I was recently at sister publication EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference, and as a group of us were waiting for a bus to a plant tour I saw one man say to another that his shoe laces were untied, and he should fix that.
Aside from the fact that it’s rare for me to see one man instruct another on what is basically a personal issue, it’s just part of the culture of safety professionals. While it’s their job to watch out for safety hazards in the warehouse and on the plant floor, those in the field truly extend these values to all situations.
This view was brought home when keynote speaker, Jana Gessner, vice president of environmental health and safety for PepsiCo, talked about a program at her company that asks team members to look out for each other. Pepsi launched a program this year called Courage to Care. “This program is, in fact, a mindset,” says Gessner. “It’s a shift in how we are doing things. It’s designed to stand the test of time.”
What I found particularly interesting about the program is that everyone is encouraged to speak up when they see something. It’s easy to notice that a colleague isn’t wearing gloves for example, but it’s another to walk over and ask them to put them on.
And I use gloves as an example for a reason. Another keynote was given by Lee Shelby. On August 12, 1991, Shelby was working for a utility company in Memphis, Tenn. He had just left a safety meeting and set out to work on distribution power lines. Instead of choosing to wear the rubber gloves required by this specific job, he put on the leather gloves that his team often used. A power line Shelby cut made contact with his body, causing 13,000 volts of electricity to enter his body. While he was lucky to escape with his life, he lost both of his hands.
Recovered now in every way, he spends his time telling people throughout the world to understand the purpose of employing safety techniques at work. “I gave my hands up because I made a conscious decision to break a safety rule,” he says.
And while we’ve all heard the many reasons for taking precautions to avoid injuries at work, it doesn’t seem to be sinking in enough. The employer-reported injury rate was unchanged in 2018 at 2.8 cases per 100 workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These statistics indicate that more needs to be done. And maybe that means starting a program at your company that calls for people to have the courage to speak up and halt a co-worker when witnessing them doing something in an unsafe way or pointing out a potentially hazardous situation.
And let’s not do this for the incentives, awards or recognition that our companies might provide. Let’s do this so we don’t have to see what many safety professionals have seen. Time and time again when talking to people at the conference they said they chose to enter the safety field after witnessing a terrible injury or death and felt they needed to devote their life to making sure these things didn’t happen to others.
If that’s not enough to convince you then consider something else Shelby told the audience: “While there are a lot of things I am able to do, I can never again touch the face of my wife or children. It’s an unbearable loss.”