Wednesday, June 6, 2012

10 things that I learned about Safety

Recently I had a student who reads my blog, and is a senior at Slippery Rock University for a BS in Safety Management contact me to discuss Safety as a career. I felt great that someone actually reads my blog.

He paid me a compliment, telling me that my blog gave him some practical advice, something that he has not much of being in school still. He is doing an internship that is giving him field experience.

In my first email to him, I tried to impart some wisdom from my experiences and my mistakes. I had taken so much time, thought, and effort to help him out with my response, that I realized that this list would make an excellant blog post. The following is taken from my response to him, cleaned up a little, spell and grammar checked: 

Here are the 10 things that I have learned about Safety:

1.) Training Certifications: The best things that you can be is an outreach trainer for the OSHA 10/30 hour for General Industry, OSHA 10/30 hour for Construction, and to be a powered industrial truck (forklift) trainer. The training is really good and helps you to do hands on training.

The OSHA 10/30 hour courses are great, you meet other professionals (both as students and teachers), you can gain practical, in-the-field knowledge from these people, the OSHA materials (and knowledge you gain) are invaluable.  Best of all, most employers will pay for you to go.

2.) ASP, CSP CHST and OHST: I see a lot of companies look for ASP, CSP CHST and OHST designation, I never went for mine since my job did not depend upon the designation.  I have been told by people who have them, if you know safety (either from hands on, a formal education, or a combination of both), and with some intense review, you will pass. I am now considering going for my ASP or CSP to add to my credentials.

3.) Keep It Interesting: School is boring. It was the same from grade school through high school as it is now. The average American blue collar worker is doing his warehouse/construction job/etc. because he does not want to be an engineer.

When most safety engineers, trainers, managers, etc. do safety training, employees "space out," don't pay attention, or get distracted (I learned this in my early "classroom lecture" sessions), because the training is very boring. Too many numbers to memorize (21" midrail, 4' fall protection, 9.81m/s2 gravity, etc.). Einstein stated, "Never memorize something that you can look up."

My training philosophy is simple, I want you to simply answer the question' "Am I doing my job in the safest way possible?" If not, I want them to know where to find the answer (i.e. know how to read the OSHA Standard) or ask to someone who knows. When I am doing training (this works best over the course of a couple months, but you can also use with 2 day training sessions too), I ask at the beginning how many people wear or make their children wear PPE when they cut their own grass, use power saw, etc. at home. I usually get about 50%. By the end of training it is 90%. This is how I measure the effectiveness of training.

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school." - Albert Einstein

4.) W. Edwards Deming: I apply the teachings of W. Edwards Deming ( to my training, one example: (Deming believed) the production worker knows more about the process than management. The production worker knows (more than management) how to ensure quality (safety) the best.  Statistical Quality Control: I watch claims to look for trends in my organization to find things that are becoming a problem.

Basically just replace the word "quality" in Deming's teachings with the word "safety."

5.) It is all about the question: Just like Philosophy, Safety should pursue questions rather than answers. The responsibility of philosophy is not so much to answer our questions as to question given answers.  

See: (Philosophy in general) and (the Philosophical method).

When I see someone working, I will ask, "should you be wearing safety glasses?" Now I do not expect them to just put on safety glasses and continue working, I want them to justify to me why they should or should not be wearing them. Regardless of the answer, even if it was "I am being dumb," it is a learning moment.

6.) Hands On: W. Edwards Deming's teachings also taught me that people learn more by doing. I prefer to "go in the field," watch how people work, participate (this goes a long way in building report and respect). The people you are training begin to think, "the safety guy is not too good to get his hands dirty or to do my job," they open up more to what you say, and they get trained as they work. This integrates safety in to their job. Now they think part of my job is being safe, wearing PPE and NOT I do my job, now I have a 2nd job to be safe, I can't do 2 things at once."

7.) Safety is about the bottom line: Think Pinto ( Ford allegedly was aware of the design flaw, refused to pay for a redesign, and decided it would be cheaper to pay off possible lawsuits. The first thing that business cuts is safety, marketing is the second. You have to show how safety saves money: it improves quality, cuts costs. Those costs are mainly insurance: workers' comp, liability, etc. You should be familiar with insurance terms and how it works. Even companies that say "because it is the right thing to do" say it because there is a financial benefit.

Note: I think that Ford does an excellent job with safety and I would highly recommend them. I currently drive a Ford, and my last 2 cars were Fords.

Note: This does not mean that "doing the right thing" is not really their philosophy, I would like to believe that all companies and all people are inherently good and strive to do the right thing. Even if it is your philosophy, you do not have to say it, AND there is a financial benefit from saying it.

8.) I do not always agree with OSHA: Take the "OSHA cowboy," for example. You need common sense. OSHA is also incorporating too many ANSI standards. That is good to "standardize" in a global economy (Like the GHS for labeling), but to access ANSI standards, companies have to buy them. If OSHA says that your program has to meet ANSI standard, then where do you find the ANSI standard Saying PPE safety glasses meet ANSI z87 is fine. I also believe in personal responsibility. I train that "You are ultimately responsible for your own safety."

9.) Never stop learning: Even though I have an MBA, insurance licenses, state safety inspection license, I am an OSHA outreach trainer, various other certificates and certifications, I continue to learn. I am continuing part-time for a CIS (Computer Information Systems)/Web Development degree part time at the local community college. I am just over half-way done with it.

Joining ASSE (American Society of Safety Engineers) let me meet people with years of knowledge who were willing to share and help me with my professional career. I have been a member for over 10 years! I also keep up to date with a number of safety web sites. I like web sites that let me scan the headlines and open/read the stories that interest me. Professional friends and colleagues go a long way. If you are stuck, ask them. Somebody has dealt with this before, and can give you a quick answer.

10.) Technology: we live in a technological world. Years ago you could do a job by learning that discipline. Today you need that discipline plus knowledge about technology. Accountants use to need to know just the "bookkeeping" aspect of what they do. Today, they also need to know the computer programs that do it (Peachtree, Great Plains/MS, Quickbooks, MS Office Oracle, SAP).

Safety professionals too need the same skills. To really excel, you need to be able to make your company's written safety program web-based. What about web-based training? How do convert a Power Point to a video? Is your online training SCORM compliant? What if the company you work for uses Oracle's HR system? OSHA is an example of the use of technology making it a very good online safety resource.

Many companies use Twitter, Facebook, other social media, and expect some of their employees (usually upper management) to do the same (to promote the brand). Now there is a new thing called "Social Learning." It is the use/intergration of social media into the teaching/learning (online) model.

Younger people have an advantage with social media. I do know some insurance brokers who have their administrative assistant do Twitter/Facebook/blog posts on their behalf. There are not enough hours in a day to keep up with social media. Large companies have in-house social media departments and there are many new companies that manage social media for companies or individuals.


Russ and Dulcie Clayton said...

I enjoyed reading this post. Just started following your blog. I am a safety professional in the print and distribution (manufacturing) industry.
Your comments about face time with the workers, and being out with them and even helping them on occassion were spot on! I also liked where you pointed out that the most valuable safety lessons don't come from the answers we give, but from the questions we ask. Well said! Thanks for posting.

Unknown said...

Couldn't have said it better myself haha. I'm going to forward your blog to my friends at Slippery Rock because I think all of this information is valuable just like you said in a "practical" sense. Learning from "the books" is great, but applying what someone learns to the field is difficult at first. I appreciate all the help you have given me, gives me a direction to shoot for as I become more experienced in the safety field. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

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Thanks again for posting this information.

Unknown said...

Your training philosophy is inspiring. :) When I think about workplace safety, I always go back to the basics. And we all know that PPE’s are one of the cornerstones of workplace safety. Beginners and experts need to wear these devices at all times because accidents can happen any time. But, there could be an instance that this can be neglected. This is where training gets essential, which I think is the whole idea behind your post.

Alphonse Daigle