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.

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.



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.


Be Honest, It’s Not Important

I’d prepared the best way forward. After the incident where the worker’s hand was caught in the machine, I’d investigated and found the perfect machine guard. So I wrote up a business case for the guard and presented it to the boss.

He said we didn’t have the money left in the budget.

I knew what he meant to say…he really meant, “It’s not important.”

Yet as safety professionals we do this too. And by “we” I really mean me.

Every time we say, “I ran out of time” or “I was too busy” or “Something came up and I couldn’t get to it”, we should stop.

Because what we’re saying is, “It’s not important”.

And that’s OK sometimes. Just like not everything can be a priority, not everything is truly important.

So be honest with yourself. How does it feel when you say it? Does it conflict with your values or does it feel alright? If it conflicts, then make it important and deprioritize something else. If you’re OK with it not being important, let it go. Delegate it or simply delete it.

Machine guards? Important. But that treadmill in the corner collecting clothes? Maybe it’s time to be honest.


Are We Predicting Rain?

“Predicting rain doesn’t count. Building arks does.” – Warren Buffett

Late last night, I landed in Florida in the middle of a storm. Upon touchdown, cellphones throughout the plane rang and buzzed with flood watch emergency warnings.

They’d called it accurately. Lots of rain and flooding.

Good job, right?

We do this in EHS as well. We’ve begun to sound like sirens. We call out for more investigation, more data, more tracking, and more analysis, all with the promise of injury and incident prediction.

But like a rain storm, if you’re not building arks, it doesn’t count.

You see, predicting rain is the easy part. So is pushing the button to send out a federal emergency warning.

Are we ready to do the hard part and implement hazards controls?

Are we ready to build arks?


Where Should Safety Managers Spend Their Time?

A senior safety director in my organization frequently says that safety professionals in the field should spend 50% of their time in the office and the other 50% on job sites. Some would argue time in the field should be increased, while others see no way to reduce their current 90:10 office /job site ratio.

What about managers? Where should they spend their time?

Read any management book on the subject for advice on the subject. In summary, managers should spend time thinking and planning the team’s work, doing the work required to align resources, and analyzing what is/is not working.

I ask a lot of safety managers what they do and how often they do it. They spend a lot of time on email, in meetings, conducting inspections, reviewing investigations, and handling personnel issues (from appraisals to training to hiring).

What’s missing? Strategic planning/prioritization and analysis.

Without a strategic and deliberate plan for the year, prioritization is relegated to reactive response. A daily schedule driven by the email inbox is a sure method to burn out even the best of teams.

Analysis also suffers in many managers’ schedules. Not only analysis of injuries and incidents (too often only accomplished to satisfy a program requirement and lacking actionable plans), but analysis of what’s working, who’s working on what, and where the team’s time is being spent. Without this knowledge, what exactly is being managed? If the manager isn’t looking for what works and what doesn’t, who is?

Managers can no longer simply be the most senior employee. Our teams deserve managers who plan, do, and analyze.

What more on the subject? Pick up a copy of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshal Goldsmith.


Lou Holtz: Why Education and Credentialing Matter To Leaders

“Players need confidence. That’s why I had tough practices. Because then we had easy games.” – Lou Holtz

College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Lou Holtz is the only coach ever to lead six different schools to bowl games. And his teams consistently won.

Because tough practices equal easy games.

Education and credentialing are not about a piece of paper.

They are about the journey. They are about who you become during the struggle. They are about letting go of limiting beliefs such as; “I might fail”, “I’m too old for that”, and “I don’t have time”. They are about being an example to those who look up to you.

As a leader you show the path to those you lead.

When you can’t find the time, why should they?

If you can’t endure “tough practice”…what does that say about your game?

When you insist “it’s just a piece of paper”, are you leading or encouraging the status quo?

Quick and Easy

“Also, they may simply have been blinded to do something quick and easy for safety – and thus doing nothing for it.” – Gerald Wilde

The description of the incident was hard to sit through. The worker had eventually died, but he’d lingered in the hospital for a week fighting for his life.

The assigned safety investigator had rigorously applied several models when determining root cause. They’d looked at the hierarchy of controls and determined which controls would best be applied to prevent the hazard. It was an in-depth investigation and a job well-done.

Then it fell apart.

The engineering control couldn’t be applied due to a tight budget. The substitution control wasn’t right in this culture. The elimination control didn’t work due to the production schedule. The work rotation control wasn’t feasible as the union would fight it. And no one would really wear that PPE, right?

So, like any efficient safety investigator, they filtered the long list of hazard controls down to the one control most likely to be accepted by management.

They recommended retraining. Well, it began as retraining. The shift supervisor would later water it down to a good reminder about “paying more attention to your surroundings.”

A fellow worker died and we chose to remind everyone to be more careful. But we did something, right? Wasn’t that the point?