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#10: It’s not about being more careful.

September 19, 2018 | 49 minutes 52 seconds

Podcast series host Jill James speaks with Scott, a safety engineer in the telecomm industry, and published author.

An 18-year professional safety veteran, Scott started his journey as an undergraduate psych major when a summer job at the local factory gave him his first taste of occupational safety. From there, Scott went on to graduate-level education in the safety discipline, making him a rarity in the field.

His diverse career includes stints in consulting, temp staffing, prison safety, and shoe manufacturing. You’ll learn all about how occupational safety principles are applied in the corrections industry, what it takes to write a corporate safety manual, and what machine operators can teach you about safe work design.

For Scott, the key to working safely is found through exploration of why people perform their jobs in specific ways. His well-researched conclusion: change the job, not the people.

Fun Facts: Scott served in the National Guard (thank you, Scott!) and shares a somewhat unpopular opinion about Behavior-Based Safety.

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro podcast brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. This is episode number 10. My name is Jill James, Vivid's chief safety officer. And today I'm joined by Scott, who is a safety engineer and author in the telecommunications industry in Minnesota. Scott, welcome to the podcast.

Scott:

Hi, happy to be here.

Jill:

This is so great. You're episode number 10. We've made it this far. This is excellent.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

Hopefully our audience has been enjoying the podcast so far. So Scott, you have been in the safety industry for how many years now?

Scott:

About 18, almost exactly 18 years. Yeah.

Jill:

Wow. So quite awhile. So, take us back to your accidental story. What happened first?

Scott:

Sure.

Jill:

How did you get that first seed of interest in occupational safety and health?

Scott:

Yeah, well I was an undergraduate psychology major. And I got this summer job working at local factory. And happened to get assigned to the maintenance department. And they had my working on fire extinguisher training.

Jill:

Okay.

Scott:

And so it started out where I would just refill the fire extinguishers. Make sure we had enough there and do we need general maintenance on the fire extinguishers and the stuff we're using? Well, I seemed to do pretty well at that. And they liked the way that I was doing that, so they had me inspect and repair fire extinguishers in the plant. And then that became fire doors, and some the sprinkler items. And just sort of expanded from there. And I thought, "Oh, this is pretty fun." Then, around that time I also realized that as a psychology major I had no hope of meaningful employment unless I went to graduate school.

Jill:

Right. I think I wanted to be a psych major when I went to undergrad school as well. And then quickly decided, oh my gosh how am I going to get a job?

Scott:

Right. Right. Yeah, that realization hit. And I thought, "Oh, man what I do I do?" And I was talking to somebody in my National Guard unit and he knew what I was doing for the summer and asked me how I liked it. And I told him, and he said, "Well, you know, you could safety professional." And he had gone to the graduate program at University Minnesota Duluth. And so he gave me some information and recommended that and one thing led to another. And I ended up going to grad school for safety and the rest is history.

Jill:

Oh my gosh. So came out of a recommendation by someone in your military history. That's kind of cool.

Scott:

Yeah. Yeah. And it worked out really well. And I still that person from time to time at conferences or other social settings where there's a lot of safety professionals around.

Jill:

Yeah. So when you were doings those fire extinguisher inspections and all the things, it sounds like life safety related, who taught you to do all that stuff?

Scott:

There were a couple of maintenance guys who had, and it was all men so when I say maintenance guys, and they had just been doing that for years. And it was kind of a nice thing to get off of their plate because they had a lot of other task list items to do. So they were happy to hand it off to me. And after that first summer I had applied again the next summer and they looked for my application and brought me in to do the same thing. And I ended up doing that for three summers. And I just loved it. I'm the kind of person who, if I can walk around with bag of tools and get dirt, and dusty and bang on stuff with a hammer like a monkey for a couple hours, to me that's a good time. And so I really had a great time with it and thought, well this could be a great career doing the safety stuff. And since coming out of grad school I have not taken apart one single fire extinguisher.

Jill:

But we just give all kinds of parents out there, with teenagers or kids that are just about entering college, go knock on somebody's door and tell them you're going to inspect all their life safety stuff if they'll hire them for a summer job, right?

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

That's what I'm thinking right now. I'm thinking, man my kid could do this stuff. Test emergency lights and inspect fire extinguishers. What a great foray into the business. So, you're at graduate school. You're wrapping things up, what were you kind of envisioning yourself? What was your next move? Or what did you hope to do with, now that you had a master’s degree in safety?

Scott:

Really, I just wanted to get out there and start to earn a paycheck. After so many years of school and being dependent on student loans and the GI bill and those things. I just wanted to go out and be independent and be able to do my own thing. And it took a little while. I was, I think, the last person out of my class to find full-time employment. It took a little bit but then once I did I was real happy with it. In grad school we learn all of the technical pieces and the administrative pieces and the scientific pieces. And being able to couple that with going out and getting my hands dirty and doing a lot of gemba walks and having people teach me how they do their job and putting those together. To me really that's a lot of fun. And so that's something that I've really tried to do every job that I've had in safety.

Jill:

Yeah, so what was that first job after grad school? Where'd you go?

Scott:

I worked for a safety temp agency.

Jill:

Oh.

Scott:

Yeah. They assigned me to, let's see I had, I think three different jobs with them. One was writing a right to know program for a manufacturer. The other one was working for, actually for Hennepin County doing entry statistics.

Jill:

Wow, interesting.

Scott:

And the big one, the one that I used for my thesis project, was writing a corporate safety manual for actually a pretty big company. And that was really neat because it was 2000, so it was a little while ago. And it was right when companies were starting to do a lot more of their safety manuals in an electronic format and to distribute things that way. And so this was their first attempt at doing that. So I spent the summer writing this huge safety manual that would, for the company, be all in an electronic format. And then I had to figure out a way to print that and bind that to turn it as a bound thesis. Which was almost as much of a challenge as writing the actual manual.

Jill:

I'm sure it was. And everybody who's listening to you say that you wrote an entire safety manual, assuming that, that means like, all the written protocols that are associated with the OSHA laws. Now everyone wants their hand, raising their hands, could you please pass that my way because…

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

That takes so long. And it's so hard to get your hands on that information and not have to reinvent the wheel, and do it well.

Scott:

Oh, I know. I know. And since I was a lowly intern, they gave me a laptop and they said, "Okay, you go do the work. You can work from home or wherever you want to get this done. The days that you're in the office, we have some space for you in the legal library." And I thought, "Oh, the legal library, this is great." I felt all highfalutin. Well, I get down to my space in the legal library and it's about a 24 inch by 24 inch hard top table tucked in a dark corner with a little plastic chair. And there's…

Jill:

It felt like the inquisition, not the legal library.

Scott:

Yeah, yeah. This little concrete, vaulted room. And they had already transferred all of their legal library information to an electronic format so nobody every came in there. So I'd go sit in this legal library for the entire day, completely alone, typing away. Then it was so quiet I think my keystrokes would echo throughout this area.

Jill:

And you had a hard time staying awake typing safety information.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

Oh man. So have you been able…I mean, that was so much work. Have you been able to repurpose that in some of your other jobs? I mean you were the author of it, and it became your thesis, have you been able to reuse some of it?

Scott:

Yeah, and the way that that company wanted the manual written, it was a lot of referring out to the actual regulations. So, quite a bit of it was linking information to the OSHA website, or the various state OSHA websites and the EPA websites. And, so it more from a conceptual basis, have I been able to use that and run with that.

Jill:

Yeah, interesting. So, you were with this safety, what did you say this company was? They did…

Scott:

They were a temp agency.

Jill:

Temp agency for safety, I didn't even know that kind of thing existed.

Scott:

Neither did I. And I think one of my classmates pointed me in their direction, is how I found them. Again, all I wanted was just, I wanted to start making money.

Jill:

A paycheck.

Scott:

Be an adult, find a place to live. And then I ended up working for a temp agency, which there's nothing wrong with that but it didn't really feel like what I had been after.

Jill:

It gave you some good experience though. So, does that agency still exist?

Scott:

I have no idea.

Jill:

I'm just thinking about all of the employers that contact me looking for safety people. Or they have a project or something and they're often saying, "How can I find somebody?" Or "I need this done." Or "How can I try a safety person on for size and see if they fit culturally with our company?" And I'm always recommending people go to the college programs. But wow, that would be kind of a neat way for employers to do searches as well. So what happened next? What's the next part of your story?

Scott:

So, I had finished up one of my temporary jobs and had a couple of weeks to think about things. And during that time I found a job opening at a prison, for a safety officer. So, I drove down to the prison and interviewed with them. And one of the things they were really interested in was a written right to know program.

Jill:

Ding, ding, ding.

Scott:

And I said, yeah, I said, "I just did one of those. And I did this corporate manual." And talked about that. And I got, this was about a 45 minute drive where I lived. I got home and I no more than walked in the door and the phone rang and they offered me the job.

Jill:

Yay.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

Congratulations.

Scott:

So, it worked out perfect. Right, yup and that was great. I really enjoyed, this is going to sound funny, but I really enjoyed working in the prison setting. And the reason, for me, that it was so much fun is it had everything. It had life safety, it had occupational safety, it had visitors coming and going. It had these security concerns that were just interesting to me. And, you really haven't lived until it's three a.m. and you pull a fire alarm in the prison barracks and you're watching all prisoners file out and…

Jill:

Crossing your fingers.

Scott:

Yeah, as they walk by. They know who got 'em out of bed.

Jill:

Uh huh.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

Oh no. Right. Right. What a fascinating place to live. Well, live, yes for the people who are living there. And a fascinating, rather, a more fascinating is a place to work by way of you thinking all the different hazards that we disassociate with campus living. Which, there's lots of those and then you take it to a whole new different level because of the level of security too.

Scott:

Yup.

Jill:

Interesting. So you were at the prison for a while. And then I'm guessing you made your next change.

Scott:

Yeah. So I went from the prison to a consulting company. I wanted to get some exposure to different environments.

Jill:

Yeah.

Scott:

And so left for a consulting company. And I wasn't at the consulting company very long. It just didn't end up being a good fit. But then I went to a shoe manufacturer.

Jill:

Oh, interesting.

Scott:

Yeah, and that was a lot of fun too. And that was where I really started to learn the value of having machine operators and employees teach why they do their job the way they do it. I would be talking to an operations manager, I'd be talking to somebody in human resources and they'd say, "I don't understand how these people get hurt like this." And I'd said, "Well, why are they doing the job that way?" And they'd say, "I don't know." And so I said, "Well, let me find out." And just in doing that, learning that takes place and the ability to adapt safety in such a way that I'm not changing the people, I'm changing the job. And you know if you build a guard the right way, you don't have to do anything else. You put it on, you install it, you're good. We've followed the hierarchy of controls and we've reduced that risk to what we think is an acceptable level. And anytime I've seen safety professionals try to change the people, it's a lot harder because people are really, we're plastic in the way that we behave and the way that we look at things and think about things. And people will tend to flex to where they think they need to go. So if they see the safety person coming, they'll change the way they work for a while. And that was the beginning of where I started to really have some doubts about behavior based safety.

Jill:

Yeah. Interesting. I want to hear more about that because you are a person who's written specifically about this whole rebuttale of behavior based safety. It's not all that and a box of rocks.

Scott:

Right.

Jill:

I'm interested to hear that, which I'm sure people may have cringed over just the fact that I used that cliché. But aside from that, so many places of employment in today's workforce really has this notion that behavior based safety is 'the thing.' So tell us more about why you don't believe that.

Scott:

Well, first of all it doesn't follow the hierarchy of control, which…

Jill:

Yeah, so why don't we…Let's review for our audience the hierarchy of control.

Scott:

Sure. Sure. So, we start with eliminating the hazard, then we just we don't have that risk. It's just completely gone. Now if you can't eliminate that hazard, then we engineer the job to be less hazardous. After that we get to the administrative controls, which are training and signage and warnings. And the last bit of the hierarchy of controls is personal protective equipment. So nowhere in there do we really have a good fit for behavior based safety. What I tell people is, if you picture the hierarchy of controls as this pyramid. A three dimensional big pyramid, elimination at the top, PP at the bottom. There's this sub-basement and it's actually a permanent required confined space. And that's where behavior based safety is. So you've got to go down the ladder into the pit. And really it just stems from the fact that people are going to behave in a manner that they feel gets their job done in an effective and efficient manner. And it seems like behavior based safety, not only does it try to change the people instead of the job, but it pushes the responsibility of safety off of the people who can really effect change. So, in behavior based safety one of the key notions is that about 95% of all accidents are caused by a person's behavior. The implication being the person who was hurt.

Jill:

Right, we've all heard that.

Scott:

Yeah. And I really have a problem with that because if people genuinely thought that what they were doing was going to hurt them, they wouldn't do it.

Jill:

Right.

Scott:

So, this isn't a behavior issue, it's a risk perception issue. And the people who can effect change in that job are the safety professionals and the managers of the company. And it's a lot easier to just say, "Well, that employee, it's his fault because he didn't behave the right way." Then it is to self reflect, look at your system and understand that you need to change your system or you need to change your design.

Jill:

Yeah, by following the hierarchy of controls first.

Scott:

Right. And in safety we have come to the conclusion that we want managers and supervisors to do a lot of the investigation because they have a higher level of knowledge of what's going on in their department. That makes sense. But then we teach them, the first thing we tell them is 95% of the accidents you're going to investigate are the employee's fault. So what are they going to find? That's what they're going to automatically look for because that's what we're telling them to look for.

Jill:

What did they do wrong?

Scott:

Now, if we tell them nothing to that effect at all, we just say "Just investigate and here is the hierarchy of controls. When we find o ut what happened, here's how we determine how to apply controls." I think we would come out with some very different conclusions in the end.

Jill:

Yeah, right. Rather, than saying, "Oh, they should have had gloves on" or what ever.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

If you're tasked to figure out, follow through the controls. What was missing? Where were the gaps? And I think people would arrive at a very different answer in the end.

Scott:

Oh, yeah. They absolutely would. Yup.

Jill:

Of all of the fatalities I've investigated in my career, which has been many, many employer's responses to me have always been curious. And I knew it was coming and I would always wait for it. You know I'd be in the midst of a fatality investigation and I'd be like, "Okay, so how's this employer going to stack up?" Immediately everyone is sad. Great human response as it should be. Regretful, mournful, someone's dead. And then things would start to change. And they'd start to change in those investigations, usually pretty rapidly. And employers would fall into these two tracks that I identified. This is not formal research, this is my own anecdotal stories from many, many death cases. Employers would either fall into, blame the victim, or what am I going to do as an employer to ensure that never happens to anyone on my watch again? And it would happen quickly. I'd just wait for it, it was like watching through some kind of crazy window. This human behavior of blame the victim path, which is usually the path most people took. Not always, but it would raise it's ugly head.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

And I'd be like, "Oh man, let's figure out what went wrong here and let's not blame the victim in this case because this person did not set out to get themselves killed today."

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

And that whole, they should have, they weren't careful. They should have been more careful.

Scott:

Right. Yeah, that be more careful. And it goes back an entire century. It goes back to Heinrich.

Jill:

Yeah, tell us.

Scott:

Yeah. So, okay so in the early 20th century really the safety research that was out there wasn't, there just wasn't much. It was more incomplete than complete by far. And Herb Heinrich, who worked for I believe it was Traveler's Insurance. He was an insurance guy. He wanted to go out and find out why employees were getting hurt. So he went and reviewed all these incident investigations from clients of the insurance company. And came to the conclusion that, his statistics were more like 88% of injuries were behavior based.

Jill:

Okay.

Scott:

And he wrote a book about it. And the book took off. And really became the basis for the next 100 years of professional safety. Looking at it from an occupational standpoint. The thing that people forget is that when Heinrich was doing this research there was no Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The Fair Labor Standards Act hadn't been passed yet. And many states still didn't have a worker's compensation system.

Jill:

Oh wow.

Scott:

So we had employees who were in these places of employment that had great variability in what the safety rules were and what the protections provided were. When you look back at the pictures of people building a skyscraper and they're sitting there having lunch on a beam 30 stories high, that was perfectly legal.

Jill:

Right. The iconic steel workers in New York.

Scott:

Right. Right. So if one of those steel workers slips and falls off of the beam and dies, the supervisors has and the company has motivation to blame that worker because without worker's compensation they only way for that employee's family to get compensated was to sue the employer. S So if the employer could say, "This was not our fault." That gave them a defense against that lawsuit. And there were no legal requirements for them to have fall protection, all these other things. So it was really easy to blame the workers back then. And I think that whole philosophy still, it just still hangs with us. Especially in the United States where people just are really afraid of legal accountability coming back to them. And it harms us. It really does. You talk about investigating fatalities and the two responses you would see, I was investigating a fatality with former employer where an employee had fallen through a floor opening that was normally covered. And in our internal investigation we determined that or we found I should say, that they grate that would normally cover that floor opening had fallen along with employee. And as we were looking at things, my conclusion was that the employee had to be putting the grate back in. Because he wouldn't have fit through the floor opening without having his hands oriented above his shoulders. Well, the other corporate safety person said, "No, we can't do that. We have to say that he was walking on the grate, even though the rules are against that." And I said, "No, I don't think that's right." And I said, "Not only do I not think that's right, but what we have to do here is we have to think of these floor opening covers" because there were thousands of them within the company, "like any other machine guard, where we secure it with a bolt that needs a special tool to remove it."

Jill:

Yeah, so you actually have to have an effort…

Scott:

Right.

Jill:

Make effort to take it off.

Scott:

Right. Right. Yup. And we argued back and forth about that. And we went down to the OSHA conference to talk about. And the other safety person outranked me, so he presented our case. And he presented our case as we shouldn't have any citations on this because the employee was breaking the rule by walking over this gate. And the regional director got a quizzical look on his face and he asked, "Do you really want to go with that story or do you want to take some time to think about that and tell us something different?" And I said, "Well, can I offer what my theory is because we do have two theories here?" And I gave him mine, and what the plan was we were already securing these things around the company and we had a timeline on it. And the regional director said, "Oh, okay. All right." So just two very different responses there.

Jill:

You offered up the plausible use of the hierarchy of controls.

Scott:

Right. And no point was there this idea that it was the employees fault. It drives me crazy. I was at the Minnesota Safety Council recently, their big conference. And they had a speaker in who he was one of the keynote speakers and a very great speaker. Did a really nice job. He did one thing that kind of drove me crazy, he ended his speech talking about how his brother had died at work because he had been assigned to do some work on a 480 volt piece of equipment and he wasn't qualified to do that. And the boxes where they had to lock out the power, were not labeled. So he locked out the wrong box, was electrocuted and died. So very sad story. And his conclusion at the end of the story was that his brother was the one responsible for that because he had decided to do that work and he had decided to do it in such a way that he didn't verify that he had the right box.

Jill:

Oh man.

Scott:

And I though, "Hold on, his supervisors knew he wasn't qualified for it, or should have known"

Jill:

Yeah.

Scott:

And his company was responsible for labeling all those boxes correctly. So why are you blaming him?

Jill:

Oh man, he was doing the best job he could with the information he had at the time.

Scott:

Right. Right. And that's what employees do. And that's why it's so important as a safety professional to just have this conversation of, "Okay, tell me why you do the job his way? And then let's work with that."

Jill:

Exactly and to ask and inform by way of training. Not to assume that people know what you know. Or because they're in a particular job field, or they do a particular job that they should know everything about their job. I've talked to electrical apprentices, like on construction sites working with electricians, who didn't understand that the busbars behind the breakers were hot.

Scott:

Oh my.

Jill:

And they were working with electricity every day. And when I explained that, they're like, "Oh, oh." Because I was explaining, you can't have openings. If the breaker is missing, it has to be covered. And it can't be covered with duct tape or cardboard, which is you've been around the safety field a long you've seen these things. It's got to be effectively closed with the appropriate clip in there. And I remember talking with electrical people who didn't realize that. They didn't know that that was hot, in that particular area in the panel. And everyone once in a while, in this career we hear those stories from people where it kind of takes you back and reminds how important our job is to walk into all the situations not assuming people understand the hazards with their work. And how important it is for us to teach that.

Scott:

Yeah. Absolutely. Boy, that's a scary one.

Jill:

Yeah. Right. And I think, I don't know at what point in my life I stopped using the phrase 'be careful'. I don't know when that was. I certainly don't say it, do you?

Scott:

I try not to. I do make a conscious effort to try not to. And I try to drive safely or "Hey, don't call me 'till you get there."

Jill:

Right.

Scott:

Whatever it might be. Yeah the 'be more careful thing', that's a classic one. I have a road sign hanging in my office that says, "Be more careful." That somebody sent me who I had worked with because at this company I just constantly drilling people if you send in an investigation that says, "Be more careful" I'm going to send it back to you and make you redo it. And that was, it took about a year before people really got out of that habit because it's so habitual. And it's so easy. It's like, "Well that person, they got hurt. I don't know exactly how they did it. It's going to be really hard to figure it out. Eh, be more careful."

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly. Yeah. Anyone who's listening who has ever seen accident investigation reports cross their desk that had the end result of the investigation being, 'be more careful'. It's nails on the chalkboard. It's nails on the chalkboard. Like I said, I don't say "Be more careful" but I try to be really specific. Like, you gave the example, call me when you get to your destination. You know, you're going to send your kid or an employee out to do something, it's not 'be more careful' it's 'remember three points on contact on the ladder when you climb it today. Make sure you're checking the footing.' It's not, 'be more careful when you're working on the ladder today.' Its specific practices.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

That they may not know, or they need to be reminded of.

Scott:

Yeah. Yeah. The 'be more careful' is sort of the admission of "I have no idea how to tell you how to do this safely, just please, please don't get hurt."

Jill:

Yeah, that's exactly it. And in the accidents I've investigated where people would say, "It was a one minute job. It was a two minute job. I just needed to go in the excavation to make that one connection and the walls caved in." Well if they directions on the way down into the excavation were 'be more careful' for that one minute job, should have been 'let's be sure the trench is sloped properly before we get in there for that one minute job.' I know that that means we're going to have to take five minutes to slope it better before you get in there for your one minute job.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

But get in there and be more careful. Watch your back for the dirt that's coming down.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

Isn't a way to live. So you're presenting this rebuttal to behavior based safety. Part of it based on safety theory dating way back to Heinrich where we have learned our historical safety baggage that sticks with you to this day. And that makes a lot of sense.

Scott:

Yeah. And internationally, this is one of the things that I discovered when I published a book on safety is that internationally other places are ahead of us in moving past behavior based safety. Because the feedback that I get from the United States is different in the regard of behavior based safety then it is internationally. Internationally they say, "This really isn't that new to us. We're trying to get away from it right now. And we know we need to." Whereas in the US it's a little more of "Huh, I hadn't thought about it like that yet."

Jill:

So what are people doing in other countries? What are they working on right now? Trying to move away from that?

Scott:

It seems like a lot of it is based on accurate assessment of risk and looking at risk from a management systems standpoint. So, when you look at…Great example is the new 45,001 ISO standard for occupational safety. It's all systems based, management systems based. And looking at the work environment and the way that the work environment is managed and the situations that employees are put into. So, I still would like there to be more emphasis internationally on a philosophy of making safety fit the way employees work.

Jill:

Yeah.

Scott:

That I think is one place where we have a lot of room to grow.

Jill:

Dating back to what you learned at the shoe manufacturing company.

Scott:

Right. Right. Yeah. It's amazing what you can learn just by going out and saying, "All right, they want me to make this job more safe. But I don't know how you do this." And just that admission, in and of itself is so important to employees because they see safety as a part of management. And when you come down and you say, "I want to know how you do this. I'm interested in your job. I don't know how to do this, will you teach me? Will you show me?" I mean, people love that. They love it and there's so much terrific information to be gained from doing that.

Jill:

Yeah. Scott, unpack that a little bit more. Can you think of a story from maybe the shoe manufacturer or somewhere else where you're with an employee or a group of employees and you're looking at a particular job and breaking it down? Can you give an example to the audience of maybe how that worked for you?

Scott:

Sure. There's an example that I love to share. I was working as a loss control consultant for a company that handles worker's compensation insurance for cities. And we were wondering why we were getting all these shoulder injuries from street crews. And so I went out to fill pot holes one day. And met with the street crew bright and early. We probably met for coffee at 5:30 and got started with work at six. And we walked behind a dump truck full of hit asphalt. And there were probably four or five of us. You'd get a shovel full of hot asphalt, pack that into a pot hole and then tamp it down. And I was loving it, it was great. It was outside, manual labor, which I like. And one of the guys hollers at me, he said, "Hey teaspoon, got a pot hole over here for ya." I said, "Teaspoon? What are you calling me teaspoon for?" He said, "Fill up your shovel." So I filled up my shovel. He fills up his shovel. He's got about three times the asphalt in his shovel as mine. He looks at his shovel and he says, "This is a shovel full." He looks at my shovel and he says, "Teaspoon." So, that entire public works department called me teaspoon from then on. It was pretty funny. But it taught me so much of what I needed to learn about why they were having shoulder injuries.

Jill:

Right.

Scott:

Because then we could talk about, "Okay, that's a big shovel full." And the deal was here in Minnesota for people who may not be too familiar with it, we get probably five good months were you can be out filling pot holes. Five, six good months. And a lot of those months are really, really hot and humid. So they wanted to be done filling as many potholes as they could before lunch because at lunchtime it was going to be, the heat index was going to be 102. And no body wants to be walking around with hot asphalt on a black top street in that kind of heat index because that's seriously hazardous. We've got some real problems there. So, they would take these huge shovels full of asphalt to reduce that heat risk later in the day.

Jill:

Sure. They wanted to be able to work faster.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

It's like in any production setting, you think. That's easier to equate to a production line where you're moving along at a certain clip and people have to move a certain speed. This is similar thing when it's to get the work done earlyier.

Scott:

Right. Right. So, that allowed us to look at the problem in a completely different way. And we could say, "Okay, so how can we make this more efficient so that they can get this job done a little quicker?" And that's what I mean by 'let's make safety match the way people want to do the job.'

Jill:

So, ultimately what did you do?

Scott:

Ultimately, I took that information and the information from the following conversation we had over lunch back to the insurance pool, group of cities. And we really started to look at providing cities with information about different technology that they could use for some of these jobs. And trying to get different cities together to talk about how they do some of these jobs, to compare their notes and come up with what best practices and best tools were. And it really spurred a lot of different action then we had been taking in the past. And just to bring things back around to the behavior based side. Had I been out there with a behavior based checklist, I would have checked not behaving the way that I want. He's taking too much of his shovel full and then coaching him on how much of a shovel full he should take. How demeaning.

Jill:

Right.

Scott:

Here's this guy who doesn't even do the job. Doesn't know, for all they know I've never picked up a shovel. They don't know me. And I'm going to come out and I'm going to tell them they're doing it wrong.

Jill:

And not to say that your shoulder wouldn't wear out with the teaspoon 100 times versus their tablespoon 50 times.

Scott:

Right.

Jill:

Maybe, maybe not. But yeah, it makes complete sense that the second you walk away, they go back to doing the job the same way because they want the outcome at the end of the day to be what they want it to be.

Scott:

Right. Right.

Jill:

Interesting. Yeah. I get it. That's awesome. So, we've got this safety theory based on all this historical lawsuit practices and you're bringing in to this personal experience, let's talk about the human beings who are doing the work and why they're doing it the way they are. And how we can modify and change things to make their lives better, if we understand the way they need to do their work.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah, by having those conversations.

Scott:

Absolutely.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. I know you've also written about how some of the practices that we have today in safety came about from historical events. Do you want to talk about that piece too?

Scott:

Yeah. And I think right now in our country it's really important to remember some of these things because we may be seeing some regulatory changes with the politics that are out there right now, which is really unfortunate. People forget that there was a time before OSHA. I think we need to take some of those pictures of 10 year old kids without shoes standing at a loom and we need to put them up in people's faces and say, "Let's not get to crazy with this deregulation."

Jill:

Right. It wasn't that long ago.

Scott:

No, it certainly wasn't. And when you look at recent history, a really interesting example is contrasting West Texas, where the fertilizer plant blew up and Bhopal, India.

Jill:

Yeah.

Scott:

Because when you go back to Bhopal, India for people who may not be old enough to remember, there was a pesticide manufacturer in Bhopal and as part of this chemical manufacturing process they had some chemicals that could not come into contact with water. There would be a very bad reaction if that were to happen. And somewhere along the line that did happen. These chemicals came into contact with water. A large amount of a toxic gas was generated which flowed out into the community around the plant and killed a very high number of people. And you look at the death estimates and it's anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands.

Jill:

Wow.

Scott:

It was an absolutely horrible event. And it changed the way we looked at chemical safety in the United States. Ronald Regan was president at the time and it was such a large event that when people decided to strengthen the EPA and create community right to know laws, this president who really did not like regulation and really was not somebody who you would think as signing more regulatory acts into law, was happy to sign that into law. And so fast forward about 20 years to West Texas.

Jill:

Not that long ago.

Scott:

No, not that long ago. And we have this fire in a fertilizer warehouse, big fertilizer building. And the fire department responded in an inappropriate manner. They responded the best way they knew how, but they didn't have all the knowledge they needed to respond in a way that would have created a safer situation. And that response probably would have been evacuate for about a half mile or so and let it burn. And as a consequence there were, oh I gosh I forget the number, I think it was over a dozen responders that were killed. And a lot of other people hurt who maybe wouldn't have been hurt had they evacuated a little further back. And it shows that there's still this gap. We created the community right to know laws and we did all these things in response to Bhopal, because we didn't, as a society, didn't realize how precarious some of these situations were. And how dangerous some of the situations were. Where we had chemical processes and other manufacturing. But we still had gaps. We still didn't understand those gaps. So when West Texas happened, now people recognize those gaps and realistically there should be some changes to laws and I don't, unfortunately, think we ever will get to the changes that we need. But looking back at safety, it really is written blood. We don't tend to create safety rules until people get hurt or die.

Jill:

It's so true. We are so good, our country. The United States is so excellent as response. We are so good at coming to aid when something has gone sideways. What we're not so great at, is prevention. And learning from our history. And learning from other history. And then once we figure that history out, to build upon it. And build upon it again to take us to the next place. Bhopal was in 1984, West Texas was in 2013. That's 29 years of history that was not built upon to take it to the next level. Or forgotten about. And how many examples do we have in our safety history? We hear complaints often as safety professionals, "How do I keep up with these safety laws? They're changing all the time. They're changing all the time." No they're not.

Scott:

That's right.

Jill:

They actually seldom change.

Scott:

Yeah.

Jill:

The ones that were adopted in 1970 are many of the same ones that they were there. They haven't changed much. You and I can articulate and list out a couple that have changed. Walking working surfaces was updated in the last year, but it's not always changing. We're kind of doing things the way that we've always done them.

Scott:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jill:

Which doesn't mean it's the best practice for the 21st century.

Scott:

Right. Yeah, there's been so much technological change in the last 40 years and so much more to come. So much more to come. Right now transportation is consistently one of the top two or three causes of death in the workplace. By the time you and I retire Jill, it's not even going to be on the list.

Jill:

Yeah.

Scott:

It's that exciting?

Jill:

Yes. Right. Yeah. And you know we don't want to make people feel disheartened of course. But also, I guess invite the audience to know that your hands aren't tied. We in this profession don't necessarily have tied hand to make changes. We have the ability to make changes in our own companies where we work, if we think things could be better than what the very bare bones minimum law requires. Or one isn't exist. Or in our communities and in our states. I took an opportunity back in the 90s to write a safety law for the State of Minnesota that was passed by the legislature and it's still on the books today with regard to the construction industry and the operation of mobile earth moving equipment. And I was young and in my 20s and idealistic and I just kind of plowed ahead with this idea, along with a co-worker of time. And I still can't believe that I did it. But, we can all be doing those things. Whether, like I said, whether it's in our own backyards or in our communities or even on a state level or a federal level. So know, if you're listening and you've got an idea for something that could be better or a story that was written blood. You don't have to wait for someone to come and ask you to do it. That likely won't happen, so make that change yourself and connect with other professionals who can help you along that journey.

Scott:

Yeah. And that's a great message. Very excellent message.

Jill:

Yeah. So, Scott in the minutes that we have left, what would you like to share with the audience about what you think we should be shifting to? Away from behavior based, away from that 'be more careful'. What do you see for our future in safety right now?

Scott:

Well, I think it's important for safety professions to be able to articulate how we affect success of the business. We're not here just to put up great motivational posters. We're not here just to make sure that people get their annual safety training. We're here to help our companies compete and perform at a high level and make the profit that is needed to stay in business. That's something that the safety function forgets a little bit about. And when we properly use the hierarchy of controls we will create environments that are not only safer but result in a higher level of quality and more efficiency. Safety really can be the motivator the effect all of that change.

Jill:

Yeah. Right. Because if employees are able to do their work without being inhibited by fear or pain, it would only make sense that the quality and efficiency is going to improve.

Scott:

Right. Yup.

Jill:

And then that gives safety a seat at the table just like operations would and all of these other departments that we compete with as safety. As safety professionals everyone else is like, "Hey, we're all moving this company forward toward profit, toward success, toward all of us getting a paycheck at the end of our day." But safety has a seat there, and it's not one that we often pull up and say, "Hey, this is how I can help."

Scott:

Right. Right. And we do need to do a better job at that.

Jill:

Yeah. Great. Scott is had been so fun talking with you today. Thanks for sharing the history on why we have our safety baggage that we do. Reminding us of who Heinrich was and again, hearing from yet another safety professional why it is so important to talk with employees and ask them how they do what they do, why they do what they do so we can learn from them.

Scott:

Yeah. It's the way to go. Well, thank you Jill for the time. I really had fun.

Jill:

Yeah. Great. Thanks Scott. And thank you all so much for joining in and listening today. And thank you for the work that you all do to make sure your workers make it home safe every day. You can listen to all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com. Or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing. If you have a suggestion for a guest, including maybe even if it's you, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.