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#22: Eight stories and a big thank you.

March 27, 2019 | 25 minutes 20 seconds

Podcast series host Jill James shares eight of her favorite moments from the show. You’ll hear about a hydrogen explosion, what it’s like to grow up with a safety parent, and the virtues of unlikely mentorships. These stories from safety professionals across the country will make you laugh, make you wince, and leave you with the sense that you’re not alone.

Transcript

Jill:

Hi, my name is Jill James, Vivid's Chief Safety Officer, and welcome to a very special episode of The Accidental Safety Pro. Today we're going to be looking back at a few of the guests that we've had, and reflecting on some of the stories that we've heard, and advice that was shared. First up, in episode 13 with Dave DeSario, we were addressing the cliché in the aftermath of an accident, where someone seems to always be asking, "What did the employee do wrong?"

Dave:

You know, when you hear about a serious injury or fatality, maybe the first thought that I had was, "What did this person do? What did this worker do to make that happen?" [crosstalk 00:00:51] And I think Dave's case is such an important one because it is so clear that it's not his fault, and it's so clear that responsibility falls on so many different people and so many different companies, where there were just many opportunities along the way for safety professionals, for supervisors, for co-workers, for managers, for executives, for big companies, to somewhere along the line do the right thing, make safety a priority. Make safety a priority over production, and over profit [crosstalk 00:01:24], but it was missed.

So, coming out as an outsider, Dave's case meant a lot to me, and also as someone who worked as a young person in a warehouse, not too different as Dave did. So it wasn't so different from me. But I think as an outsider, what was truly shocking was hearing the number of fatalities there are on the job, which if you're a former OSHA inspector, these numbers are second nature for you. Or if you're in safety and health they are. And maybe it's something you take for granted, or you see the long view. So if you hear 4,500 or 4,600 Americans died on the job in the last year, maybe that doesn't sound so big when you think of the history of OSHA, and- was it two or three times that [crosstalk 00:02:05] in the 70s?

Jill:

In the early- Yes, exactly.

Dave:

So maybe to someone in the industry that sounds like more of a success story, or sounds like a lower number. But, as an outsider, when I thought of workplace fatalities, I thought of Bangladesh, or somewhere not here.

Jill:

(Laughing). Right. [crosstalk 00:02:24] So that was a shocking piece to you. In finding out that, oh my gosh, a lot of people die on the job.

(Bell ding).

Jill:

Next up is a clip from our American Society of Safety Professionals roundtable, with Anupama, Donald, and Aaron. Anupama and Donald both share stories of things they never thought they'd have to address in their work as safety professionals.

Things that you've done that you're like, that was a once and done thing, or gosh, I can't even believe I had to- I did that, I didn't know the job was gonna be this? Those kind of things.

Anupama:

One that caught me off guard was evaluating the compliance of protein muffins (laughing) from a byproduct of a (laughing) process. Yep.

Jill:

Wonderful. Okay, next.

Donald:

I'll say, I feel like I'm the field HR representative. I get all kinds of [crosstalk 00:03:18] complaints about all type of things, that aren't necessarily health and safety related, but in order to keep those relationships and to make them comfortable coming to me, I just sit there and listen to it all and bring it to the appropriate group that I feel. A lot of things that I do is- that I didn't know that I would be expected to do at times, was the equipment inspections. Specifically for crafts that- for lifting and ladders and other things like that. I understand that there are programs and they need to be inspected and all those other good things, but I didn't know I was gonna be the one going to do it. [crosstalk 00:04:01]

Anupama:

Another one that just happened to me a couple weeks ago is I was in the middle of lunch. I was working and eating in my office and a gentleman walked in, and he said, "I hope you don't have a queasy stomach, I'm covered in human feces." (Laughing)

(Bell ding)

Jill:

Another story that resonated with me was when Mark explained respiratory issues that he has seen over the years as an industrial hygienist. Even one called Crab Asthma.

Was that kind of your first job that you had, where you weren't having this vast exposure to all these different types of employment settings, or am I guessing wrong there?

Mark:

It was really different. Working in an occupational medicine clinic at the University of Washington, and it was the- we were one of the major, kind of, we were a research center, we trained occupational medicine docs and we would provide outpatient services in the northwest to- for on occupational disease and some on back injuries and [inaudible 00:05:02] health, but mostly the focus was disease. So what was different was I suddenly wasn't going out to work sites very often. But what was happening is sick, sick workers were coming to our clinic. And so we saw lots of workers with Asbestosis and potential lung cancer, and some Mesothelioma cases. We saw lead poisoning, solvent exposures were very common. And so lots of indoor air cases. This was in the early 90s, a lot of indoor air issues. We saw lots of asthma and so environmental sensitivity cases from around the northwest, from things like Crab Asthma, which is in the crab processing from Alaska, was a common disorder.

Jill:

Who knew?

Mark:

Yeah, and to radiator workers in radiator shops getting lead poisoning, and then the historic asbestos diseases that were showing up just because of the long history of asbestos use in the Pacific Northwest.

(Bell ding)

Jill:

We appreciated Carolina sharing her stories as a safety pro at Pixar Animation Studios, simply to show no matter where you work, safety is for everyone.

How has that transition been looking for you, in terms of how are you able to work through those fires every day and kind of what resources are you reaching out to?

Carolina:

Well, you know, because we are a Disney company as well, I have my Disney partners that deal with safety and environmental health. And I've actually reached out and introduced myself to them in the beginning and asked if they could help guide me and answer questions for me if I ever had any. And that's how it all started. I mean, there isn't always fires that we have to put out because we have our facilities department, they're really good about safety and believing in that. Our studio's a huge supporter of it. So just keeping up with maintenance of making sure everyone's up to certifications that they may need, from forklift operator, to CPR and First Aid, to Haz Com, and all of that. So it's just making sure that I'm continuing on the regulations, making sure we're still OSHA-compliant, and again, these things just surface up. I mean, I was on board maybe, I wanna say, about four months in [crosstalk 00:07:41] and I get a call from the environmental health inspector saying, "Hey, I need to schedule a visit." And I'm all like, "Huh?"

Jill:

What is that? Who is that? (Laughing)

Carolina:

Who? Environmental what? And so, I was very open and honest, and I think that's what's helped me out, is that I'm not afraid to say I don't know the answer to that, let me come back. Or, you know, I have no clue what you're talking about, but I can find out. And I've done that throughout my life and my careers. So, of course, we had to update our hazard material business plan, and I'm all like, "What? What is that?" [crosstalk 00:08:25] I have no idea.

(Bell ding).

Jill:

The next clip is from episode 15 with Linda Martin. Linda shared her insight on being female in our profession, and also avoiding the safety cop label.

Yeah, let's talk about what that was like early in a career. You and I both started in safety in our 20s, and we're women, and it sounds like your path often led you to being in more- not only are women continuing to be a minority in our field, but the fields where you were working were also pretty male-dominated, in construction trades and in a lot of that environmental piece. What did that look like for you in terms of how did you find your voice and build into that?

Linda:

I've also had a voice, Jill. (Laughing) But I will say-

Jill:

I got that joke (laughing).

Linda:

Yeah, I've always had a voice.

Jill:

Sorry, a little slow on me there. (Laughing)

Linda:

(Laughing) So, one of the things that I've kind of prided myself on is that, I don't like, kind of plying my craft, if that's the right way to say it. And maybe this is the wrong way to say it too, but by pulling the woman card, by either having men do what I want in the field because it's a female asking, or change their behavior because I'm one of the guys [crosstalk 00:10:06] I think I've prided myself more on building a base rapport, and that entails- Well first of all, some of the older men that are in construction, and this kind of generates itself as new people come in, they see safety as, "Here comes the safety cop. [crosstalk 00:10:24] She's gonna tell me to put my hard hat on, and I'm gonna chuckle about it, and then when she leaves I'm gonna do whatever- [crosstalk 00:10:31] Right, do whatever I want, just placate her." [crosstalk 00:10:35]

But to actually kind of come in and say, listen I'm not here to do that. I'm here to try to help you do a task better, and number one I wanna hear why you're doing it the way you are, because sometimes that's important. [crosstalk 00:10:52] So that gives them a sense of empowerment that they're part of the process. [crosstalk 00:10:58] But also not to be that person that comes in and is barking orders or be the know-it-all safety person [crosstalk 00:11:04]. The safety cop, right? [crosstalk 00:11:06]

And the other thing is that, when people see you as the same, and by the same I mean we all have the same concerns, right? I wanna do my job and I wanna do my job because I make money and I can support my family and I love the weekends. I love to get to the weekends. I love it when it's 5:00 and I get to go home and hold my daughters on my lap, and so when you build that sense of, hey we're all the same, and I care that you have that same ability as I do to go home at night, I think it goes a long way. And I never, at least in my professional practice, I never have had a problem with working with a bunch of guys. [crosstalk 00:11:57]

And that's not to say that it's not difficult, it has been very difficult over the years. If I was to give some advice to women, I would say, "Come in and show your sameness. You have the same values and same concerns. Listen a lot, right? [crosstalk 00:12:16] These guys have been in the field for, some of them, 30 plus years, and they [crosstalk 00:12:21] do things because they've learned to adapt their tasks over a set amount of time, and just because they're doing something not the way that you would do it, it doesn't mean that it's wrong. And it doesn't mean that it's not safe. It might not be as safe as it could be, but that's the listening part, allows you to get to the point where you can have a conversation [crosstalk 00:12:43] about making something safer or maybe having a compromise.

(Bell ding)

Jill:

If you're a fan of the show, you know how important mentors can be, and in episode 17, Katie tells us her story about the importance of mentorship to her.

Katie:

And while I have what I call first year safety pro syndrome, where I thought I knew everything, and I was super smart. Well yeah, when you have somebody that you can default and ask questions of everyday, who can tell you when you're doing something wrong, yeah your job is a lot easier than having to make those decisions and tell people- [crosstalk 00:13:21] Yeah, exactly, so that was really, really difficult, and I knew it wasn't for me. And then I had another brief stop after that, and that really wasn't for me either. But where I'm at now, I feel so much better. I am the only one that does what I do, but I'm okay with that at this point. One of the biggest things that I've learned is that mentors come in all sorts of forms. (Laughing). They don't have to be a safety professional to teach you how to be a good employee.

Jill:

Tell us more about that. I agree with you 100%, but tell us more about that. Especially if someone's just getting started and they're looking for those mentors. When you say it's not necessarily somebody in safety, talk about an experience or what you learned that's valuable.

Katie:

Yeah. A few years ago in the company I worked for, I had started out working for one safety manager who is someone I respect very much. He is super funny, we get along really well, we still talk every now and then, but he left the company to seek a different opportunity, and- He gave me really wonderful advice. He was kind of like, I'm grouchy and I can grumble that, oh you know, safety's dumb, but that's why I do it, because I wanna make sure I do my best, so that people don't have to grumble about it and whatnot. And he told me, "You're too young to have that attitude. Make sure you stay positive and whatnot." So I was like, oh yeah, great.

And after he left, I started working for somebody else, and I kind of looked to that person to be my mentor, and that really didn't mesh. I felt like we didn't have the same values and we didn't practice the same way, and that person didn't really try to get to know me, which was really frustrating, cause I felt like they didn't understand me. And I feel like I sound like every parent's 16 year old, like, "Oh you don't understand me and you don't like the things I like," [crosstalk 00:15:12] but it was difficult because I wanted to be my best for this person. And I just felt like we weren't really clicking.

So I ended up having a mentor in the manufacturing engineering manager at one of my locations, and he turned out to be a fantastic mentor for me. He would take me aside after meetings and be like, "Hey, I know that you're trying to pitch this right now, and I wanted to give you some feedback. I think that this way of pitching this idea, I don't think that's gonna work because of XYZ. But I really think it's a great idea, and I think if we tweak that a little bit, we can really get some success." I'd be like, "Oh yeah, that's great." So [crosstalk 00:15:51] he helped me a lot, to get a really expensive order of security cameras approved and all kinds of, really great things like that. And he's still someone that I look to a lot, and on my last day with that org, I sat in his office and I was like, "My exit interview's coming up and I just- I'm really glad that you were here for me and you looked out for me quite a bit." So, and we're still friends as well. I talk with him quite a bit still. But that was really one that stood out to me that I was able to learn something about my career from someone who didn't talk to me about safety.

(Bell ding)

Jill:

This next clip is one that I think will resonate with a lot of us who parent children and who are also safety professionals. Listen as Chevon and I discuss both having a safety mom and being one.

Chevon:

I remember it being normal. Nothing about it seemed weird or abnormal, or something that isn't supposed to be happening in a family. I mean, the way that she presented the information, the way she covered it with us, I- to me, it all made sense, which maybe it's cause this was inbredded in me anyway [crosstalk 00:17:07], but I don't remember it being something out of the ordinary. It just seemed like it was a natural part of growing up.

Now, I know that when I would talk to other friends about it as I would get older and I'd notice things and start pointing things out, they would look at me like I was weird. (Laughing) [crosstalk 00:17:28] But then I would just look at them like, well what do you mean it's weird? Why wouldn't you wanna know what kind of safety you need to do to protect yourself? Why wouldn't you wanna know that you shouldn't plug in a lot of things into your power strip? Or (laughing) [crosstalk 00:17:41] that chemicals are kept in this area for a certain reason, or that there should be a meeting place if there's a fire. Why wouldn't you wanna know these things? [crosstalk 00:17:49] So I just- I never, I don't know, when friends would react that way, I just, I guess I would have the equal but opposite reaction back to them (laughing).

Jill:

What was it like when you had your first sleepovers or you're going to other people's houses? I know what I did as a mom, so I'm curious to know what Super Mom did. (Laughing)

Chevon:

So Super Mom really tried her best not to impose that on my friends, and so she would try as hard as she could, but she would talk about certain things. She would say, "If there ends up being a tornado, we're gonna hide underneath the st- at that time, she said, we're gonna hide underneath the stairwell in the basement," and then I remember getting older and her saying, "No that's not a good idea. What we need to do is we need to figure out what direction the tornado is coming in so we can sit in the opposite corner." I mean, she would talk about things like that, and she would talk about where we're gonna meet if there was a fire and- but outside of that, she really wouldn't try to push too much on them, because I think she knew that not a lot of families (laughing) did what she did, and she didn't wanna be that weird mom that now kids don't wanna spend the night at your house (laughing) 'cause she's freaking them out.

And then I would try really hard not to bring those things up when I would go to friends' houses, because I guess I kind of learned from my mom that not everyone has that safety sense, and you don't wanna be that kid that no one wants to invite over anymore (laughing). So I would try hard not to do it, but sometimes, especially if something she talked about seemed really cool, I don't know, I would- I'd bring it up. [crosstalk 00:19:32] I just, I liked it. (Laughing)

Jill:

When my son was little I remember the first time he asked me, and I don't remember what the context was, he just said, "Mom, what's our safety plan for that?" I'm like, "Oh (laughing). Okay." (Laughing). But I also remember calling his friends' parents' houses when he would go and spend time, asking about firearms [crosstalk 00:19:53] and were they locked up, and those kind of questions, and I thought, "Well, you know, I have a right to ask that as a parent," and they were legitimate questions to ask. His little friends now, they're not little anymore, they're all teenagers, and when we go about and do things with them, they all are like, "Alright Jill, when is it coming? What's the safety plan?"

This past Halloween, the kids always do- we always organize for them a scavenger hunt with an app called- oh, it's a really cool app, I'll think of it and share it with people, 'cause you can do your own scavenger hunt through an app and you can go around to different places in a community and take photos of what you're supposed to be finding or set a point on a map, like I got to this place where I saw this or whatever. Goose Chase, that's the name of the app [crosstalk 00:20:46]. And so, this year, the kids are like, "Okay, we're gonna do the scavenger hunt again right?" And I'm like, "Yep, but you all have drivers' licenses. So do you still want the teams of parents driving you around to these places, or you're gonna do it on your own?" And they're like, "We're gonna drive!" And so we're like, okay, new safety plan. (Laughing) We've got drivers, like the person who's driving the car is not engaged in the game. You are simply the driver. Do you still wanna play? "Yes!" (Laughing). Three cars of teenage boys driving around a community playing their Goose Chase app. [crosstalk 00:21:24] (Laughing) I know. Anyway, so safety mom at play there.

(Bell ding)

Jill:

There were definitely a lot of things I loved about episode three, with Joe, but one of the most impactful moments was definitely when he told this story.

Joe:

I would have meetings with my emergency response team every month, right? And I would always say to people the exact same statement over and over again. "If we ever get into a situation where there's a fire, there's a spill, there's some sort of incident, and you can't find the person that's missing, and you can't safely get into that area, then you need to protect yourself and get back out, you know what I mean?" Because there's no value in having two groups of people that are lost. And so it would almost seem like people would look at me like, "Yeah right, nothing's ever gonna happen and [crosstalk 00:22:11] that's just complete silly."

Jill:

We're invincible.

Joe:

Yeah, we're invincible. It's never gonna happen. Until, I can remember one specific morning, we had an incident where chemicals were pumped into the wrong tank and there was a hydrogen explosion, and basically those chemicals created a cloud as soon as the tank exploded. And the cloud pretty much blocked the entire view of a camera within seconds, so it was very difficult to know what was going on. I wasn't at the plant, I was actually at home, right, and I remember- I was responding to the plant, 'cause I heard them dispatch the local fire company and stuff, and I- On my way in, I could hear my team operating, but they were doing all the things I told them to do. So they were searching for the person and they pulled back out.

Well here, we had lost two people in that incident that we couldn't account for, right? But they had ended up going out the back door, and if I had sent my team in to try to find them, we would have had more problems. And so, then, once those people were accounted for, everybody was still in that really hyped up mode that we gotta go in and we gotta solve this problem now. But the thing is, your responsibility is to your people, and to make sure they're safe, and the reality was, there was nobody in there that was at risk. We had a building that was damaged, we had problems, but we needed to slow down and make sure that when I sent people in, it was safe [crosstalk 00:23:33], so we had to shut all the utilities off, we had to shut all the things that were coming to the pipes off. But then we went in, and it was safe, and I- To me, that was one of the more meaningful things that I realized, "Wow, you have to say things over and over and over again til it gets into somebody's head, because saying it once doesn't mean anything."

Jill:

Right, yeah so, repeat it, like you said, the message- Remembering to carry our message upstream but also downstream as well. And being repetitive about it. The airlines do that really well, right?

Joe:

Yeah absolutely.

Jill:

We're getting that message every time. Put on your own oxygen mask first before you help someone else.

Joe:

Right

Jill:

And all those messages. Which, essentially, is part of what the message was for you that day, and how proud you must have been of your team.

Joe:

I definitely was, and like I said, to me that was one of the larger successes with emergency response.

(Bell ding)

Jill:

I hope you enjoyed these episode moments as much as I have. And special thanks to our guests for being so willing to share their depth, their stories, so that we all might learn and grow. Special thank you to Dave, Anupama, Donald, Aaron, Mark, Carolina, Linda, Katie, Chevon, and Joe. And thank you all so much for joining in and listening today, and thank you all for the work that you do to make sure that your workers go home safe at the end of every day. And special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. You can listen to all of the episodes at vividlearningsystems.com, or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing. If you have a suggestion for a guest, including maybe if it's yourself, please contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.