A career spent avoiding death

It’s our mission, our calling, the way we’ve chosen to spend a large portion of our lives.

To prevent unintended injury, death and loss. Or, to increase the capacity of our organizations to produce net value.

Either way it’s worded, we avoid death.

Instead, we spend time in hazard controls, performance models, systems safety charts, interviews and worker feedback sessions, task analyses, and in the provision of training.

Maybe, in this aversion to adverse consequences, we lose the ability to connect with a workforce that just wants to get the job done. We replace empathy with policy and feeling for checklists. And we wonder why they only follow the rules when someone is watching?

So this week I spent some time with death. I read “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, and found new perspective on life’s preciousness and the importance of meaning.

Paul is dying of lung cancer and writes with the outlook of one holding death in one hand and a short life in the other. The way Paul’s words connect the two worlds lends perspective to what we do in EHS. For we do not seek to create perfect policy nor infallible checklists. We do not act to merely train nor pacify the gods of luck and chance. And we do not work in the profession to prevent death.

We serve to bring. To bring one more chance, one more day, or one more decade of meaning to those we serve. We serve, not to avoid death, but to make precious the lives we each have today.

If you’ve been in the EHS profession a day, or a lifetime, you owe it to yourself to read “When Breath Becomes Air”.

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