Safety Signs

There is a whiteboard in the gym where I work out. It’s often filled with the workout of the day and hash marks from someone’s workout.

Once a month, all of this is erased and someone writes, “Put all fitness equipment back properly; all barbells, plates, and kettlebells!!”

It’s the dual exclamation marks that mean the most to me.

I’ll bet everyone who reads that note will put everything away, thankful for the reminder and words of encouragement. It’s their duty as faithful gym-goers, right?

Or not.

Ever read the safety signs in your facilities? They read like the fitness note. Cautions, warnings, some professionally printed, others written in permanent marker, all equally inspiring and friendly.

Just like the core values your company espouses, but never talks about, safety programs which exist only in poster form are valueless. Safety is not Fight Club, it must be talked about (and acted upon).

Need a poster? Try using a picture of one of your employees, nicely asking others to attend to housekeeping, or to please watch out for forklifts. Want more impact? Have the worker’s daughter or son hold their hand in the picture. And talk about safety (and core values).

“Don’t bother to write an accident report…”

When a manager at the chemical plant had an incident occur on the shift, Trevor Kletz remarked afterwards that he wanted to tell him, “Don’t bother to write an accident report, I’ll send you one from my files!”

Why? Because organizations do not learn.

People learn (and forget).

As a believer in the principle of engineering out the hazard, Kletz bought a single-story house with a level driveway to avoid the inherent danger of stairs and associated fall hazard. He knew, from his work in process safety, that no matter how vigilant people are with their environments, if the danger exists the negative consequences eventually occur. No stairs, in a house he would live until age 90, equated to less negative risk.

Are you writing safety investigation reports that you’ve written before? Are you writing the report in your head as you respond to the incident? Are you using copy/paste to complete the investigation?

If you nodded your head, you’ve found the wall that many EHS pros beat their heads on.

What are your options? Here are a few tips from the author of “The Obstacle is the Way” (Ryan Holiday).

-What’s Right is What Works– Stop expecting perfection. What hazard control can you control and implement at your level? Not perfect? It’s OK.

-Follow the Process– Got a big problem? Break it down into tiny, bite-size pieces. Then do the first thing.

-Practice Persistence– Hard things are hard. It’s OK (again). But it’s not OK to quit.

-Approach with an eye for opportunity– Maybe now’s not the time. But will you be ready when it is? A new CEO, manager, budget, fiscal year, line of business…any of these changes could open up an opportunity for iteration (and your idea).

Check out Ryan’s book for many other ideas on overcoming obstacles in life.

Five Certain Ways To Fail At EHS

You’ve read the top ways to succeed as a safety professional. (Here are a few posts on it)

Success In Safety

How Successful Safety Inspectors Avoid Inspection Pitfalls

3 Ways to Feel Successful in EHS on a Bad Day

But what are the ways to fail? Here are five ways to nearly guarantee a flop in safety.

  1. Become frustrated: Internalize the fact that others don’t do what they’re supposed to do. Everyone from your management, the workers, and even the customers…it’s ridiculous right? Don’t they have common sense?
  2. You’ve learned enough: You took that OSHA course 10 years ago. What else could they really teach you? Don’t they know what your title is?
  3. Be sedentary: Your job is a desk job. Getting out of the office requires walking, driving, wearing a safety vest, and talking with people. It’s much more efficient to email them or call (if you have to). Research the most comfortable office chair (ergonomic of course) and take a load off.
  4. Control the information: Sharing information makes you less valuable. When others know what you know, why should the company keep paying you? So hoard your best information at your desk and lock the drawer.
  5. Extrospective: The opposite of introspective (inward looking). Why look at what you can change about your communication style when there is a safety poster, reminder, sign and training around every corner? If their behavior would just change…they’d be safe…right?


If life is anything, it’s a series of moments. In the words of Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Personal finance gurus will tell you the first step towards getting a handle on your money is to track your spending. Professional coaches will tell you to track your time in 10-15 minute increments. Each method forces the individual to focus on the deliberate choice and use of their resources (money and time). There’s even an iOS app, called “Moment”, for tracking how you spend time on your smart phone.

Is tracking a few days of activities worth it?

Only if your moments matter.


Is Zero Really The Goal?

For many organizations, the goal is less injuries, no fatalities, and no unnecessary loss in property.

Is that really it?

Having a mission of zero in safety is like a couple carrying large consumer debt. This couple has several credit cards with $10,000+ balances, two auto loans, and a small student loan. Their mission is zero. So, they work, pay down debt, work overtime, and finally see $0.00 debt.

Finally. They’ve won, right?


Zero was never the goal. People, with a desire to build healthy relationships, change their corner of the world, build value in both their communities and industries, and chase their dreams aren’t after “zero”.

Zero is just the beginning.

If your company rarely sees a recordable incident, chasing compliance and the latest in SDS labeling won’t prevent the next injury. (It will however keep you busy and absolutely distract from the harder questions)

What’s after zero (or your current plateaued recordable rate)?

Process redesign (if you double the number of products and services produced or even double the workers, while maintaining the same recordable numbers, you have cut your rate in half.)

Other ideas: increased quality (in areas your customers value), new markets, building a flexible and agile workforce, healthy stakeholder relationships…and so on.

Is zero really your goal or, like the couple with zero debt in the example above, is it just the beginning?


Safety must be Quick and Easy

What if there was one thing you could do in your life to attain the following benefits. Would you do it?

-46% lower risk of developing heart disease

-52% lower risk of dying from heart disease

-43% lower risk of developing cancer

-40% lower risk of dying from cancer

In a study published by the British Medical Journal, researchers followed large groups of people for five years and, after adjusting for sex, age, ethnicity, smoking, body mass index, and diet (among others), found these risk reductions had one thing in common.

The people with the lowest risks of heart disease and cancer…biked to work.

When surveys were taken of cyclists in various countries, from the British with a 3% bike commute percentage to the Dutch with 43% of commuters cycling, heart health and cancer avoidance were not motivators. Neither was cost nor lowering their carbon footprint.

The most common reason people bike to work?

It’s quick and easy. Planners took cyclists into consideration when building bridges, underpasses, and other infrastructure. The bike paths were accessible. The paths connected commercial and residential zones.

People die every day in the U.S. of heart disease and cancer. The 2017 numbers are around 600,000 deaths. For each disease. But with a bike commute rate of 1% in the U.S., are warnings of disease enough?

What about safety? Do we also depend on warnings of heart disease and cancer (in EHS we call these injury, job loss, and reduced social status) to inspire change?

Or could we, like the Dutch, make safety quick and easy, planning our infrastructure around it? Could our safety posters of amputated fingers really be a waste of time?


But what can you do?

Sometimes we fall into the trap of all or nothing.


-We either have time for that big project at work or neglect it entirely.

-We either go to the gym or skip exercise altogether.

-We make time for college classes and certifications or close our minds to new ideas.

-We give a 17-page report of hazards to a site manager, insisting all corrections are made within the week, inferring that if everything isn’t resolved they simply do not care about the workers, their families, nor about humanity in general and exist only to serve a tyrannical profit-making machine.

In these moments of insanity, where the world appears only black and white, ask yourself, “If I am currently unable to do this, what can I do instead?”

-If you can’t go to the gym, could you do 40 pushups on the floor instead?

-If you don’t have time for the big project, could you take 10 minutes to plan an outline of necessary milestones?

-If you can’t take a college course, could you listen to a 20 minute TED Talk on human behavior?

In those (daily) times where I see the world in black and white, I recall the story of the girl and the starfish. It goes like this;

Once there was a man walking along a beach, strewn with washed-up starfish. Further on, a girl was picking up the starfish and tossing them back into the water. As he passed, he chided her, saying, “What difference are you making…there are too many starfish here!” She looked back, hurling another into the waves, and replied, “It makes a difference to this one.”

What can you do?

What I Learned From Executive Outplacement

With my military obligation coming to an end in the next year, I’m now attending an executive outplacement course. Here are the top three things I’ve learned.

  1. Why I (really) Love Safety:

The ability we have in EHS to reduce needless injuries and loss of life gets me up in the morning. But do you know what I really love? Improving organizations and processes, while building highly skilled teams who have a passion for the work. Why? Because people who love what they do, and are good at it, are inherently safe. For me, EHS will never be about the most stylish fashions in PPE nor the latest in off-the-shelf HAZCOM programs. It’s simply too important.

  1. The Resume Doesn’t Matter:

Half of the course is dedicated to resume writing. Then the course instructor tells you the resume is only good if it gets you the interview, and after that it’s not needed at all. (Maybe a resume is like a fall arrest system?)

  1. Safety Professionals Are Set Up For Success:

In the course we work on our stories. We learn to speak to colleagues, future employers, and during interviews in the form of stories which describe accomplishments and share a message, using acronyms such as SHARE (Situation, Hindrance, Actions, Results, Evaluate) and STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result). The best safety professionals I know taught me this…their ability to influence, motivate, and inspire is grounded in the expertly-told story. Why? Because stories affect our emotions, hold our hearts, and have the ability to connect to our decision-making processes. No one buys a BMW or TOMS shoes based on data, trend analysis, or histogram. They buy the story.

Ever attended an outplacement course? What was your biggest takeaway?

The Radio Station You Must Listen To (no subscription required)

Finding origins in the title of a country song, WIIFM is the channel we all listen to. While not a radio station you’ll find in your car, the acronym stands for “What’s in it for me?” and it plays continually in our heads.

As a leader in EHS, you must solve this question before any substantial progress.

Want a program implemented?

Want a worker to wear PPE?

Want financial support from a senior manager?

Want training, resources, attention, priority, or anything else in your work?

Show others what’s in it for them. Create and share a vision. Answer their WIIFM.

In your own life, remember to balance this perspective. Too much internal WIIFM will lead to missed opportunities, under preparation, and an overly selfish outlook on life in general. Too little and you’ll burn out from mental and physical exhaustion.

What if you kept a diary?

What if, every day for the past 10 years, you’d written a daily summary of your life? Every morning or evening, without fail, you had picked up a pen and put your thoughts into words.

Imagine what this journal would be like.

Now visualize picking up this leather-bound book, finding the dog-eared page from yesterday and finding a place for today’s thoughts.

You know what you’d find?

A blank page.

Of course it’s blank, right?

Yet in our lives, we rarely think of the day as blank, as a place from which to begin again. A day that is not yet written and absolutely ours to make (or make over).

So it goes with our professional lives, our personal lives, our relationships, our goals…everything.

The page is blank. What will you do with it?