we had 101 fatalities in the industry.

That indicates to me if you look at a graph, you can see the spike. Then back, moving on a decade, 2015, there was a downturn and people getting laid off. Other employees were expected to wear two and do the same job. The pressure was on in terms of we still need to get this stuff out of the ground, but we’re going to have to do it more economically without as many people. Then you start getting people taking shortcuts, people are their morale was low. The same old pattern comes back again, increasing incidents and increasing fatalities as well. It’d be just really nice if they could find an even keel instead of… But I don’t think that’s how the industry works.

It’s hard because there are definitely peaks and valleys, and mining is probably one of those top peaks and valleys industries. Definitely, yeah. The element, though, I have definitely seen in mining where in valleys where the economy is not strong, sites get shut down, and locations get shut down. I’ve seen it where the narrative started changing that safety is not physical safety but it’s putting food on my family’s table. That becomes very dangerous because they associate the mines that weren’t as successful and that were shut down were maybe safer minds but less productive minds. Then they start rewiring that safety actually gets in the way of my personal safety, which is putting food on my family’s table. That becomes very dangerous. But I’ve also seen other organizations that were… Kola was an example where there was an end date, either a mine site or a generation site. Things continued very well because the leader was really focusing until the last day; we will be safe. Part of it is also the choice of knowing that even if we won’t be here forever, how do I lead in that context?

Yeah, that’s right. That comes back to leadership and the culture that they established and set, and that everybody feels comfortable to have buy-in. Because if you don’t get buy-in from the employees that are there on-site, you can Sprout what you like. But if they don’t feel that they can trust or believe what you’re saying, that’s where actions speak louder than words. If you’re demonstrating that that’s your commitment, then you will get by. I think too often, the guys on site roll their eyes, and here we go again. That tells you a lot about the culture that’s established there. I think what you were demonstrating by your example is what every company should aspire to.

There are ways to hire maybe in advance of a boom—you can’t perfectly time it—but you’re not desperate at the last minute to take anybody. There are ways to recruit higher-quality talent. There are ways to invest in better training if you know there are going to be gaps because of who you’re able to get. There are mitigations to a lot of these elements, but it’s just being aware of it and recognizing it because, in both cases, it can have very negative effects.

Yeah, for sure. The other issue, too, is that if you’re putting… I refer back to the boom here in the mid-2000s, where you could walk off the street and get a job. A lot of these were young kids, really, late teens, early 20s who, Yeah, I want to get in there. I want to get some good, serious money. I want to. But if something happens to them, there’s no return other than for the families. Mom and Dad at home. They can’t sue the company. You can have a common law claim, but there’s no payment made to families or whatever unless you’re a dependent. For young, single guys who don’t have any dependents, which most of them don’t, there’s no comeback. There’s no comeback. It’s advantageous to employ young, single guys or girls because there’s no litigation forthcoming other than from the regulator, who might decide that your practices weren’t any good. But as far as the loved ones, nothing. There have been numerous examples of families that I’ve spoken to. One instance was a family from Brooklyn Hill, and the dad worked 30 years in the mines underground, and his son was killed in WA.

The company were fined $50,000. Now, this is a big Australian company that everybody globally has heard of. They were disgusted and really totally offended that their son’s life was worth $50,000. Now, they didn’t get that money. That just went into the coffers for the state regulator. But it’s an insult to think that with all of these issues that were found to be so inadequate, where he was working, that they were fined $50,000. There are numerous similar stories to that. Every life is valuable.

Absolutely. Ellen, thank you so much for joining me on the show today. Thank you for your advocacy for safety, but also for the families of those that lose a loved one. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Well, they can email me. I have a website too, so either email me or go to my website and send me a message going to be great. Excellent. Thank you so much, Helen.

Thank you. Cheers. Take care. Bye.

Thank you. Bye.

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Helen Fitzroy’s passion for workplace safety commenced following the death of her husband, Steve, in an underground mining accident in Norseman, WA, in 1991. The accident left Helena a widow in her early thirties with three young children to raise. At the time of Steve’s death, mining fatalities were largely ‘normalized’ by companies and government regulators. The deaths were considered an inherent risk of the industry, with virtually no support offered to families to enable them to move forward with their lives.

One of Helen’s coping strategies was writing. She wrote to her husband, Steve, but also to herself and her children leading to the publishing of her first book some years later, “Just a Number.”

“Just a Number” outlines her family’s journey in the five years following Steve’s death, as they traversed the quagmire of emotional, legal, and bureaucratic processes that constitute life for a bereaved family following a workplace death.

Since writing “Just a Number,” Helen has been traveling extensively across Australia as well as overseas campaigning for improved safety and better support for bereaved families. She also delivers safety-focused presentations to companies across all sectors, highlighting the importance of both parties’ commitment to safety at work.

Helen’s commitment and passion culminated in the establishment of Miners’ Promise in 2010. Miners’ Promise is a not-for-profit organization established to provide emotional and practical support to members and their families following a crisis event such as a death, illness, or serious accident.

Helen served as a Director on the Miners’ Promise Board for several years, including a number of years as Chairperson. A qualified grief counselor, Helen continues close association with the organization providing family support advisory services to members.

Helen is a recipient of a WA Local Hero of the Year Award, a category of the Australian of the Year awards. She continues to speak prolifically to corporations across all industry sectors and provides ongoing grief counseling to families coping with the loss of a loved one.

For more information: www.helenfitzroy.com.au

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Waking Up to the Dangers of Shortcuts: Powering Up Personal Accountability and Safety Ownership with Theo Venter

Waking Up to the Dangers of Shortcuts: Powering Up Personal Accountability and Safety Ownership

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE: 

ABOUT THE EPISODE

“It’s the buy-in. All the safety systems are there, but they are worth nothing without the buy-in.” Theo Venter, the only known survivor of a 22,000-volt electric shock, joins the podcast this week to share his powerful story and eye-opening message highlighting the inevitable dangers of shortcuts in the workplace. Tune in as Theo describes the psychological aspects that contribute to serious injuries and fatalities and unpacks actionable strategies for mitigating risk and powering up personal accountability and safety ownership in the workplace.

READ THIS EPISODE

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

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Theo Venter, who is an incredible inspirational speaker, but also one of the only people to have ever survived going through 22,000 volts through the heart and 1,200 amp. Unbelievable. Theo, welcome to the show. Glad you’re here. Why don’t we start with your story?

I am even more glad I’m here with you after hearing that what you just said. Sometimes when people say that it just is a different energy when I listen to it and I go, wow, I’m still standing here. Thanks for having me, Eric. Absolutely. I’ll just jump in if that’s okay. I’ll start a little bit further back. Born and raised, you might pick up a slight little accent in my voice, and I know it’s going to be hard to pick up, but it is from South Africa, the Spring rock country. Born and raised over there and then got opportunity to go to Australia and go and practice my trade, which was working on overhead power lines. I guess after about 10 years of working in the same industry, there was this specialized group that came in and they could work on live electrical power lines. So, you put these specialized big gloves and stuff on, and you put them on, and you can work actually on live power lines. So, I was very interested, went for the course and passed it. And then when I came to Australia, that was what brought me over because it was such a specialized trade. I was only here for six months when I set in my ways. My family came over for the last three months and we were now just settling into Australia. And it was a Monday morning. I woke up in the morning and it was just another day to me. I knew exactly what was going on. What was my whole week, what was it going to be? So, I got into my mood, and I jumped in, and I went to work and got to work. And the manager said to me, hey, Theo, he said to me something very strange that morning. He said, look, you got to go fix up this power pole outside of your normal work scope. And he said, I’m calling you in because you are the guy that gets the job done. He says, this is a really… There was an electrical storm. There was a lightning strike over the weekend. The pole got damaged. And he said, this thing is really badly damaged. So, I turned around Eric and I had this little ego boost, pep my stick.

And I said to, we have a three-man crew, I said to my boys, let’s go change the stuff on the truck and the Ute and get some other safety stuff on. And off we go to the Spell poll. And I remember doing a risk assessment that morning without my other two boys in there at the poll, and tick and flick boxes. You’re just a quick tick and flick and you’ve put a few things down. And I didn’t really, really, I wasn’t invested in that. And when the boys came in, we set up and started working on this pole. And my best mate, very good mate of mine, his name is Niko. He was in front of me. He started working on these live wires. And about half an hour in, he got really frustrated. And he said to me, he said, I can’t get this nut off this little 12-millimeter nut. I don’t know if you guys call it three quarter.

Probably.

And I said to him, look, you must be tied. Let me have a go at it. And as soon as I stood right in front of this, and I’ve got to describe it. We’re standing 11 meters in the air. There’s a big steel cross arm in front of me. There are three insulators, which carries the three phases. And I remember, I couldn’t see where this nut sits, and I couldn’t feel it because of the gloves. And I knew that I’m the guy that gets the job done.

Right. You had heard that just before.

Because that just boosted my ego with this thing. And you know what it’s like for a young man.

And I guess at that stage, I thought if I could only put my fingers in there and could feel how this nut sits, it will be like a two second thing. I’ll just quickly put my finger in there, feel where it sits, get a socket in, and undo this nut. And I had a quick glance behind me of Niko, my best mate talking to the safety observer downstairs. And he didn’t look at me. And I went and I put my hands between my knees, and I started taking my gloves off. It was such a convenient choice. It was so easy. It was just a convenient choice. And when I put my hands in between my knees to start to take the gloves off, not for a single second did I even consider how many times they told me not to do it.

How many times in a meeting have they told us don’t do it. If it’s unsafe, don’t do it. In that minute, I was so focused on getting this job done that I didn’t think about it. I started pulling my gloves out, and the moment my gloves released out of my hands, I could feel the cold sweat on the wind, chillie wind. That moment, I had this massive gut feel. Have you ever done a bit… It’s just about to do something really stupid and you get this big feeling in your gut that something is going to go wrong? That moment when I got that gut feel, it was such a strong feeling that I paused and I went, oh, that is a real feeling. Then I was standing there for a couple of milliseconds, and I thought, Man, it is so convenient. It’s so easy. It’s right in front of me. I can just get you. Of course. So, you override that gut feeling, and you go in and you took it out. And I put my hands on that nut and everything was fine. I did it. The nut came off in about five seconds.

I was so happy with myself that I was standing back with a bigger smile on my face. And the next minute, the insulator now undone started moving and it was pure instinct. I had my right wrist on the steel cross arm and with the insulator a little bit to my left, I just grabbed it with my left arm, my left hand, and I didn’t know that there was that exposed section of that 22,000-volt line. And that moment I stuck my hand straight into that line, which made me just a little fuse between draining 22,000 volts, 1,200 straight through my heart, straight into the down to Earth.

Unreal.

That moment when that power took hold of me, it was like a truck hitting me at 100 Ks an hour. It just hit me and every muscle in my body, I remember feeling every single millisecond. I knew exactly what was going on, Eric. I was thinking about so many things, but I couldn’t do anything. It was just stuck on there. And I just stuck. And it was about two and a half seconds, which in electrical terms is a long time a lifetime. It’s lifelong. I lost consciousness. My knees gave in. I think my right wrist slipped off that steel cross arm and my lifeless body hit that bottom of that bucket. And that was the end of my life as I knew it. That was my last moments as I knew my life.

So, you went to the hospital. We’re blessed to still have you here. Tell me a little bit about the aftermath, the ripple effects, what transpired. Your family had just arrived three months prior.

Yeah. You see, what electricity in specific does is when you get hooked up, it creates a like a thousand degrees Celsius and it boils your blood inside your body. So, your soft organs, your heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, everything starts to boil up. And because of that, by the time they took me back to hospital, I was lying in that hospital bed, and I remember the last nurse, she was standing around my bed. After they stitched me up and bandaged me up and put all these tubes into my system with antibiotics and painkillers and stuff like that. And just before my wife walked in, she looked at me and she didn’t say much. But she was looking at me. I had eye contact for about 10 seconds, and I just realized that I’m going to die in his bed. I’ll never forget this moment when we’re just looking at each other, not saying a word. And she walked out, and I realized I know I’ve been in this industry; I know that the infection sets in and in a day, maybe, and you will die. And I remember my wife walking just after her. And as we were talking, she’s begging me not to die because we made this agreement that I was going to. And then I could hear my little princess is only five years old. She was outside and she was screaming and begging for her Daddy. And my two boys, I’ve got three kids and they were crying and begging. And I said to the doctors if they could bring my kids in and just give me a last chance because my kids just wanted to hug them and say goodbye. The doctor said I was so bad. I smelled so bad, and I looked so bad that, please don’t let the kids see you like this.

So, I made the decision not to say goodbye to my kids that day, that moment. And that was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I went into that night. You just count those seconds down and you know what goes through your mind the most is what made me take that shortcut? What made me choice? Why did I do it? Was it worth it? Was it worth taking that nut off? Was it worth putting my life on the line? When do you get so desensitized? What stage in a workplace, work site does you get so desensitized that you don’t even think about those material risks, the things that can kill you? And it just kept on spinning over and over and over in my mind. It was about five days later when they did tests on me and said, Theo, you’re going to make it. And during those five days, the only thing I could think of is knowing I was going to die was if someone could give me just one day with my family, one perfect day, one perfect day. It’s all I wanted, just one perfect day. And now when I stand in front of audiences, I’m asking them, have you ever thought of your own specific, personal perfect day?

What would it look like? Who were you enough with? Where would you go? Sure. They started surgeries. They removed all the dead tissue and tendons out of my arms that was dead because of gangrene. I went through 17 surgeries in the first just over a month. Every second day I had a surgery. They wanted to amputate my arms; they could save them. And then I was in hospital for quite a few months when I left. But then when I went home, it became worse because I went in there and my friends didn’t recognize me. I was now estranged from my wife. I was away from… The pressures on a relationship was just sky rocketing. I was in a dark room sitting there the whole time with severe pain. I had to depend on everyone to feed me. My hands didn’t work at all to help me wash, to wipe my bum, to do all these things. And I think about a few months in, depression kicked in and severe depression and anxiety. And it wasn’t long after that when my suicide thoughts were very real. That was the darkest ever. I’ve seen life in my life before. It was the darkest times.

I have to ask you, you know doing work around electricity, around high voltage, gloves are what blocks you from direct contact with the ground, becoming… Taking the energy down to the ground. You’re supposed to test your rubber gloves, in most cases every day, to make sure that there’s no fault, no challenge with the rubber gloves. Have you ever done anything like this before?

That is such a great question, Eric. Those gloves that you’re talking about, and it sounds like you know exactly what it was because those gloves are sacred to everyone. You take those gloves and you put them in a very soft pouch, and you do a pin test every day and you make sure that those… Because that’s the only thing that keeps you away from the beast. To answer your question, I want to go back one week before my incident. Just one week.

Sure.

The Wednesday before my incident, we were standing. There was about eight of us, nine, 10 of us on a site. There was a power pole very similar to the one I was on. And there were two guys working up on this pole in an EWP in a bucket on a live line. And there was about six of us on the ground level. And it was about, I think, two, three hours in, maybe 10 o’clock in the morning when I was standing back from this pole to see how the guys going up there. And the one guy, as I looked up, the one guy didn’t have his gloves on. And I screamed. I screamed. I blew the whistle. I said, whoa, mate, you forgot your gloves. You haven’t got your gloves on. Because that was the cardinal sin. It’s like, you don’t do that. You forgot about it. The guy turned around and he looked at me downstairs and he laughed at me, and he said to me two things which I’ll never forget. He said, Theo, don’t ever tell anyone what you just seen and don’t ever try it yourself. This guy took his gloves off to do some work around the live power line.

Never seen it, never done it. Cardinal sin. No one should be doing this, right? Right. Two days later, I’m sitting in a safety meeting, the manager comes in and he closes, slams the door, closes. We about 100 of us sitting in a room. He starts the meeting, the safety meeting, off by everyone. He says, This doors are closed. This is a safe space. Everyone, please, could you talk to us about safety out there? Can you talk to us about is there anything that we can do better? Is there anything you want to bring up that people don’t do that safe? And the more he said these things, the more there was these 10 pairs of eyes right in the back of me waiting for Theo Venter to get up and say something because he’s the guy that gets the job done. What did you do? You know what I did?

Nothing.

Nothing. Couldn’t do it. Could not get up and say it. Could not. For some reason, I couldn’t do it. When my accident actually happened was that moment when I walked out of that room that day. I couldn’t bring it up. That’s where my incident happened because that was Friday afternoon, two days later, Monday morning, I was on a power pole standing there not knowing what to do with this thing. Then I remembered this guy last week that took his gloves off and he got the job done. And that is it. That was me. That was the incident right there. In other words, short answer to your question is, I’ve never done it, never seen it. First time I’ve done it. You know what? The guy that took the shortcut last week, must probably done it 30, 40 times. He always got away with it. It’s never the convenient choice. It’s never the shortcut that you take. It’s an unforeseen thing that happens while you’re taking a shortcut. It’s an extra thing that comes into play, that thing that no one knows about. You can get away with those shortcuts, but one day something is going to come up while you’re taking that convenient choice.

Which is what happened then. Something slipped, something moved. Unfortunately.

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

So, it gets me to think a little bit about culture. What was the culture like? You talked about you get the job done. So presumably getting the job done is what was celebrated in some way, shape, or form. Others were blatantly cutting corners, at least one other person, on a cardinal rule. If you’re working next to any energized current at that level, you should never touch, not have the right gloves.

What was the culture like?

There was quite a number of things that came into perspective at that stage. There was the fact that because we were so new in Australia, we were still on a bridging visa, which means, you know where this is going, right? So, if you can do your job and you do it well and you can do it for long enough, you stay and you get your permanent residence. I didn’t come here to go back. So, there was a bit of pressure on… And please understand me very well, this is not excuses. These are things that was in place. I own 100 % what I did. 100 % I did. And that will always stay the way. But there was a bit of pressure on getting the job done. And in those days, they said to us in the cultured sense of things is look after your mates. Please go out there and look after your friends next to you, your brothers and sisters right next to you. Make sure everyone is safe. Do you know what I did in that meeting? I was looking after my brother. I was making sure he doesn’t get in trouble.

Yeah, because it’s reconstructing, which I’ve seen too often, what brother’s keeper means to protecting someone as opposed to protecting them from harm.

Yes, thank you. I was protecting my brother’s keeper by not saying anything. We’ve got a broke code out there and you don’t stab your brother in the back and that thing. So that was the culture because we were all in the same boat. We were protecting each other, and we wouldn’t do anything to hurt another guy. So that was, I think, the ground foundations of this culture. What they didn’t tell us at that stage, which after my incident for the last 10 years now, I’ve been searching for the reason why we do these things, regardless of the culture, regardless of whatever, why do we as individuals take these shortcuts? I went into behavioral science, and I went into all kinds of things that came up. Yes, there’s a lot of factors that make sense about all the other sciences, but there was one little thing that really got me in that moment when I just about to take my gloves off. Remember that real feeling in my gut? That really, it was in the back of my mind so long. What was that? I went and studied it. And this is pure biology, and I’d love to share this if that’s okay.

Absolutely. These are the things that just make so much more sense if we can teach our people and our people on our mine sites and our construction sites and these things. This basic concept is that we’ve all got a biology, we’ve all got a new cortex, a frontal cortex brain. It’s called the big brain in the front of your head is the one that calculates, it analyzes the path of least resistance. It speaks language and it understands, and it reads, and it writes, and it does all these things. That’s the part of the brain, if I say, calculates the path of least resistance. In the workplace, the path of least resistance, the easiest way to do, the most convenient way to do something is a shortcut. When we send our people to these work sites in the morning, we give them… They’ve got pre shift meetings and they need to do procedures and there’s swims and there’s all these things. And then they go out in the field, and they calculate all these things. And then they get to a place where they need to use a ladder, or they need to use something else. And this brain is so big and so powerful in front that I have now been working this brain, and I’m now taking the shift instead of the hammer because the hammer is too far and it’s not convenient to go there. And when there’s an incident, what do they do? They come back and they do the risk of the incident investigation, and they come, and they give you more procedures to go and read. So, they make the brain even younger.

There’s a little brain at the back, which they call the limbic brain. Now, this is the most amazing piece of little artwork that we have. And that is the brain that has got emotions and creativity. It deals in all these things. That’s the little part of the brain where safety gets unlocked. That’s where safety sits. When you feel unsafe, it’ll put chemicals into your body and say, watch out, there’s a snake, or whatever it is. That is the part of the brain that sends the signal to your gut. Have you ever heard of these people that needs to make a decision, oh, I don’t know if I need to go to the to use my head or my heart? Those are the two brains. Unfortunately, I don’t want to disappoint most of our listeners, but we don’t have a feeling in our gut. Sorry. That part of the brain sends that signal to your gut because it knows the gut is such a strong overpowering thing. So, when I put my hands between my knees, that little brain sent it in and said, don’t do it, Theo. Don’t do it. But I haven’t trained that brain.

I didn’t have the tool to understand and trust and respect that trust, that gut feel to go and listen to it and stand back and to say to my mate next to me, hey, Niko, does this feel right to you if I do this? I bet you wouldn’t have said no. But because of the frontal cortex is so strong, it will overpower that brain every single time. And if we could give our people out there just that little training every two, three minutes in the morning just to understand and trust that gut feel, that limbic brain, then they’ve got at least a chance of fighting against each other and say, I trust my gut. I will not do it. Last thing I want to say is, do you know how many people I spoke to that I said, have you ever had that feeling just before you get something done that you shouldn’t be doing it? Everyone goes, yes. Then I said, and then you do it anyway. They go, Oh, yes. That’s it. That’s a start anyway. But nearly everybody who’s been on our podcast who shared who’s been injured talks about that gut feel, a reaction just before. Almost unanimously, somebody has this feeling just before, but they still march forward.

That’s the golden nugget, isn’t it? I’ve been giving out little 12-millimeter nuts in every single presentation I have done to every single person. There must be about 250,000 nuts on key rings out there. I call that your gut feel, your why, your reason, your gut feel. At least there’s something they can hold on to sometimes, or they see it on the key ring, and they go, wow, I remember that. I trust my gut. I trust my feelings.

Let’s get to the topic you touched on before, which is getting to a perfect day. When you talk to audiences, you present your story, you get them to think about that perfect day. So, tell me about how you convey that message, because that’s also the decision you want people to reflect on before you take your gloves off, say, Is it really worth it?

Yeah. Eric, there’s six points that I highlight throughout my presentation if we want to get a little bit technical. They are there for a very specific reason, and it doesn’t matter if it’s an electrical industry or ice cream industry or the construction industry or whatever it is. These six points are the things that will take us forward. It’s personal development. Safety is a product of personal development. What we do is we count our mistakes. We count how many incidents and injuries we’ve had last month. And then we go this month, and we say, oh, we screwed up so many times last month, but this month is so much better. Wow. Because we only injured five people. And then next month, oh, we went a little bit worse. Instead of trying to stay away from… The human brain is amazing. Why not think of something good? Why don’t show people what good looks like? Give them something to aspire to. So, what I’ve done to Teams is after my presentation, when they are very much involved in their limbic brain and their feelings and emotions is out there, I will go into a session which I call the mission statement or whatever you want to call it.

It is to ask them as a group, as a team, what is the perfect day for them? And then we’ll write it on the board. They want respect and honesty and openness and all these things. And then I give them a sentence, we create a world in our industry that open and honest and through positive communication and these things. So, I show them what good looks like. I show them their perfect day at work. And then when they get in tomorrow morning and we ask them, is everyone is still aligned to your perfect day? In other words, we picked their value up and aligned it with the company values. Now that value is there. And when you think about something that you want to aspire to, which is good, then it comes naturally that you want to help your friend, your brother’s keeper. Those things just fall into place instead of trying to run away from the bad things and not let bad things happen. If I tell you there’s not a pink elephant behind me, it’s already in your mind. You know what I’m saying? It’s already there. So, if you tell them that that’s what your perfect day looks like, and I’ve done this to so many teams before, the culture which we touched on earlier switches immediately because now we’re looking at something great.

Let’s touch on another topic that you cover as well in your talks around ownership and accountability, which is important theme. You’re talking about your personal ownership in the circumstances, but there’s also the ownership, the accountability of leaders. Tell me a little bit about how you present this theme.

Yes, very important. I tie that into my presentation and my story as what I’ve said earlier is before we left my home country, I made a very stern agreement with my wife and my kids, people I love most in life. And I said to them, I will make sure that this agreement is that we will go over there and live a beautiful life. But I broke my agreement when I took my gloves off. And when I broke that, I had to own it. I remember my dad always said to me, if you can speak the truth in your vulnerability, you are within your power. I could not do anything else but speak the truth to everyone and said I did take my gloves off and I own it and I broke the agreement with the people I love most in life. Now at the end of the presentation, when I say, keep your agreements, that’s one of the six points. When you make an agreement with someone, if it’s a pre shift meeting in the morning or with your life, your kids, personal or work, if you keep that agreement, you become the proudest person in the world because of what you’ve done.

That creates accountability and ownership because you are now accountable for you, and you know why you do it because that’s what you want to keep. You want to keep, and you want to be a proud person in the world. That starts to form an accountability program, which in the morning you go back to, and you go, all right, is everyone still aligned with our perfect day? Can we make an agreement that everyone will go out there and conform to the regulatory authorities? Make sure that everyone is safe out there. And now we aspire to something good, we make the agreement that keeps you accountable for that. And then they will go out and look after each other because we are twisted and turned from going back to something what good looks like. I know it sounds a little harsh and quick right now, but I did write a book about it, me and Ken, so you can go and have a look at the book. It’s much better.

Very important theme. One last question, if I may. You touched on it briefly. You talked about rules, so cause evaluations, we find what happened, we create a new rule. And I agree, rules do need to exist. Rules are important. Safety at the end of the day is about adherence to rules. But you touched on something that’s really important is it’s not just about the rules. Because when you’re alone, and in this particular case, you’re pretty much alone because your friend wasn’t looking at you, so you didn’t really have a peer check. You need to buy in. You knew this was not the right thing to do. That was a cardinal rule that’s ingrained if you’re working next to a 22k V line. What does it take to drive the right choice? Rules are important, but you touched on something that’s really important here.

You just said it. It’s the buying. Our industry out there has now for the last 100 years, less than 100 years, fine-tuned our rules, our procedures, and from government side all the way down, it’s been there, and it will always be there. All the rules, all the systems, all the safety systems are there, but they are worth nothing without the buying. Absolutely nothing. And we need to create buying to these rules to understand and to give the people out there the chance to believe in the systems. Yes, I agree with you. They are important. They need to be there. I 100 % fine. But how do we create the buying? How do we get the guy downstairs, the 18-year-old just getting onto a site, or the guy that’s been there, that’s 40 years old. And I don’t know about your statistics, but the 40- to 45-year-olds in this country is the guys that get injured most because they think they’ve seen it all and then they get complacent and that’s one of these and convenient. So, the buying to these rules is absolutely paramount and we need to find a way how to get our people to buy into it.

I think I’ve broke the code and I know how to do it and I’ve seen, and I’ve proven that it can be done. Once you create the culture that supports the buying and everyone inspires to do something that is out there and that good looks like as a team and some camaraderie and your brother’s keeper, all these things come into play and the whole culture starts to shift. And that’s a beautiful thing to see. I’ve seen it many times before.

There’s somebody who was in the trade who told me once, and I don’t know if it’s true, but he said all the rules when it comes to electricity were written in blood. But if you follow all the rules that exist, there’s no reason to get seriously injured or to die. That basically, we know the universe of what we need to do. It’s just we need to actually consistently do it even when we encounter hookup issues, challenges.

True, true words. 100 % true words.

Yeah, love it. Theo, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s a very powerful story. I still can’t wrap my head. I’m happy and thrilled that you survived 22 K Vs, 1,200 Amps. It’s surreal. But thank you for being here, for sharing your story. Incredibly powerful message. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, how can they do that?

I am just about to embark on a world tour next year. So, if you want to be part of that world tour, you can find me at theoventer.com. So, it’s Theo, my last name is V E N T E R.com. You can find me there. I’m on Facebook and Instagram and all those sites and everything else. Also, on LinkedIn at Theo venter, so you can catch me on LinkedIn. Look out for me coming around maybe your area. I will be around the Canadian areas and all the way down. So, looking forward to coming and make a huge impact. If it’s only a presentation, that’s fine. I’ll come and inspire your team to walk away. But I also do a lot of other stuff in between as well. Coachable leadership training and those things.

Excellent. Thank you so much, Theo. Really appreciate you taking the time. I know you’ve got a big day in front of you in the outback, which is going to be considerably colder than summer up here.

Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Cheers. Thank you.

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Theo Venter is the only known survivor of a 22,000 volt electrical shock through the heart and shares his amazing story with audiences across the globe. When he removed his insulated gloves while working on a damaged transmission pole, he made a decision that would impact himself and his family in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

But why would an experienced liney make what hindsight would tell you was such a poor decision? Theo captures the precise moment he puts his insulated gloves between his knees and removed his hands. He shares his thoughts, his feelings and more importantly his motives leading up to the exact moment of impact. Co-Author of “Get Real: Staying Alive For A Living” and “Convenience Kills”, Theo is a seasoned veteran who will assist your Managers and Leaders and every Member of your team, to truly understand the ‘real’ psychology of incidents—with first-hand experience.

Theo will make you discover something about yourself you didn’t know. About your innate human nature. That although taking risks is normal and inherent in every human being, you could potentially be the next fatality at your workplace. That’s why it’s important to talk about it and bring it out in the open. By allowing Theo to share his story, people are impacted in a way that they are reminded of what can go horribly wrong when they take a shortcut.

For more information: https://www.theoventer.com/

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

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

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ABOUT THE EPISODE

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

READ THIS EPISODE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple things, but incredibly important things.

Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Eric. Cheers. Thank you.

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

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

For more information: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-corfield-803039180 or [email protected]

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