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

Workplace wellbeing ideas to address 3 core injury drivers



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dehydrate or more exactly, or they.

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

Just a little bit warm. Very hot.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Sure. Not likely, but we could pretend I. 

Could blame you for destroying my day.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Oh, wow.

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

Oh, well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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Holiday Special Episode – The Top 8 themes and ideas from 2022

The top 8 themes and ideas from 2022



As we near the end of 2022, we would like to take a moment to thank all of our special guests for sharing their expertise with us. We are grateful to have had many outstanding guests from academia to executives, safety experts, and motivational speakers from around the globe join the show this year. Tune in to this week’s episode as our host Eric Michrowski reflects on the top 8 themes and ideas from 2022.


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

Hi, and welcome to the Safety Guru. I’m your host, Eric Michrowski. As we approach the end of 2022, I’d like to take a moment to express my gratitude for all the leaders and executives that tune into the show as you seek to leave a legacy by making the workplace safer. Great news. To start with. We are honored that The Safety Guru has been appointed as one of the Top 40 Best Construction podcasts of 2022. Our podcast wouldn’t be where it is today without your support. You’re the ones that make our podcasting go around the holiday season has a way of reminding us of what matters most in life as we gather and spend quality time with our loved ones. For the team at Propulo Consulting, the holiday season also symbolizes the why behind our work and the drive behind our passion to partner with outstanding organizations and leaders that intentionally pursue safety without compromise to ensure that each team member returns home safe to their loved ones every day. We appreciate each and every one of you for the gift of safety that you have been given to your team members this year. 2022 has proven to be a year of remarkable ideas on the Safety Guru from safety experts, academia and motivational speakers all over the world.

In this episode, I will reflect on the top eight themes and ideas from guests that join the podcast to share their expertise with us in 2022. Here are the top eight themes and ideas from all of our episodes in 2022. Theme number one the impact on families and loved ones I talked about as we enter the holiday season on the impact of why, we focus on what, we focus on safety. We had Bernie and Sheila Inman, Brad and Kayla, Louise Adamson, and Alyssa Grocutt. They all talk to us about the true impact on families and loved ones at the end of the day. As I started with that’s really why safety matters. It’s a reminder of the why. As leaders, we need to drive an impact. It’s one the impact on the individuals that get injured, but also the impact on families. So, I appreciate all of them for coming in and sharing their stories on how safety and a decision can have a lasting impact on a family member. We also had esteem number two key speakers talk about their experience, their personal experience with safety. James Wood from Australia, Dan Plexman, Alan Newey, Ken Woodward all shared very powerful stories on the importance of focusing on safety and what could go wrong. All four are strong motivational speakers that speak to audiences to convey the importance of safety in the choices and decisions being made. One of the things that marked this topic with Dan Plexman was the impact of microcultures, where you can have a great culture overall, but maybe in one location, one region, there could be a different subset of that culture and how that can impact decision making. All very powerful stories. Theme number three, I think, is really critical. It’s a theme of how do you engage at the executive level? How do you drive board engagement? We had Dave Ulrich, an incredibly powerful, respected figure, talk to us about the experience in HR and how HR got to the decision making table at the C-suite. Really, what was the impact that they drove to make sure people could really voice their opinion and the value of HR at the executive table? I think there’s so many great parallels from that episode in terms of what can we do as safety professionals to elevate our conversations around safety, how to elevate the role of safety at the C-suite. Julie spoke to many themes on board engagement, governance. How can a board lean in to make sure that the right themes are being driven? Brian spoke to us about his experience as a CEO and really, after winning a prize on how he leads around safety leadership, shared some great, powerful ideas for executives on how they can show up to influence safety leadership. And then we had Dr. Georgie pop up. He spoke to us, really around some of the key elements of how do you make a business case for safety? Theme number four is really around safety leadership, a topic we’ve talked so often on the safety group is so critical and really is one of the key drivers of decision making at the front line. Dr. Kevin Kellaway. Great conversation. Themes. Very simple ideas, really based on the premise of let’s put in some daily simple habits or weekly habits that were driving greater frequency of messaging around safety. How do we prioritize safety? So, it’s very simple thoughts and ideas for any leader to start thinking about how do I level up my influence on safety today? Dr. Josh Williams talked to us about the impact of safety leadership on culture. Really powerful themes in terms of personal self-reflections around it.

We had John Drebinger talked about communication and the impact of communication and how a leader shows up and communicates the importance of safety. Really powerful stories and examples from a magician turned into a great safety speaker. Six, we had Ron Gantt and Sheldon Primus talk to us about employee involvement. Great stories. Ron recent episode, great conversation where he shared so many great ideas around how you level up employee involvement, how you get frontline participation, and safety to get better outcomes. Such an important topic that probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should. Sheldon shared some examples as well from his time when he was running a water plant water treatment facility and how he engaged with frontline workers to make them feel that they were part of the program and increases safety ownership. Such an important, powerful topic. Martin Royal talked to us about coaching. We talked about safety leadership before and the impact of it. Martin talked about how you leverage a coach that has expertise in safety leadership, whether you’re in safety or in an executive position, to really level up how you show up, how do you drive some daily practices, habits, think about some of your blind spots to drive real, meaningful, impact, tangible stories there.

Theme number seven, we talked about suicide prevention, mental health, two topics that don’t get covered enough when it comes to safety leadership, but really important. We talked about the linkage back to safety in teams of decision making. We had Dr. Sally Spencer talked about suicide prevention, very tangible ideas that safety leaders can take forward to bring the topic of suicide prevention and mental health to the workplace to reduce injuries. And we also had Michael Weston with a very powerful story about a personal experience and the impact of stress and how it can impact mental health in the long term. We got more episodes on this topic coming up in the new Year. I recently recorded a great episode with Denver Fire and really, in terms of how they brought in suicide prevention and mental health in a very concrete, tangible way in the workplace.

And finally, theme number eight is a bit of a concoction of different important themes around safety in different areas that you should focus your safety programs on. We talked about ladder safety. We had Dylan come talk to us about his personal experience and a great invention he came up with to stabilize ladders.

It really made me rethink personally even why am I going up a ladder to go on the roof? And some of the things that you can do, both personally, but also in terms of impacting a ladder safety. We had Anthony Corinne talked to us about active shooter training. Unfortunately, something we hear too often in terms of active shooters, the training component becomes important. How do you have situational awareness? Great tips to be aware of what you should do yourself, but also how can you train your workforce on this important theme? We have Patty Ackerman come talk to us about stretching programs. So important, and a lot of jobs are physically demanding and get a lot of soft tissue injuries. Patty talks to us about some stretching programs, how leaders can reinforce them to make sure that people are doing it on a regular basis. Really, really important part of most safety programs. And finally, we had Cam Mackey and Dan Glucksman come talk to us about heat Stress, a topic that is becoming more and more prevalent. A topic that as global warming continues to increase, we’ve seen this year regions that normally don’t get extreme heat get extreme heat. Like the UK, like the Pacific Northwest, and some very tangible approaches that people can take around both PPE, but also training, awareness, peer checks on this heat stress theme. All themes that should be addressed, all key learnings that came to us in 2022.

Thank you for all of you to join our show. We would like to announce that we will be skipping the episode for the last week of December for the holiday season and meet all of you again in the new year. We have a lot of experts all lined up for 2023. I don’t want you to miss another episode of Safety Guru. Stay safe. And more importantly, happy holidays.

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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

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Mental Wellbeing: A Call to Action for Leaders with Michael Weston

Mental wellbeing a call to action for leaders



Michael Weston’s moving message is sure to make you reflect on what’s most important in life. He recounts his story of working in a demanding role in the mining industry that ultimately took its toll on his mental health. What started as a normal day in 2013 quickly turned into an unnerving experience for him and his family. Michael was preparing for his commute to work that morning and was found lying unconscious on the driveway several minutes later. Following his successful recovery, Michael has made it his mission to coach leaders and team members on the importance of prioritizing mental health and well-being. This Mental Health Awareness Month, Michael is highlighting his insightful advice when it comes to actively caring and listening, looking out for your team members, and striking a healthy work/life balance.


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

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today, I’m very excited to bring Michael Weston to the show. This month marks a mental health awareness month in the USA. And so, this brings me to Michael’s story, which is an incredibly powerful story that I think every listener needs to listen to. He’s from Perth, Western Australia, public speaker, advocate for mental health, and previously was in senior roles within the mining industry until his life changed forever. Michael, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me.

Hi, Eric. Thanks for letting me join you today. Really looking forward to our chat.

Absolutely. Let’s start with your story because when you shared it initially with me, it was very powerful, really hit home. So, tell me a little bit about your story.

Sure. So just for the people that are listing 55 years of age, living in Perth, Western Australia at present, I have been happily married for 55 years. Not 55 years. I’ve been happily married for 30 years this year, three adult kids, a couple of grandkids. So, life is pretty good these days. But my career background, I worked with Rio Tinto in the iron ore sector, in mining in what’s called the Pilbara region in WA. The Pilbara is about 1600 km north of Perth, quite an arid area, very dry and hot around the 40s to 50 pluses, but a beautiful part of the world, lot of red Earth and fantastic landscapes. So, I was working with Rio Tinto for 16 years. It was a great career that I had with them. My last role with them. Before leaving the business in 2015, I was a maintenance Superintendent in a place called Damper on the coast in the Pilbara, and I was overlooking probably about 200 staff. 30 to 60 contractors would come and go every week because I was a maintenance shut overlooking two ports in Dampier. And I suppose responsibility, accountability. We’re looking after the maintenance week to week teams like fixed plant workshop, light vehicle, heavy vehicle workshops, the crane engine transport teams, and also conveyors so quite a diverse group and geographically sparse over those two ports.

So that’s a little bit of my background anyway, who I am and where I came from.

So, what happened there’s a very impactful moment. Tell me a little bit about that day and how it changed in terms of your life and the flow on effects.

Yeah, sure. I suppose the role I was in was considered back then; it was considered a burnout role. It was a very front line, was always go, go, highly remindful, demanding, highly stressful, because, you know, maintenance, shuts. We’ve all got Gantt charts and we’re on a time restraint. Yeah. And safety obviously is paramount, so you’ve got to deliver on time and obviously in a safe way. So, you had a lot of stress and demand on your shoulders, but mainly the people and the time, I suppose. But unfortunately, as leaders for me, myself, is we get caught up in this vortex of work and we just tend to just work and we forget about looking after ourselves and everything else around us, including family, friends. So, for me, I was on a slow spiral, I suppose, just starting to become exhausted. And that was clear on the day that I woke up on the 19 April 2013. And what I’m about to share with your viewers, your listeners today are I don’t actually remember anything of this day. I have no recollection of this day. So, my wife tells me we wake up like any other day.

We’d wake up at 430 every morning, jump in the shower, throw the high vis, close on. We’d chat around the kitchen table having cup, tea, bit of toast, talking about the day ahead for both of us, what the kids were up to, what sport was going on, and most importantly, what fish we were going to catch on the weekend. But my wife says, I suppose my characteristics and mannerisms quite changed that morning because I was very much a Habitat type of person and I was very non coherent, if you like, just nodding and saying nothing. But she just put that in the back of the brains trust, if you like, and thought, okay, we’ll just put that in the back and see how the morning goes. But when I went to brush my teeth and come back and kiss my wife goodbye, she could see something was different in me again and she actually asked a question, Are you okay? The reason why I’m asking is because normally in the morning I can’t shut you up and you’re just quiet as a mouse and there’s something about you that your persona. I don’t know, there’s something different.

And my message to her was, I don’t know what it is, but I feel nervous under my skin. And for her, those words were unlike me and thought, okay, so nervous on his skin. What does that look like? What do you mean? I said, I actually don’t know. She goes, “well, I’m really worried about your driving to work. I don’t want an accident to happen.” Or I said, “I think I’m okay. I think I’ve just got a large shut going on and I think I just need to get there, get the teams moving, and I think I’ll be fine.” So, I kissed her goodbye and I walked out the front door. And I was found about five to six minutes later by my neighbor lying face down on my driveway, lying unconscious, not breathing, and in his words, was unresponsive white to look at and cold stuff. So, I wasn’t in a great space. My neighbor did CPR. I came back to life, if you like, but I kept dipping in and out of consciousness. So, raise the alarm with my wife. One thing I’d like to share with people that are listening today to let people understand how much our lives in our work and consumers is that my wife, as she came out the door and she was obviously quite overwhelmed by what she was seeing, she had my head in her lap and she kept saying, this is not your time to leave.

This is not your time to die. And my wife and I laugh about it these days because if you don’t become morbid and you don’t learn from things. But one of the things I said to her was, I’m going to be late for a meeting. She even says these days, if you haven’t died that day, I was going to kill you anyway, because who says that? On the driveway, on the darkest hour, I went to hospital. I don’t remember anything of that. But I seem to come to the end of the day, they couldn’t find anything really wrong with me apart from burnout, you know, total exhaustion. So, I was told to go home and just take three weeks off and take time to rejuvenate and recover.

Wow. One thing is it seems like from what I understand, you went back to work after the three weeks. Yeah. And what happened at that stage, one of the things that I think Australia does very well, but I think you’re going to share maybe it’s not enough. Is the whole campaign around. Are you okay? Which is very much an Australian thing. It’s starting to shop in other places around the world. Tell me a little bit what happened when you went back to the workplace.

Sure. It was probably a good thing in my mind, or my gut told me not to take my work vehicle and to jump on the company bus from where we resided, which is about ten minutes away from Damper, where I work. It’s a place called Karratha. So, something told me to jump on that bus that day because I had time to, I suppose, take my time to go to work, just slowly get my way back into the Superintendent role because I had someone babysitting the role. So, I remember jumping on that bus. But the feeling that I had as that BBS came to the gates at Dampier to go through the boom gates on the C-suite, I got that nervousness under my skin again, that same feeling as I had that morning in the kitchen. The difference was between then and now was my nervousness under my skin was now external. So, I was actually shaking, and I was sweating profusely. I was sweating on my forehead. My palms could have squeezed my socks out in my work boots and filled up a cup of sweat. Horrible to turn the people listening right now if they’re eating dinner or eating breakfast.

I was really shaking externally as well. So, I was trying to take a drink of water and it was like at a drinking problem, you know. And what I was to learn later in life, I was actually having a panic attack. So, my body was actually reacting to the gates at the workplace and telling me, don’t go through those gates, you are not ready. And our bodies are amazing, our brains are amazing that actually send all these warning signs and triggers. So, if you don’t know them, it’s the first time that you’re really starting to understand what’s going on. You just move on and get over it if you like. So, I did. I just pushed on and waited for those gates to go through and I went through on the bus. I started to get quite confused from the time I went through the gate. And in reflection, this was happening over three weeks at home. So, I was starting to become forgetful in my memory. I didn’t seem to be able to problem solved very well. My spelling was really out, and I was quite a good speller if you like. Even my sentences when I was speaking, I seemed to be mixing my words up and I don’t mean as in what we do usually as humans and say hot when we mean cold.

I’m really meaning is mixing a whole sentence up and can’t put words together. So, things were quite confronting for me going back to work and listening to a superintendent who was looking after my team at the time at the start-up meeting and just couldn’t get a concept of what the hell was going on. Interesting to the people that are listening right now is if I was to try and explain this articulate this way for someone, it’s like, you know, I suppose I’ll put it in your sense, if you like in your position, Eric, is, you know, you have this podcast or you know what your business is, you know what your role is and one day someone just switches off that light and you know who you are, you know what this business formula is, but you just don’t know what to do. You actually don’t know the process. And that’s what it was like for me. It’s like someone flipped the switch and it’s very confronting when the medical fraternity are saying, well there’s nothing wrong with you apart from burnout and exhaustion. But in my gut and my brain was telling me other things so I was for sure starting to see cracks and signs throughout that time I was there, and I never actually returned to that role as a superintendent, because as months went on, I think it was about three months that I was just trying to work my way into that role.

And things got worse and worse and progress fully worse until I decided that my mental health was starting to take the client side. I actually spoke to my leader and said, hey, listen, I’d like to self-demote myself and had a conversation. And that’s what I agreed to do. I ended up demoting myself from a superintendent to a quality assurance quality control officer. So as a QAQC officer, I just went to work every day, went to the start-up meeting, didn’t understand any instruction. So, you think about this as a safety point of view. It’s pretty scary filling out a take five, that a risk assessment. But I had no understanding of what I was writing. My words were all mixed up on the page and I’d put what they call as a camel back on my back, which is we fill up with water and drink water out of and I’d walk for ten to 15K every day by myself, walking live conveyor belts and just looking for preventative maintenance. And life got very hard during that time.

I’m sure when you were going through this, what was on your mind? How are you dressing? How are your colleague’s kind of checking in in terms of how you were?

It’s a great question. So, I suppose mental health was starting to take a decline because I couldn’t do anything what I was educated, trained and confident to do anymore. And so, I thought, well, I’m starting to paint a pitch now that my doctor was saying that there’s doctors saying that I’m just burnt out. So, I just need time. But then all these things are happening to me as well. And then I had a workplace that I suppose was walking on eggshells as well because I used to be their leader, right? So now I’m part of their team and some of them are my leaders now. So, I suppose a bit of a shift in the way people are thinking and how do we treat this person? But as I try to build that rapport with everyone else, because I needed them to feel comfortable who I was. I’m just a person out here like anyone else working. And I thought, if I do that as well, people can start looking out for me as well. And I found that people always asking, Are you okay? People on the past and saying, hey, Mike, how are you?

Okay. And I’d say, yes, I’m great, but I had a facade. I had this smile on my face, go, yeah, everything’s great. But I think for me is, I suppose for me, I had a lot of stigma about what was happening to me because whilst people asking whether I was okay, are you okay? It’s actually a non-for-profit organization in Australia. It’s just trying to raise that. I suppose awareness of asking your mate and your colleague how you are, but as they say, Are you okay? Goes way beyond that. It’s not just Are you okay? Because are you okay? Is a closed question, and it’s going to get a closed answer, which they got yes or no. So, people weren’t really pulling me aside and saying, hey, Mike, are you okay? Because I’m starting a bit worried about, you know, you’re a bit forgetful or you’re biting people’s heads off. That’s unlike you. But they didn’t know, just saying Are you okay? I’d say yes, great, and I’ll go my way. Things were very much changing for me as well in my mind because I always thought that I was always raising issues with people saying, hey, I’m getting lost in plant.

I’m forgetful. But suppose people they weren’t dismissive; they’re just not understanding the situation and saying things like how old are you here? We all forget things, or at this age we all mix our words up. So, I was feeling that maybe it is just me, I suppose, but people are out there looking out for me. But it was really a brush by passive listening type of situation, not an active listing.

Yeah. And I think that’s a really important message is how do you open the dialogue? And safety is a lot of conversation around actively caring. And when you think about actively caring, it connects very well in the mental health space in terms of if I know how Michael is today, then I should say something’s a little bit different. Right. And if I really know my team, I have the ability to say something’s not quite the usual, and maybe I need to go a little bit deeper. So, I think that story is very important. What would you advocate a leader to ask? You said, livid more probing questions. What other things can they do to show that care for their team members to really check in if something is maybe a little bit different?

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

In reflection now, when I reflect on my time as a leader, we’re obviously always focused on efficiencies and productivity, but at the front, obviously, safety and I reflect on my time as a leader with safety is the times where you’d be doing your observations, daily observations of how the team is working, how the job is going. And you’d come across those people in the teams that appear to have their head not quite in the task if you like. And I suppose in reflection, I look back and I think, well, it would have been a different conversation I would have today as a leader compared to them, because back then I think as leadership, whilst we had empathy and we treated people right, I think the right questions weren’t asked. So for me, instead of Eric, I can see your head’s not in the game here today. You need to pick your game up and get your head back in the game, which is not shallow, but it really achieves nothing. It’s really a kick up the bum. Whereas I think knowing what I know now is actually all I wanted when I was walking around Plant was actually someone to ask if I was okay, but take me out of that environment that I was in and it doesn’t have to be off site, but away from the noise people, because it’s very confidential and people can be very confronted by what they’re about to tell you. 

So, I think in my day now, I think I would go in that situation, pull that person out of that task, out of that team, and have a real heart to heart, one on one, and say, hey, Eric, I’ve just been watching you guys change that conveyor I can see everyone is working really well together. But I know you seem a little bit head in the clouds today. Is there anything that you need to tell me? Is there anything I can help you with?


Because I really want your head on this task, your mind on this task, because I don’t want you to hurt yourself and I don’t want to hurt anyone else. And it’s not that you’re not going to be meaning to do that, but if your mindset is not there, if you’re not present, these things can happen. And from that you can actually start a good conversation. You’re actually leading a person into I’m glad you told me because I’m not sure if you know, but we just had a baby at home and things are not getting much sleep. And my wife called me this morning and just before I was about to start work. So, she wants me to get something and call someone. So now I’m confronted by I’ve got a work to do, but I’ve also need to make a phone call. So that would change totally for everything. It would change everything. So, I’ll tell you what, you go up, make your phone call, let me know when you’re done, and I’ll catch up with you and you can tell me that you’re ready to go. And I think by doing that, you’re showing empathy, compassion, and you’re investing in that person. 

I think it’s a really important point because somebody had shared with me even a story where a leader had found that somebody was a little bit different that morning and they were about to start some heavy machinery, fairly dangerous work. And they just checked in saying, are you okay? And I said, yeah, I’m okay. And then they went a little deeper and the person said, well, in fact, I’ve been evicted from my home last night. I don’t know where I’m going to live. Well, not the time to be operating heavy machinery and just having that conversation potentially saved a life or saved a very serious injury from happening. Just going a little bit deeper because you recognize something is a little bit different. 

And by doing that, Eric, I think you’re changing the whole team’s perception of what a team actually is, is looking out for each other. And it’s showing that, hey, someone’s got my back and I can open up with my leaders and say things aren’t quite right now. And I think we have as leaders this perception, if we give a little, they’re going to take the whole lot and like, oh, they’re going to spin one on me and they’re going to take the week off. But it’s the wrong mindset to have. You really need to be thinking in that space of what if this person has something going on and I can prevent something worse from happening? And I think we’re a better, I suppose, place for it if we actually show some interest and empathy in people.

Absolutely. And I think one of the things as well that strikes me about your story is normally, we talk about injuries that happen in the front line. What you’re sharing is you were a successful executive, successful in your role, dealing with a lot of pressures, which are common in a lot of those roles, but can also even happen when you think about safety in an office environment. Same thing. There can be a lot of pressure to get stuff done. What are some of the things that as a leader, you’d reflect that maybe you’d do differently or maybe you’d be more aware, change some of the approaches because we tend to just go, go, we get things done and whatever comes, it’s a badge of honor to get it done, which creates high stressful environments in a lot of organizations and in organizations, sometimes in the safety roles, but even in roles that are in office based environments. 

Absolutely. I think for me, the first thing was working longer hours meant I was going to get more work done. It is working smarter. The longer I work, the more little mistakes I made. The one percenter, if you like. So certainly, wherever you are in life if you’re at work, be present. But if you’re at home, be present with your family, because I was never present with my family. I’d work at work, and I’d work at home. And look, there’s nothing to say. The goal posts have changed these days. You can work at home and from work, but have those strong boundaries and have those timelines that set you up for success to say, well, you know what? I’m only going to work from 11:00 in the morning. Till 500 today at work. Why? Because I worked a few hours last night while when everyone went to bed, I just did a few things. So, you can still have that flexibility. But in a perfect sense is you want to be present at work, have your work at work, and you work at home. But we understand, even with Cove now we’re all working from home, a lot of us.

And as well, it’s really important to have those boundaries at home because whilst everyone had that perception that everyone working for the home would budge and go to the shop and down the beach, the actual truth is everyone is working longer hours. 

There’s maybe 1%, but 99% are doing more than ever before. Absolutely. 

Exactly. So, I suppose my message there as well. And even as leaders, we have leaders is to have that conversation with both your team and your leaders to say, you know what, I’m not working after 03:00 this afternoon because I’m going to pick my kids up or I’m going to play sport or a Carnival. But you can contact me between six and eight if you need to. And even in emails, hey, I’m working my hours to suit my flexibility in my life. So, it’s really about not only having the boundaries with yourself but sharing those boundaries with others. Because what we’re finding here in Australia is people are contacting people outside of all sorts of hours at home because I thought, oh, this is great. Before I couldn’t contact them at work because the office is closed. Now I can just pick up the phone and call Eric anytime. It’s really inappropriate. And so, we’ve got this silent burnout going on. The other thing with leadership as well is one thing I found is just the 1% is those little things in life that you can look after yourself. And I’m sure that people listening right now, if I said to everyone, all your listeners, hands up to all the people that eat their lunch behind their desk, and most people, when I speak to them face to face, no one says anything, they just smile and then all the arms creep up because we tend to do that as leaders.

We tend to my work is important and I’ve got to keep going. And I think we tend to think that it’s not real work, it’s work, but it’s not labor intensive because we’re behind a desk on a computer or in boardroom meetings and things like that. So, my message there is to take time out for yourself, be kind to yourself, be kind to say that I deserve this lunch break and I’m going to go out and have some fresh air and it’s amazing what that will do for you. Your brain to rejuvenate and your self-esteem and you’ll be more productive in the end. So, there’s all those little one centers that we’re just not kind to ourselves.

Great. Is there anything an organization can do to remove the Brady of honor about working endlessly. So, it’s not the organization’s responsibility fully. There’re also the individuals to shared responsibility. But there are some things in some organizations, I think it’s getting better in many places. But if you work the longest hours, you’re that person, there’s a bad one, you get the recognition, which I think also drives a sense of more hours will get me more success.

Yeah, I think there’s a couple of things there. I think what I’ve learnt is the more you give, the more they take, if you know what I mean. And I don’t mean that as in businesses being ruthless and bearing into the ground. It’s just like the old story. It’s still going to be there tomorrow. So, it’s just a bottomless hole sometimes. So be content with that list that you have for the day and say, be kind yourself and say, I’ve gone through most of that list and what I’ve done is there 100% that I can be done. My job is done today. So, from a business perspective, I think I’d like to share with you your listeners as a leader, one specific leader. I had a manager years ago that was, I suppose I really didn’t apply this myself at the time. But in reflection now it’s really made a big difference to how I see good leadership. And I remember actually working back one night. I’ve been there from 05:30 a.m. It was about 06:15. He was leaving his office and he said, hey, pack your stuff up, let’s go home. And I said, “look, I’ve just got to just finish up this proposal.” 

And he goes, “no, pack it up can’t be that important.” And I said, “yeah, I will.” And he went beetroot red, like B Troop red. And I looked at his face and I thought, “geez, this guy, okay?” And he pushed my laptop closed and he goes, “no, I want you to go home. I’m not asking now. What I want is I don’t want you to be, I suppose, what this team is about. I don’t want you to be that person in that team that shows everyone else that they’re not doing enough here. So, what I want you to do is stop. You’ve done a full day’s work. Be happy with what you’ve done. Go home to your family, rejuvenate, and come back.” So, what he actually did with me is he enabled me, he gave me that tickle of approval to go, it’s okay to have a life. It’s okay to go home. And I approve of that. I want you to do that. And I think that was really powerful because in my past role, during the days of when I collapsed, it was more of a passing by conversation of share your socials here.

Well, don’t stay too long, have a great night. And that was the conversation. So, I suppose it’s like safety. It’s like walking past something that you see, the standard you set is a standard that’s going to always be there. The standard you walk past is the standard you set. So that was my experience as previously. Just don’t stay too long. But this leader actually really enabled me by saying, no, I don’t want you to stay here. So, I think businesses, even the business I was working for, had a policy to say that you can’t work past 14 hours. But I would abuse that all the time. And I was a leader. So, I suppose they’re real admin controls. But we need leaders above us and like ourselves to say to our people, you know what? This isn’t good enough. If you’re not doing the work in the time that’s allowed, we need to have a sit down and actually break down what’s happening. Are you overwhelmed by too much work, or do you need further development? Do you need more help? And I think that’s a good conversation that you can have with your leaders saying, I’m not coping. 

I think it’s a really good point. I also like what you’re saying in terms of having your checklist of things you’re going to do that day and being comfortable that maybe I can’t finish everything on that list. Right. Give a good shot. And maybe there’s some days where you’re going to be much more productive than others, and that’s okay. The days where you’re maybe less productive, you didn’t accomplish as much as you’d hoped for because there were more distractions and more themes, or you maybe weren’t 100% focused on that day. Doesn’t mean you need to make it up with more hours necessarily. Maybe we just call it a day and start again the next day.

Yeah. And look, it’s easy to say this when we all work as leaders in different roles, in different businesses and different business models. But for example, in a plant, if a conveyor breaks, there’s iron ore that needs to keep filling ships if you like. So, it’s easy to say, well, at 600, that conveyor can stop. It doesn’t work that way. So, it’s about really having that balance and saying, okay, well, I might have to work longer this one, but I’m going to be kind to myself in the next couple of days. So, we got to look out for ourselves. 

Absolutely. Michael, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think it’s a very powerful message around broadening the role of safety, really looking at it beyond just regular safety as much as that’s important, but also exploring in terms of how it connects with mental health, because we know these things are also intertwined with each other. But I think it gives a lot of pause to listeners that are executive professionals or even people thinking about how do I extend the role and the impact of safety into other parts of the broader safety? How can somebody get in touch with you if they’re interested in having your story shared with their employee, group, or leaders. 

Yeah, I’ve got an email address so [email protected] au and also have the same name for my website and I’m also on LinkedIn and Facebook as well under my own name Michael Weston.

Thank you, Michael! Really appreciate you coming in sharing your story very powerful message as we’re exploring mental health Awareness month and really thinking about what we can do to drive the dialogue forward and also for an organization to really reflect in terms of the impact of the pandemic had and how it’s taken a toll in a lot of people’s lives in terms of their well-being. Thank you.

Thanks Eric! Thanks for having me. 

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.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Michael Weston has worked in the mining industry within Western Australia for 20 years,16 years of which were devoted within the Iron Ore Production and Export industry located across the Pilbara Region (approximately 1600km north of Perth WA). In 2013, Michael was working as a Maintenance Superintendent in a highly demanding and stressful working environment. This role consumed much of Michael’s life which affected his work / life balance and unbeknown to him, life would take an unexpected turn. Life changed for Michael and his family on the morning of 19th April 2013.

As Michael was about to commute to work, he collapsed outside his family’s residence and was later found by his neighbour unconscious and not breathing. At the time, the only diagnosis provided by Doctors was exhaustion or otherwise known as burn-out. Whilst Michael survived, his ability to function in the work place and in life was profoundly affected. He and his wife Donna had spent the next 2 years searching for a further diagnosis and answers to why Michael couldn’t function as he had prior to the incident. Doctors and Specialists began investigating further into Michael’s condition, in which an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) was diagnosed. In addition to these ailments, Michael was also diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of how these ailments affected both his working and private life. A team of dedicated Doctors and Specialists then assisted Michael with his recovery and rehabilitation.

Following a successful recovery, Michael commenced motivational Workplace Speaking and Leadership Coaching, sharing his experiences and learnings with others globally which has proven to have a positive impact on others’ lives. Michael’s inspiring story is unique, resonates with a diverse range of audiences, provides a greater awareness of our Mental Health and Wellbeing by sharing his own coping strategies and how building resilience provides a positive platform towards a greater work / life balance.

For more information on Michael’s story, you can visit:



Safety Starts with Awareness. Awareness Starts with You with Bernie & Sheila Inman

Safety starts with awareness. Awareness starts with you.



In this episode, we have a heartfelt conversation with Bernie and his wife Sheila Inman as they recount the events that led to a tragic incident that left Bernie with burns in over 70% of his body and rendered a quadriplegic. They share their powerful message of “safety starts with awareness – awareness starts with you”, while Sheila shares her heartbreaking experience as a loved one confronted by her husband’s life-altering incident. Tune in to listen to their moving messages!


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

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru today. I’m very excited to have with me, Bernie, and Sheila Inman. Bernie is a survivor 28 years ago of a critical workplace incident. He’s now turned into a critically acclaimed motivational speaker around safety. So, Bernie and Sheila, love to have you on the podcast. Love. If you could maybe share your story a little bit, we can start getting started there.

Well, thanks for having us, Eric. It’s a very much a privilege for both of us. 28 years ago, I was employed in the oil and gas sector as a production operator. And you know what started out like any other day, perfectly normal, ended up in a world of grief after an inadvertent Slipper trip resulted in a prolonged exposure to methanol or methyl alcohol as a product, a chemical that we injected into our pipelines, et cetera, for freeze protection. 

Right. Tell me a little bit because I understand you were out for a very long time. So, tell me a little bit about what happened and how that actually happened.

Because I’ve got no recollection of the entire incident or the ship leading up to this incident. All I can really speak about is in terms of contributing factors is what we’ve learned from the investigation process. And it starts with, in all likelihood, a slip or a trip which resulted in a fall, subsequent blow to the head, which I didn’t have a hard hat covering it because of complacency creeping into my day-to-day routine. That blow to the head. After I collapsed in this building, I came to be resting on top of a methanol injection pump. And the discharge end of this particular pump was in a lever style configuration. And unfortunately, the weight of my leg and boot was enough to crack that valve open. And from that point in time on, every stroke the pump was taking was discharging raw methanol not only onto the floor in this little building, but eventually onto my boots, my clothing, eventually skin contact. And that’s where they found me approximately 12 hours later.

Oh, my goodness. That’s a very long time. And how did they end up finding you at that point? Because normally you would expect for somebody working alone that there would have been some protocols to jump in and realize why is it that you haven’t called in?

Yeah. Unfortunately, in that time frame back in the 1990s, it wasn’t uncommon for us to be working alone for extended periods of time. There were no calling procedures or anything of that nature. My wife was the one who actually initiated the panic button. And that only occurred when she came home from work and found our home empty when I should have been there. I firmly believe in the value of keeping our coworkers or loved ones informed as to where we’re at, what we’re doing, and at any given time, roughly what time we’re going to be home. I always tried to do that. And when it didn’t happen that night, Sheila initiated the search. My co-worker went out looking at approximately twelve midnight. And unfortunately, it was the last location that he checked. Our field was fairly extensive. It included a central gas plant in approximately 75 km of pipelines and field locations feeding the site. And as it sometimes goes, it was the last location that he looked because it was the least one that you would expect something bad to happen. And to all of our horror, that’s the one that got me.

Sheila, maybe tell me from your standpoint you come home, and Bernie is not there. Tell me what your experience through this was.

Okay, I come home, and Bernie is not there. And it’s not unusual because he does work late sometimes. He didn’t have a phone back then. We didn’t even have cell phones. He just had a phone at the plant site. So of course, I came home. I waited a while. I called the plant site. At the time, he had an XJ radio. I tried calling that. I called his co-worker right away to say he wasn’t home. I did a phone search for Bernie. I called the hockey rink, I called his friends, I called his co-worker. And by midnight, when Bernie didn’t come home, I realized something was really wrong. And I encouraged all to go look for Bernie because he had to be out there somewhere, right?

And so that’s where all I think you said went out on a search. So, tell me what happens from here. 

Al locates me. He’s somewhat surprised to find my pickup parked on site. The vehicle was running, the door was open. He assumed that I would probably come out of that building and inquire as to what he was actually doing there. Obviously, that didn’t happen. And upon entry, he found me unconscious in the building. Check my vital signs, got me out of the toxic environment, called for emergency services and began got me into his pickup and met the ambulance part way to the hospital.

From your standpoint, Sheila, tell me about what’s the experience from an injury like this, from an incident that occurs like this. 

You know what? It’s just when something like this happens, it’s so unexpected as all injuries are. And it’s doubly hard when it’s a preventable workplace incident because it could be prevented. And Bernie could have been found a lot sooner. Definitely things that the company changed after Bernie was hurt to make the environment a better place. And we’re happy about that. We’re happy that things are better now, and that’s sometimes how it happens. An incident has to happen before you realize what needs to be changed.

Ideally, it doesn’t, right? Ideally, an organization is always looking at where could something go wrong. Like in this particular case, somebody who’s working alone have some form of a call out protocol check in protocol so that if it’s taking longer than it should, I proactively start taking steps.

Oh, absolutely. And unfortunately, at the time, there wasn’t even a work call in procedure for Bernie’s workplace. You know what? It was something I know Bernie had thought about and had talked about it in safety meetings, but it had never come about.

You mentioned it, and even that didn’t trigger a reflection to say, maybe we need to close the gap of this front.

Well, you know what? I think it was standard back then in the workplace industry. In the oil and gas industry, it was not common practice to have a call-in procedure. 

So, let’s get into some of the key contributing factors to this incident. Tell me a little bit about how it happened and some of the things that could be done to prevent this from occurring.

Maybe I should start with saying that we took about seven years in recovery before I was approached to talk about this. And when we agreed to do something of this nature, Sheila and I really sat back and tried to re-evaluate again for the uptight time because we’ve been down that path hundreds of times. When you wake up thinking you’re in the middle of a nightmare and you realize it’s absolutely true, four elements really came to the forefront, and it started with policy and procedure was aware of a hard hat. It’s a disregard to company policy. They spend millions of dollars on PPE for my benefit. I didn’t wear it. Obviously, safety equipment, personal protective equipment is key in any safe work environment. Communication or lack thereof obviously played a huge role in the severity of this incident. I was exposed to raw methyl alcohol. If I was out of that building in 2 hours or 3 hours, I probably still walk. I’m not a quadriplegic. I’m not burnt over 70% of my body. So, the breakdown in communication was paramount. And then probably the most critical one that I think crept into my world. And I think it’s very easy to creep into anybody’s world is this issue of complacency.

And it caught up with me because this was the simplest, ill-equipped facility we had in our fleet. In other words, there’s no heat generating devices, no electrical components. It’s sweet natural gas, and you perform the same tasks day in, day out, without suffering any adverse effects. And I got comfortable, let my guard down. And that’s the nature of complacency. I just don’t know if there’s anything more dangerous out there than complacency because it happens and you’re not even aware of it. 

Yeah, that’s exactly the case. So often that’s what I hear is I did it 100 times, maybe in a way. I knew it wasn’t the safest way. And then I started realizing that’s, okay, I can get away. Nothing’s happened. And then it became complacent to the risk of the hazard. So, what are some of the things that could have as an organization, as leaders could have helped from a complacency standpoint to help reduce the likelihood that people do become complacent around some of those hazards?

That’s the age-old question. And that’s why Sheila and I, when we do a live presentation, it’s entitled Safety Starts With Awareness. Awareness Starts with you because there are steps that an individual could take, the Corporation could take. We can all take because we’re all part of that team.


Yes. And it starts with learning from incidents, regardless of how menial they might appear to be. I mean, I bumped out of we never thought that that would end up being a life-threatening injury is the complacency. I don’t think the valve was, I think, walking into a building that I considered to not have any harmful contributing factors to it. That’s the scary part of it. So, complacency, you bring in outside workers, you bring in speakers, you train your staff, you bring in, you bring in corporations like this, and all of it is going to enhance the ability to keep people aware and not let that complacency factor come into play. It’s kind of like wearing a seat belt. We know it works and sometimes we don’t wear it and we know what the results can be.

I would think it’s similar to when you were talking about the PPE. You weren’t wearing a hard hat. How did that set in? Was that just the first time it had happened, or was that something you kind of felt you didn’t need to wear?

Wonderful question, Eric. This particular site where I was found, and this incident occurred was very quiet. There was no need for me to wear a hard hat that had hearing protection attached to it.


And because of my belief that there was nonhazardous operation in this little building I just entered, didn’t even think twice. It was a long shift. I’ve been on callouts previously, but I take the opportunity to go home that direction that afternoon, ensure that this facility would produce in a normal, stable fashion not only because it’s productivity, but its accuracy of the product. It wasn’t flowing normally, and I just didn’t even think twice, just opened the door, saw things were unstable, entered the building and never made it out of there.

With taking five minutes, people take five, just reflect. Would that have made a difference? Right. If you had walked in, looked at what are the hazards like normally you’ve got a tailboard. If you’ve got a crew you’re working with, would that have helped kind of understand what hazards might be present before jumping in?

Oh, certainly, yes. I’m a firm believer that as individuals, we’re smart. Common sense goes a long way as well. I also think it’s very critical that the employee understands that it’s perfectly okay for them to take a step back. If it doesn’t look right and it doesn’t smell right, just take a step back, survey the situation, and then act accordingly. And that’s something that I didn’t do.

And I think it’s too often we jump in, assuming the task is as we had originally planned, and we show up and something’s changed. Right. So, it could be something as benign as it started raining and I done my tailboard. I prepare for the job before the rain came. But the rain might introduce a new hazard into the equation or whatever else might show up. And it doesn’t look the way it should.

Oh, absolutely. And it’s changing and evolving all the time from a process standpoint, from an environmental standpoint, from a managerial, logistical standpoint. There’s lots of factors, and I’m confident that people have the ability to manage those. And it takes an effort, and that’s an effort that’s absolutely necessary. And it demonstrates a commitment to the employees.

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

And so, both of you often go speak to organizations, to teams, to leaders around the incident and really sharing some ideas. What are some of the things that the key messages you really try to impart to team members to reduce the likelihood of them actually having an incident?

From a leader perspective, I think it’s so absolutely critical that the personal commitment to the workers is first, not last. And I believe that leaders and employees like they take it personally because it is personally. You can’t sustain an incident like this. Watch the ripple effect go through the Corporation, your co-workers, and your colleagues, those you become close with when you work side by side over time to achieve the goals put before you. It’s common to develop friendships and bonds, and something like this happens. And that ripple effect extends from a monetary perspective through increased WCB premiums, et cetera, to the human aspects, which is the horrible feeling that everybody had when I went down.

Right? Absolutely. What are some of the other lessons for leaders around it? Because I think in this particular case, you’ve talked about a few really, in terms of really as a leader, I can reinforce certain themes around complacency. I can drive a messaging around, take five. I can drive a messaging around, really assess the hazards that it’s okay not to jump in if something doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel safe. I can start thinking about areas of potential failure points around what happens if I’ve got a loan worker who’s working alone, and something goes wrong. How do I make sure that I check in to know that something’s happened, not rely on a loved one to realize that somebody hasn’t shown up?

It is. It’s a broad spectrum out there. I think it’s critical, absolutely essential that the leaders understand the landscape of what Safety Excellence looks like and that they can reiterate that and clearly articulate that to their staff. Because sometimes actions speaker louder than words. And when it’s coming from your high-level leaders, I can only tell you from my perspective what it would have meant to me to have that feeling. And I can tell you honestly.

I didn’t have so the leaders didn’t reinforce at the time the messaging that safety was critical. It wasn’t something that was drilled in on a daily basis at the time.

We’re productivity based and costs are in check. Costs are controlled, costs are scrutinized. Unfortunately, at the time, Safety Excellence, then or now, it comes at a cost. This is something that needs to be talked about at the highest levels because this is where budgets are considered. This is where budgets are approved. And the day of a dividing line between productivity and safety that’s long gone. I mean, they go hand in hand together, and it needs to be like that. And its money well spent because it’s an investment in your employees and it demonstrates commitment. That’s huge.

Yeah. And I think that’s exactly the key message is even if at the C-suite level, I’m talking about safety, I’m reinforcing the importance as a value. This is how we do our work. That goes a long way. Budgets obviously matter, but the messaging and the consistency of that message from an executive to a front-line team member or frontline supervisor has to be there.

It has to be there. When you consider these corporations, organizations that we’re all one teams, we’re all working to obtain the same goal. And there’s nothing more disruptive, in my opinion, from a monetary perspective, from a human perspective, then being near achieving those goals collectively with the team and then watching it go away because of a preventable incident, it just takes the wind right out of your sales. From the most upper level, right down to the guys sweeping the floor, we’re all in this together.


I’ll just quickly jump into it here quick. I can appreciate that I’m an important part of the puzzle when it comes to the Bernie inventory, because when injury happens, it doesn’t just affect the injured worker. Bernie got hurt that day, but it affected me. It affected our marriage. It affected our kids, our families, our friends. The ripple effect of injury is huge. And the decisions you make affect everybody around you. I usually when we talk at a presentation, I let everybody know this. So, I want everyone listening to your podcast to know this as well, that everybody listening is a VIP. And I guarantee there is somebody waiting for you to come home, because we are all sons and daughters. Maybe we’re mums and dads, grandmas, Grandpa’s, aunts, uncles, friends, pet owners, whatever. I guarantee that there’s somebody waiting for you to come home. And I really feel that it’s almost a responsibility to come home safely to your loved ones every time because they’re counting on you. I’m really shy by nature, and it’s really hard for me to talk about Bernie’s incident and basically the hardest time of our lives. So, what I did was I wrote up home, and it was just a way for me to express and get out there what I wanted to say.

And I’m going to share a portion of it with you right now.

Yes. Thank you.

Okay. It’s called The Importance of Safety. Safety starts with awareness. Awareness starts with you. It’s something we all have to learn. I’ll tell you a story that’s true. On the 24 January, my sweetie went to work with a kiss and a hug and a wave and a smirk. We had the world by the fuel. Your future so bright? Our carefully laid plans changed forever. That night, Bernie was found all alone, unconscious, he lay in a pool of methanol. What had happened that day from the stress of it all, I’m lucky to say my mind has played tricks. I don’t remember much from those days, but I remember the feeling. I remember it well. The heartache, the tears have I defended. Okay, so I’m going to stop there. But I just want to share the very last part of my poem, and it says, My soul is just fine. I want all to see it’s filled to the brim. I’m so lucky to be me. I guess I just want to share how we found happiness. And one of the most important things is to be grateful. And it’s easy, like in the ICU unit or the Bern unit or rehab, to look around and find someone worse off than us.

And I would say a little prayer of thankful for Bernie in my life. I’m thankful he made it. I’m thankful that he’s a great dad and he has the opportunity to do that. I’m thankful that we get to talk with you, Eric. And you know what? If you’re thankful, you can have an amazing life.

So, Sheila, thank you so much for sharing that. I think the power of this is really safety is something that’s very personal and that was incredibly powerful in terms of the story you shared and your experience through it. And I think it’s interesting because just a few hours ago, I was actually talking to some leaders exactly about this is making safety more personal. Sometimes it’s about procedures and thou shalt do this and books and stuff I need to tick boxes on. But at the end of the day, safety is something that impacts a person, a family, a loved one, like you said. And everybody’s got that. And it’s really thinking about how do I really make it personal? So, people choose to take part in it, realize their part in it, and also the company’s part in it. So, thank you so much for sharing that, Sheila.

Thank you.

I could sort of chime in on this, too. It’s raw experience from the family and the spousal perspective, and that sometimes doesn’t come to the forefront as workers and employees. When we make decisions, sometimes it’s easy to cut the corner, take the chance, and not even realize or recognize the type of impact you could have on your loved ones. And the original prognosis for me was a limited chance of survival and supposedly to be brain damaged. The point to being institutionalized and blind. This is horrible things that Sheila just stood before me eleven months prior to that and said in sickness and in health and good times.

Oh, wow.

So, this is going to reflect in the nature of what this incident meant to Sheila. Even though 28 years has passed, I always got to think of what it’s going to mean to those that are at home waiting for you to come home safe and sell.

And I think that’s an important message because sometimes even in companies, we don’t talk about it in that way. We talk about it in terms of rules and procedures as opposed to why this really matters. So, thank you both for sharing your story. You present together, share presentations around safety, around your story. How can somebody get in touch with you if they wanted to know more? And share your story within the organization?

You can reach out to us through our [email protected]. There’s telephone contact information on there. And we’ve had the privilege, the honor of talking to different industries throughout North American, different parts of the world. Although my injury occurred in a different country than some in a different environment, different industry, the playing field levels itself when it comes to injury. And once the injuries happen, we learn from it the same way, regardless of the industry.

Sheila Bernie, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for bringing your story to a lot of other people to reflect on how can I stay safer, how as a leader, can I influence my organization to make sure this never happens to another family?

Thank you. 

Cheers. Thanks. 

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 teams fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops Guru Eric Michrowski.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Bernie Inman was 27 years old and working in the petroleum industry when he was critically injured, enduring burns in over 70% of his body and rendered a quadriplegic. Surviving a serious exposure to methanol while doing a routine task ten years ago, the incident happened in what appeared to be a harmless work situation.
Bernie and his wife Sheila Inman share the events surrounding this incident to prevent others from incurring a similar fate. Their lived experience provides the basis for two audiences: one of caution and safety, and one of overcoming unimaginable challenges.
Today, the Bonnyville, Alberta father of three is in a wheelchair and their story serves as inspiration for all of us. Their message is simple, “safety starts with awareness – awareness starts with you.” It is his goal to have everyone reconsider the importance of having and maintaining a “Positive Safety First” attitude.

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Leadership Lessons from a CEO that Gets Safety with Brian Fielkow

Leadership lessons from a CEO that gets safety



Being a CEO calls for making tough decisions and trade-offs every day. Great CEOs also focus on building safety excellence and understand how to balance safety, quality and productivity without allowing trade-offs. In this episode, we have a conversation with Brian Fielkow a CEO who was recently awarded the Distinguished Service to Safety Award from the National Safety Council. A “CEOs Who Get It!”


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and wellbeing of their people first. Great companies, ubiquitously, have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost. For the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops, 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 Brian Fielkow. He’s President CEO of JETCO Deliveries and also EVP of the GTI Group. So JETCO is part of the GTI Group. So really excited to have you with me, Brian. What’s really cool about what you’ve done is you’ve had a lot of work leading companies but bringing safety first in all of those organizations. And in fact, just recently, just a couple of weeks ago, you were awarded a very prestigious price by the National Safety Council, which is awarded every year of CEOs who get it, basically a handful of CEOs every year that find ways to incorporate safety and everything they do because this is really exciting, Brian. So, tell me a little bit about that prize and then let’s get into how you got into safety and then this passion as an executive. 

Thank you so much for having me on this podcast, Eric. I really appreciate it. Well, the National Safety Council recognition is really exciting. Again, they pick, as you said, CEOs, I think, six or eight a year who really have a proven track record of being safe and productive. Safety and productivity. It’s not either, or choice. Both. 


I think that the more I’ve gone on, the more I recognize and would encourage other people to recognize that safety is at the foundation of an excellent operation. Safety is at the foundation of a profitable business. Too many people have this idea, Eric, that safety and productivity are in conflict with one another.  


When nothing further could be from the truth in my own organization, if I see things getting a little bumpy with safety, it’s my bellwether. I know that we may have deeper issues somewhere in the operation. They’re one and the same. 

I completely agree. Tell me about where you got that realization, because it’s rare to get a CEO who has that perspective. Obviously, there’s some great case studies from Alcoa as an example. It’s probably the most celebrated. But where did you get that realization that safety really is a barometer for running a good business? 

Well, my career is a little different. I began my career practicing corporate law in Milwaukee and went to go work as a chief operating officer for my favorite client. And they were in the recycling business. So that’s my first exposure to kind of high consequence business because you’re operating recycling plants, trucks and I always look, it was never that I didn’t value safety. Of course, it was always important. But having it be important and knowing how to make it happen are two different things. So, along the way, we sold the recycling company to Waste Management, which is based in Houston. And I got to Waste a couple of years after a new leadership team came in and took, in my opinion, Waste Management on the worst first journey. And I was so lucky to learn from these people. 

So, tell me a little bit about that journey because it’s not a journey that is talked about as much. So, tell me a little bit more about Waste Management and what was unique about the leaders that you observed there and the approaches that they took to running the business safely. 

The approach at Waste Management was behavior based. It was frontline engagement based. So, there was a lot of focus on safety branding. There’s a lot of focus on keeping rules and regulations. Understandable the idea being that if you have all the rules and regulations you want, if they’re not understandable by the intended audience, you don’t have rules and regulations. You have words on paper. 


So, it was a very front-line engagement, behavior-based focus. When you start talking about safety culture, people tend to think, well, it’s a feel-good proposition. No, it’s a hardcore business proposition. So, there was also a focus on those behaviors which are more likely than not to get you a one-way ticket out of the company. So, I really was able to kind of learn at Waste how to engage, how to motivate, but also how to make it clear that we’re not messing around. And if you choose not to behave in alignment with our values, then you’re going to go find somewhere else to work. 

Yeah, I think that’s really important. So, tell me, let’s fast forward to your current role. I love the topic of frontline engagement. Tell me some of the strategies that you’re using that are very effective, because a lot of organizations talk about engagement, but it’s really not total engagement. Once here and there, I have a workshop involves a couple of employees. Tell me about your approach to engagement. 

Yeah, I mean, you’re right about sometimes people will say, all right, we had the meeting this year. We can check the box and move on. Engagement is not a project. People treat it like a project, or they treat it like an initiative. It’s part and parcel of your company culture. And then your safety culture is also part and parcel of your company culture, where you’ve got an engaged workforce, you’ve got a safe workforce, you got a workforce that is in alignment with your values. So, part of creating an engaged workforce is, first of all, you can’t always be so serious, right. So, we try and have some fun with safety recognition awards. The key thing to do is it’s no longer enough to get into your employees’ hearts and minds. You got to get into the families, too, because we’re just too distracted. We’re a text message Facebook post away from our families at all times. So, one of the things we’re always communicating with families, we want our families to partner with us and getting their loved ones’ home every night. One of my favorite things that we do is we have a kids art contest and everybody wins something, right? 

We pick art, and that goes into our calendar. So, we just released our 2022 calendar. And it’s not pictures of trucks and trailers, pictures from the heart. 

I love it. 

And that’s the key, I think, to engaging people. It makes them understand that safety is about you. It’s about me, it’s about your family. It’s not about big handbooks, and it’s about behavior. It’s about holding yourselves and holding one another accountable. And to create an engaged workforce, employees crave process, because without process, they never know what’s going to happen one day or the next. So, to create engagement, we’ve worked on clear, understandable process. Our employees wrote our best practice manual. 

I love it. 

Nothing off the shelf. 

This part about engaging the families is really interesting because I’ve seen a lot of organizations that are good at engaging, engaging employees and building processes, building practices, which is really good, making it, realizing that safety is really personal. But I think taking it to the family is even more powerful because then you get another ally every day that’s reminding them of why they need to make safe choices. That’s really cool. So, you mentioned a little bit about behaviors. So, most of the work you have, I assume there’s a lot of lone worker, independent workers. How do you make sure that you see the right behaviors on a daily basis? Is it more than an observation program? I’m assuming? 

Yeah. Well, an observation program is really just the beginning. We could all take a lesson from the US airline industry and the FAA, where there’s so much encouragement. It’s really not encouragement. It’s an expectation that people self-report and that there’s no retribution. In other words, for reporting near misses, for reporting unsafe conditions. Part of the observation process. There’s the old saying, manage by walking around. Well, okay, I understand manage by walking around. I could go take a walk around, and it is what it is. But what I’m more interested in is having peers peer to peer observations. Their eyes are better than mine. They’re going to see more than me making sure I’ve got a culture where if somebody in good faith makes a mistake or observes an unsafe condition, unsafe behavior, where it’s an honest type situation that we’re focused on continuous improvement. You see, when you’ve got that punitive culture, you’re never going to engage your employees. If everything is right up in the punishment, the game is over for 100% not going to work 100%. 

I came from the airline industry and understand what that means. But what’s unique is a lot of people admire that of the airline industry but are scared of taking the leap towards it. How did you take that leap towards it? In a jet code to make sure that people would recognize and feel safe, but also that you weren’t going to create more liability, more risk by opening up the absence of punishment. 

Eric, when I speak, I do some keynote speaking. I talk about the three T’s treatment, transparency and trust. And that last one, I could tell you all day long that we’re going to use, quote, unquote punishment only in the most egregious cases. But until you try it, until you test me, it’s just words. 


If I allow us to get punitive with somebody that innocently and honestly reports a closed call, I know that’s the last near miss, close call that I’m going to get 100%. It’s up to me to manage my behavior, keep my commitment, define those violations that are life critical and that aren’t going to be met with too kindly. And then the others, we look for improving the system. And if we need to do extra training for our team, that’s an investment in our great people. I’m happy to do it. 

That’s cool. So, when you came enroll, how did you start creating the trust? Because it takes a lot of trust to create an environment like this. What signals did you intentionally send in your business to show that you really trusted team members? You wanted their input, and you were going to treat them fairly if something if people made an honest mistake. 

Yeah. Trust is so hard to build, so easy to lose. It’s an everyday challenge. But some of the things that we did this isn’t necessarily safety related. But bear with me. In our business, your pay can be variable. It can be based on either your hours worked, or miles run. There’s variability. And with that comes some potential for payroll error. Nothing like payroll errors destroyed us and we weren’t that good or that timely about fixing the errors. So, what we did is we put together a group email for payroll errors. And we promise if you use that email, the issue would be addressed and fixed, either same day or next day at the latest. That completely fixed the problem, that built trust. And that trust then extended to people’s engagement with the organization and to safety. So, it can’t just be narrowly focused on safety. You have to have an organization where there’s trust, where the door is open, where you’re heard one of the ways that we break trust all the time is we listen to somebody, we give them lip service, we say, yeah, good idea, and then we never follow up. I mean, how does the person giving that information feel? 

So, there’s a lot of different ways we can break trust and just make sure that you and your leadership team are aligned on that. 

I agree, because you talked a little bit about how you brought in just culture. Just culture is a component of it. But for people to understand that safety is a value, that leaders understand it, you have to do a lot of things at the front end, I’m assuming, to create that the environment. 

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

So, Brian, when you started your role, I’m assuming you didn’t inherit a culture that was already at that level of maturity. You’ve talked about just culture and how you created the environment for it. But it takes more than just culture to get a great safety culture. What are some of the things that you did with your leaders to get them on board with where you wanted to go with the culture you wanted to drive? What did you do with some of the team members to really get them aligned with your vision around safety? 

Eric, I’d say that it happened sort of organically. In other words, there was a commitment to safety, but it wasn’t necessarily one that we were delivered about, meaning that other things could compete for safety. That’s why for years I’ve been kind of telling our team, safety is not a priority because priorities shift. If you see a sign that says safety is a priority, tear it down. Safety is a value. So, you got to, first of all, truly be prepared to live that way. Well, production pressure is important. It’s critically important. Production pressure is good. It’s not bad. It means we’re busy. It can never, ever leapfrog safety. Nothing can compete for safety. So, you have to have that nonnegotiable value alignment to start and then to build a healthy company or safety culture. Really? This may sound like I’m oversimplifying it, but I think it is this simple. It’s the convergence of the right people in the right process, working in harmony. And if you don’t have the right people, you might have some choices to make. And I believe that most people are very coachable. But there’s that small handful that’s not. And the real problem comes when you’re trying to build that culture is you got that small handful of un-coachable people who, by the way, are technically good.

They know what they’re doing on their job. So, replacing them is not convenient. But you have to you have to if you really want to walk the walk once coaching has failed. Because if you don’t, Besides the obvious safety risk, you’re telling the rest of your team who are pulling hard in your direction. 

I agree. 

Their efforts don’t matter. By allowing un-coachable toxic people to stay in your company, you’re sending the vast majority of your people the exact wrong message, which is we have two sets of rules, one for all of you and one for our select few people here who can get away with what they want. So, it’s having the right people, the right process. And I think I mentioned before in our conversation that the problem with process in my mind for a lot of us, is not that we don’t have enough, we have too much, we’re drowning in it, and none of us understandable by the intended audience. So, the right people in understandable process that there is no excuse for not following. 

I completely agree. And I think that’s a theme. I personally struggle with that in the past where you allow somebody who’s maybe not right doesn’t have the right values alignment because they’re high performer and you end up paying for it in the long run. And you do have to make those tough decisions at times when coaching has failed, because the other part is, otherwise you’re sending a message to the frontline team members as well that safety is not necessarily always a value. It is when it’s convenient. 

That’s right. It cannot be situational. 

Yeah, I think you’ve done phenomenal work. I love that you really take this view that safety and production and quality can coexist at the same time and must coexist at the same time, and that safety is really a barometer for everything else. There’s a handful of leaders that I’ve seen over the years that look at it that way and invest and make decisions that way. So, I think that’s phenomenal. 

I think I appreciate it. I’ll be honest. I’ve learned it a lot of times the hard way. But people who say, well, safety is expensive, I’d ask them to consider the opposite. Safety is compared to the cost of crashes and incidents. And the other thing is to ask yourself, what is the real cost of that incident? People will look at their insurance loss run’s and they’ll say, well, it was an injury and I’ve got $10,000 reserved. That’s the cost. And I will call Bull on that right away. The cost of an incident is so much more than that. When you think about not just the injury itself and the insurance claim, but put a price on your eyesight, put a price on your arms, put a price on your life. You can’t put some things on a spreadsheet, but I will tell you some things that you can put on a spreadsheet. You let your experience modifier go. Good luck getting the best customers right. Your safety performance gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. I don’t know if that was true 20 years ago in a lot of industries, but I know it’s true today. 

So, it is a hardcore business proposition not to mention last year, one of the buzzwords in 2021 was the great resignation, whatever that means. But if you have a culture that doesn’t care about safety, you’re also not investing in your employees and engagement. Why would I want to work for you? If you really are going to put me in harm’s way, you’re not going to help mitigate inherent risk in the job. I’m going to go work for somebody that wants to get me home every night. I’m not going to work for you if you don’t care about me first. So, it’s key to engagement. It’s key to showing your employees you care, putting your employees first. And it’s also key, in this day and age that we live into customer confidence, pretty much any business. You’ve got customers have choices, and the best customers, not all customers, but the best customers are going to vet you for your safety commitment. 

Yeah, I think that’s incredibly true. And I think your comment is really key. I remember looking at this was a particular construction project on the Gulf Coast, and they had a significant investment in safety. They truly own safety across the site. But when you looked at on those really hot, muggy days in summer, their absenteeism was next to none versus almost all the other sites. The upside of Tianism was in the ten to 20% range. And then when it came to turnover, they were dealing with turnover of one to 2% versus others in the ten plus percent. Significant differences because people wanted to work there. People talk about engagement, but at the end of the day, what is engagement if you can’t even come home to your home, to your loved ones every day? 

Yeah. You can pretty much put the pool tables and foosball tables off to the side. 

Right. It doesn’t matter at that point. 

Real engagement happens when people know they are cared for. 

Exactly. So, I love all the themes you’ve shared. You’ve also written a book, and you’ve had to tell me a little bit about your book and the course that you’ve developed, sharing some of your thoughts in this space. 

Sure. Thank you. I wrote a book. We published it, I think, in 2016 called Leading People Safely. We began our conversation talking about waste Management, and I had the privilege to learn from Jim Schultz, who was the senior vice President of safety at Waste Management. We co-wrote Leading People Safely together. So, it’s really a pool of our experiences. In fact, we just did a reprint and paperback. So, it’s sort of, again, the summation of what we know. And it’s not meant to be a handbook like, you must do things this way. You read it, you take the ideas, you make them your own, fit them to your business. But the book is done really well. And then last year, I guess late 2020, I launched a course called Making Safety Happen. And it’s been a lot of fun to do and I’m looking to grow the course this year but it’s an online on demand course, so you watch it at your convenience. There are various tools that you download. Once again, not one size fits all. You download them, make them your own. And then I have two price levels. One price levels for people that want the course and the tools great. 

But then another I do six live monthly workshops and I keep the workshops small, so they’re meant to be conversations. It’s called reverse classroom so six workshops and my course online have six modules so workshop one is tied to module one and then we talk about what was in the course and how you apply it, and we get deeper into discussion. So, the workshops are fun because if I can get the right people in them and we’ve had over 300 people go through already. For me, the fun is listening, learning and having conversations. 

I love it. Thank you as a CEO for the gift of safety you’re giving to your team’s members every single day and your commitment and Congratulations on the NSC prize that you just recently got. I can definitely say from your story that you’re definitely a CEO that gets it and really appreciate you sharing your journey, you’re learning and how you went from being a lawyer to safety guru and executive. 

Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed this conversation. 

Thank you so much. 

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

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Brian Fielkow is currently CEO of Houston based Jetco Delivery and EVP of its parent company, The GTI Group. Brian has over 25 years of experience leading safety-sensitive industries. He faces the same daily challenges as his audiences when it comes to leading teams, driving safe outcomes and managing risk. Brian grew his businesses dramatically by focusing on his company’s safety culture. Now he shares what has worked — and what hasn’t — with audiences internationally. Today, Brian teaches company leaders how to develop and anchor a behavior-based safety environment that promotes accountability using low cost, easy to implement tools. 

Brian is co-author of Leading People Safely: How to Win on the Business Battlefield.

Fielkow is the recipient of the National Safety Council’s most prestigious honor: the Distinguished Service to Safety Award. Fielkow was recognized by the Houston Business Journal as one of Houston’s most admired CEO’s. He was recognized by NSC as a 2022 “CEO Who Gets It.”