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

From the Mines to the Heart: Advocating for Safer Tomorrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actions speak louder than words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you. Cheers. Take care. Bye.

Thank you. Bye.

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information: www.helenfitzroy.com.au

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The History of Safety: Where Yesterday Meets Tomorrow with Carsten Busch

The History of Safety: Where Yesterday Meets Tomorrow

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Embark on an exciting journey with the renowned Safety Mythologist and Historian Carsten Busch, also known as the “Indiana Jones of Safety.” Join us as Carsten shares captivating stories with lessons from the history of safety that shape tomorrow’s strategies. Tune in now and be part of the adventure!

READ THIS EPISODE

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

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Group. Today, I’m very excited to have with me Carsten Bush. He’s a safety professional with a deep understanding of the history of safety, which is a big topic we’re going to talk about today. He’s incredibly interested in the development of knowledge when it comes to safety. Coming to us from Norway. He’s also being nicknamed the Indiana Jones of Safety. I have to ask you before we get started: how did you get that nickname?

Thanks, Eric, for inviting me. Well, fun question. It originated from a Dutch safety professional, who sadly died a couple of years ago, Roland Bakker. He used to work for Shell. And while I was studying at Lund University and was diving really deep into the early writings, safety writings from the early 20th century, and so on, I discovered many very interesting quotes. Either they were funny from today’s point of view, or that they were quite amazing that you would say, wow, this could be written in 2020. I know one today I would be surprised that they were quite ahead of their time already then. I shared those clips, and at some point, Rolande said, well, you’re truly doing archeology here. You are the Indiana Jones of Safety. Well, I love most of the movies, so I thought, well, that’s a cool tagline to have on LinkedIn. I kept it.

Definitely it is. Tell me a little bit about the early history of safety because now we speak about safety on a regular basis, but there was a point in time when people didn’t talk about safety. So, tell me a little bit about some of the origins of how safety came to be part of running an effective workplace.

Yeah. It’s quite fascinating to dive into the subject. Safety has always been something people cared about, of course. Even if you look in the Old Testament, there are some safety rules there about building some railing on your roof so people wouldn’t fall down, and you would get a lot of guilt on your head and so on. And the Babylonians had some safety rules, but I think safety is a profession. Then we go back to the late 19th century. Well, the Industrial Revolution was really going on, and a lot of changes in society, new risks, and so on. And people started getting interested in what we do because they saw bad working conditions. They saw people getting hurt, and people died. And what I would like to focus a bit about, because this is a very broad subject, of course, is the understanding of how, especially for America, insurance played a big role, because, from today’s point of view, a lot of people say, oh, all the early safety work was done by people from insurance. They did this with a monetary goal to make money for their companies, which, of course, is true because insurance companies exist to make money, and they were to make money for, well, stakeholders.

But the early motives of safety, I would say it started first with some social outcry that people were really shocked to see how the situation’s changed and workers, the circumstances and high fatality numbers running in the thousands for railways, for example, which is totally unbelievable from today’s point of view, mining, which was very dangerous, still is a very dangerous occupation, but then, well, mine explosions and hundreds of fatalities and people reacted on that. So, you had this social part, but the social part was not enough. Then, there came some regulation, but very slowly, especially in America. Europe was a bit more regulation-driven in it. And then you had, of course, the humanitarian aspect that some employers realized they had to do something because they had a duty of care for their people. But the real game-changer was financial. When worker compensation laws entered the game, they changed the whole scenery because, before workers’ compensation, the cost of accidents was for the employee. If you got an accident, you couldn’t work, you were home and, well, you didn’t eat, basically, and your employer would get someone else, and well, maybe you could come back when you were well again. 

You could sue your employer, but the chances that you won were very low. And especially if there was the slightest hint of some responsibility on your part, like you had done something you probably shouldn’t have done, which there almost always was, and then you had no chance at all to win. And even if you won, probably all the money would go to your lawyer anyway. The cost for accidents was basically for the employee and investing in safety in the early days of safety, I didn’t pay. Then came workers’ compensation, and that changed the whole game because, all of a sudden, the cost of accidents was for the employer. Because the employer had to pay you when you got injured, and you couldn’t work, you still were paid, medical costs were paid, and so on. Employers started to buy insurance against this stuff. That comes the important role of insurance in early safety because it was especially insurance firms with a big safety staff, which they would lend out to employers company owners to do inspections and make recommendations. And then, if you followed the recommendations, you might get a lower premium. So, safety suddenly paid back.

And that was what I think really set in motion early safety. And it’s interesting then to see that also I study a lot of the work of Heinrich, Herbert-William Heinrich, one of the safety pioneers. His breakthrough team was financial. What made him a name was, and we’ve probably all heard it, and it wasn’t his discovery at all. What he did was study it in a more systematic way, add some numbers to it, and then it got a lot of credibility, and people said, Wow! For every accident, there is a direct cost, like the medical care, and you have to pay the injured employee, and you have to get a replacement, and so on. But there’s also a lot of hidden costs that you don’t see, like production stops and there’s disturbance, and people talk about it, and you have to investigate and blah, blah, blah, all that. Heinrich found that there is, at the time of his data set, approximately a 1:4 ratio. People started, well, our safety pays even more. So, if you invest, then that is a big driver for early safety. And not just that, I think there was also a lucky timing. There had been World War I when efficiency was highly recommended because you wanted to produce to win that war.

And there was, of course, the Great Depression, which made it also very lucrative to be safe because that helped you to be competitive. I read quite interesting article that stated that the Great Depression was actually very beneficial for safety because all the workplaces, or not all, but many workplaces that had bad facilities and bad maintenance machinery and so on, went bankrupt. They just went out of service, and they were never used again. People started with, well, better stuff after the Great Depression, I think that there was. I backed it up with numbers, so I thought that that was quite unexpected, actually, because I think from our experience, we often see that things go bad. We have to do things cheaply. Where can we save the cost? Do a bit less maintenance, do a bit less training, and that’s not good for safety.

No, it’s not. From there, one of the things that really struck me when we spoke earlier.

It is really the evolution of systems thinking and where it came about because it’s often associated with a modern view of safety. But what you were describing is that in many cases, systems thinking, there were early elements very early on.

Yeah, what I said, I shared a lot of those early insights, and I wouldn’t say that it was really system thinking yet, but yeah, okay. You see early seeds of stuff that people probably weren’t quite ready for, so to speak. But you see insights which you just can’t copy now to the 2000s and say, this is what we are dealing with now, or that’s what people with a newer view like Hufnagel or Decker and so on are saying, but you find similar stuff already in the 1920s.

So, the new view of safety is not new.

The new view of safety is a different new one, I think. I would say Heinrich and his contemporaries were a new view at the time that I revolutionized quite a bit. You had the first wave of safety, Pioneers, and I won’t bother you with the names because nobody knows them anyway, but they were very focused on machinery and guarding and that stuff. Very basic safety work. There were a lot of low-hanging fruits at the time. And you see that the first safety books around 1900 till, say, the First World War, they were very much how to create safer workplaces by illumination, by guarding ventilation and a bit of organization too, but very little. And then, in the mid-20s, there were some safety thinkers like Louis de Block, our first Vice President of Safety of Dual, the big chemical firm, who wrote a ground-breaking book, and Heinrich drew a lot on that work. Heinrich specifically produced a more management-oriented framework. So not only how to guard machinery, but also how to build an organization, how to learn from accidents, how to better investigate accidents to approach safety in a more scientific way, so to speak, a fact-based way looking at what is actually happening and where should we focus and then not just have a blanket approach.

That was really a new view at the time. Now, looking back 80 years later, we say, Well, that’s just traditional safety. We’ve been doing that for decades. Now, we need something new, and we shouldn’t just focus on what is going back, but we also need to focus on stuff that’s going right, especially at normal work. And then you look back in the old books, and you find already nudges of that, which is quite fascinating. I have a very cool quote here.

I would like to read it to you, and it’s by a guy with an interesting name Albert Wurz-Witney. And he was quite a hotshot in insurance as most safety pioneers of the time. And I think this is from something he wrote in 1921, and he called it This was his philosophy of safety. And I quote, Now, life is intrinsically dangerous. Life is partly routine, to be sure, but more fundamentally, it’s an experience of the unknown and, hence, based on adventure. It’s quite fascinating. He stresses that unknown uncertainty, which is only in recent years getting the role in risk through ISO 31,000, but he stresses already the uncertainty here. And then I find it fascinating that it says, well, life is based on adventure, and that’s cool, that’s risk seeking. He goes on to say the prime quality and safety, therefore, is not the removal of danger but it’s the improvement of the quality of the adventure. That’s wow, this was 1921. And this guy is saying safety isn’t about prevention. Safety is about having better adventures, which I think is absolutely in sync with the resilience engineering thinking that speaks of, well, we need to prevent, of course, and reduce risk and control hazards and all that, but especially, we need to be better at handling variability, which very well resonates in my head with having better adventures to succeed better.

I think that’s such a lovely quote. This guy was very much into getting safety into education. If I understand well, he has been very important in getting a role in American schools and, afterward, the creation of safety courses and a non-university of two. But that systems view might have been discussed, but in terms of its starting to be operationalized, it is definitely a newer function.

Yeah, it has taken many decades, I think, to mature that this is broadly recognized because you find those Nuggets. But safety culture is the same. Du Block, the guy I discussed earlier in his book, discusses what we would now describe as safety culture, but he uses a different term, safety atmosphere, and he has a definition that is quiet. I think it’s very usable because he speaks of some invisible force that affects even people who are entirely new in the company, which is what culture does or is. We won’t get into that discussion now, but it would take until the late ’70s that Culture as such entered the safety discourse.

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You touched on this earlier, Heinrich. Let’s revisit Heinrich because he’s often quoted with the pyramid, which is now disputed. But the pyramid is not, as you described it to me, is not quite what it was intended to be. Tell me a little bit more about Heinrich and the pyramid and some of those elements.

Firstly, I never speak of Heinrich and the pyramid because Heinrich never drew a 3D shape, which is a pyramid. The pyramid is three-dimensional. Heinrich made a triangle, and it was only Bert who made the fancier picture. But there are a lot of misunderstandings. I think it’s Heinrich’s at least one of his most famous concepts, but has started a couple of lives on their own. People are treating it, for example, as a law. Some people still believe, even today, that there is some natural law dictating that there should be one accident with major consequences, 29 accidents with minor consequences, and 300 accidents with no consequences at all. I’ve actually been in a meeting many years back now where someone and I were discussing reporting and underreporting. Someone stood up and said, Well, I’m sure we are having a problem with reporting in our company because we don’t live up to this ratio. I thought, Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Because if you study Heinrich’s work, you will see that… And he’s quite clear about it. He says often this is an average. And then, if you see how he got to this average, you will see that he studied different kinds of accidents, where they then found and estimated the ratio for that accident type.

So, in his book, he has, for example, a case where somebody is cutting wood on a circular saw, and he pushes the wood through the saw, and at some point, he does it without a push thingy, and he cuts his fingers, and then they find this ratio one to something. I don’t know by heart. And then, he has another example where he describes someone on a daily basis crossing rail tracks because it’s a shorter way to work. And then, he finds a ratio of one severe accident to several thousand incidents without any injury. And then, he has a couple of various scenarios that he describes, and then you can see that for each scenario, there’s a different ratio. Then he averages them up, and he finds or constructs a very neat number, 129, 300, which is a ratio that you won’t forget. That’s a stroke of genius. He repeats this number, and he anchors in the message that there are a few series of serious accidents. There are more not quite as serious accidents, and there are a lot of near misses in modern language. He doesn’t use the word Neomi’s yet.

He speaks of no injury accidents. Then he says, after having anchored in this message, he says, here lies great opportunity. If you recognize that you could have prevented or if you just recognize you can prevent worse stuff from happening, then you can act proactively. That’s his great gift to safety, I think. This realization is that we don’t have to operate reactively. We don’t have to wait for someone to be injured. Of course, if somebody gets injured, then there is a greater sense of urgency that we should do something to prevent this from happening and make improvements and so on. But his message was you don’t have to wait until somebody gets hurt. You can actually be observant. See that… Sorry. Oops, this could have been much worse, and you can react to it. His message was actually one of opportunity and not one of counting, which a lot of people make. A lot of people say it’s metric. No, it’s not. It’s just a metaphor for opportunity and proactivity. And that’s one of the things that a lot of people credibly get wrong. They start counting, and then they mesh all kinds of accidents together. A lot of the literature on the triangle or the pyramid is based on either within the sector or within the country.

Or if you are lucky, whether within some process, but they don’t stick to one specific scenario. Because if you want to play with numbers, you have to have it within a scenario, which is very similar, which also said this just works within. He calls it a unit group of similar accidents.

If you start blending together, and this is one of, I think, Todd Conklin says it a lot, ankle sprains don’t say anything about wall blowouts. Of course not, because they’re two very different types of accidents. One is not predictive of the other. But slippage may be very well predictive of broken legs and ankle sprains, and bad maintenance or mechanical failures in your blow-up preventer are likely predictive of the well blow-up. But don’t mix them together. There are a lot of misunderstandings that people focus too much on the numbers and the correctness or the ability of the ratios, which are totally irrelevant because they’re just an illustration. People think that it’s predictive. If you have had 299 and you miss, then probably next is up, which is quite foolish, actually. And Heinrich himself said, well, it may be also the first where you get hit. Sure. There is a factor of randomness there. One of the main mistakes is that people don’t stick to the scenario. The predictive element, if there is one, is only within one scenario.

I think the other piece I’ve seen is a lot of organizations start relying on that pyramid or the triangle, as you mentioned and start thinking that if I focus on very small injuries, I’m going to reduce serious injuries and fatality. They’ll focus on the same amount of attention on first aid or a B-sting or a slip, trip, or fall versus the elements that will drive a serious injury and fatality are probably quite different. That’s where I think there’s been more recently a shift of thinking and realization that it’s a subset of those that can drive to serious injuries.

Definitely, There isn’t one pyramid unless you want to calculate the average, which is fun to do, maybe for safety nerds, but it’s of no practical value. You have to see the pyramid or your pyramid as a huge stack of different pyramids. You have a slip, trip, and fall pyramid. You have a well-blow-out pyramid. You have a paper cut in the copy room pyramid, which probably has a crazy ratio of one to a trillion or something. And then you have pyramids, which aren’t pyramids at all. I’ve worked for 20 years in railways, and I used earlier this example that Heinrich mentions of somebody getting hit by a train. There isn’t probably a pyramid shape there. It’s probably some hourglass shaped where you have fatalities at the top, then almost no minor injuries, because if you get hit by a train, you typically either it’s a tiny or a miss, which there are a lot of, or you are probably quite damaged. There’s not a lot of first aid in those cases. It’s big on the top, and it’s big at the bottom, and nothing in the middle. Out. That’s the hourglass.

Sure. I’d love to pivot to James Reason and the Swiss cheese model and love to hear some of your perspective from a historical standpoint.

James Reason is one of the other safety artists who has a really brilliant metaphor that anchors and you see it and I think most people can intuitively connect to it and make sense of it and then give their own interpretation of it. And that’s what we, for example, have seen in… I don’t know if you’ve seen them, Eric, but I got quite fed up with COVID times. All the pictures shared of these COVID protection Swiss cheeses, where you had 17 layers stacked up and then people having some a story around it. It’s quite interesting to reflect a bit on how this happened. Because these COVID-19 Swiss cheeses, I think, they stray quite far from reasons idea. I think they’re the three main categories of why people are getting models wrong. The first is they just don’t know better. Sure. And for whatever reason, and then we can talk an hour about this, I guess, but I think here, say, is one big factor. You’ve had a course, and somebody told you his interpretation of Swiss cheese, and then you pick up some parts. And then we basically go to the second reason.

You start making your own interpretations. That’s a quite powerful one, and it’s for the better and worse. Let’s just be clear about that because if you see this picture, a couple of barriers with holes in them. And if something goes through the holes, then things have gone very wrong, and you have an accident. That makes immediate sense, I think, to a lot of people. And especially the lot of barriers make a lot of sense to many people. And then I start ignoring them. Probably, they don’t even know that the message or James’ reason was much more complex than just the picture because the picture comes with a lot of text and a lot of explanations and pathogens and complex systems and organizational factors and human factors and you name it, people just see the picture. They think, Well, how can I use this in my situation? And then they start, well, just take the picture, give their own twist, and that’s all there is to them. And then there is a third group, which are the people that have motives of their own by interpreting a model their own way. The Swiss cheese model has gotten a lot of bad rep in the latter years, especially, let’s call them, New View Safety Thinkers, who call it the linear model, which I would say that that’s not correct at all.

The picture looks linear because you have all these slices stacked after each other. But the picture isn’t all there is. If you read the text and go back as far as the first presentation in 1990 in Human Error, the book by James Reason, and you read the text that comes with then he says quite interesting stuff like the holes in the barriers. They’re not static. They’re moving around. They open up, and they close, so they change shape and so forth. The model is not linear at all. The model is quite dynamic, even though the picture looks very linear. Right. I think some people also give a twist to models to make their own message look better. You come down with a different model, and I won’t name any, but which perhaps takes better care of the systemic factors, and then there are models that do that quite well. And if you contrast it to Heinrich Domino’s or the Swiss cheese, which looks very linear, then your model probably looks better. And there may even be, let me say, a pedagogical angle to it that you stress the linear aspects of the Swiss cheese to communicate better about the systemic approaches.

Sure. Yeah. That’s just some quick reflections based on the Swiss cheese and then how people give their own twist to it. Then one thing I would like to stress and something we perhaps need to work on is I started by saying a lot of people don’t know better. They’ve been on the courts, or they’ve seen a presentation where somebody had 15 seconds to say something about the picture on the slide behind them. You get this quick explanation of the Swiss cheese, and you think, well, this is a quite knowledgeable guy standing there. He explained this, and then this is all there is. And we’re not typically trained to ask critical questions and then go back and read the literature and study it. And we probably don’t have time either, a lot of us. But you may end up with a model that doesn’t quite do what actually you should be doing.

So, thank you, Carsten. You’ve shared a lot of background history from the early days of safety to some early thinking around the broader systems view around safety to revisiting Heinrich and Swiss cheese model. I think there’s an important lesson in what you’re talking about in terms of models. At the end of the day, the model is there to share an idea and a concept. I think that’s the important element of the model, as opposed to thinking it’s pure and true and depicts everything. Is that a fair assessment?

Yeah, that’s a good summary. Models are always a simplification of something, of course, and we have to understand the limits of that simplification and the limits of the model. We need to ask a bit more often, probably, firstly, is that what the model was designed for? And then we can, of course, use it for other stuff that may be actually beneficial because innovation builds on that. But it’s wise to check: Is this actually what the model was meant to say? Because the Swiss cheese is not about 17 layers. 17 layers may actually be safer than ten layers because new layers introduce new complexity and side effects, and so on. Go back to the source and ask a critical question at least once in a while. I think that’s important.

Thank you very much, Carsten, for joining us. If somebody wants to read more, hear more, how can they get in touch with you?

I have a website, www. Mindtherisk.com, and there’s probably a contact somewhere there, and you can find me on LinkedIn. Relatively active there, so just reach out and connect.

Excellent. As the Indiana Jones of Safety. Thank you.

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

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Carsten Busch has studied Mechanical Engineering, Safety, and Human Factors. He has over 30 years of experience in Safety and Quality Management at various levels in organizations ranging from railway to oil & gas to police in The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Norway. He is professionally active on various forums, a regular speaker at conferences, owner of mindtherisk.com, a tutor at the Lund University Human Factors and System Safety program, and author of several professional books: Safety Myth 101, Veiligheidsfabels 1–2–3, If You Can’t Measure It… Maybe You Shouldn’t, Preventing Industrial Accidents, The First Rule of Safety Culture, Risicoflectie, and recently an annotated republishing of safety pioneer Heinrich’s papers from 1923-1945. His main research interests include the history of knowledge development and discourse in safety, which has led to Ph.D. work through Open Universiteit. He is an active member of the Dutch Society of Safety Science (NVVK) and a member of the editorial board of the society’s quarterly magazine NVVK Info. He is a reviewer for Safety Science and the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management.

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

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Safety Bonuses Leading to Life Changing Events with Steven Kirby

Safety Bonuses Leading to Life Changing Events

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In this episode, Steven Kirby joins The Safety Guru to share his inspiring journey of resilience, hope, and purpose. Steven was involved in a workplace incident in 2011 that deeply affected him both physically and mentally. In our conversation, Steven shares his extraordinary story and reveals how he has transformed his personal life-changing events into a lifelong mission to inspire others. His message will undoubtedly prompt you to reflect on how to motivate individuals and organizations toward safer practices. Tune in to hear Steven’s powerful story about safety bonuses leading to life-changing events.

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

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Steven Kirby. Steven is a life coach out of the UK. He’s a keynote safety speaker. His background has been in construction. He’s got an incredibly powerful story to share with us today. Steven, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Eric. How are you doing?

Very well. Let’s get started with your story because your story is mind boggling when you first told me about it.

Yeah, right. My background is construction and demolition. I’ve been a life coach for the last four years and that’s due to the story that I’m going to come back and tell you. I started off as a site laborer, site operator in demolition, and I went my way over a few years to get my 360-excavator card and became a plant operator. I had a lot of experience on different sites. I moved from demolition to construction. I did a little bit in utilities. And then I was on a job 12 years ago. So, I’d been in the industry for 12 years. I was on a job 12 years ago and we’d just had two weeks off for Christmas and we’d gone back. And before the Christmas break, we had installed 60 meters of 600 mil pipe for a fire hydrant system. So, if you can imagine 60 meters, wasn’t it? Just in a straight line. And we were told that section, before I could dig the next section out, that section needs hydrostatic pressure testing. Now, I’d never seen or done a hydrant test before, never witnessed it, didn’t really know nothing about it. Four of the other guys, there was six of us in the team, they had an EVA or one of them knew of it, but he’d never done it. But there was one guy working with us who he had a street works card and apparently that street works card gave him the competency to be able to do a hard test site pressure test. And he said that he’d done it before on different sites. So, on this day, 11th of January 2011, so 12 years ago, we went through all the risk assessments, method statements, permits to work, and everything sounded and seemed really straight forward. Literally, fill the pipe with water until there’s water coming out the valve on the stagger end. Close the valve up and then put a compressor on and pressurize that pipe, get it to 28 bars of pressure. Once it’s at 28 bars of pressure, then job done. So, it sounded really simple. We get onto site, after we’d sand all the paperwork, we get onto site, its thick snow, it’s freezing cold, and this trench was maybe about 6 foot deep. It’s not a massive deep trench, but deep enough. Me being a typical digger driver, it was freezing cold, so I didn’t really have much to do. I got into my machine, turned the engine on, turned the heaters on and sat there.

And that was my intention for the rest of the day until these lads had got this tested and I could start digging the next section out. I didn’t really have much to do. So, the guys did what was told. They filled the pipe with water, put the compressor on, started pressurizing. We were told to get it to 28 bars of pressure. And it took about an hour to get to three bars of pressure. And at that point on the test end, it started leaking on the flange just down the boat. So, the guy who had the experience said, Right, stop the compressor, get in there and tighten that nut and bolts. Two members of the team was on the 18, Anthony and Jordan, two young lads. And they were keen to crack on and do some work. They were eager to do some work. So straight away, both of them climbed into the trench down the ladder. You’ve got one of them, if you can imagine, the spigger end is 600 millimeters round and about a meter wide. It weighed 460 kilograms. It’s a big lump of steel. Anthony sat on the pipe facing that way while Jordan stood in front of the of it so they could both get leveraged to tighten up the nut and the bolt.

They tighten it up, they get out the trench, turn the compressor back on, and now, we’re so low there, it’s about five and a half bars, five bar, starts leaking again, but in a different area. So, they do the same thing. We started at just after eight o’clock in the morning. By lunchtime, it was at about 10 bars of pressure, and it started leaking. So, at that point, I get out my machine. Something didn’t feel right. So, I opened my machine door and I said, Guys, before you go any further, someone go back to the office and speak to the manager, the supervisor, explain what’s happening, see what you see. So, one of the guys gets in the van, it’s a five-minute drive back through the site to the office. He explains the wrapped 10 bar. We’ve already had a couple of leaks. And he went on to his computer and he went on to Saint Gabain’s website because they manufactured the pipeline. And they went on Saint Gabain’s website, and he just said, No, it’s state for you. It can be tested up to 38 bar. We’re only going to go up to 28 bars.

Carry on doing what you’re doing. It’s fine. So, he came back, the James came back. He said, I said, carry on doing what we’re doing. At that point, the guy’s getting tightened up. It then gets to just after three, two minutes past three, I remember looking at my watch, it was two minutes past three in the afternoon, and we finish work normally at half past… Pack up at four o’clock. Now I’m thinking to myself, it’s taken all day to get to 18 bar of pressure and it’s leaking. I’ve only got less than an hour and we’ve still got another 10 bar to go. And I thought, there’s no way I’m working late. I’m working late tonight. I want to be away. So, in my mind, I believe that all 24 nuts and bolts on that planned phase wanted tightening up. The guys obviously weren’t doing it tight enough. And at the time, I was about 16 stone. I was body building. I was a big lead. So, I jumped out of the machine, and I said to the guy, look, give me the harness because you have to wear harness to enter the training. So, I said, give me the harness, I’m going to go in there and I’m going to tighten up all 24 nuts and bolts.

They started laughing at me and saying, go on then. They used to call me fatty. So, I was like, go on fatty, you go and do it. So, I climbed into the ladder, and I forgot to take the spanners with me. I get into the trench, and I’m stood directly in front of the pipeline. The trench is only not much more than a meter anyhow. The pipe is 600 mil.

Sure.

And as I reached up for the spanners of one of the other guys, of one of my colleagues, I don’t remember nothing in that moment other than I reached for the spanners and then next minute I’m underwater, I’m trapped, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know which way is up, I can’t get out. I truly believed that I was in the local river. I didn’t know I was at work. I believed I was in the Humber. The only way I can describe it is like being in a washing machine. And basically, what happened is as I reached up, the pipe had failed, the snigger end had blown off. My eight and dig around was not there to stop it, but it was there in the trench. And the end of the pipe had hit my digger arm and moved that to the end of the trench, a couple of meters. So, the impact was huge. And I was literally as that 60 meters of water had come out the pipe, it was washing around at the end of the trench where I was. And I just couldn’t get up and I was trapped there.

I didn’t know I was at work. I didn’t know where I was. And I just remember my two boys was four and eight years of age at the time, Harry and Joe. And I remember thinking to myself, I can’t die. Please, please, please. I can’t die. And when the sea of life flushes before you, I was trapped under there now, what I know now for about 40 seconds. And in those 40 seconds, I was screaming for my mom, I was screaming for my kids, my partner at the time. I was praying to a God that I didn’t even believe in. I’m not a religious person. I wasn’t a religious person. And I was praying and saying, please, please, I’m 32. My kids, I can’t leave my kids. I just can’t leave. And then all of a sudden, everything seemed to stop. And I rose out the water and as I rode out the water, it turns out that Jordan, one of the young lads, the 18-year-old, had jumped in, seen me, grabbed what was left of my harness and pulled me up. And as he pulled me up out of the water, people had heard the blast from other jobs and other ideas.

So, all these people had run across and run over. And I just remember all of them looking at me and telling me to breathe, like screaming at me and saying.

My care, be brave. They’re like, Care, be brave. I remember stood there thinking, I want to but I can’t. Will somebody please help me? So, as I’m stood there, what the guys have said now is my face was gray, my lips were blue. I was in and out of consciousness. As young Jordan threw me out of trench, the water was released and I was able to get my breath, luckily. I just remember laying there not knowing what had happened. It was just even looking back now; it was crazy that I can’t put into words how big the blast was and what the lads had said. And people knowing what I know now, people don’t survive that incident. And the fact I got dragged out there and I still had my legs because if I’d have been directly in front of it, it would have cut me in two.

But I walked away from that physically with nine stitches in the back of my head. My overalls had been, and my harness had been blown clean off. And as that was blown off, my arms must have gone and hyper extended. So, I’d overstretch my tendons and injured my elbows. And my boots were found 20 feet away, both boots were blown clean off my feet. My feet were hyper extended as well. So, my feet, even today, I still have trouble with my feet. And I had pipe bedding like shrapnel stuck in my face, my neck, my head. But physically, I know how lucky I am. It was to be able to sit here now and talk about it, it’s crazy that I am still alive.

But, then for me, it was… And why I share the story, obviously there’s lessons to be learned from that, but it was my mental health. I never believed in… 12 years ago, you didn’t talk about mental health, you talked about depression. Somebody was depressed, and that was it. If somebody told me before the accident, they were depressed. I was the guy saying, it’s an excuse to stay off work. It’s all in your head. You can physically do it, crack on and get you on your work. The very first night after that incident, I started having nightmares. As soon as I went to sleep, I was trapped under water. I was screaming for my kids. And then as the days went on, it was the same. As soon as I drifted off, whether it was daytime or nighttime, I was trapped there. Even the smell of water, if I turn the kitchen tap on, the smell of water, I’d start shaking and I’d be trapped under there again. And knowing what I know now, that’s PTSD, but I didn’t know I had PTSD at the time. So physically, I was battered and bruised, you can imagine 18 bars of pressure, air trapped in the…

If it was just water, it’d have been fine. But there was air trapped in the pipe, so we’d created a cannon. So, we had literally created a bomb without knowing. So, the amount of air that came out and literally battered me, I struggled physically for about six months. But my mental health deteriorated from that first night. My way of dealing with it was I’m going to have a couple of beers just to take the edge off. I thought if I have a couple of cans of beer, take the edge off, I’ll get some sleep. By the end of, after about five days, I was drinking anything I could get my hands on, whether that’d be cheap cider, vodka, anything. Katie wouldn’t actually go to the shop and buy me it. I physically couldn’t go to the shop because I couldn’t move. Me and Katie started arguing quite a lot because I was drinking too much. I used emotional blackmail with my mom and my sister and my dad because I’d be saying, Will you bring me some alcohol? I need a drink. And Katie would get me it and say, no, you’re not having it.

And I remember saying, Look, if you don’t get me it, don’t come and see the kids because you’re not seeing them. You’re not seeing your grandkids. And I was nasty. It was horrible. But that went on for about 12 weeks of me self-medicating. And then it got to a point where I was angry all the time. I was agitated. The kids didn’t want to play. Harry didn’t want to come and sit with his dad. And I physically pushed him away and said, go away, go to your mum. Then I’d know that I’d done that. And I’d found myself sat in the bathroom crying my eyes out. And then I’d sit there for 10 minutes, splash my face, walk out, and Katie or my mom or anyone would say, Are you all right? And I’d be like, Yeah, I’m good. I’m all right. I’m dealing with it. But I wasn’t all right. You were hungry. Yeah, I was broken inside. And the more I drank and the more I fell into that spiral of depression looking back now.

I had a voice in my head. Now, we all have a voice in our head, but the more his voice in my head was telling me that I was supposed to die that day. That was my day to die, and I cheated death. It’s a bit like the film Final Destination, you cheat death and then it comes for you. And in my mind, that’s what happened. I cheated death and death is coming for me. So, I was in the physio, and I had doctor’s appointments because of my injuries. And I wouldn’t leave the house because I don’t leave the house because I thought if I leave the house, then it’s going to happen. Then it got darkling in that and I started to think, well, why am I waiting for death to come to me? Why don’t I just do it myself? These would be better off without me. I was supposed to die. That was my day now. I’ve cheated it. And I’d sit there thinking of words of ending it where my family wouldn’t find me. But the only way I could think of that was jumping off a bridge into water, which after that incident, I was petrified of water.

I didn’t want to do any other way because I didn’t want them to find me. I was in a really, really dark place. And then Katie said to me, we had a big argument. And she said, look, you need to get yourself sorted out. She said, you’re drinking too much, you’re angry, you’re sad, your emotions are everywhere. She said, you need to speak to a doctor. I started, she said, if you don’t speak to a doctor, if you’re not going to get help, then pack a bag and leave because we can’t carry on like this. And at that point, I started packing a bag to leave and I thought, I’ll just go. But as I was packing my bag, I had a full-on flashback again of being trapped under water, praying to a God, please, please, please, I can’t leave my kids. And here I am leaving. And I literally had a… In that moment, I had a full-on mental breakdown. I had a panic attack, couldn’t breathe, completely sobbing. Katie rang the doctor. Doctor came out to me, and he said, Steven, you need to see a mental health specialist, basically a therapist or counselor.

He said, but I can tell you now you’re suffering with PTSD, anxiety, depression. And they got me an appointment the next day to go and see a therapist. That therapist was… Well, the first therapist couldn’t help me. I explained what had happened in the accident and she said, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. I’m not qualified enough. She said, Leave it with us. I’ll get back in touch. We’ll get you another appointment. And again, the way my mindset was at that time, I walked away from there thinking, nobody can help me. I’m not supposed to be here. I went home that night, drank a full bottle of vodka, hoping I wouldn’t wake up. But I did. And that same day, another therapist rang me up, said, Can I go and see her? And she basically taught me fight, flight and freeze, and made me understand that voice in my head is my voice. It’s just then thoughts are coming from me. I just got to change it. I had three months of therapy twice a week, and that’s what led me on the path to what I’m doing now. When my last session was over, she said, Right, Steve, you’ve got two options.

You can either go carry on drinking and doing what you’re doing and never understand what you’ve gone through or why you’ve gone through it. Or you can go and start to learn about the mind, learn about human behavior, and start to understand exactly who you are and why you think in the way you think. My first intention was to go to pub and get drunk. That was all I was thinking. I was going to go and get drunk. But something stopped me, and I thought about what she said. I went home and I downloaded a book called Free Magic Words. And as soon as I started reading it, I got into it. And that book then led me to read hundreds of others, like the power of the subconscious mind, all sorts of mindfulness stuff, which if you would have asked me to read it before then, I’d have said, oh, shut up. It’s a lot of rubbish. Meditation doesn’t work. It’s all… You can’t do it. But the more I read, the more I opened my mind, the more I understood exactly who I was and where I was at and why I was thinking and feeling the way I was feeling.

And that took me on for now. The lessons I’ve learned, the courses I’ve been doing, it’s because of that what’s created SK Life Coach UK. So, I wouldn’t change any of it in a way. Maybe the way I train my family and my mom, but the actual accident happening, I believe everything happens for a reason. The people I now have in my coaching and in the speaking, maybe I was supposed to go through what I went through and survive it in order to pass on that message. And then four years ago, when I decided to sell SK Life Coach 2K, Steve Care, the Life Coach 2K, I got in touch with a client, and I’d never really looked at the accident up until that point. Even when I was going to start sharing my story, it was literally what I’ve just said, but in a little bit more detail and obviously the pictures to back it up and give people an understanding.

The more I investigated it and the lessons that I actually learned from it, like we had no training, there was no communication. That manager should have come out of his office, not just looked on his computer. He should have come out and taught and had a look himself. What had happened, the two weeks we were off for the Christmas break, the full area had flooded because it was quite a low area and there was a lot of rain, lots of snow. The 60 meters of pipe that we installed, as we were told, perfectly flat, had flooded and the pipe work had risen where there were joints. So, it was in four-meter sections and at each joint it had risen. So, when we filled it with water to do the pressure test, there was pockets of air in there because the pipe wasn’t level.

And that literally would create a cannon. If we’d have had training, if we’d have known, if we’d have had to understand it, we’d have known that that pipe always had to low level. It couldn’t have peaks because there’s chance of air in there. And you can’t compress the air like you would the water to do the test because it creates too much pressure. If that manager had come out of his office, he’d have seen that, stopped the job, stopped us doing what we were doing, told us to strip it all down, put it right, and the accident would have never happened. If we’d have had the training in the first place, we wouldn’t e had a look for that, and it wouldn’t have happened.

It turns out the spigger end as well, what slotted into the pipe work, it was a compression fitting and that slotted into the pipe and then it’s tightened up at the collar and it has to be tightened to a certain talk in order to keep it in place. The guy who put that together didn’t know that and he just got a normal wrench, tightened it up as tight as he could get it, thinking he was doing the right thing. But it actually weakened the bolts and the nuts and the bead world. So, it would create a loose cannon between us without even realizing all because of a lack of training. So that’s all the lessons that’s learned. And that’s what I get across the company’s, especially over here when I’m talking in person. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re working in; an accident can happen anywhere to any one of us. And if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing or you become complacent in some of that you do regular, that’s when it gets us. That’s when it happens. But then when I’ve gone to the client and explained all this as well and said I wanted to use all this in the presentation, not going to name their names, but I want to start lessons learned along from a safety perspective and the mental health now knowing what I know about mental health, I said, I believe there’s a need for it.

And they tried stopping me and said, no, Steve, we don’t want you to do it. Our bosses don’t want you to do it. I said, well, you can’t stop me doing it. It’s a life story. It’s something that’s happened to me. I said, I’ll get legal advice, but as long as I don’t mention you, you can’t stop me. And then he said, I’ll leave it with me. I’ll get back in touch with you and I’ll let you know what’s said. So, I said, Yeah. And then about three weeks passed and I still have not heard from the client. I’d work from that site for a good 12 years in my career. I tried calling them, I sent them emails, got nothing back. So, then someone said to me, if I write to the HSE, the health and safety department, if I write to them, I can ask for the investigation report through Freedom of Information.

Sure. What happened?

Yeah, exactly. And then I can use points of that in my PowerPoint when I’m sharing the story. So, I thought, Right, great idea. So, I wrote to the HCC. I got an email back and it said, sorry, Steve, we’ve got no record of you on our Neonatal systems. We don’t know who you are. We’ve got no record of an incident. Unreal. Yeah. So, I thought, Well, that’s really strange. So, I emailed the client and I said, I’ve been trying to get hold of him for three weeks. And I said, why don’t the HSE know anything about the accident? And he rang me up instantly. He said, you’ve spoken to the HSE. I said, I have. I said, I just want some information to use. I said, but they don’t know nothing about it. He said, oh, can you come to site, and we’ll explain how we report it and why? I said, yeah, yeah, that’s fine. So, they invited me to the site, and I was expecting to see a full investigation report, a folder, a laptop summit. And there was an A4 piece of paper on the table. And on this A4 piece of paper, there’s a little box in the top and it said in this box, Operatives suffered minor injuries during hydrostatic pressure test failure. And it was reported, he said, as a dangerous occurrence rather than a report.

Right, serious. Right.

So, I said, Right, so if that was just a dangerous occurrence, I said, If I was still in my machine and the lab was all around the trench and that pipe failed and we all went, Whoa.

That’s a different story.

That’s a dangerous occurrence. I said, I was stood in front of the pipe work. I was literally blown up in a way. I had stone stuck in my face and my head like shrapnel. I suffered injuries. I needed stitches. I had physio for six months in my feet and in my arms. I was able to have cortisone injections in my elbows just to be able to move my arms. I said, but you’re telling me that was only a dangerous occurrence. That’s minor injuries. They said, Yeah, because you didn’t break any bones or lose any limbs, it was minor injuries. I said, and on top of that, I had to go and have therapy and see counselors for over six months in order to get my head straight because I was suicidal because of that.

Happening. what had happened?

That happened, what had happened. He said, Yeah, I know. I said, But I said, and you’re telling me it was just minor injuries. It was just a dangerous occurrence. And he couldn’t look at me in the face. He just passed me this piece of paper and I walked away. I got back in touch with the HSE and give them the number off the top of this form, what he’d given me, this dangerous occurrence. And she said, Steve, it hasn’t even been reported as a dangerous occurrence because we’d still have it on our system. She said, so that’s just something that they’ve generated in house to show clients, principal contractors or whatever that they’ve got a report in. The paperwork. It’s a bit of trickle it. But she said it was never actually reported. She said, we’ve got nothing at all on our system. But because it was over seven years ago, the HFC physically couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t look into it.

Couldn’t do anything. Wow.

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Why I’m passionate about this side of the story as well is I’ve done quite a lot of work for scale, which is a big company in the UK and in America and across Europe. They had a fatality on one of their sites with one of the contractors three months after my accident. A guy died at a pipe, a pressure tested to build that free bar of pressure, three and a half, four bar of pressure, and he died instantly. Now, how I see it, if my incident had had been reported in the right way, then the HSE had to put out some briefing, newsletters, some report, some regulation stating what had happened and what not and what to do on their side. And that could have prevented that fatality.

It could have prevented another similar accident happening had it have been reported properly. But because it wasn’t reported, you can’t learn from it if it’s not reported. But I was looking back now, those guys in that office, who if they’d have had a lost time incident, wouldn’t have got their end fee a bonus. And basically, when you’re rewarding companies for having no incident, you’re always going to get cover up. So going back to my accident again, they had their own on-site ambulance. And when the accident happened, I thought 15 minutes they came to, I was strip naked, I was given white coats. They got me in the back of the ambulance. They put a bandage on the back of my head to stop the bleeding. My face was battered, I had a small cut here. They covered that up. They gave me a paper as a suit because they had nothing else in the wrong side of the ambulance. So, they just put me in a paper suit with white coats to keep warm. And then they took me in blue flashing lights. So, I thought I was going directly to the hospital. The hospital?

They took me in blue flashing lights and then all of a sudden after a few minutes, the stops, the doors opened, and I was in the car park. And basically, they got me out of their on-site ambulance, put me in a colleague’s car and told him to take me to the nearest medical facility, which was a 10 minute drive away, to go and get stitches in my head. We went there, we get to the local medical hospital, small little place on a house in the state. And the guy in reception said, oh, what are you here for? So, my colleague said, Oh, you need stitches. Didn’t really look at me. I was sat in there for half an hour in and out of consciousness before anyone came through. My goodness. And then the nurse came through, she took one look at me, and she said, What are you doing here? She said, what’s happened? I said, there’s a company not rung up. I said, I’ve been involved in an accident. Or James had to tell her. She said, no, nobody’s letting us know that you’re coming. Then she said, I can’t help you, you need to be at A&E, you need to be at the emergency department.

So, she was going to get me an ambulance. But James said, By the time an ambulance comes here, I could have gotten there in my car. She said, I’ve got him here, I’ll get him to the rest of the way. When we get back in his car, the shift site manager rang James and said, what’s happening? James turned around and said, we’ve been to the medical building. They can’t do nothing for him. He’s got to go to the A&E. The shift site manager was on the phone and then his words was, I think he swore, he said something along the lines of F&L. And then he said, Right, make sure you’re both on site tomorrow. And then he put the phone down. Then James got me to the hospital, and I got stitched up and got all the stone out and I had lots of X rays and whatnot. And then because I’d been unconscious, the hospital wanted to keep me in, but all I wanted to do was get home to my kids. So, I was like, I’m not staying. While I was trying to get me a bed, I was like, I’m not staying, I’m going home.

I got home about after midnight that night. The accident happened just after three. I didn’t get to hospital until half past six. So, it was like three hours nearly before I even got medically seen to. And then the next morning, I’d sign myself out of hospital, didn’t sleep because I was having nightmares. I was having flashbacks. Every time I nodded off, I was reliving it. Eight o’clock the next morning, there was a knock at the door, and it was a colleague from site had been sent to pick me up, take me back to site to give a statement. So, I couldn’t move. My arms were stuck in a T rex position. I had to say that the thing I did for extended, come back and then it just… I couldn’t move. I was bruised everywhere. I was battered. I said, I can’t go to work like this. He said, I’ve been told you’ve got to come in to give a statement. So, he helped me into the van. Good to say, I went straight to the principal contractor, to the MD and said, Can I give my now so I can go home? He said, No, Steve.

He said, I need to speak to the other five guys first, then I’ll speak to you. It’ll be about half past one this afternoon. So, I was like, well, what am I supposed to do? He said, just go and sit in the office. We’ll keep your tops up with coffee. Don’t worry, we’re not going to send you out to work. You’ll be all right. So, I am sat there and one of my supervisors walked by and he said, what are you doing here? I said, they’ve told me I’ve got to come in to give a statement. He said, Yeah, I bet they have. He said, they haven’t brought you in to give a statement. They brought you in because they don’t want a lost time incident. Because now.

You’ve checked in.

Now I’ve checked in. So, he said, Get in my van. I couldn’t walk. I could triple, but I couldn’t walk. He helped me into his van, and he took me home. The next day, the principal contractor and the client came out with a witness to my house to take a statement from home. Looking back now, then they sent an occupational nurse to my house as well the day after that. And her words to me was, they want me to say that you’re going to be fit to work on Monday. This is on the Thursday. She said, they want me to say that you’re going to be fit for work on Monday. She said, But I can tell you now, you’re not going to be fit to work on Monday. work at work for months for a long, long time. And then she went away, and she said, Look, just heal, just get better. Looking back now, if they’d have got me an ambulance, if they’d have rang an ambulance through, their on-site ambulance wasn’t MOT for the public roads. So, they couldn’t have took me out in their on-site ambulance. That was their site emergency only.

So, they took me in their emergency ambulance with flashing lights to the car park. But if they’d have got me an ambulance, the ambulance had even formed the police because it’s a white horse accident. And then it’s the police’s duty to inform the HSE.

The HSE involved, obviously, massive investigation into that. And people would have been getting in a lot of trouble because we should have been put in that position. Getting me on site the next morning, they had 2.3-million-man hours about a lost time incident. If I had gone into site that next day, there’d have been many guys at the top who wouldn’t have got their end of the year bonus. And I’ve been told that by a manager who’d since left. And they said they didn’t report it because they didn’t want a lost time incident on their end. No company wants an LTI. So, looking back, it was just one massive cover up. But if it hadn’t been covered up, like I said, other companies might not have had fatalities that same year because of the lessons learned from that near fatality. So, there’s many, many lessons to be learned from it. And it’s definitely a story, if you like.

It’s incredible because I’ve heard of stories like this in other countries. Never heard of it in the UK. But essentially to me, the main takeaway is that’s the risk that happens when you start putting financial incentives. As it starts warping what’s the right thing I should be doing as opposed to actively caring for you. It’s how do I make sure that this doesn’t seem as bad. Definitely. The impact in terms of reporting significant is a value in all of this for the organization, but for others too.

Yeah, exactly. Well, the principal contractor I was working for at the time of the accident ended up within months losing their contract. So, they lost the contract and another T1 company was brought in. Whether they’ll admit it was because of that incident, which they probably never would have, right? Because it was all covered up and kept in house. But yeah, that company lost the contract, and everyone said basically even the people that work for the client, it was because of that accident. It was because of that incident. So that one accident changed a lot of lives. When they say the ripple effect from an incident, whether it’s a fatality or whether it’s not, it still has massive, massive effects throughout any business. But again, this was 12 years ago. You’d think lessons learned and move on. My uncle still works on the same site. And back end of last year, he’s stood near his van and there’s a guy in a Mew, an elevated working platform, driving towards him with a sun in his face. And this guy doesn’t see him, he calls, stood near the van. And literally, the front right wheel drove into the back of him.

The wheel trapped all the inside his legs and he was trapped against the van. He was looking not to… He was lucky enough to told by doctor it was millimeters away from breaking both legs. And the same thing happened to him. Now, there’s a different contract on there now to when I was there, but it’s the same client, same place. And he was taken to a nearest medical center to get checked out. And then someone sent him the next morning to pick him up to get him back onto site and put him on light duty for three weeks. Now, that accident was never reported. I told him he should report it himself. If he ever has trouble with his legs and he needs to jump, there’s no record of anything. And he was like, oh, no, it’s not worth me losing my job. I was like, Yeah, well, that’s why I went in. I was worried about my job. At that time, I was living, like a lot of contractors, week to week on my wage, didn’t have savings. You are concerned for your job and that’s why when they’re telling you to do certain things like come in the next day, it’s like, Oh, yeah, I will.

No matter how you’re feeling, you don’t want to lose your job. But at the same time, it’s not worth it. If something goes wrong, report it. If you’re not trained to do a job, don’t do it. Your life isn’t worth your job. There’s plenty of other jobs out there with companies that treat you right. Again, that’s why I get that message across. If you’re unsure, stop and ask. Don’t just struggle alone. Whether it’s mentally or whether it is your job, never, never just struggle along because what you’ve got to do is ask, reach out for help and there’s always somebody to listen to you. I think.

As well, as we talked about for leaders, it’s also reflecting in terms of what’s the impact that some of these metrics, these incentives are driving. How do I test to make sure that the companies I work with have the right culture where they’re not doing things like what you described that they are encouraging reporting, they’re trying to learn, they’re trying to drive the right insights, but also that you’ve got the right pieces around communication training leaders that show up the right way. Like you said, you should have come to look at the work as opposed to just look at a website. Yeah, it was too busy, so I just looked at what you stated on their website as to putting this pipe work together and testing it. He’s like, Yeah, it can go up to 38 bytes. Fine. Every talk I do now, whoever I’m speaking for, if I’m speaking to supervisors and leaders, I’ll say, Look, don’t be that guy. If one of your guys comes up to you and he’s unsure of something, or she’s unsure of something. Yeah.

Great.

Stop what you’re doing and go out there and have a look because you’ll see it from your own perspective then. And that could save a life. It could save a serious injury. It can save not just them, but it saves the company millions of pounds as well if it goes wrong. Get out there and check for the welfare of their employees. Don’t just be that guy who says, Yeah, carry on, it’ll be all right. Or go and Google it. If you’re in Google it. That isn’t the way to be. It’s about safety culture within the company, within the business. And if you’ve got the managers, the supervisors on board with that mindset, that culture, that will spread right throughout any company, any business. And it’s talking to people in the right way. It’s the employers trusting that. They can come and speak to you. They can stop a job and not get in trouble for stopping the job because of time, contracts, all the rest of it. We know there’s deliveries on sites daily. If you’ve got so many hundred tons of stone getting delivered, but you stop a job because someone’s in trouble, everything falls behind.

But again, you deal with that as and when your life or somebody’s life always comes first when it comes to safety. And a lot of companies I’ve worked with over the years, over the 20 years, and a lot of companies that I even now speak to, some of them will say to me, safety is our number one priority. And I’ll laugh and say, no, it’s not. Safety is never going to be a number one priority because it costs so much. You need to be earning money in order to run a business, to have a successful business. You need to be earning profit. You need to be meeting contracts. You need to be meeting time, deadline. Safety could be on par with that, which it should be. Safety should be on par with whatever you’re doing. That culture should be level across. No shortcuts whatsoever. If you need PPE, if you need safety equipment, if you need guards, if you need barriers, it’s all there. Everybody on site should know all the regulations. They should know all the procedures. As long as all that’s in place, it’s on par. But safety will never be number one because a lot of companies just go bust.

They just go under. So, you’ve got to have that culture within the company. And I know of a lot of companies who… Even getting me in can be just a tick box to say they’ve got someone in to speak, but then I’ll speak to the guys afterwards and they say nothing’s changed. They’re like, we’re still doing this, we’re still having to do that. And I now get that message across that when I speak to companies, I speak to the managing directors, and I say why I’m doing this and what I’m passionate about. And the changes they need to be implementing in order to have that safety culture right throughout the site, it’s got to come from the top in order for the guy’s lower down to follow them procedures. But yeah, it’ll never be number one priority because companies can’t follow that, but it should be on par. Or number.

One value. It’s how we do the work. It’s definitely number one value.

It’s definitely number one value. And again, that comes to making sure the employees have got everything that they need. And having the confidence to be able to say, I’m struggling with this. Or if there’s a lot of pressure on them and there’s a lot of stress and they’re going through a lot of stress and they’re taking that on with them on a night and they’re having to drink self-medicate to calm down a little bit. They should be able to explain that the rubber stress and some of that pressure taking off them. But it doesn’t work that way. Somebody tells somebody that the rubber stress and they’re not managing, and they may be drinking too much, then they’re told, Right, we’ll get somebody else. And you’re told either do it or you lose your job, basically. And that’s the situation that people should find themselves in. Each company should be able to help their employees if they are stressed, help them with the dealing with that stress and take that stress off them a little bit. Not risk, not threaten the jobs. It should be working with them and helping the staff. And again, it’s that mindset throughout the business.

If everyone’s working together, if you speak to somebody in the right way, you’ll get a lot more work out of somebody if you appreciate them than you are if you’re belittling them and talking down to them. And it’s trying to get that through all the business. No matter what size the business is, all businesses, all companies, if you’re talking to people and you’re acting in the right way, then they’ll follow you and they’ll do the same. It’s about creating that culture. Thank you, Steve.

Really appreciate you coming and sharing your story. It’s a very powerful but thought-provoking story as well. Thank you for coming to share your story, but also for sharing it to other audiences. Tell me a little bit, if somebody wants to engage you for presentation in their organization, or you do a lot of also some life coaching, tell me how they can get in touch with you.

Basically, you can Google SK Life Coach UK, which is Steve Kirby Life Coach UK. And all of my social medias will come up. So, there’s the website, there’s LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and business page on Facebook. You just go to sklifecoachuk.com, all the information is on there. I normally I prefer to talk in person because the message comes across. I’ve got all these pictures of the accident. And the guys, or not just the guys, there’s a lot of women construction, but they can relate to me as to who I am and what I’ve done the work they’re doing. Rather than just being some guy who’s gone to university and studied the mind and I’m coming in to talk to him about it, I’ve actually done what they’ve done for the last 20 years. And now I found myself in this world because of an accident. So, I talk about the accident and the mental outside of it. But I also do it online as well. So, it does work as well when I share the screen and share the presentation online. So, any companies want to either book me in person or online, just go to sklifecoachuk.com.

Thank you, Steven.

Have a lovely day. Thank you very much, Eric.

Thank you for inviting me.

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

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Steven Kirby is a former demolition/construction contractor with over twenty years of site experience. In 2011, he was involved in an accident at work which caused him to suffer both physically and mentally. In 2019, he set up SKLifeCoachUK Ltd. He now uses the tools, techniques, and knowledge that got him through his darkest times to coach individuals who are struggling. He also shares his story with companies to improve safety culture and mental health awareness.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably through our website, TaylordErgo.com.

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

For more information: www.TaylordErgo.com or email [email protected]  

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The Science Behind Eliminating Slips, Trips, and Falls with Rob Shaw

The science behind eliminating slips, trips, and falls

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“In reality, most organizations find that slips, trips, and falls are one of their highest causes of regular injury.” According to the CDC, over a million Americans are injured every year from a slip, trip, or fall, which accounts for at least 15% of all workplace injuries in the U.S. Rob Shaw joins The Safety Guru this week to share his insights regarding the science behind eliminating slips, trips, and falls in the workplace. Tune in as Rob explains why root cause analysis and in-depth risk assessment is of the utmost importance when it comes to preventing slips, trips, and falls.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and 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 Rob Shaw, who’s a false prevention expert. Rob, welcome to the show. Really excited to get to know some really tangible ideas that you can share with their listeners around slips, trips and falls, maybe why don’t we get started with a little bit of your background? You have quite a unique background on a topic that often people don’t talk about or assume is I can’t change anything.

Very true, and thank you for having me, Eric. Yeah, my background is I’m now entering my 20th year working full time on slips, trips, and falls, which amazes me more than I think anybody else. You’d be surprised that you could work for this long on a topic that seems very simple on the surface. So, my background was 15 years with the UK health and safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, where I worked as a scientist, doing research into why people fall over, what can be done to prevent it, and helping the regulator write their policy documents and their guidance, helping them undertake slip, trip and fall accident investigations and helping clients commercially reduce their risk of slips, trips and falls. And I think when I started the job, I thought it would end up being a bit of an insurance gig and I’d do it for a little while and then I’d find something else. But actually, there’s a lot of science that underpins why people fall over. But once you apply that science, the solutions are quite simple. So, it’s a technical subject that also has direct, practical applications to help companies reduce risk.

And I found that to sort of take my interest for the last 20 plus years. So about five years ago, I started my own consultancy doing the same thing.

Really interesting because it’s a topic that a lot of organizations kind of assume it’s going to happen. So, what’s the size of the problem around slips, trips, and falls in the UK and worldwide?

I think that’s one of the big problems with slips and trips is it’s often seen as very minor something that you can’t do anything about, and there are bigger problems. Industry and organizations worldwide have a lot of safety risks to manage, and some of them are very tangible and could, if there’s a failure, result in serious injury to lots of people. But in reality, most organizations find that slips trips and falls are one of their highest causes of regular injury. So, in the UK, for example, the highest cause of non-fatal major injuries in the UK workplace are slips, trips, and falls every year, about a third of all the major injuries. So, things that require hospital visits, hospital stays, significant time off work result from a slip or a trip. The same is true worldwide. The last time I looked at the statistics in the US, for example, the CDC say that over a million Americans a year are injured following a slip, trip, and fall, including 17,000 fatalities, and they account for at least 15% of all workplace injuries in the US as well. So, they are quite serious.

And when you’re talking about the size of this problem, you’re talking about whether I’m slipping, tripping or falling from different heights or is its same level.

Typically, all those statistics relate to the same level. So, falls from height is its own category of risk, and we know that slips and trips are very closely linked to falls from height, but obviously the consequences are potentially more severe because the resulting fall is from a greater height. So those statistics don’t consider falls from height, falls from ladders, and so on. 

And I know when we spoke originally, one of the things that really struck me is a lot of organizations do root cause analysis around them, and the root cause analysis is very weak and essentially gets to I wasn’t aware of my environment. I slipped. I don’t know why, or I was new to this part of the job, C-Suite, et cetera. So, what are some of the myths that exist around slip, trips, and falls like that, that basically it’s not preventable?

I think that’s exactly the core of it. The common myths are that they’re not particularly serious. And we’ve made the point that actually they result in a lot of serious injuries every year and a large number of fatalities. Unfortunately, my 20-year career has been spent investigating the more serious end of slip strips and falls, and there are some very unpleasant ones. But the second point that you draw on there that they are seen as something that can’t really be prevented, they’re just part of the cost of doing business. People will find a way to fall on floors. And while that’s very true, people are very good at falling over. And walking as bipedal creatures is quite a challenging biomechanical task. It’s heavily influenced by environmental factors and by task factors. So, one of the big myths is that there isn’t really a lot you can do about it. And that’s typically because most root cause analysis, in my experience, tends to come down as far as human error and stop there. And if there has been a slip, trip or fall at some point, there must have been a human error. Somebody has failed to do the walking process properly, but that error is very heavily influenced by the environment, the design of the task, the individual’s capabilities, and so on. 

And I think in root cause analysis, what we do is we get to human error, and it’s a very convenient process, root cause, because we can say, well, there’s nothing else we could have done. The individual needs to pay more attention. We will focus on training, we’ll focus on awareness, but it doesn’t help in managing further risk. If somebody slipped on a wet floor or tripped over an obstacle by not getting down to the root cause of how slippery that floor is when it’s wet, how it was wet in the first place. Why the obstacle? Came to be there, how you would prevent it. Again, it relies on the next individual using that area to do a better job of navigating the hazard rather than proving the underlying hazard. So, I think those are the problems. The three big myths and issues are the perception that they’re not serious, the perception that there’s nothing that you can do about them, and then the poor root cause analysis. And as we will go on to talk about, there are lots of very simple solutions to slips, trips, and falls, but they’re rarely based on good evidence, they’re rarely based on a good root cause analysis and an appropriate scientific selection of an intervention.

And that gives us lots of problems. Because organizations often will have put lots of time, effort, and money into a solution to what they see as the problem. And if it’s not the right solution, it doesn’t work. And that reinforces the opinion that you can’t do anything about them. We’ve invested this time, this money, we bought shoes, we’ve changed the floor, and it didn’t reduce the risk. We still had slips, and that’s likely to be because they didn’t get down to good quality scientific evidence.

So, before we get to some of the drivers and some of the solutions, what would you advise organizations or leaders when they’re looking at root cause analysis? What should they be expecting to see?

I think one of the things that I see routinely with client’s information, and normally, if I’m working with a new client, the first thing I’ll recommend is that we look at their data and look at it from the point of view of an expert. Because one of the most common mistakes is that slips, trips, and falls, particularly in workplace risk assessments, are sort of thought about as a single word, a single line on a risk assessment. Slips, trips, and falls. And often when you break down the issues that there have been, you find that the idea of slips and trips are considered completely within the same category, where the root causes are very different from a slip or a trip, and your solutions are different. And the way that people go about reporting and their engagement with the process is also very important. So, we work with a partner who has a software tool for any data analysis. It’s not just risk data, but it has a really nice feedback loop and a very quick and easy way to go. And so, gathering better quality data is very important, but also querying that data for common themes, common issues, not only between incidents, but across sites, which are your high-risk areas commonly in different sites?

Are they internal versus external? Maybe the kitchen or the toilet environments? And, looking at where perhaps the best effort would be spent in reducing that risk.

Sure. Okay, so really looking at themes and trending to understand where should I go fix first? But should there be something if I’m an executive looking at root cause analysis, should I be challenging my team? If the root cause that’s identified is human error situational awareness or should I accept that?

That’s a very good question and I think I generally say challenge. It doesn’t mean that the wrong root cause has been identified. There will be situations under which human error has occurred. Distraction is an obvious example. You know, if people are on a mobile phone whilst they’re completing a task, we know from the research, and some very good and interesting research was done many years ago. I wasn’t allowed to take part, but it sounds very good fun. That showed that if you were holding an in-depth conversation on a mobile phone whilst walking, the level of distraction was something similar to six shots of whiskey. So, who the control group were for? That I don’t know. Very interesting science, but it does have a significant cognitive load, so it requires you to focus on the conversation, you’re less aware of your environment. So, it doesn’t mean that human error is not a valid part of that root cause analysis. But if it’s the only issue identified, it doesn’t put the organization in a position to do anything positive to reduce that risk in future. So, I would challenge that more should be looked at. And in many cases what we advise is for the investigators.

So, whether it be the safety teams or the facilities management teams, a little bit of training on the risks and the root causes of slips, trips and falls is very valuable because a lot of people don’t know what they don’t know. And the problem with slips and trips is we’ve all had one, and most of us are lucky enough to have had one that we got away from without significant injury. So, we’ve got some predetermined ideas of how it happened. And as humans were also very good at blaming ourselves, it’s very embarrassing when you fall over, particularly if you didn’t injure yourself severely. And so, the first thing we do tend to do is internalize and say, oh, I should have been paying attention. Oh, I’m fine. No. So it might even be that the injured party is saying, no, there was nothing wrong with the environment. I just wasn’t paying attention, because once you’ve lost your balance, either from a slip or a trip, the fall is very, very fast. You hit the ground so quickly, it can be difficult to unpack what happened. So even the language from the reports of the injured party or the immediate investigators might be difficult to rely on, and the actual mechanics of the form might be more informative as to what is likely to have happened. 

Interesting. So, let’s get to some of the drivers and then some of the solutions, because I think ultimately that’s really interesting in terms of how you can make a tangible impact in these areas. So first, drivers around slips, trips, and falls. And you said that the drivers typically are different one from the other. 

Absolutely. Trips in terms of initiating factors, trips are where you catch your foot on something and fall over. So typically, they result from housekeeping issues or maintenance issues, so something that’s underfoot that shouldn’t be there, or something that’s become damaged and is standing proud. But also, trips can happen over permanent obstacles in an environment. So single steps between levels, bunding around machinery, anything that causes a change in level underfoot, particularly if it’s quite hard to see, it gives you the opportunity for your foot to contact that object and cause you to trip. And it doesn’t have to be a solid object or a square edge. You know, it could be a trailing cable or a flap of carpet, something we’ve all encountered. When it comes to slips, they tend to be a little bit more complicated. And this is where the science sort of hooked me in and has kept me interested in 20 plus years. It’s a combination of the floor material you’re walking on, and that could be a carpeted office, but it could also be an access platform in an industrial environment. It could be the back of a vehicle. So, any surface that you’re walking on, the footwear that you have on your feet or not.

We investigate a lot of barefoot slips in leisure environments, in changing rooms and so on, and the contamination present between the two. So those three factors will have a significant determination as to how much grip is available. And then depending on the task you’re trying to achieve, whether you’re walking from a to b, or whether you’re actually pushing and pulling a load, moving some objects, that will all influence how much friction you need to safely complete that task. And all those factors need to be considered when you’re looking at the risk of a slip. So, we tend to gravitate to one issue or another where we’ll replace the floor with a better floor, and that’s a very good collective control, but it may not address some of the other issues around the task and so on.

Interesting. And so, let’s dive a little bit deeper into some of the solutions to it. You talked about changing the floor being one option. One thing that intrigued me was an experiment that you talked about between two fast food companies, one that focused on footwear and then one that focused on the surface that people are walking in. So, tell me a little bit about some of the solutions that exist to address slip strips and falls.

Yeah, so when it comes to slips, and I tend to focus most of my efforts on slips because that’s where the technical issues are. Organizations are generally better at addressing trips because they’re more obvious in terms of hazards, although that does give us some issues. But in terms of slips, the big issues are obviously the flooring, the footwear, and any contamination present. Now, there’s very, very good slip resistant flooring out there. There’s very, very good slip resistant footwear, both of which can essentially eliminate the risk of slips in most typical environments. If we think about outdoor surfaces, outdoor slips tend to be less frequent, and they tend to happen on more challenging surfaces, where you’re walking on grass or mud or something that’s very heavily contaminated with something solid. But typically, walking across a sidewalk or a pavement, we don’t see lots and lots and lots of slips in normal wet conditions. Very normal anyway for our part of the world. So, there’s very good slip resistant surfaces out there and very good slip resistant footwear. The big challenge is identifying something appropriate for your workplace or your organization or your public space is very difficult because there are hundreds and hundreds of different test methods, all of which purport to test slip resistance.

But in reality, what we’re interested in is how slippery is this surface when a person walks on it. Not when moving a car tire at 10 miles an hour at 30 degrees, not when trying to break a rubber sled. There’s lots of different methods, but they need to simulate the dynamic interaction of the pedestrian heel and the floor surface. And there’s only a very small number of tests that do that well. So, one of the challenges is that if you wish to specify a certain floor surface, you can almost certainly find a test somewhere that will tell you that it’s appropriate. But that doesn’t actually mean that when you’ve got it back into the workplace that it’s helping you manage the risk. And we see lots of issues with national standards. There are no agreed international standards on testing the slip resistance of flooring. It’s very different nation to nation, and the quality of the tests and the usefulness of the information varies. When it comes to managing the risk of footwear, the picture is a bit simpler in the test, methods are much more similar. So, there’s a single standard test for how slip resistant footwear is across Europe, and the same test method is used in an ASTM in the US.

Slightly different interpretation of those results, but the same test method. The inherent problem with that is that that test method itself is flawed. It doesn’t test the bit of the interaction we’re interested in, which is at what point does this shoe fail in a challenging environment? It doesn’t challenge the footwear, what it does is forces it to fail and then measures how much friction is generated during the slip, which is a very different question. Those are some of the challenges around slips and then there are lots of issues around human factors and they particularly come into play around the cleaning process. So many floors that are smooth and shiny, for example, will be very slippery when they’re wet, but they’ll offer excellent friction when clean and dry, because you’ve got very good material contact between the footwear and the floor. So, it’s not necessarily the case that having a smooth, shiny floor is always bad, or that any floor is inherently slippery. It’s about managing risk. But one of the big challenges is if those floors do get wet, then you’ve got to be able to manage that very carefully because the risk changes quite dramatically from the dry condition.

So, what we find is that by managing the cleaning both how effective the cleaning is at removing contaminants from the floor and how well managed the cleaning process is itself. So that during any wet part of the cleaning process people are not accessing that floor other than the cleaning staff who need to be considered, then that can also help improve the management of risk. So, the example you talked about with the fast-food restaurants, there are two well-known fast-food brands internationally, but within the UK. Their representatives were members of a food group with the Health and Safety Executive, with the Regulator, and about 20 years ago, we sort of came together with that group and said, right, these are some of the root cause issues, these are the some of the things that we could be doing. And they both decided to go in very different directions with their solutions for preventing slips in their kitchen environments. So, one focused very much on their floor specification and the way they cleaned that floor didn’t do anything about footwear. And the other one moved very much into specifying good slip resistant footwear for all staff and put less emphasis on what the floor was in the kitchen and how often and how well they cleaned it.

And they both had significant reductions in injury rates, I believe about 65% each. It was completely comparable. Two very different solutions, but both worked to control the risk. Now, as those two organizations have matured, they’re now looking at it more holistically. Each one is now looking at flooring footwear and cleaning as they’ve grown into that. But in the first instance, two different solutions, but both appropriate, both selected using relevant science, and both organizations saw a significant reduction in the injuries that they were having in those kitchens.

So, you talked about the regulatory side, regulatory or standard side, where there isn’t a common standard that really addresses the need for slip resistant floors or footwear. How can people navigate around it in the absence of a clean standard that really helps solve that problem?

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It is a real challenge. And what I would say is that you need somebody who is an expert in slip resistance, which sounds very much like a sales pitch and will sound more like a sales pitch when I say that’s quite difficult to do. Because one of the challenges in our industry is there’s a lot of vested interest and a lot of false expertise. So, for example, when it comes to testing flooring, within the UK, especially, there are a lot of people who offer free flooring tests or very, very cheap flooring tests and they will come out and test your floor. It will always say the floor is bad and they will have in the van something you can put on the floor that will make it better and then they’ll sell that to you. And it’s not to say those products don’t work. There are ways of modifying existing floors that improve the slip resistance and improve safety, but the vested interest is always going to be in selling that product and applying that product, when actually in that environment, the floor may not be the key factor that’s going wrong. It may be the management of contamination, it may be the footwear the individuals are wearing, all the tasks they’re being asked to do.

So, it’s really about finding sort of independent advice and guidance. And in the UK, that has always been through the regulator. Now the regulator in the UK has changed the way they do their science a little bit. And slips, trips, and falls is not currently a topic that’s emphasized, it’s a hibernated topic. So, they’re not proactively enforcing on it and working on it, which is why we went independent, because when that happened, I was sort of given the choice of retraining and learning a new safety discipline or carrying on doing what we were doing. And we’ve not fixed slip strips and falls yet. So, yeah, independent expertise. I’m currently the lead for preventing workplace falls for the International Ergonomics Association slips, Trips and Falls Technical Committee. And that technical committee has a wide membership from across the world, lots of scientists and academics from different universities, different commercial organizations, and they host conferences every year and so on. So, this year’s conference is in Toronto, and that sort of organization of independent researchers and consultants and so on is a good place to start.

We’ve touched on the topic of select, how about trips?

So, for trips, the first thing is good risk assessment for the environment. So, identifying low lying hazards, trailing cables for the maintenance defects, damaged tiling or cracked floor surfaces, you know, drain covers that are not sitting properly. A good reporting system is key because the individuals who work in those areas day after day will be very familiar with those hazards, will likely have had near misses around them, or will have spotted them, and you can almost crowdsource your risk assessment if you have a very good reporting process that’s very quick and easy to do. But critically, that reporting process needs some feedback in it. So, if an individual reports are damaged, great, it may not be possible to fix it the following day. You need to get an engineering, you need to find budget for that, and so on. But if nothing at all is done following the report for two months, the individual sort of feels like they’re not being listened to. So, it’s really important that you’re able to go back to them straight away and say, we appreciate that report. We’ve received it. This is what we’re going to do about it and encourage engagement with that process when it comes to permanent trip hazards built into environments.

So single steps, curbs at crossings, bonding around machinery, that kind of thing, visibility is very, very important. And the same is true for navigating steps and stairs, which have their own set of challenges and hazards. So, the visibility of the obstacle is critical. The way that we navigate an environment is we tend to scan ahead of ourselves, not consciously. We subconsciously scan. And if something is visible, if it contrasts with its surroundings, we note it. And as we approach, we find a way to deal with that. And the obvious example I usually use is as you approach a flight of stairs, you don’t get to the bottom and stop, think about what you’re doing, and then place your foot onto the bottom step and start to use the stair. You just seamlessly walk up. Because as you’re scanning the environment, a flight of stairs ahead of you is a very obvious change in level and change in situation. Same is true of a well highlighted ramp. But if you come across a single step that you didn’t notice in your scanning, because it’s not a significant change in level, and it’s perhaps covered in the same-colored carpet or the same-colored floor material, that’s when people tend to trip.

And what the research has shown us, and there’s some great research out of Pittsburgh University that shows that as people approach a visible curb or step, they’ll do one of two things. They’ll take one longer step, so their next step is ready to go. Onto the rise, the change in height, or they’ll take one shorter step when they adjust their gait. But these are all subconscious decisions. Nobody’s thinking about this. So, you need to give people those correct physical and visual cues so that their subconscious processes are working properly. One of the challenges around a root cause analysis ending at human error is that you can’t reliably say to somebody well, be more observant, be more aware of your environment and stop falling over and expect them to do any of those things. Because we don’t consciously think about this as we walk. It’s very much a subconscious process.

Interesting. And how about in an uncontrolled environment? So, what I mean by this is if I’m a field worker as an example, and I’m not working in a natural environment or an environment that I get to control because it’s either third party or I’m outdoors climbing poles, what are some of the strategies in those instances?

It’s a very interesting situation where you’ve got peripatetic workers, for example, who are either out and about outdoors or out on other people’s sites or even contract cleaners who might be on their own sites or other people’s sites but have to access floors that are, for example, slippery when wet and then, as part of their work process, wet them. So, you’ve removed the level of control of the flooring. It may not be your site or your organization. It may be an outdoor surface that can’t be controlled. You’ve removed the element of contamination because of the weather outdoors or it’s somebody else again, somebody else’s site and processes. So, the key control in that situation is footwear. And it’s one that I recommend quite often for contract cleaners and for outdoor workers. And it’s one that we’ve had great success with peripatetic workers. I’ve done a lot of work with utilities companies, both water companies and electricity companies, maintenance engineers and even sales forces. People who are still doing door to door sales and are traveling, getting in and out of vehicles, accessing residential properties or without any control other than what’s on their feet. And a well specified slip resistant shoe can protect in those environments.

And there’s a perception that a lot of slip resistant footwear is developed for indoors and therefore really, it’s an indoor shoe. Actually, the principle works. It’s a very crude analogy, but similar to a car tire, a good piece of slip resistant footwear works by displacing the water or the oil or the contamination beneath the shoe and still giving you some contact between the rubber material of the shoe sole and the flooring. And it will do that in an internal and an external environment. And some of them will even work on snow and ice within certain tolerances. Very good. In the UK, where our freezing temperatures tend to be around about zero to minus five. I did do some work in the onshore Canadian oil fields where they get. Down to about -20 and the rubber properties change quite significantly then. So that has its own challenges, different.

Challenge in those cases, I think all you’re stuck with is metal grip in that case, right?

Yeah. Well, we found a piece of rubber footwear that really did not perform as well as the very top rubber footwear, but whose properties did not change as significantly during the temperature transition and so was still quite appropriate for the environment. So, there’s always something. But you do need to find your specific challenge and find your evidence to make sure you’ve got that correct solution.

It makes me wonder why, if we’re getting in a workplace boot as an example, why you wouldn’t have every workplace boot with that grip resistance as well as the composite toe, why are you solving for composite toe without the grip?

It’s something that I often talk about now within Europe, anything that has that composite toe tends to have a well rated, slip resistant sole on it. The problem is that it can be well rated in the standard test, but it may not offer the protection you need. There was some research done in California that showed that using that standard test, if you chose all the footwear that got the highest rating in that test, you could flip a coin and that’s your chance of getting a boot that’s appropriate for your environment. It was about 50 50. So, of those that passed the test, half of them were good and did offer protection, and half of them weren’t. Because the standard isn’t set up to challenge footwear and to give you a very challenging test method, it’s set up by manufacturers to pass the footwear they already make. Because that’s where the vested interest is and where a lot of people on the committee come from. So that’s a significant challenge.

And so, there’s no way around it for an individual even to figure out which footwear is better than tossing a.

Coin using the standard test. No, there are some better tests out there. So, the regulator in the UK has its own footwear test method, which isn’t set up as a standard, it’s set up as a voluntary scheme for manufacturers. It’s called the HSE Grip Scheme. And the way that works is it uses a biomechanically valid test to test when a piece of footwear fails, rather than how much grip it generates during sliding. But the power of that test is that the past thresholds, as you will, or the rating thresholds, are based on risk, not based on sort of an arbitrary how many pieces of footwear can pass this. And the idea is that you can use a risk assessment, then you don’t always need the best possible shoe, you need one that provides a suitable level of slip resistance as part of whatever else you have in your risk assessment. And the idea is that the manufacturers who already make excellent footwear. Their footwear will pass the standard tests, as the others do, but they can also demonstrate this additional level of performance in this test, almost as a marketing exercise, and it’s very effective. 

And there are two large scale clinical trials showing that this works. One was performed in the US, by Jennifer Bell, and one was in the UK, Mark Little and Co from the Health and Safety Executive. And there were large scale trials using footwear that had achieved a five-star grip rating, so sort of the highest rating on the HSE voluntary scheme. And one was done with hospitality workers in kitchens. That was the US study, and they found that it made a significant reduction in the number of claims and the number of injuries. And in the UK, it looked at healthcare workers. So, working in environments where quite often floors are very smooth and shiny for hygiene reasons, they often get wet, sometimes unpredictably, and asking the question whether if the National Health Service in the UK were to provide footwear for staff in these sorts of high-risk environments, which they don’t currently so it would be a significant financial outlay that they don’t currently undertake. Would it reduce the risk, and would there be a cost benefit? And the answer to that trial was also yes, it would be a significant reduction in risk, and it would be a cost benefit to do that, even though the footwear costs more that they’re not currently spending it’s saving a significant amount in injury, lost time, and claims.

And that was a statistically significant clinical trial of four and a half thousand health care workers. And so we’ve got some very good evidence that that intervention works.

So, thank you very much, Rob, for sharing all these themes. I think the main takeaway is we’re not doing enough around slips, trips, and falls. We’re accepting that there’s a high number and it’s hard to change, as opposed to really getting down to what’s the root cause and what are some potential solutions to addressing them. So, thank you for sharing all these insights. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, Rob, how can they do that?

The best way is by email. My email address is [email protected]. And as you’ve probably gathered, I’m quite happy to talk about slips, trips and falls until the cows come home.

Excellent. Thank you so much, Rob.

Thanks, Eric.

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Rob Shaw is a falls prevention expert in his 20th year providing scientific expertise to the UK regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as well as commercial consultancy and training in the UK and overseas. Rob was the Technical Team Lead for the Falls Prevention Team at HSE. As a key member of HSE’s falls prevention forensic investigation team, he undertook and oversaw a wide range of incident investigations relating to pedestrian slip assessment and stair fall assessment in many different industries and public spaces. Rob is a trained expert witness with court experience.

Rob has served as the key investigator and project leader on a diverse portfolio of major HSE research projects into various aspects of falls prevention and has helped a wide range of commercial clients successfully reduce fall risk. He is the lead for workplace falls prevention for the International Ergonomics Association Slips, Trips, and Falls Technical Committee, and has almost two decades’ experience in developing and delivering bespoke training, which has resulted in invitations to speak internationally on falls prevention.

In 2018, Rob established Rob Shaw (TFG) Associates Ltd.

Though slips, trips, and falls are commonly seen as unavoidable in many industries it is Rob’s experience that, with the correct scientific evidence, simple interventions can have a significant impact on risk, improve safety for the workforce and members of the public, improve defensibility, and reduce business costs significantly. 

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

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

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

As part of Propulo Consulting’s subscription-based executive membership, our coaching partnership is tailored for top business executives that are motivated to improve safety leadership and commitment.
Unlock your full potential with the only Executive Safety Coaching for Ops & HSE leaders available on the market.
Explore your journey with Executive Safety Coaching at https://www.execsafetycoach.com.
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