I hit the gym for lunch yesterday to get a workout instead of stuffing my face as I normally do at lunch time. I got a nice workout in and a good sweat going considering I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked since it was just a quick one for lunch. I wanted to get a little more sweat, so I decided to sit in the sauna for 10 minutes before showering, changing, and heading back to work.
As I was sitting in the sauna one of the guys in there, an older gentleman, must have noticed how short my workout was as he looked at me and said, that wasn’t long enough was it. It was a question kind of but more of a statement in the sense that we both knew 35 minutes in there was better than nothing, but I could definitely stand to stay a little longer. I smiled and politely explained that I was just getting one in on my lunch break but needed to get back to work as I have some deadlines to meet on a few policies I’m developing.
He then asked what kind of work I did for a living. I explained that I work with companies to keep their employees safe and maintain safety compliance. He looked at me and said Ohhhh an OSHA man, huh. I said I consider myself a man for the people. In the slight darkest of the sauna room, you could see a clear grin show up on this face. He didn’t say anything for maybe 2 seconds; it seemed more like 2 minutes, as it was a complete break in the conversation. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back on the wall, settling in for the next few minutes of quiet sweat in the sauna.
Out of nowhere, a guy who was not in the conversation yelled out Safety First! My eyes opened, I looked up, the older fella who I was talking to earlier was looking right at me. Without saying a word, the two of us busted out laughing! The look on the “Safety First” guy’s face was like what is so funny. We could not stop laughing to even answer the questions his face was asking.
Finally, the laughing stopped but we were both still smiling. When I could calm down enough to speak, I said, ok your turn, what do you do? He was an Equipment Operator for a construction company. He has been doing that for over 30 years. As he rattled off his experience, I listened and smiled as I put two and two together on his earlier comment of calling me an “OSHA Man”. He smiled as well, likely thinking back to my comment of “Man for the People”. So, we both smelled a little BS in the room but respected it the same without even mentioning it, LOL…
Meanwhile, the “Safety First” guy is still looking at us like what was so freaking funny about my statement. We still didn’t answer his silent questions. Instead I said, tell me Old School, he smiled as if to admire the new name he just received from a stranger in the sauna room, what does Safety First actually mean in the real World?
His response was quick; he didn’t have to think or hesitate one bit. As he would explain, Safety First means safety first as long as we can get the job done on time and under budget. Safety is always first when things go the way they are put down on paper. The catch is they never do, and everyone seems to forget that safety first chant when its crunch time.
He would further explain, that in his over 30 years of experience he has been through Safety Trainings, New Hire Orientations, heard speeches from Site Safety Guys, Safety Directors, Senior Management, CEOs, and Company Owners. Most of them meant that safety was first or felt that was the truth. He added, I will just say this. We have a saying in the field when people say Safety First, we say yea, the First to Go! He said, you have to keep yourself safe regardless of the company’s stance because their’s may change and you are the one who has to live with the consequences.
The face of “Safety First” guy obviously changed at this point. He did not say a word, he continued to listen. The look on his face seemed like he was waiting for my response. There was none. At least no verbally. There was just another smile on my face.
A little smile to suggest that I knew just where the older gentleman was speaking from. He wasn’t speaking from hatred toward safety just from his experience of what happens with safety when the project budget is tight, the company needs to make cuts because of the budget or cutting overhead cost, or when work must get done but safety equipment is not on-site. There was no reason to argue against his point. After all, how could his observation of his own real-life experience be wrong?
I made it out the sauna, showered up, and headed back to work. Naturally, that conversation was on my mind as I drove. I thought, if I should have said something to persuade the older gentleman that not all companies are like that. Well, he has already heard that from a long list of people that he named so that wouldn’t help. Could I give him some examples of what I have done to keep safety as a core value for companies I have worked with. I thought, I am sure I won’t be the first to try such a tactic with him and he likely knew the people who tried this approach before. Why listen to some stranger in a sauna room talking about all the crap he did in the past? No one wants to hear a list of so called accomplishments. Plus, he was spot on in saying you are the one who has to make sure you are safe.
They want to see action!
That perception will always be alive until workers’ experiences of safety with companies change. No conversation, speech, lecture, training, or written program will change a perception on safety. Only Action; they’ve heard it all and seen quite a bit as well.
They want to see action! Stay Safe Out there…