Safety is Long-Term Selfish


I think working with your values is long-term selfish, although short-term it absolutely involves sacrifices. If being ethical were profitable, everybody would do it. We wouldn’t have to have a separate consent. We wouldn’t need to talk about it. There would be no books on it. No one would ever talk about values because they’d be profitable. It’s not. It’s obviously unprofitable. It involves sacrifices. Like everything in life, if you are willing to make the short-term sacrifice, you’ll have the long-term benefit.

My physical trainer, Jerzy Gergorek, really wise, brilliant guy. He always says, ‘Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.’ Basically if you are making the hard choices right now in what to eat, you’re not eating all the junk food you want and making the hard choice to workout, then your life long-term will be easy. You won’t be sick. You won’t be unhealthy. The same is true of values. The same is true of saving up for a rainy day. The same is true of how your approach your relationships. If you make the easy choices right now, your overall life will be a lot harder.

– Naval Ravikant on The Knowledge Project podcast

Safe…for what?

We seek to prevent unintended injury and illness. Some have gone deeper with this purpose, such as Todd Conklin, who offers; “Safety is not the absence of accidents. Safety is the presence of defenses…stop seeing safety as an outcome and start seeing safety as a capacity.” (ASSE’s Safety 2017)

In seeking to clarify my own definition of safety, I wrestle with what it is we do.

In safety, we seek to separate cause from effect. If an error is made, our deepest desire is that no negative outcomes occur. The hazard is engineered out, substituted, or separated from the worker.

But feedback is essential to growth and what are effects but feedback from a cause or action?

If there are no consequences and no feedback, how does the individual or organization learn?

If failure is impossible (think of bailouts and banks too big to fail), does not risk-taking increase?

If a worker could be hired, show up disengaged every day, just barely meet the minimum standard and not be fired, would that improve the organizations culture?

No, you might say…safety is concerned only with physical harm such as preventing the amputation, the vehicle rollover, or the lung disease.

But are we concerned only with physical health? With more and more EHS roles taking on wellness, security (active-shooter), sustainability, and sometimes anti-bullying and suicide awareness campaigns, the line of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual is no longer separated by duty description.

What relationship does cause and effect have in organizational and individual learning? (After all, some EHS practitioners even joke about “defeating Darwin”) When we separate actions from outcomes, do we reduce this learning? Are there allowable outcomes (you weren’t prepared for the meeting and your boss chided you) and unacceptable outcomes (broken leg)?

What part does (and should) EHS play in cause and effect?

The One Habit

I now sleep better, drink less, get twice as much done at work, and read more.

It’s because of one thing I do every day, without fail, for 30 minutes.

The habit began in Afghanistan. Deployed for 6 months, I began working out much more regularly. When I returned to the States, I increased the number of times per week until it became a daily practice. At 5:00 am, every day of the year, I now exercise for at least 30 minutes. The exercise varies and on days I travel the time shifts, but it gets done.

Of all the habits I’ve formed, it’s easily the most important.

Working out early forces an earlier bedtime.

I sleep better because I go to bed earlier (8:00 pm for a 2:50 am wakeup).

I drink very little because I’m in bed during prime drinking hours.

I get more of the important things done at work because I’m more rested and ready for the day.

I read more because I’ve found exercising exhilarating if I have something to think about and I get the best ideas from the books I read for two hours prior to 5:00 am.

The annual military fitness tests that plague most over the age of 35? Now they are as simple as showing up.

The best part of this morning exercise habit?

If I can hop out of bed at 2:50 am to read and workout every single day, what can the world bring that cannot be overcome and won? It’s a small win that, once accomplished, makes me feel like anything is possible.

What could a daily practice of exercise do for you?

A Question Before Bedtime

“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” – Thomas Edison

Our minds constantly solve problems. Some are easy-“How do I open this door?” and others more difficult-“How do I create the change in this organization so that it values safe work over work at any cost?”

Thomas Edison solved problems at night. He’d pose a question to himself prior to bedtime and allow his subconscious mind to sort out a solution overnight. Along with the incandescent lightbulb and the microphone, Edison would invent the phonograph and build the first three-wire electrical power plant.

Josh Waitzkin, chess prodigy and the real person behind the movie “Searching for Bobbie Fischer,” also asks himself a question before bed. Then, first thing in the morning, Waitzkin writes about what he’s learned. In an interview with Tim Ferriss, he credits this technique with how he also became the tai chi world champion.

What question will you ask tonight?

If-Then: The Secret Behind Good Plans and Change that Matters

“Anticipate obstacles and prepare for them with ‘if-then’ strategies.”

– Susan David, author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life

It will get hard.
It will go off track.
There will be obstacles in your way.
There are people who will disagree with you.
The things that will stand in your way will make you want to quit.

In Emotional Agility, Dr. Susan David offers the “if-then” strategy for overcoming obstacles in the face of change. The “if-then” idea is one where you pre-commit; if this happens then I’ll do this. The more specific the commitment, the better.

For example, if you are making an improvement in a large organization, there will be criticism. If (and when) you receive harsh feedback, knowing up front how you’ll handle and filter it will likely be key to later being able to listen for ways to improve versus ignoring all comments. If criticism, then filter.

Another example: If you work out, you must build a pre-commitment to working through and around an injury.


How could you use this idea in your own life?

Is EHS liberal or conservative?

When a liberal perspective makes the rules, business is controlled through regulation and taxes.

When a conservative mindset is in power, business is often less regulated and taxes go down.

Liberal government? OSHA emphasizes enforcement.

Conservative government? OSHA focuses on partnerships.

Leaving our own political viewpoints aside for a moment, which is best for EHS?

Is there a “best” or does a mixture of approaches offer the intended result of reduced unintentional losses?

What have you seen in your career to support a viewpoint either way in regard to EHS?

(NOTE: The above contains general descriptors about both liberal and conservative viewpoints and as such, neither are complete or always true.) 

How Do You Keep People Safe Who Don’t Want To Be?

This thought usually passes through many EHS professional’s minds on the bad days. When nothing seems to be going right and there’s been an injury or close call.

I was asked this question this week by a safety professional I greatly respect. Here are two ways to think about the answer:

  1. Everyone wants to be safe. Seriously, no one in your organization wants to go home hurt. The issue arises when they don’t want to do their job your way. Their perspective: “Management (you and those other people sitting the ivory tower) makes the rules for a job they know nothing about…the job cannot be done that way and everyone knows it!” Todd Conklin, in “Pre-Accident Investigations: An Introduction to Organizational Safety,” gives us an in-depth perspective on work as imagined versus work as done (Figure 4.4). This short but substantive book is a must read for the EHS professional looking to make sense of error and cause.
  2. Remember seatbelt and child safety seats. The introduction of seatbelts came in the 1960s and it took generations for the habit to become a cultural norm. Were the drivers and passengers in the 1950s and 60s incompetent or negligent when they failed to understand the risk? Did they not want to be safe? How about the parents who raised children in the 1970s and 80s? Car seats were not something parents even thought about and it would take another decade at least for them to become the norm. Taking the long view on many of these societal EHS challenges helps (me at least) to gain perspective. I think we’re seeing the same thing happening today with opiate prescriptions.

How do you answer this question for others? How do you answer this question for yourself?

Warren Buffett’s Advice to Safety and Health Professionals

Ten quotes from Warren Buffett for safety and health professionals. Which one is your favorite?

  1. “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
  2. “Forecasts may tell you a great deal about the forecaster; they tell you nothing about the future.”
  3. “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”
  4. “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”
  5. “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.”
  6. “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
  7. “Rule No. 1 : Never lose money. Rule No. 2 : Never forget Rule No. 1.”
  8. “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
  9. “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”
  10. “If you’re in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.”

Why Electrical Plugs Have Holes

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway

Have you ever looked at an electrical plug (in the U.S.) and noticed the two holes in the blades?

Ever wondered why the holes are there?

I have. My framework through which I see the world demands reason, logic, and often unattainable perfection.

The site “How Stuff Works” says the holes are there because on inside of an electrical outlet there are detents. Those detents grab the plug and keep it firmly in place. If the holes weren’t there and the prongs were “perfect”, the plug would be loose and fall out of the socket.

Just like electrical prongs, people aren’t perfect. People have holes too – their own collections of experiences, failures, and personality quirks. These qualities may look and feel like weaknesses, but their function is to help us grab on when life gets tough. Our holes become our strengths. The person without holes simply quits and gives up.

The next time you plug something in, remember why the holes are there.

Remember why, like Hemingway writes, we are stronger in the broken places.

Getting Ready for the Job of a Lifetime


When I was 24 and stationed in Germany, the Secretary of the Air Force came to visit. The base commander selected three Airmen to have breakfast with the Secretary: a captain, a master sergeant, and a senior airman (me).

My Chief then asked what I was going to talk about at the breakfast. The blank stare I gave him must have been a clue that I had no idea.

The recommendation he gave me next would change the way I approached every job thereafter.

“Brainstorm what you would do if you held that job, even for a day. Write down your ideas and don’t stop for several pages. Once you have a few pages of ideas, cross off the ones that’ll get you arrested. Then pick the five ideas that would make the biggest difference. Ask him about those five and see why he isn’t pursuing these difference makers.”

So I did. And it was a great breakfast. Through that list and those top five, I had the chance to see inside the mind of a successful senior leader and, at the same time, expand my perspective.

I’ve used this technique ever since, not for breakfast, but to prepare for new opportunities.

Want to prepare for a promotion (even before you are selected)? Try this technique.

Hired for a new role in the company? Use this brainstorming idea to help prepare you to make the biggest difference possible.

Want an entirely new career or the job of a lifetime? Find your top five and then interview people in those dream roles and occupations.

Our chances in life to make a difference come quickly.

Will you be ready?