Your fly is down

Walking through the ASSE convention floor yesterday, I stopped by a vendor’s booth. We hadn’t met before and as I introduced myself, I noticed the zipper on his pants was down. As there were others around, I waited for a break in conversation to lean in and say, “Your fly is down.”

Embarrassing maybe, but not dangerous to health.

In safety we live in a world where difficult conversations must exist. How many times have we completed incident investigations with the thought, “If only they’d have spoken up” or “If only someone had said something”?

Are we building systems where people engage on challenging issues?

This is an essential question for organization success, not only for safety, but for necessary changes in operations, marketing, business development…and virtually every other facet of the company.

-Would your team tell you your fly is down and would you encourage/reward those who do?

-Would you tell your boss?

So the vendor pulled up his zipper and shook my hand.

Now where is the booth with the hand sanitizer?



Learning to plant trees

“Did Brad ever tell you about all of the trees we planted?”

So began a story about Brad Giles and a season of planting saplings in the wilds of Idaho. And by the end of the story, I’d again be reminded about the impact one person can make in the world.

I met Brad Giles several years ago at a safety conference. At work, I’d just been selected for promotion to Chief Master Sergeant and days later hired to manage the U.S. Air Force’s safety career field. As Chief is the final military promotion, I was feeling the beginning of a career plateau.

Yet as Brad and I spoke over dinner, he shared with me a vision. A vision to share the vast potential of a career in EHS with military veterans. Veterans who protected our nation would serve again to protect our workforce. Brad ignited a fire in me that evening.

Last night, another Airman emailed me to let me know he’d passed the CSP exam and to thank me for my leadership and example. But it wasn’t my example he was seeing.

It was Brad Giles.

Because while Brad may be an ASSE fellow, former BCSP board president, ASSE director…and much more…what makes him so very special is this fundamental quality.

Brad plants trees.

From all of the trees…thank you, Brad. And happy birthday again.

Coming in level

Coming in level for an aircraft landing is optimal, depending on the design of the craft, to avoid damage to low engines and excessive stress on landing gear.

In new jobs, whether by promotions or by moving organizations, we like to think we can “come in level” too.

But jobs aren’t engineered runways.

Your predecessor made choices. Decisions to accept risk. Some situations were ignored and others were acknowledged but reprioritized. Ideas were developed and either implemented or shelved until the right time. Teams were built, modified, grown, reduced, and in some parts held together by tape and glue stick (find these first).

Have a new job or one on the way? My highest recommendation goes to “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins. It’s one of the most read books on my shelf and receives the highest reviews in my mentoring groups.

Come in level…but prepare for the runway.


Compounding Errors

Amos Tversky was a cognitive psychologist and a colleague of Daniel Kahneman. Both would change the way we view human behavior today, notably the prospect theory which says people make choices based on potential gains and losses, using mental shortcuts called heuristics, instead of by looking at the final outcome of the choice.

In his personal life, Amos refused to let errors compound. In “The Undoing Project”, Michael Lewis gives a couple examples. If he went to a party where he found people uninteresting, he’d leave without a word. His children remember him taking their mother to a movie and he’d return 20 minutes later. He’d decided that the movie wasn’t worth the time and then return later to the theater to pick up his wife. He said, “They’ve already taken my money, should I give them my time too?”

Whether or not you’d leave your significant other at a movie isn’t the point.

But the story does provide insight into the choice we have; the choice to not continue to error.

The choice you have, once the ticket is bought, not to attend.

To not finish the book.

To say you are sorry.

To change your mind.

What if we stopped saying “Be safe”?

Try this today.

Ask those you meet, “How are you?” Count how many either smile and say nothing or respond with “Good.”

Did any of the first 10 people even think about your question?

On a website for international college students, the writer warns, “One should not misinterpret [How are you] as an initiation of profound conversation.”

It’s the same with “Be safe” and puts a culture of real safety at risk. When the phrase (or an entire safety program) becomes habitual, it takes on the superficiality and insincerity of “How are you?”

  • What if we made time to connect with a real inquiry into issues the team is facing?
  • What if we took 30 seconds to really find out how an individual member was doing?
  • What if we made it OK to have a “profound conversation” about safety?

Now if I could just stop saying “You too” when the person at the airline ticket counter tells me to have a good trip.



Off the Fence

“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off.” – Jim Rohn

Many Airmen in my military career field are highly skilled and well trained in safety. Frequently, I’m asked for advice from these young military service-members about staying in or getting out of the Air Force.

Sometimes there is no “best” answer.

At one point, years ago, I too faced this crossroad. The best advice I received during this time?

“When you choose, pursue your chosen option with everything you have.”

This mentor went on to tell me if I chose to remain in the Air Force, the worst thing I could do stay and regret it or go through the motions until retirement. And if I chose a civilian career path, l should set big goals. In either case, “be the best there is.”

Sitting on the fence is painful. It holds you back from committing and provides a path for excuses to hold back opportunities. Too many options leads to a lack of focus on what is important.

Are you delaying a choice?


Money cannot buy safety

“You are not rich until you have something that money cannot buy.” – Garth Brooks

  • Respect
  • Manners
  • A happy home
  • Six-pack abs
  • Safe team members and workers

These things cannot be purchased, they must be earned.

What can money buy?

  • Lockers filled with PPE that no one uses
  • A beautiful safety program that sits on the shelf
  • Fall arrest systems that no one understands or uses correctly
  • Entertaining training that is never implemented
  • The dangerous feeling that “we’re doing something” but never reducing the risk

Not all of the best things in life are free…but money never replaces doing the hard work.

So I’m Working On An Anti-Gravity Machine

“Human error causes 94% of traffic accidents.” – 2015 NHTSA report

In multiple studies and published reports from federal agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, these human error statistics are repeated to emphasize the human element of accidents.

Yes, humans are easily distracted, forgetful, habitual, fatigued quickly…and yes, these qualities result in 90% of all “accidents”.

The famous chemical process safety engineer, Dr. Trevor Kletz, said it best.

“For a long time, people were saying that most accidents were due to human error and this is true in a sense, but it’s not very helpful. It’s a bit like saying that falls are due to gravity.”

The cause of the incident or mishap was not human error, but the lack of preparation for human interaction with the system.

Gravity pulls and objects fall to the earth. But it’s not the cause.


Stop Paying Your Bills

Personal Finance and Safety

In a wonderful book on EHS called The Richest Man in Babylon, George Classon tells a story of an aspiring EHS professional who can’t break out of the incident investigation cycle. Injury, investigation, another injury, another investigation…and so on.

If you’ve read the book (and it’s one I highly suggest), you know that Classon really writes about personal and business finances and not safety.

But the principles? Exactly the same.

In the classic book, Classon writes about a poor man and his journey to wealth. He meets a rich businessman who advises him throughout the book.

The first lesson? “Pay Ourselves First.” Take 10% of your salary and save it. Before bills and before any spending. In safety, if we spend all of our resources investigating injuries (paying bills), we won’t have enough left over to work on prevention (saving and investing).

Another lesson is on risk management. “Insurance Protects Wealth.” Risk transfer and reduction are key to both finance and sound safety and risk management programs.

The last two applicable lessons are “Invest in Ourselves” and “Track Your Wealth.” Consistent personal and professional development are THE difference between the average and extraordinary EHS professional. And finally, in EHS we track our bills (injury log), but how could we better track our wealth (prevention successes)?

Are you just paying your bills? Or are you investing for the future?


Chained to the Porch

Hounds bark. All the time. Whether it’s a bloodhound searching for lost hikers or a coon hound on the trail of their favorite prey, hounds howl, bay, yip, and basically carry on.

And they don’t quit. So when the hunt is over, they are chained to the porch.

Why? Because they don’t retrieve, herd sheep or cattle, look cute on your lap, come when their name is called, or sit on command.

Most of us know people in the profession like this. They know how to bark. They’ll tell you what’s wrong. And tell her what’s wrong. They tell the manager. They point out errors to everyone. And say “no” to anyone that asks.

And then they too are “chained to the porch.”

Why? Because they don’t manage, provide solutions, lead teams, grow professionally, nor can they be trusted with wise council in meetings with senior leaders.