The Sacred Language of Safety

Many religions have a sacred language for their texts. Is safety the same?

Latin is used in the Catholic Church, Arabic in Islam, and Biblical Hebrew in Judaism (among many examples). In EHS we use acronyms (TLV, TCLP, EMR, JHA) and a host of other technical words to communicate within the profession.

In the EHS profession, we also seem to have two types of written texts. One: the complex 600-page textbook (sits on the shelf after the class) or two: the corny and simplistic 30-page guide to making safety fun.

Really? And we wonder why our audience of senior managers, supervisors, and workers seems disconnected from our message?

How do you connect? What words do you use? How do we do better?

My Personal Schedule

In nearly every forum with safety professionals, there is a question about my personal schedule. Some have heard about weird wake-up hours, etc. So here it is.

I built this regimen based on the wisdom of mentors and leaders. I maintain it because it works. Suggested reading on how habits/systems can change your life (and how the little things add up):

The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

0300 Wake up/coffee

0315-0450 Read

0500-0530 Workout

0530-0545 Write

0545-0630 Plan day

0630-0715 Breakfast (same every day)/get dressed

0715-1200 Commute (bike) and work

1200-1300 Home for lunch

1300-1700 Work

1710-1930 Dinner, Family time, walk

1930-2030 Read with family

2030 Bedtime

Aside from work, the times remain the same, every day. While travel rearranges timing (somewhat), the consistency allows me to reengage quickly/batch priorities.

What about you? What habits/schedules work for you?

Show me yours and I’ll show you mine

On a monthly mentoring team call that I host, a mentee relayed her priorities. And the “why” behind them. All truly admirable. But she was failing!

Her priorities:

-Complete final three bachelor’s courses

-Complete ASP

-Spend quality family time

-Maintain health/score an “Excellent” on annual military fitness test

And in 12 months, she’d made ZERO progress!

So I asked her where she was spending time.

Her calendar:

-630 Wakeup, take kids to daycare

-730-1100 Work (safety investigations/inspections)

-1100-1200 Lunch with colleagues (fast food to go)

-1200-5pm Work (training/inspections)

-5pm Pick up kids/cook dinner

-6pm Family time (watch 2/3 hrs of TV/internet) to “decompress”

-930pm Bedtime

Do you see disconnects?

Show me your calendar and I’ll show you your real priorities. This is a version of the unattributed saying “Show me a person’s checkbook and I can tell you what he cares about.”

What do you want? And what does your calendar say?


Pay First

You’re not buying a car…you will have to pay first.


You’ve seen the dealership signs. “Drive away today” and “Drive for 6 months free”. Life and success aren’t like that.

When you’re building a strong culture of safety, leadership, discipline, centered on organizational core values…it’s not like buying a car. You have to pay first. Pay up front and in full. You have to work, sweat, give, serve, sacrifice…then a small amount of change will happen. Then you double down on those efforts. And then you do it again.

Success never comes before you pay.

In your search for balance…don’t lose this.

You feel it. Too busy, no balance, unending change…it’s crazy!

Everything pulls at you…your phone, your email, your spouse/significant other, your career, your “you” time (clearly forgotten by now), your passion project-where is the right balance?

But don’t lose this. These people didn’t…and choose significance over success.

-Rosa Parks when she said “No.”
-George Washington when he became a traitor to Britain.
-Charles Darwin when he said “I think it might have happened this way.”
-Theodore Roosevelt when he led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.
-And Michelangelo when he painted the Sistine Chapel (did you know he actually stood on wooden scaffolding, and wasn’t lying down?)

They remembered their purpose. And became significant.

Don’t lose it!

Thank them

There are times in our lives we’d like to forget.

Those times include people, career paths, tough days at work dealing with tragedy, decisions we’ve made…I know I have a few (and more).
But we should thank them.
Because you are who and what you are because of them. Your passion, desire, depth of feeling, inspiration, drive, and will…are a result of these decisions, these people, these times. These qualities weren’t built from a college course or a Facebook meme. They were well-earned and hard won.
So thank them. Sincerely and reverently. They, in part, built you.

And you are amazing.

More questions than answers

I learn more from the books I read that leave me with more questions than answers. We search out information and read in many respects to search for solutions, but it’s the questions that we need to ask that are more important.

In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”-Bertrand Russell

Leave a comment below. What books in the disciplines of EHS, business, philosophy, or other area have impacted the way you work the most? Which have left you with more questions? Which do you refer back to or recommend to friends and colleagues?

I’ll choose the most popular titles and post a personal book review in the next couple of months.

For those interested in learning more from reading, here’s one way.


I was sitting recently in a beautiful park. To my right was a closed path, with a cone blocking the entrance. To my left, people would walk by, notice the cone, and decide on an alternate path through the park. Some would notice from 50 yards away and some from 2 feet.

Then I saw why.

When people were by themselves, they’d notice the cone more quickly…at around 30-50 yards.

When in pairs (or more), they’d walk almost up to the cone…seemingly unaware.

It’s almost as if people in groups were more sure of their path (even when a cone was in front of them), while the people by themselves were more aware?

Then it hit me. Those in pairs were disengaged. And those by themselves were, for the most part, watching ahead.

How about you? Your team? A Gallup study found 7 of 10 employees are disengaged at work. Here are some tips from Susan David (founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching) for more engagement.

Say yes so you can say no later

Four people this week spoke with me about this. They couldn’t say “no”.

They’d each made decisions in the past that had backed them into a corner. And their options were down to one poor, distasteful choice. They had to say “yes”. They would go on to accept jobs they didn’t want. In places they didn’t want to live. For less money than they needed.

*Say yes to training, experience, education, and certification…so you can say no to the first thing that comes along. And yes to one you’re passionate about.
*Say yes to saving a significant portion of your income today…so you can say no to working in a job you don’t like for more years than you should.
*Say yes to taking care of yourself and your family…so you can say no to harmful habits later (e.g. working too much, overspending, overeating, under-exercising).

So say yes now…and no later.

Beyond reason

You dreamt. You knew it was possible. Or that possible didn’t matter. You were going to do it.

Then you got smart. You “grew up”. You found out it wasn’t possible and that your dream…your one thing…wasn’t reasonable. It wasn’t responsible to follow that calling.
So you gave up and went with the reasonable path.
I’ve known people (and I’ll bet you have too)…less skilled, less “in-the-know”, less rationale…who never found out their thing wasn’t reasonable. So they did it. And found success beyond measure.
So forget. Forget that it’s not possible. Forget reason. Because those words lie over your dreams like excuses.
Those words lie.
And your dreams…lie just beyond reason.