Start with Your Why for Safety
By Eduardo Lan
None of us is born or even goes through our first job thinking safety is important. At first, safety is something that is either a non-issue or an imposition, and rarely anybody I know starts off with a clear why for safety that impacts both their words and actions. In fact, many workers we encounter as part of our work at Propulo Consulting believe that accidents are things that happen to other people.
Many of us feel the same way!
Somewhere along our professional or life journey, however, something happens for some of us that changes everything. This something can be a work-related accident or an event in our own lives (having children, getting older, job loss, heart attack, divorce), but it can also be something we witness or hear about, which suddenly surfaces our vulnerability, and everything that is at stake if something happens.
In that moment, safety transforms into something real that we personally care about and hold as important and relevant. In that moment, we have a why for safety that shifts who we are in the matter.
This change is as palpable as night and day. Things we used to let slide, like not speaking up for safety or turning a blind eye to a “little” shortcut or safety violation, are not ok anymore. We understand that a job-related injury puts everything we care about—our wellbeing and that of our family—at stake. We become passionate safety advocates with a clear why for safety that has little to do with safety policies, procedures or statistics, but rather with the absolute intrinsic value of human life.
This was certainly the case for Candace Carnahan, a recent guest on Eric Michrowski´s Safety Guru Podcast, who lost her leg in a terrible incident when she was just 21 years old and working a summer job at her local paper mill. As she recounts, “…she took a shortcut [that day] that she had seen everybody else take many times before: stepping over a conveyor belt. But this time, her foot went down and got caught in a pinch point where the conveyor belt came together. It pulled her foot into the machine, which kept running for a few seconds, until a co-worker heard her screaming and pushed the manual stop button (Silliker, 2017).”
Simon Sinek’s greatest claim to fame is probably his assertion that people don’t respond to the what or how of something, but rather to the why of it. In his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Sinek, 2019), he explains that people care little to nothing about what you sell or how you do it, but care deeply about the why behind it. Safety is probably one of those areas in life where this applies more than anywhere else.
Let’s be honest! People could care less about OSHA rule 1926.22 on recording and reporting of injuries. They also care little about meeting your or your HSE department’s safety statistic goals, but they undoubtedly care about going home safe to their families so that they can provide for them and improve their quality of life.
As leaders it is imperative, if we are to have a real safety impact, that we find our own why for safety and speak to the why for safety of the people we lead. Rules, procedures and training are important, but they can never replace real care and concern. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Listen to the Episode
United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2021, from https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1926
Silliker, A. (2017, October 31). Devastating conveyor Belt incident made Candace Carnahan a workplace safety ADVOCATE. Retrieved on April 26, 2021 from https://www.thesafetymag.com/ca.
Sinek, S. (2019). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. London: Penguin Business. https://simonsinek.com/product/start-with-why/?ref=home.