< All episodes : #12: The Swiss cheese model of accident causation.

#12: The Swiss cheese model of accident causation.

Subscribe

October 17, 2018 | 56 minutes 3 seconds

Podcast series host Jill James connect with Paul, a safety professional of 26 years.

Paul’s interest in safety took root as an undergrad, and grew after taking advantage of an internship.

For Paul, occupational safety proved to be the ideal professional combination: risk management, law, economics, and engineering. He started his career with the technical writing of lockout-tagout and respiratory protection programs, a job that paved the way to a major corporate environmental health and safety (EHS) department. After that, Paul investigated serious injuries & fatalities (SIFs) for a decade before moving to the University of Minnesota’s occupational health division.

You’ll learn about the life of a young safety professional on the road, covering 400K miles from plant to plant in America’s heartland. Paul’s also got a bunch of near-miss stories any safety pro will connect with, along with advice for building safety “street cred”, and having rewarding experiences working with Millennials.

Stream This Episode

Download: MP3 (54.1 MB)

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro, brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems, and the Health and Safety Institute. Episode 12. My name is Jill James, Vivid's chief safety officer, and today I'm joined by Paul, who is the environmental health and safety engineer at Uponor, in the manufacturing industry in Minnesota, and Paul is also the owner of Solterra Consulting LLC. Paul, thank you so much for being episode number 12's guest.

Paul:

You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

Jill:

This is pretty exciting to have a dozen of these under our belt, and I just want to give a shout out to everyone who's been following The Accidental Safety Pro, and say thank you for listening. I hope that it's been insightful for so many people. Paul, how many years have you been in safety?

Paul:

26 now.

Jill:

Wow, 26. That rivals me. I'm at number 23, I think.

Paul:

Oh my gosh. We're veterans now.

Jill:

We're veterans, we're veterans. Paul, the central question for the podcast always is asking people how did you accidentally fall into this practice, understanding that it likely was not your lifelong dream as a little boy. Unless of course I'm wrong, and it was.

Paul:

No. No, as a...no, I wanted to be a fireman and an astronaut, and a cowboy and everything else as a kid, but when I was a sophomore in high school, or in college rather, I was trying to find a direction in life basically, and up until that point, I was hoping to go to law school after college, and I was falling out of love with that idea and I was focusing on the area of being an attorney or an engineer, or I wanted to do something in economics and finance, or maybe go into HR, and as I said, I was falling away from the idea of going to law school. The last thing you want to do after getting a bachelor's is sign up for two or three more years of college. I didn't the aptitude to be an economist or an engineer, and somebody talked me out of going into HR. But then around my sophomore year, I started hearing about this safety profession, and it sounded like all of these four things mixed into one.

There was the legal aspect of it, and the engineering aspect, and the financial aspect, and the working with people and managing performance and things like that sounded an awful lot like HR, and I said, "Well gosh, this sounds like I'm fulfilling all four of those aspirations of mine, and there you go." I started taking some courses and that was the beginning of the end. Then in 1992, which is when I graduated, the Exxon Valdez thing was just happening, and it made me realize...got very interested in how these safety incidents can really take a otherwise successful company and turn it into mush in not very much time. And at that time the job market when I graduated in '92, was just so poor, I ended up going to Ecolab to do an internship after graduation.

They were looking for an intern, they couldn't find one, and they offered me this job, which I was able to parlay into...it was supposed to be a three-month position, and I ended up manipulating my way into about a one or two year stint. Then when that ended I went to Honeywell and did the same thing and spent maybe another year there. Before you know it, I'm three years into the field.

Jill:

Wow, interesting. First I just want to say that the fact that you were so young, in college yet, and had these four points in your head, like boxes you wanted to check in your career. That seems like a lot of clarity for a young person. Good for you.

Paul:

Well, you get to a point where it's your sophomore year and you better start thinking, gosh I better nail down a major and I better figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up.

Jill:

Did the safety background in college, does that come to you by way of a bachelor's degree?

Paul:

Yeah, I actually have a bachelor's in business and economics. As part of that, I took an awful lot of risk management courses. My business degree has a lot of risk management concentration, so I've taken some risk management courses and some OSHA compliance courses and some management courses and economics and labor economics, and management and things like that, so I took quite a bit of the safety. There was a graduate program in safety there at the time, and I took an awful lot of those courses as part of my undergrad.

Jill:

Interesting. When you got that internship at, you said Ecolab? Was that where you said you were first?

Paul:

Right.

Jill:

What was the first safety tasks that you had?

Paul:

Ecolab at the time was a one-person safety department for...even back then Ecolab was a fairly big company. I want to say there were about 27 plants nationwide, and just hundreds and...it was a very sales-centric company, and hundreds of sales offices throughout the country, and there was only one person doing safety there. And at the time they wanted to bring in somebody from college with a good writing background, and I had done some technical writing, and they wanted to write basically all of the safety programs for the corporations. I spent several months writing lockout tagout programs, and respiratory protection and whatnot for all of their operations worldwide. There were 27 plants in the US, but many more in Canada, and other places overseas, et cetera.

I got along so well with my manager, a guy named Bob, who really give me my start. As time went on, he was able to find more uses for me, and I molded that job, or we molded that job into something that wasn't really totally resemblant of what it started off as, which was an internship to write these programs. I ended up supporting these plants and I ended up being there about two years, I think.

Jill:

Wow, that's awesome.

Paul:

Yeah, it was great.

Jill:

Do you wonder if any of those programs that you wrote, live on?

Paul:

I'm sure by now, somebody's probably...a few years later they hired me back as a consultant to rewrite a lot of those programs, so I would imagine they've been updated since then.

Jill:

Then your next leap is into Honeywell, and that's a giant corporation. What was that like? Did they have a really well-run safety department at that time, or what did that look like?

Paul:

Honeywell was a much, much more sophisticated organization, where we had a complete environmental health and safety department like just their...this is back in the day when Honeywell corporate headquarters was right off of 35W in the Twin Cities, and there were probably a dozen to two dozen safety professionals working just at corporate, in addition to all these plant people and regional people, so they were definitely further along than I had been used to at that time.

Jill:

Do you remember what sort of primary tasks you had back then that...assuming colored your career as well...

Paul:

It was the same thing. Luckily for me, at the same time, Honeywell was looking for the exact same type of thing that Ecolab was originally looking for, which was to rewrite all of their safety programs for all of the US operations. In that particular case, that started off being a, gosh, I can't remember how long that job lasted, but that was intended to be another limited term job that was going to last a few months. Unfortunately for me in that case, I didn't have the same luck there that I had at Ecolab. I wasn't able to mold that into one or two or three year thing, so when my work there was done, it was off to the next thing.

Jill:

Which was what? Where did you go next?

Paul:

Actually after that I was starting to get a taste for consulting and contracting, and I worked quite a few little contract jobs, and I consulted with several companies. One of them was a company called Mid America Dairies, which was in Winsted, Minnesota. I managed safety in a plant there. They had, I want to say probably 14 plants in about four states, and I managed safety all throughout those plants. I spent an awful lot of time on the road doing that. I lived in hotels, and I had a old Toyota Camry with about 400,000 miles on it, but between covering those plants, I did that for probably a good year or two.

Jill:

Did that take...was that your force foray that moved you out of writing, assuming if you're in plants you were doing more hands-on plant training stuff...

Paul:

Yeah, at that point we were doing more...I was getting my hands dirty a little bit more. There we were doing more traditional safety, more comprehensive view of safety things. Writing lockout tagout procedures and doing a lot of training, and doing inspections and audits and things like that.

Jill:

Was that your first time in a manufacturing setting to see what I often call the heart and soul of working America?

Paul:

Yeah, it was my first time working to that depth. With Honeywell and Ecolab, yeah, I had been in the plants before, but never getting dirty to the level that I was there.

Jill:

What sort of gear did you carry around with you in that Toyota Camry?

Paul:

I have a lot of music with me, and basically a travel bag. You throw a couple pairs of jeans and socks into a bag and at the time I was renting an apartment with several friends, and they said I was the world's best roommate because I would leave on Monday morning, come home on Friday, write a bunch of checks for utilities and take everybody out to dinner and Monday I was gone again.

Jill:

Here comes that safety guy in the Toyota Camry. Interesting, interesting. That sounds like a fun path. How long were you there and what was the next stop?

Paul:

For that I did, I would say probably another two to three years doing that, and then I went to...I started consulting with a firm called Integrated Loss Control, which at the time was in New Brighton, and that's where I made an awful lot of connections that to this day I still talk to those folks. I spent about 15 years at Integrated Loss Control. I started off as a technician. I was basically a pump jockey, doing industrial hygiene sampling and noise sampling and whatnot. After a few years of doing that, I was promoted to consultant where I was working with these clients on a more intimate basis, writing their programs and doing their training, and doing assessments and things of that nature. After a few more years of that, then I was managing the safety and health division for them. I did that for eight more years.

Jill:

So that particular job, I think you and I have talked about this in the past. There was a particular niche or focus at that consulting firm correct, and doing certain types of investigations?

Paul:

Sure. We had done...well, our environmental health and safety group did a lot of pretty traditional thing in terms of again, writing programs and working with these clients, but one unusual thing that we did was we did claims investigations. We would get...we contracted with a couple of different work comp carriers or brokers, and when there was a loss somewhere, our pagers go off at 11 o'clock at night, and we're in the car on the way to Bemidji or Brainard or wherever, to go start investigations and securing evidence and working on subrogation type things. It was a pretty unusual aspect. Not an awful lot of people in safety have had...everybody in safety has investigated accidents, but we were doing these fatalities, and these real serious amputation and things like that, with some amount of regularity. It was an unusual aspect of my job.

Jill:

If I asked you, and I'm going to ask you, do you remember the first fatality case that you went on with that particular job?

Paul:

Yeah. Yeah, I remember. I won't mention it now, but I remember his name, I remember in the course of the investigation learning about his family, learning his kids' names, and to this day, again I won't be too specific here, but I drive by that place with some regularity, and every time I drive by that place I think of his name, and I think, well this guy's kids are probably X number of years old now, and I wonder how his family is doing without him, and...it makes a big impact on you.

Jill:

Same for me in the time that I was with OSHA, investigated many fatalities, and serious injuries, just like you did at ILC. You don't forget about any of them, and I specifically remember the first one and what that felt like as well, and where I was, a that was at a sawmill. Deep in the woods where a man, because of a lockout tagout issue had been killed on the job. And yeah, some of them are more clear than others, but they all stick with you. Like you, when you're driving by a place that you know where a death has occurred, feels like hallowed ground to me, and I don't ever not think about it.

Paul:

Right.

Jill:

Paul, those claims investigations that went on, that's very serious work, not only for you as a human being dealing with that, but also the people that were impacted. How many do you think you did?

Paul:

How many fatalities?

Jill:

Yeah.

Paul:

Or serious incidents?

Jill:

Both.

Paul:

Fatalities, probably in the neighborhood of four to six maybe. Then in terms of other types of serious events, probably at least I'm going to say two to three dozen probably.

Jill:

As a safety professional at that time and being on call, and being ready to jump into that mode at a moment's notice. How did that color, if it did, or change the way that you viewed the career, how you approached it, how did it inform your work? What sort of insights did you gather from that work?

Paul:

It just paints this picture of how fine a line there is sometimes between getting hurt and not getting hurt, and how sometimes people have been so lucky for...it's kind of that Swiss cheese model of accident causation. People have been so lucky for so long and then one day, somebody moves that one slice of Swiss cheese 1/8". I hope people who are listening are familiar with the Swiss cheese model of accident causation, but one of those pieces of Swiss cheese isn't where it was the day before, and that's it, and you're either dead or you are disabled for life, or you lose a limb or you lose a finger, and suddenly everything is different. It's this idea of a new normal.

Now all of a sudden I've got to go through life without my right hand, or I've got to go through life with this terrible, terrible back injury that will never get better. I've got to go through life with this brain injury and life as I knew it is over, and I'll never be able to fish again, and I'll never be able to hunt again, and I'll never walk my daughter down the aisle, or whatever. Sometimes there's just nothing separating a person from that, other than just sheer luck, and then one day they just run out of luck and that's it. That's what always stuck with me after these things, after these investigations, is how fine a line that is between healthy and dead, or disabled forever.

Jill:

For our audience who might not be familiar with the Swiss cheese accident causation, think you should share that. I think that might be something...if someone's listening who might want to make that part of their safety cadence, that might be good. Do you mind sharing what that is?

Paul:

It's a theory of what causes accidents. If you can picture multiple slices of Swiss cheese all lined up. If you can picture in each one of these pieces of Swiss cheese is possible prevention strategy for that accident, whether it's personal protective equipment, or lockout tagout, or the proper type of training, or a proper work practice or whatever, and if you picture on the left side of this series of pieces of Swiss cheese, you have a hazard, and it's trying to get through to a worker, and in a perfect world, those slices are aligned in such a way where the hazard can't get through, but then one day, because one of those pieces of Swiss cheese has shifted, that hazard is able to make it through the holes in the cheese and get to a worker. I'm sure this is not a textbook explanation of that theory, but that's how I tend to...I'm sure somebody will argue with me about...

Jill:

It's a good visual. It's a good visual learning. I'm thinking of all the random holes in pieces of individual slices of Swiss cheese and if you shift them, maybe you can make the holes align and things get through.

Paul:

Yeah, that's exactly right, and they say with any natural disaster like the Exxon Valdez or airline disasters or whatever, they say that these factors always have to come...three things have to go wrong. All at the same instant for one of those things, because most modern day systems have got redundancy built into it. When three things go wrong all at once, it lends itself to this idea of Swiss cheese that now this hazard is able to get through to people and something's going to happen. Whether or not that's true or accurate, I don't know, but it's a good visual.

Jill:

It is a good visual. I think about as you're describing that, people have been going along, doing the same thing the way they had always done it, and then the three things align. I often think about people who say, "Yeah, but I've been doing it like that for 20 years and nothings happened, so it must be okay." And then it's like no, it's that...

Paul:

Somebody moves...

Jill:

And then it's like, no. It's that-

Paul:

Somebody moves your cheese.

Jill:

Somebody moved the cheese or it's the, what is the statistic for every 660 year or whatever it is, number of times that it was an unsafe work practice, a loss occurred.

Paul:

Right, the bird study. I forget if it's 300 or 600, but either way, you're going to have many, many close calls.

Jill:

It will happen.

Paul:

But eventually, it's going to happen because somebody has moved a piece of cheese on you and either it's a defect with your, who knows. I mean it could be any number of things.

Jill:

Right. Yeah. That rings true to the fatality investigations that I've done in my career. Always for me, my anecdotes for the 30 some serious injuries and fatalities that I investigated, all landed kind of in the same sort of realm. It was either people who were just starting their job, literally just starting or people who were very near retirement. They got to that 661st or 331st or whatever it is time and something happened. The cheese lined up at that time, but there didn't seem to be a lot of people mid-career, in my anecdotal experience in what I investigated. It always seemed to be on those two extreme ends.

Paul:

Yeah, I think there's probably a lot of truth to that.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. So you did that job with a consulting company in responding to claims investigations for 15 years. What happened next?

Paul:

I went to the university. That brings us up to about 2008. I just felt like it was a change. I felt like I had gone about as far as I was going to go in my current company and I wanted to try something new in 2008. The University of Minnesota was looking for a person to help with their occupational health division that they had just started and I applied for that and I was fortunate enough to get that. And over the course of 10 years an awful lot of jockeying around with different departments being combined and formed together. So I moved several times in 10 years and had a variety of bosses and a variety of different offices and desks that I sat at and I think I moved something like eight or nine or 10 times in the nine and a half years.

Jill:

Oh, my gosh.

Paul:

Yeah. I've had probably five different bosses in that time period. And that brings us up to 2018. So I spent 10 years at the U and I focused an awful lot on our agricultural operations. We had 10 agricultural operations throughout the state that was probably in the neighborhood of 30 to 50% of my job. And that was a part of my job that I just absolutely loved. Working on agricultural safety with these folks and just great, great people. And traveled quite a bit for that. And then again, in 2018, just last month, I again just felt like I had gone as far as I was going to go and I wanted to try something new and I moved on again. So in 25, 26 years...In the last 26 years, I've had only three jobs.

Jill:

Wow. Well, congratulations on the next chapter.

Paul:

Thank you.

Jill:

And you're just getting started again. That's awesome.

Paul:

Yeah. It's only been about four weeks. We had an OSHA inspection on my 11th day. Yeah, right. But no, I really feel like this most recent job with Uponor was just...I could not have asked to land in a better place than this. If I had sat down a year ago and drawn up a perfect job for me, this would be it. So it's really, really been a great experience so far.

Jill:

Yeah. And what makes it a perfect job? Is it like the right kind of balance of the things that you love to do and what are those things?

Paul:

Yeah, for one thing, I like the breadth of responsibility we have. I cover all North American operations, which is not quite as impressive as it sounds. There're only three plants in the US and they're all within an hour and a half of here. And then two more operations up in Canada. So there's an awful lot of responsibility. A lot of their safety program is already developed, but they're willing to add things and mold things a little bit. So I get quite a bit of freedom in terms of what I want to do. Again, it's only-

Jill:

And you didn't have to start off from scratch?

Paul:

No, exactly, exactly. And the people there are a really, really great people who want to be safe and our job is to support them and help them accomplish their goals. I mean it's ingrained in everybody at Uponor that it's not just a platitude. Safety is the number one thing that we care about there and everybody there is onboard with safety and they just want...All we have to do is support them. All we have to do is help them to accomplish their goals and they are all on board. I'm not having to fight anybody who's bucking or protesting or anything like that. It's been a great experience so far.

Jill:

Wonderful. I think you had mentioned earlier, in some of the other pieces, that you had an opportunity to supervise people in the role of safety and do you have that responsibility now where you're at too?

Paul:

No, no. Right now there are three safety professionals who actually all report up to the director of quality. And right now I don't have any direct reports, but you're correct. I've had it in the past. I've had direct reports in the past.

Jill:

Yeah, which is a little bit unusual with our careers sometimes not. Oftentimes, we're solo-operators are kind of like your situation right now where a number of you may report to the same person. So what was it like supervising people and do you have any tips for maybe people who are in that position right now, supervising other safety people?

Paul:

Well, I think a lot of it has to do with just plain old leadership and one of my favorite parts...at the university, I didn't have direct reports, but I also tried to help develop some of our younger safety staff as much as I could. I think a lot of those people have got very solid technical skills. They're coming out of college with Master’s degrees and whatnot. But it's another thing to kind of take that knowledge and apply it to this greater cultural question, which is we want people to be safe. We want people to make good decisions. We don't want to go around scaring people about safety. We don't want to go around quoting OSHA regulations. We want people to be safe. We want people to make good solid decisions for positive reasons, not negative ones. We don't want to scare them with, "If you don't do this, you're going to be fired and if you do this, you're violating an OSHA rule."

What we like to tell people at the university, and what I'm trying to start at Uponor, is framing this thing in a really positive context where if you are careful with this and if you do follow the safety rules, you're going to be around and you're not going to have an injury that's going to disable you for life and you're going to be around for your kid's weddings and you're going to be around for hunting and fishing and the Vikings games and everything else like that. And that's one of the things that we really try to communicate. That I kind of look at it in the way we communicate and I try to impose that vision on people that I'm working with. If I'm trying to develop them or anything else, I want them to know that, that's the cultural message that we're trying to put out there to people.

Jill:

Yeah. Don't be the safety cop.

Paul:

Yeah. Don't be the safety cop and I tell people all the time, "I don't care about OSHA, I'm not scared of OSHA, we don't do things because OSHA says we have to. We do things to protect people from a hazard that we know that it's there and if that happens to put us in alignment with OSHA, then great." But primarily our motivation is to protect people.

Jill:

Yeah. And what's in it for them, what's in it for them to continue doing their job and how do these, what might seem like silly rules or processes, what's in it for them? What does that mean for them?

Paul:

Yeah, exactly. How does this relate to your life and your wellbeing? And to a certain extent, yeah, you have to tell people about if you don't do this then you might hurt your back or you might have silicosis or what have you. And to an extent, there are certain things that you have to communicate to them that might sound negative. But primarily we try to emphasize positivity and safety and not negativity.

Jill:

So Paul, how do you feel? I mean, 26 years you've ran across and you've worked side by side with so many people in the workforce. How do you feel about today's workforce?

Paul:

Well, that's a hard question. I mean, it's obviously a huge audience and it's tough to generalize. I can tell you at the U for example, one of the things that always struck me about working at the U you as you're working with all these students than I was originally, initially I was kind of nervous about working with these students and doing training for these students because I thought they'd all be tough to communicate with and they'd be sleeping through training.

But in 10 years at the U, what I found was that these student workers are the most attentive during safety training. They are the most safety conscious. They will do whatever you tell them to do, but at the same time you also, with these younger kids, you need to younger...I shouldn't say kids. With these younger students, you need to help them to calibrate their risk a little bit. But for the most part I'm working at the U where I did most of my training, everybody there, but especially the students, they were onboard. I've never really had a major challenge at any one of my employers where I've had to deal with large groups of people who just weren't on board and needed to get of roped in a little bit. I've always had pretty good luck with that.

Jill:

Yeah, I'm happy to hear you say that about the younger generation. Millennials, in particular, take such flack as being dismissive or lazy or not engaged or entitled. And I have to say in my last two jobs, in particular, I worked and I continue to work with a majority of millennials and they are the best group of people I've ever worked with. So bright, so articulate. Way more bold than my generation to admit or ask for what they need. Admit like, "I don't understand that I'm going to need more information." I really appreciate that.

Paul:

I don't think you can take a snapshot of the workforce as a whole and categorize them into one category. I don't think you can, you just can't do that. You can't generalize people in...And yes, there are definitely exceptions, and I hear the same things about millennials that you do. There are definitely cases where that stereotype is accurate, but you can't apply that-

Jill:

To everybody.

Paul:

Right, exactly. It's not everybody. People are people and they're all individuals and you can't stereotype people like that. There are cases where that's accurate, but there are millions more where it's not accurate. So you have to judge people on their own merits.

Jill:

Absolutely. So been at this a long time. What's the piece of safety that you don't like doing? What do you loathe doing?

Paul:

I have to admit that when I'm going in to do refresher training on a topic that I know my audience has seen. When I was consulting for example, or even at the U, I would go to a farm and I'd have to do their refresher training for the zillionth time. I have to talk to them about material or safety data sheets or chemical labels and I have to tell them for the hundredth time and I really just loathe that. I walk into that room and I'm just dreading that.

I try to change my message as much as I can and I change my training materials as much as I can. But in the end, it's still right-to-know training and they've had it at least 10 times, just with me. I've done it 10 times at this farm and they've heard it from me 10 times in the past. But you have to go in and you have to sing your song and you have to do it one more time. But I can't stand that part of the job doing this really, really repetitive training. As much as you try to change it, it's still the same.

Jill:

I think that's what I don't like as well and not necessarily not with regard to training. I get what you're saying. But the things that give me, like, I go, "Here I go again. I got to do this again." And it's usually fighting safety clichés for me. That's the thing that gets under my skin the most, when people say, "But I've been doing it this way for this long and nothing's happened." Or, "All that safety stuff just gets in the way and you're making my job more dangerous."

Paul:

Your just trying to cover your butt.

Jill:

Yeah, right. Exactly, responding to those clichés when the person saying them to you is agitated, number one. And number two thinks they're really unique in saying that. And if they had any idea how many hundreds of times I've responded to that, you wouldn't ask that anymore because then I can tell you a story about how that exact cliché killed someone, I've named them. So like you're being repetitive with training, and here we go again, I feel the same way about answering and responding to those clichés and having tried to bring your energy to answer it again, because maybe you're going to get through to somebody this time, or that individual person. Though you're giving the same answer that you've given hundreds of times.

So, Paul, you had mentioned when you first got started, you first had that internship with Ecolab's and then with Honeywell and you did have a lot of writing and it sounds like you have a real knack and aptitude for writing, like you had said. How has writing carried you through this career? Do you blog? Do you write about safety? What's your writing life look like for you with this career?

Paul:

I write a lot, whether we're writing programs or procedures and what I call technical writing. I actually took several courses in college on technical writing. I knew it was going to be a fairly big part of my job, so I took several courses on technical writing. And then, you're right, through Ecolab and Honeywell, that became pretty important, In terms of blogging. Yeah. I have a consulting website and on that, I have a blog where I blog about OSHA compliance issues and new cases that are coming up, things like that. So I write quite a bit.

Jill:

And do you love doing it?

Paul:

No, no, I wouldn't say I love it. It's something I think it's kind of a necessary evil for just about no matter what your profession is, you need to know how to write. I get emails pretty frequently from, we've all gotten those emails where you have to sit and kind of decipher what a person is trying to say because there's this set of email etiquette that says, we write these quick little bullet point stream of consciousness type writing styles and sometimes they're a little bit tough to read, but I think it's one of those universal skills that everybody can, including me, can always get a little bit better at. No, I wouldn't say I like it at all.

Jill:

Got it. But you've developed an aptitude of it and you're-

Paul:

I suppose. Yeah, I suppose you could say that.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. So Paul in this career, what keeps you up at night?

Paul:

Well, I think just about every safety professional could say the same thing. We worry about what's going on at the plant at three in the morning and we worry are we protecting people and are we giving people the tools that they need, whether it's a physical tool or a mental tool. Whether it's some educational message that we've given to people so that they're enabled to make the right decisions. We worry about what people are doing when we're not watching. And sometimes we hear about cases where there's been some type of event happens and people did exactly what they were trained to do.

I can think of one case at our Morris farm, when I was at the university, where we had done heat-stress training and one of the student workers was walking alongside a piece of farm equipment and the supervisor for that operation happened to be walking right next to him or driving a tractor right next to him. And he looked over at the kid and he noticed that this kid is lagging back a little bit further and further. And this was a hot day and he recognized, just as he had been trained, he started recognizing the signs of heat stress and he told this employee, "Let's go. We're going in." And the employee said, "No, no, no, I'm fine." He said, "No, we're going. You didn't hear me. We're going in. And by in I mean to the ER."

And potentially might've saved the kid's life by doing exactly what he was supposed to do. He recognized the issue and he took the appropriate action. That's what we worry about. I mean, that's an example of where things, people took that training and they took the tools that we tried to give them and applied it correctly. But we worry about cases where that's not true. We just worry about what are people doing when we're not watching? And do they have the tools and judgment and knowledge that they need to handle safety on their own?

Jill:

Right. Exactly. That's the ultimate goal is to have people performing the way we train them to when no one else's is watching.

Paul:

Right. Exactly.

Jill:

That's the key to it. So do you have any particular advice for people in the 21st-century practice of safety or anything that you've seen evolve or change that you think has been maybe helpful in the way that we go about doing our job with whether it's technology or anything?

Paul:

I think people are much more technically astute than they used to be. There are so many tools for the safety professional now that didn't exist when I was right out of college. Between the Internet and iPhones and iPads and database...

The Internet and iPhones, and iPads, and databases and learning management systems. I guess my advice would be to take advantage of that technology as much as you can. The other thing that I would really encourage people to do, especially when...I think we've already touched on it. But if I were right out of college and if I was starting in safety today, my advice has been and always is, forget about OSHA. Don't worry about compliance because you're...Most of our consulting clients are still at that point where we're just worried about OSHA coming in and giving us a big ticket. And your low probability of OSHA coming in is relatively low, and your probability of getting a six-figure citation is even lower. Whereas, one back injury will be 10 times...will cost the company 10 times with this theoretical OSHA citation would.

And those are happening now. Those are certain to happen. So focus more on actual, how do we manage our program in such way where we're actually preventing people from getting hurt and worry less about compliance, and jumping through hoops, and crossing t's and dotting I's on our OSHA logs? Worry about protecting people, and you'll be successful.

Jill:

Yeah, exactly. And I think hearing someone say like, "Forget about OSHA," sounds obtuse to some listeners, but it's a good message. The OSHA regulations were written to be minimum. They're minimum things that people need to do, and so many of them were written or adopted back in the '70s. And there's such a long period of time and effort that's put into promulgating a new standard that the regulations aren't necessarily keeping pace with the rest of how the world is working, and how human beings work. And so our job as safety professionals isn't to look to the OSHA regulations and go, "Oh, they don't have anything on that." Because guess what? There probably isn't because they don't move that fast.

Paul:

Well, right, exactly. I mean, it took over almost 30 years to promulgate the confined space rule. And let me be clear about this, I'm not saying ignore OSHA.

Jill:

Yeah, I get it.

Paul:

I'm not saying that you don't have a duty to comply. I'm seeing that for too many companies that is the goal. Is to be into OSHA compliance, and their goal should be to prevent people from getting hurt by following OSHA and by implementing the other measures that we have to do. But OSHA compliance is not the-

Jill:

End all be all.

Paul:

Yeah. It's not the target.

Jill:

Right, right. Exactly, exactly. It's merely a baseline and there's so much more to do than just that.

Paul:

Yes.

Jill:

Very good. Very good. Paul, you and I have both been at this job a while and we've had a number of different jobs, met lots of different people. Had to figure out how to build our credibility with the workforce so that we could be believable with them. What's some of the craziest stuff that you've did on the job that you never thought you'd do? That's sometimes comical that you went home at night and went, "You wouldn't believe what I did today."

Paul:

Well, I think street cred. Anybody who's ever worked with me knows that I talk an awful lot about credibility, and I think there's an awful lot of walking the walk and talking the talk. And we had, I won't mention names, but we had...I had a colleague once who went onto a construction site and this is a person who's now retired, and this person didn't have an awful lot of experience in construction. But he referred to a backhoe as a steam shovel, and those guys just about ate him alive.

Jill:

Yeah, don't get heavy equipment wrong ever.

Paul:

And don't screw up your terminology, and get the slang correct and everything else, but there's also this part of kind of looking the part. I used to play an awful lot of hockey and I learned very early on that if you're in the locker room and guys are getting dressed, and they're taking the price tags off their equipment as them out of the bag, those are the guys that you have to look out for. So, I learned kind of early on that you have to look the part too. You don't want to be out there with all brand new matching stuff, and you're all red, white and blue, or orange, or whatever. You need to look the part. And my neighbors laugh at me because now whenever I buy a new Carhartt jacket, or a pair of boots or whatever, I will literally go out in the yard, dunk it in mud, tie it to the back of my car, drag it around the street behind my. Literally drive over...

I just recently went out and bought a couple of new high visibility tee shirts, and I washed my car with them. Rubbed all the dirt off my tires, dragged him behind the car a little bit. You have to look the part. And if you show up on a job site wearing all brand new Carhartt's, you're not going to look credible. So, you need to scuff this stuff up as much as you can. Splash a little paint on it or a scuff it up with a drywall knife or whatever you have to do. You've got to look the part.

Jill:

When I got my first Carhartt jacket I remember some contractors giving me advice on how to clean it. They were like sincerely giving me tips like, "Don't put that in your washing machine. I know it looks like you got a little dirt on it or whatever, but don't put it in the washing machine. These are the things that you have to take to the dry cleaners, it's going to ruin whatever protective quality for wind barrier." Or whatever it was that they were coaching me on.

Paul:

Oh, I thought you were saying they were telling you not to wash it.

Jill:

Oh No. They were telling me if I'm going to clean it, do it this way-

Paul:

No. You never wash your Carhartt jacket.

Jill:

I know, exactly. I don't think I ever have washed my Carhartt jacket.

Paul:

No, no. Because if you do...Eventually the cuffs on the sleeves will start to get a little bit ragged. You'll spill something on it and you'll end up with a cool stain, and now you look like you belong.

Jill:

I think one of my early mentors at OSHA, a man named Richard who I have spoken about before, he was teaching me credibility one day. And he knew the OSHA regulations like the back of his hand. Literally they were all memorized in his head. He'd write down. We were out on an investigation and he would write down in his notes that it was a violation of 19, 10. 147 C1 or whatever. And he knew what that was. And he took me one day to the regulation book on...Oh, let's see, where is it? I can't remember exactly where in the regulations, maybe in the scaffold regulation where it talks about Bosun's chairs. And he pointed out to me that it's spelled boat-swains. And he said, "Never say that. Never say that out loud." It's Bosun's chair, and he goes, "Because you're going to get laughed at if you save boatswain's."

And I think I made a note of that in the margin of my regulation book at the time. And I've always remembered that with regard to credibility, like don't say that.

Paul:

Yeah, I couldn't agree more with you. The construction guys are a different breed sometimes and they're just sometimes looking for an opportunity to kind of pounce. And once you've lost that credibility it's not coming back.

Jill:

That's right. So, if the word's not coming to your head, here's the tip. If the word belly dump isn't coming to your head, or what was the machine that the guy called the steam shovel?

Paul:

A backhoe.

Jill:

The backhoe. Yeah. If the word backhoe isn't coming to your head, don't try to make it up. Just call it a piece of heavy equipment.

Paul:

Right, just shut up, right.

Jill:

It's a piece of heavy earth moving equipment.

Paul:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jill:

Put it in a category.

Paul:

Do anything you can to not use the term that you're tempted to. You fake a heart attack if you have to. Don't use that word that you think might be incorrect, because once that credibility is gone, it's not coming back.

Jill:

Right, right, right. Oh Man, so what drives you to keep at this Paul? I mean, other than the paycheck.

Paul:

Yeah, probably the same thing that every other safety professional would say, the idea of protecting people. Trying to give people the knowledge that they need and the skills that they need to...I mean, sometimes people just aren't aware of these or they know those hazards are there, but they need help kind of calibrating their level of tolerance of risk basically. And we need to continue to help to educate those folks. And that's what keeps it going...Why do people do not so smart stuff? It's because they either don't realize there's a hazard or they realize it, but they need some help calibrating. And that's what keeps us going. I would imagine any safety professional would say the same thing. We've got to protect people.

Jill:

Absolutely. So on the other side of that, what drives you crazy about this profession? We talked about what you loath doing, but what drives you crazy about it?

Paul:

There was an article in a magazine that I read a couple of...It was fairly recently, but they took a survey and they asked people from all walks of life, what's the most ironic thing about your job? Not the best or the worst, but the most ironic thing. And coincidentally, there was a safety person who responded to this survey, and he said, "The most ironic thing about my job is that I've dedicated my life to protecting people and making sure they aren't killed on the job, and they hate me for it." And I said, "Boy, isn't that the truth?" That's what kind of drives me nuts, is that employees still look at safety as...Sometimes. They sometimes look at safety as a negative. Something that we have, "Oh, we have to go to this lockout tag out training. Or we have to go do our arc flash stuff." And they still look at it as a negative.

They still look at it as something that they have to do or they're going to get in trouble. And again, I've said it a couple times already today. I want them to go, "All right, today I'm going to learn more about how to be safe in my job, and so I can go on living, and so I can continue to hunt and fish and everything else, and do the things that I love." If I were one of those people working in a foundry or whatever, I'd be on board with safety training. "Okay. All right. Today they're going to talk to me about...I'm going to the safety training at 11:00 and they're going to talk to me how to make sure I don't get silicosis." I would be signing, I'd say sign me up for anything I got. So that's one of the things that kind of drives me nuts and...

But the other thing is that in the end, we can do all the training we want and write all the programs, but the other thing that kind of drives me a little bit crazy is that in the end we still have to rely on people to do the right thing when we're not watching. And people are unpredictable and they have different frames of reference, and they have different tolerance of risk, and sometimes they're going to do the things we want them to do and other times not. But in the end it still comes down to that.

Jill:

Yeah, absolutely. And it is ironic, right? I mean, our career does have extreme ends. There doesn't seem to be a lot in the middle. Either it's like, "Oh, here we go again. We have to do this training, we have to sit through this. We have to have these policies. You've got to follow this procedure," blah, blah blah. And then when the worst happens, the dial gets immediately turned up and safety is at the absolute center of everything that's happening. There doesn't seem to be like a medium setting in safety. It's either like, sort of like on this simmer.

Paul:

Yeah, there's three.

Jill:

Yeah, there isn't a three.

Paul:

On a scale of one five, there's no three. You have these people who are really...I don't see an awful lot of people were just staunchly anti safety, but you see people who kind of lean away from the middle. And then you have people who lean towards the top and then you have these advocates, these people who no matter what you do, they want more. And we see a lot of that in my current job now. We see, okay, hey we have a great safety program here, how do we make it better? And I've been fortunate in my current job and...Well, at the university, but even more so at my current job where we're seeing the fives. But you're right, we don't see an awful lot of threes in there.

Jill:

So you're starting out this new job and maybe this is where we kind of close out our time together today. 26 years into it, you're in your fourth week, I think is what you said, on your new job. How are you starting? How are you approaching it? Do you have a schedule that you put together for yourself or some goals or priorities? So maybe someone who's listening who's just starting their next chapter can hear about how you're approaching, how you're going to do this one.

Paul:

Yeah, they asked me this during my interview, one of my...I obviously met with several people while I was interviewing and one of those person said, "What would you do for the first week?" And my answer was nothing. I guess that's not totally true. I mean, I would want to know is, are there any ticking time bombs? Is OSHA waiting for a check? Is there anything that we have to get on like right now today? But for the most part the answer is nothing. I'm going to learn as much as I can about the operation, about the industry, about the competitive environment, about the culture, about the staff and who does what and how do we do things. And I'm going on, like you say, probably my fourth week now I think, and I'm just now getting to the point where, "All right, let's start updating some written programs and I'm responding to some of these questions."

Some people are looking for help on lockout tagout issues, and confined space issues, and air quality issues. But I purposely did not do what you're describing, which is to have a 30-day action plan or something like that. I wanted to take the first 30 days or whatever and just learn and do nothing. Nothing in terms of changing anything, and it's been working out really well. I've had a very chaotic approach to it. I'm just saving documents on my computer desktop and later on I'll kind of try to put them together in some type of a format. But for now it's very chaotic learning. Everything is everywhere. I have post it notes all over everything.

And over the course of time I'll start to make things a little bit more cohesive and identify not only what those priorities are, but how do they need to get tackled considering-

Jill:

Yeah, how to triage them.

Paul:

Yeah, exactly. How do I triage these things and in what priority, and who are the players in this, and what are their motivations? And that will become more evident. And I don't think I would have gotten that type of gut level reaction to things if I had set to rigid a work plan for the first 30 days. So, my answer is do nothing for the first 30 days, other than just learn as much as you can.

Jill:

Yeah. To really do what I might call rapport building. Find out who are your people that you'll be working with? Who are your foremen? Who are your supervisors? What does the staff like? Like the culture like you talked about.

Paul:

What's the org structure, right?

Jill:

Yeah, right. And then to find out where the tribal knowledge lies and how might you leveraged that tribal knowledge, I think, is never to be underscored. We come in as professionals having all these years of experience and ideas, but there are so many people who don't have our backgrounds but have the tribal knowledge, and we need to know it and respect it.

Paul:

Yeah. And especially for us, we're on internet, we're based in Finland. So there's this international component that kind of comes in. And my responsibilities stop at the borders. You know, we have North America, so I don't have to worry too much about that. But my boss does and he's going to be hearing things from Finland and everywhere else. And how does what we've learned and how do we run things here, how is that going to translate to Finland, or China, or Russia, or anywhere else?

Jill:

Right, right, right. Yeah. The optics are important of...the technical aspect and the optics are so important with the work that we do to be successful.

Paul:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. Paul, it has been so wonderful to have you as guest number 12 of the Accidental Safety Pro. Really appreciate the time and generosity that you've given our audience today, particularly as you're just starting your next chapter.

Paul:

Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Jill:

Oh, you're welcome. So thank you all so much for joining in 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 guest, including maybe if it's even you, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.