Putting Safety First: Listen to yourself with Spencer Beach
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18 years ago, Spencer Beach’s life changed forever when a workplace incident left him with severe burns on 90% of his body. Today, he is a safety motivational speaker who shares his story and wisdom to help prevent future incidents. In this engaging episode, Beach discusses the importance of listening to your gut feeling and speaking up. He also shares insightful ideas on how to develop a trusting relationship with employees and how to talk about safety in a way that motivates workers and increases safety awareness. Tune in to listen to Beach’s important message!
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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.
Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Spencer Beach. He’s gone through a life-changing event and stumble into a lot of elements around the behavioral side of safety and is now a motivational speaker around safety. So, Spencer, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Eric. Or can I call you Mr. Guru?
Eric’s just fine. And if you could maybe start out by telling me a little bit about your story and from there, we’ll get into some of your insights around safety and driving real impact around safety.
Sure. So, I grew up as a third-generation flooring installer. So basically, hardwood carpet, vinyl flooring. That’s what I did. I went on my first job when I was six years old, which I understand breaks all the safety rules. But back in the 1970s, there was a little different. And so, I grew up in the trades and when I graduated high school, I knew what I was doing and I followed my father and grandfather’s footsteps. And at the age of 29, I no longer installed floors.
I fixed them. I was a service guy on a flooring crew where we did mostly new homes. And my job every day was to drive around the city of Edmonton going from new home to new home, fixing other qualified installers mistakes. On April 24, 2003, I was sent into a service where I was told to remove vinyl flooring with the chemical because another crew installed the wrong color. The way my dad taught me is you remove vinyl flooring with a sharp scraper and a lot of sweat equity.
My lawyer at the time, he had a method where we used the chemical. It was a contact dinner and skipping a couple of steps so nobody can do what I did. Basically, it would reactivate the glue, the floor would fill up in sheets and what used to take days off to full-grown qualified installers to strip a flooring up. My employer had a service guy doing in his off time. It saved us tons of time and lots of money.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t any safety in the new home industry at the time of my incident. Although the law was there, nobody followed it. So, I had no training in chemical use. I did not know I had the right to refuse unsafe work, didn’t do hazard assessments. Any PPE I had, I provided myself. It was basically for yourself kind of environment. Well, and the only rules I had was to turn down the thermostat and open up doors and windows for ventilation.
When I did this job, which I did do, I got up. I started working at about 1:00 in the afternoon and I had to do the laundry room, hallway, main bath and front entry. And I worked my way from the laundry room down to the front entry as I was working my way out of the house. And at about 4:00 in the afternoon, I was almost done. I just had a little bit of floor and behind the front door to do and I closed the front door to build access that. And when I did the garage door, which I had opened for ventilation closed. Oh, no, it’s changed. And yeah, I remember I looked down the hallway and I was just like, I’m going to be locking that door in five minutes. I’m almost done, you know, what’s the point of me getting up and we open that door again? I’m tired of doing that. Right. And so, I mentally chose to leave my escape route open or closed. And, you know, another tradesperson? Well, I didn’t know that at the time either. But there was another tradesperson in the house who had just finished the job. He came down the stairs, stepped over top of me, said goodbye and closed the front door behind them. And when he did that, all of a sudden, I heard a loud whistle and then an enormous bang and the fire erupted out of nowhere. It engulfed my oh my goodness.
It was the chemical fumes of burnt and they burnt those fifteen hundred degrees Celsius. Oh, it’s more than twice the heat of the average house fire for our American friends. That’s about twenty-one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. And so, at that moment I just went into panic mode. And now this is where I always tell groups how important it is to have that safety plan done. This incident happens if you don’t have a plan, your only plan then is get the hell out of here.
You have no route you’re going to take or understanding of what you’re going to do at. Going to be all just gut instinct, trying to get out of the situation, so I sprung up on my knees and I grabbed on to the front door handle and as hard as I could, I could not open that door. And I was a person back then. I was used to carrying rolls of carpet and linoleum and buckets of glue, and I didn’t have the strength to open that door.
What it occurred was that whistle just prior to the fire was all the air being pulled into the house through the crevices of the doors and the windowsills and fire required so much time, so much oxygen. And that created a pressure difference, which is why I could not get over the door. I had no clue what was happening, though. I just the store not opening. So, I let go of the door handle and I turned to my right.
I ran to the hallway past the half bathroom into the laundry room, and I stopped in front of the garage door, grabbed onto that door. It didn’t open. So, I just and now am trapped. There was nowhere to go there. So, I had to go back to the front entry. I tried that door. It didn’t open. So, I went back to the laundry room, door to the garage door in the laundry room. I tried that again.
It didn’t open. I estimate no more than 20 seconds transpired. And for me to do that routine and I’d had enough; I couldn’t take it anymore. The pain was so deep. It was we’ve all been burnt. It was nothing like any burn you’ve ever had. It wasn’t a surface burn. I could feel it inside of me and I could smell my hair burning and I could. But the skin on my face felt like it was shrinking.
I just wanted it over. So, I collapse into a ball, interlock my fingers on the back of my head. I tucked my face close to the floor as I possibly could, and I gave up. I had a near-death experience, which I thought of. My wife didn’t, and she was pregnant with our first child. I thought about all the things I was going to miss. You know, I’ve been wanting to be a father my entire life, and now I’m so close to being achieving that and having the child.
And I’m going to miss it all. And I was never going to help my wife with the chores, the simple things around the house, or be there when she needed me the most when she gave birth to our child and I for them. I tried one more time and I got up and tried that garage door and it opened what had occurred because it’s a flashlight. The fumes are burning down now and the pressure difference was dissipating. So, I was able to open up that door without hesitating.
I just jumped into the garage, which at that time the garage was the garbage disposal area for new home industry. So, I fell literally into construction garbage, which if you can imagine, is the leftover siding screws to cause you to jump falling in. And on the very top of it was all the flooring I just removed, soaked in the very in the exact same go. Right now, I’m physically on fire. So, when I hit that garbage pile, it ignited another fire.
The only difference between this fire and the other one was that the overhead garage door wasn’t installed. So, I could see some. My escape was just 20 feet away from me and I just regain my balance. I scrambled to my feet as fast as I could, and I ran out of that Great Britain from head to toe. I made it almost to the sidewalk for four. I finally collapsed onto my back into the dirt. And that’s my story. That’s what happened to me.
That’s incredible. And it’s really scary in terms of the circumstances that you went through. I know one of the themes we had talked about when we first connect was really around this sense of gut feel. Tell me more about what that means for you and what gut feel you had.
So, I love the gut feeling thing because it’s something everybody has had. And quite often when we get that gut feeling, we tend to dismiss it. And I was shocked when I woke up that morning and I told Tina I didn’t want to go to work and I’m not that type of person. I was I said I want to work when I was six years old. I have two older brothers and my dad always chose me to go to work with them because I didn’t cry or put up a fuss.
I did the work. So, when I’m telling my wife I’m thinking of phoning in sick when I’m not, you know, that’s just not me that’s out of character. And the reason being was I didn’t want to work with that chemical again. Then when we were Kelkal, we’d be breathing in the fumes and the fumes would go into our lungs and our lungs would put into our blood. And hours after leaving the job, it would leave our blood on our lungs that I could taste it as if I didn’t want to taste that again.
I didn’t want the funny feeling it made in my head again. I knew this wasn’t right. But I as I said earlier, I also didn’t know anything about safety. So, my I. Was you do what your boss tells you or you lose your job and then you’re found myself. So, I took that feeling of telling my wife, you know, I don’t feel this is right. I’m thinking of phoning in sick and all that feeling down deep inside.
I put it to I couldn’t hear it anymore. I convinced myself to be just fine and I want to work and I did nothing. This is the worst part is I had this feeling that wasn’t right and I did nothing about the feeling. Even when I was at work, I didn’t change one aspect. I didn’t speak up at work. And you can express my concerns to my employer. I just you know, I was a good soldier and I just I did nothing. And I now look at that gut feeling and, you know, why didn’t I listen to it? You know what? And the reality is, is I’ve examined and that was literally that was me talking to me. And you got to think about this for a moment. If your gut, is you talking to you and then you don’t listen to yourself, if you’re not going to listen to yourself on safety, what chances are you going to listen to a safety professional or call an employer about safety?
Right. So that was one of the first things about the gut feeling is we need to start listening to ourselves. You know, if we’re told. Yeah, who are we going to listen to? Right. Right.
Because I think it’s so important. Right. To such an important message to get people to listen when something doesn’t feel right. To say something, to speak up.
Yeah, for sure. But quite often, if you’re not going to listen to yourself, are you going to speak up either? You know, there’s a mindset there and this is where, you know, I focus on people’s behaviors because this is where we’re going. There’s no rule or policy or procedure or regulation that’s going to get somebody to speak up or they don’t listen to themselves. We need to address the behavior on what’s occurring there. And what I found is when we do address people’s behaviors, the people who tend not to listen to themselves or their gut, they tend to also push back very strongly when you approach their safety.
And I had to examine that. I looked at like, why are they pushing so hard? You know? And I looked at like, what other topics in life could what I if I talked about, would they push back the same? And I felt like if you talk about people’s religion or politics, their sexuality, how to spend their money there, how to raise their kids, if you talk about these things, people tend to push back really strong for sure.
And all those topics are on me telling you how to live your life. So that’s and I looked at what also they see safety as me telling them how to live their life. And I totally get it at that moment because it has been addressed or brought into workers. Like safety is going to be a part of your job and your job is precious to you. It’s part of your identity. So, I’m telling you that you’re going to be adding something to how you live your life.
If it doesn’t, it’s not about controlling how you live. Your life also does is control hazards so you can continue to do what you’re doing. I mean, that’s an improvement. So, I’m not telling you how to live your life. I’m helping you to live your life because I’m helping you control those hazards so that when you’re done your job, you can actually go live your life.
So, how I love that comment, how do you propose or how would a leader change their story, their language to make sure that that’s really the message they’re sending?
Well, one of the things is you just actually set a tone then most people don’t realize it. But I hate the word change in our society. We use that word change all the time and change is viewed very negatively by people. We avoid change, honestly. You get a person to stay the same or go through change. Most people will want to stay the same. And safety was told to them as a change. And when they heard that and so pipefitter or a welder or truck driver, they heard, I’m going to change.
I don’t want to change. I like my job. I like doing what I do. I don’t want to become this thing. I just want to be the pipefitter. And the reality is that we didn’t change anything because at the end of the day, as much we put safety into your job, you’re still the welder, you’re still the picture. You’re a truck driver, you’re still them. All right. All I did was control the hazards, but I didn’t change your job.
I controlled the houses within your job. And that is an improvement. So, let’s use your language. If you said to workers, we’re going to change the way we do things around here, which is shows nobody reacts favorably to that. But if you said we’re going to improve the way we do things around here, people are more open to hearing what you have to say. So, language we choose and how we use it is very having a phenomenal impact on promoting or hurting what we’re trying to achieve.
Gotcha. Very important, so that gets us to vulnerable to base trust. Can you share a little bit about some of your thoughts around this topic?
So, I love Followable because trust is where my passion is taking me right now. So, there’s two types of trust out there that is predictable trust. And that’s like I said, I’m going to be here at this time. And you trust that type of person or if I borrow money to pay it back, because I’ve proven to you that you don’t have to chase me down or, you know, if you share a secret, I’m not going to go behind your back and share what it is, you know, that’s predictable too.
Vulnerable based trust, though, is the type of trust where you really are developing the relationship with the person. So, it’s more like you admit to your mistakes and politicians. Now we’re Canadian, so we’ll use Justin Trudeau multiple different offenses and he’s not quick to admitting to it. And what is occurring is people, because he doesn’t admit to it, they don’t believe in him anymore because it hasn’t gained that valuable trust with people. And that happens with politicians all the time.
And they’re really good examples to use what can occur when bond-based trust is not gained with people. But what happens, though, is always trust. If you have people and I hear this a lot when I’m out of patience before I’m about to start presenting and I’m just having conversations with the workers, it’s like the company doesn’t care and safety and here stay with them. That means that people don’t believe in the leaders, sure don’t believe in the leaders and what they’re proposing.
What chance is there that they’re actually going to want to follow along with stuff? Yeah. So the connection is not on the policies. It’s not in the regulations. It’s not in the procedures. It’s in the relationship between the management and the workers. And then that’s where you need to work on it. And that means that management needs to invite the workers into policy development instead of creating something like here. This is what we could do, this change.
Yeah. Or it also means, though, like if you’ve got an over time that maybe the management spend some time doing the overtime or they bring in and they develop that relationship. The only way you can develop a relationship with people is by spending time with them. A simple example I could use is whenever I do safety standards for companies. Right. And put management not at one table in the front of the room, mix them throughout the thought process.
They spend the day with the people, write simple things, but things that have a lot of impact in terms of showing vulnerability and demonstrating that trust that around safety. I think a lot of the themes I also hear is leaders that are talking about safety is the most important thing, but then pivot and will drive productivity. And it seems like two different messages side by side. And then people don’t trust what’s being said.
And that’s one of the problems with the safety. First, I’m sure we’ve all heard safety first. It’s Safety First was an awesome statement that has been misunderstood. In fact, it’s going to be my next safety video was on it. But the reality is, is what? Safety first. And here’s more communicating. It’s an incomplete sentence. It’s missing all the structure of a sentence, which means it’s open to interpretation. The workers are going to try and plug in what the missing parts of the sentence are. And what they did is the workers hurt. Safety is the most important thing we do. And that’s a lie. The most important thing you do. Your actual job is production because you were hired to produce. And I can prove that if you spend your entire day doing nothing but safety, your company will go out of business. It’s just that simple. You need to produce what you’re there to produce. And safety or hazards are actually a byproduct of a production.
The workers know this. They know that they spend 90 percent of their day on production and two percent of their day on safety. And yet they’re told safety is the most important thing you do. That’s what they heard was safety first. The reality is, though, in that statement, safety first. It wasn’t a matter of importance. It was a matter of priority. What we were trying to say is not safety is the most important thing you do, but safety is the first thing you do before you do anything else. Right. I think well said.
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So other topic I want to talk about is reactance you if you often talk about that topic, tell me more about what it is and what it means from a safety standpoint.
So, reactance is going back to the gut feeling instantly. You don’t listen to yourself kind of thing. What reactance is by Laman definition is when you make somebody or they are perceived to be made to do something, they will push back. And you get caught as a great example of use of it as a behavioral experiment, the same as a worldwide pandemic. But before even masks were mandated, people see they’re being told to wear masks. And there was a large part of the society that said we’re not doing it.
And they start to push back. And then when Mass was mandated, they pushed back even further and they created the most phenomenal examples on why they should not need to wear a mask. They also became experts overnight on it. And I can tell you from someone who was in isolation and germs was the one thing that could kill them. I might ICU doctors and nurses and everyone, they wore masks entering my room and my room was specially made that germ could not enter it.
The only way germs could enter some people and these professionals were wearing masks to prevent germs from leaving their body to get to me because they weren’t and these weren’t fancy. These were just normal paper masks that you would find in a hospital setting. Sure. But they weren’t. But they people want phenomenal means. You want to promote why they didn’t need to wear a mask because they push back. There’s a couple of things but reactance that we need to know. And one is everyone is prone to reactance. We’re all prone to push back. You just have to know which topic it is that you hold close to and from. For some people, if you talk about religion, they push back on other people. And gun control is a great example. You talk about gun control, especially in America. People are going to push back because it’s cost them and they’re being perceived that they are being made to give up their guns are being perceived, that they’re being told that they’re not allowed to be religious and they push back. And it’s the same with safety. They’re being perceived that their job is changing. So, they pushed back. And the way to deal with that reactance then is you need to include people in the process. When you include them in the process, the developmental process, they become more in tune to want to go along with the development because of the process, because they’re part of the development of that for sure. They were involved. It was partly their ideas.
They were listening to all things that reduce the barriers to change. We know that the more the more it’s part of a change I was part of, the less likely you are to respond negatively to it.
Yeah, I do think, though, when you talk to management about involving people in the process, they’re like, well, that’s going to slow down production and it’s going to have to pull people off for the development. But you’re going to save so much time on the back end. Yes. Having to crack this reactance behavior that in the long run you will have a net gain on the amount of time you save instead of a net loss on pulling people off the line for the time it takes to develop the process.
Yeah, there’s been a lot of research that was done on this. Just this very topic around the total time doesn’t change is just where you’re spending it. It’s either you’re spending it on the front end getting a better solution or you’re spending it on the back end trying to get people to do something that they don’t want to do. So, in many cases, it’s actually the opposite. It may be faster to involve people to go a little bit slower the front end, but then you get adoption acceptance and there’s one more benefit to it. And I have a leadership presentation. I do where at the end we do an organized session and I stand up in a box. Everyone has a piece of paper and it’s the only slide and all my presentations that have any PowerPoint bullet points on it. And in there are just ten simple instructions and I invite the very beginning. I’m like, if you have any questions, ask them, you know? But I’m also from a legal standpoint, we’ve got to get moving on here because there’s stuff to be done for today. And I go through the PowerPoint or the organic session, and at the end of it, about 10 percent of the audience, it’s always about 10 percent get what I was wanting to achieve. And what happened was I just stopped being a leader. I didn’t engage the people at in any way that was in a positive way. So, the 10 percent of people that got it were the ones that excelled at being able to take written form and understand what it was say, but that.
This failed and the experiment failed, and 90 percent of people have crumpled up paper, I make them use the same paper and I’m like, we’re going to get a much better result. And all I do is I take the people that got what I wanted for the first time and I tell them, help the people in your group. And because they weren’t before, I have to like, go help the people. You know what it is. I want to help them. And I leave my podium and I go down and I help the audience to spend the same amount of time. And I don’t even go to the ballpoints anymore. I put the slide up, but I don’t touch them at all. And I have a 90 percent success rate just by empowering people. And what it does is that reactance. Now, I’ve cut the reactions because I help people development, but they also become my leaders and they now are on the floor saving me time on communicating to the vast majority of the people. And I only go to a few tables during the present. That second part. And I have this whole squad of people doing the exact same thing and we achieve so much more success. And the best part of the entire exercise is the room goes from stubbornness and frustration and anger to laughter and joyfulness. And people are happy and they want to be there, all because I changed how I how I lived.
I love it and I love all the themes you talk to because the very, very powerful themes that also touch to the role leaders have in creating a great environment and really reflecting as to how you show up, how you demonstrate vulnerability, how you engage and involve people in the in the decision-making process, all things that are easy, simple to do, but have a very tangible, meaningful impact in increasing adoption, acceptance of practices around safety. And I love this comment you made around. Stop telling people how to live their lives, really thinking about really in terms of how do we define how we talk in message around safety. And I like to believe that everybody’s a leader, and so you have leaders that are pulling the company along, you have leaders that are fighting the company, and the other workers are seeing them as leaders. And they’re joining in that group. And then you have leaders in training, but, you know, identifying who these leaders are. And those are the people, the subgroups that you should be pulling into your developmental processes. Take the people who already believe in the company and what they’re doing, get the people are fighting it and bring them their herd and then bring in people who are leaders in training. And when you do that, I think you’re going to find that you’ll engage the people’s behaviors and improve the roll out of your policies and procedures.
Yeah, I love it. Incredibly powerful message and simple to make happen within an organization. So, Spencer, you talk about safety to a lot of groups. You present share ideas. And if somebody wants to reach out to you, what’s the best way to do so?
Not just through my website. Its Spencer Speaks dot ca or you can just Google my name, Spencer Beach and you’ll find either a real beach in Hawaii which I’ve been through already. So, it’s pretty simple to find me. And from there I’d love to come out and speak to your people. I have a unique presentation style where my goal is I reach to people’s hearts and I found so when I’m speaking to workers, I don’t use PowerPoint because I’m motivating and motivation doesn’t require PowerPoint.
And what I found is I could use PowerPoint and try speaking to their head, but they wouldn’t hear me as loud because when I speak to people’s hearts, your heart actually talks to your head louder than I could talk to your head. So that’s my whole presentation is based on people’s hearts. I’m there to help put that safety policy that’s sitting on a shelf into the workers hands. And that’s my whole goal, is when it’s in the workers hands, that’s where safety belongs.
Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Spencer, for coming on the show, sharing your wisdom. I appreciate the time you thought through to come up with these ideas and really communicate it to the listeners. Thank you so much.
Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s. Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru Eric Michrowski.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Spencer Beach was a 3rd generation flooring installer and among the best in his field when he endured a horrific flash fire that left him permanently and severely scarred. After spending 14 months in the hospital and a year more of rehabilitation he has gone on to carve out a new path for his life. He has now achieved such designations as a Construction Safety Officer through the Alberta Construction Safety Association, as well completed with distinction the University of Alberta’s, Faculty of Extensions, Occupational Health & Safety Certificate program. Spencer has been an international professional speaker for 14 years and delivered over 1,500 presentations. His messages focus on people’s behaviours to improve workplace safety, overcoming hardship, drug and alcohol abuse, understanding self and self-esteem, healthcare groups and more. Spencer is also the author of his bestselling book In Case of Fire, works with the Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta to motivate injured workers, is a volunteer for the Friends of the University Hospital of Alberta, was awarded the 2013 Avenue Magazine Top 40 Under 40 for his community work and was the first recipient of the Award of Courage through Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.
Connect with Spencer at https://spencerspeaks.ca
Spencer’s Book: In Case Of Fire –https://www.amazon.ca/Case-Fire-please-remain-rebuild-ebook/dp/B079G9NM1G