Putting the Heart Back in Safety

Many parts of the health and safety industry can be logical and straightforward, with no room for error, however, there can also be grey areas. The times when you can’t keep an eagle eye on employees—the instances in which they decide not to wear their safety gear or to take shortcuts when doing maintenance on a machine. These grey areas represent the moment when injuries—and sometimes even fatalities—become reality on work sites.

In a recent OH&S SafetyPod podcast episode, I had a really great chat with Thomas Kramer, the Managing Principal at LJB Inc. about how making safety personal can save lives. Thom has nearly 25 years of experience in designing fall protection systems for organizations. Through those years, he has seen these grey areas. He saw the results of shortcuts, poor training and lack of motivation when it comes to worker safety.

During our interview, I mentioned to Thom that OSHA had released its list of the Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for fiscal year 2020. Fall Protection – General Requirements and Fall Protection – Training Requirements alone made-up 29 percent of the Top 10’s combined violation count. I couldn’t help myself, so I asked, “How disheartening is this for you to see?” Thom’s viewpoint is important here. He explained that as a registered professional engineer and certified safety professional, he is taught to keep the emotions at home. The job isn’t supposed to be emotional; it is supposed to be solution and success-driven. You should always be looking for better outcomes—not focusing on the past.

“As an engineer, we are supposed to be emotionless. We are supposed to put everything on the facts,” Thom said in our interview. “But I have to say, when I see that number, and I see it not coming down—it does hurt me. It does help you to realize that there are literally hundreds of lives out there that we can do better with and that we have to do better with. We can’t bring those lives back, but what we can do is try to work better and differently in the future.”

It’s an impactful statement for him to make: that we must be better and do differently in the future. I asked Thom later in our interview how we can get to that place, and he said it really is more tied up in emotions than we think.

In other parts of the world, there is a huge pull in involving the families in the safety of a worker. If the family understands the risks associated with the job and the onus is on the worker to come home each night, the likelihood of the worker properly wearing PPE or listening intently in a training session goes up exponentially. Why? Because the worker loves his or her family. He or she doesn’t want time away from spouses or kids due to an injury.

The grey areas in safety can be made smaller, but we need to consider that the only way to do so is to inject some emotion into our training. We have to bring the worker and his or her family into the fold so that catastrophic events are fewer and farther between in the future.

To listen to Thom Kramer’s OH&S SafetyPod episode where we discuss making fall protection personal and more, visit www.ohsonline.com/safetypod.

This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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