Safety Meets People Where They Are
September 3, 2014 Leave a comment
Ever been to a professional development seminar? I’m talking about the kind that typically take place in a fancy hotel conference room in a tourist destination like New York, Chicago or San Francisco. For your money, you get a pricey lunch, equally pricey reference materials and a “dynamic, engaging program with an impressive lineup of industry experts.”
I was recently invited to a drastically different professional development opportunity. The venues were repair shops, cotton fields and oil wells in and around Lubbock, Texas. The audience, blue collar workers huddled around plastic picnic tables, chowing down on takeout pizza on the boss’ dime. Slick brochures, multimedia CDs and other takeaways were replaced by frayed electrical cords and mangled ladders.
And the speaker? He’s not a household name by any means. He is, however, passionate about his message, and that is enough to earn his audience’s respect.
Larry Homen is a senior safety services consultant at Texas Mutual. His job is to canvass West Texas, build relationships with our policyholders, and teach them how to keep their employees safe and on the job. Last week, Larry graciously let me tag along on his visits.
Larry grew up working his family’s 3,000-acre farm in Amarillo before making his way into the oil field as a welder. He cringes when reflecting on how many times he narrowly escaped catastrophic workplace accidents. Some of his co-workers weren’t as fortunate.
Larry’s experiences taught him valuable lessons, and he devoted the rest of his life to sharing those lessons with anyone who will listen.
For two days, I watched Larry tout the benefits of everything from sound hiring practices to ladder safety to return-to-work. He leaned heavily on his past to connect with his audience. The affirmative nods and knowing glances among co-workers showed me the message was coming through loud and clear.
Larry’s job is tough. Who knew that driving around all day and engaging with people could be so taxing? By the end of my visit, I was eager to shed my fire-retardant overalls, hard hat and safety goggles. I couldn’t get back to my relatively safe cubicle in Austin fast enough. My brain was overloaded, and I needed time to process.
I’ve thought hard about everything I learned from Larry, and I believe I can boil it down into a handful of core principles. I will share those principles in a series of posts on this blog, so stay tuned. Today, let’s start with the most basic, arguably most important, principle.
If you want your employees to learn how to work safely, don’t snatch them from their environment and send them to a high-priced conference. Don’t expect them to heed the advice of someone who’s never rebuilt a transmission or disassembled a pump jack.
What I mean is that safety works best when it gets dirty. It takes root in cotton fields and greasy mechanic shops. Its messages resonate when delivered by people who have experienced the unique hazards your employees face on the job. Simply put, safety has to meet people where they are.
About the author
David Wylie is the senior technical writer at Texas Mutual Insurance Company. He works closely with Texas Mutual’s safety professionals to teach employers and their employees how to prevent workplace accidents and their associated costs. David holds the OSHA 10-hour general safety certification and a degree in journalism from Southwest Texas State University.
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