Storm Warnings Other Crises

When it snows, we're planning for heat stress issues or the month when hurricanes and tornadoes will strike. When a hurricane blows in, chances are, we are looking at ice cleats and protective gloves. We work ahead of the crisis for all of our operations.

Storm warnings are up for a trio of powerful storms churning the Atlantic Ocean as I write these words, and the Gulf Coast's electrical power and other essential services still aren't restored from the previous one. Hurricane Season is a great time to take stock of your readiness to weather a crisis at work, at home, and at any other location where you are a key member of the operations and management team.

Serious incidents that injure or even kill one of your workers will cause you to do some soul-searching. The Minneapolis bridge collapse, Manhattan's crane collapses, the Imperial Sugar mill explosion, and a host of other recent tumultuous events spring to mind -- both the events themselves and the cleanups that followed. Where does safety fit in?

I, like many safety professionals, at times seem mildly confused. Simply put, this stems from working so far into the future to ensure safety is covered from all aspects that we lose time. You cannot wait for a hurricane to strike to think about securing all of the items needed to restore operation, the hidden challenges, or the tools your employees must have to survive and go home safely to secure and patch up their own homes.

In the large corporate gathering of any crisis situation, scan the room. You will notice a calm among the safety and security leadership. We are the planners, the forward thinkers, the "what if" list makers. We know our outstanding capability and, usually, our limitations, and we work with both.

Many safety professionals do not "look" like the movie version of a hero or heroine, but we are. We may not be the most popular or even social in our organizations, but we do get the job done, quietly and without too much supervision being required.

Safety is quiet! When everything is working right, your upper management may have little real idea what you as the safety chief do and may know little about your many accomplishments.

When it is snowing, we are planning for heat stress issues or the month when hurricanes and tornadoes strike. When the hurricane blows in, chances are, we are looking at ice cleats and protective gloves. We work ahead of the crisis for all of our operations.

Popularity? Don't Sweat It
From training to budgeting, safety lives in the future. We as trained safety professionals focus, plan, negotiate, raise alarms, nag, and at times worry about the worst that can happen. We see all items as multipurpose; we use any crisis as a training tool to remind our staff of the bad things that can happen every day. We remind staff to focus on the job that needs to be done and tune out all of the media hysteria. We remind our supervisors to pay close attention and not take shortcuts in the middle of whatever situation the employees are responding to; all work must be done in a methodical way, we say: safety training to second nature. The really weird part is always that, during the height of the crisis, the majority of our work is done and in place. The workers are wearing the new PPE, and the training and awareness was completed months ago. So we quietly move on to the next potential crisis.

We succeed because we do not panic. We succeed because we plan. And, especially important, we succeed because we do what is right (which is not always popular).

I remember well one past supervisor's rant: ”I don't particularly like you, Linda. I don't understand how you work, how you get so much done, or how your mind works." With that being said, he always called on me for the tough challenges because he knew I put the employees first and worked through any problem. Whether he personally liked me or not has never mattered -- safety work is not a popularity contest. Our rewards are being ready to meet whatever crises and challenges come our way. For our employees.

We as safety make a positive difference in every life we protect. What greater reward could there be?

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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