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By Mark Kimbrough

I saw this picture the other day and it made me think about what the phrase really means. I realized is that thinking safety is not good enough. How many times have you been on a crew and pointed out a safety violation that is happening or happened and the employee says, “Yea, I thought about that but didn’t want to say anything because he is my boss, or he is my friend, or I didn’t want to embarrass him/her, etc.?”  These are the key moments in a safety culture that we need to identify as a safety team and try to change. THINK SAFETY and TELL ME. These two safety mottos go more hand in hand than I thought before I saw that ironic picture.

A safety group cannot make people be safe. We can write them up, we can take awards away, we can even take money away by mandating time off, but that doesn’t always necessarily change a person’s attitude or culture towards safety. We need to be examples, leaders, mentors, coaches and even cheerleaders of safety. Our focus can become contagious if we go about it the right way. We need to explain the process of “thinking safety” beyond giving them a shirt and a pat on the back and telling them to hold on to their hat so it doesn’t blow away when they are doing 60 mph in the back of a Mazda.

We talk a lot about focusing on the task at hand, or to remain focused on being safe. When I was working on this safety message I googled  “don’t just think safety” and found an article that exemplified exactly what I thought when I saw Johnny Safety in the back of that truck. It was written by D.L. Brewer III, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy Commander, Military Sealift Command at http://www.msc.navy.mil/sealift/2002/November/comments.htm. Here is a great quote from the article that breaks down the thought process about focusing on the task at hand. He calls it “formalized common sense.”

“For a simple example, let’s lift a heavy box. First, we’ll look at the hazards associated with the task. The primary one that comes to mind is personal injury. We could get hurt. So we assess the risks of lifting the box and determine that the task could result in anything from a simple muscle strain to a ruptured disk, or worse. The hazards are very real. Now it’s time to decide whether the benefits of lifting the box outweigh the risks. The task has to be done. Do we know the correct way to lift the box so we won’t hurt ourselves? If so, then let’s get on with it. We can use a back brace harness; we can lift the box with our legs instead of our back; we can ask for help if the box is just too heavy. Those are the controls. All that remains is to lift the box, making sure we’re doing it correctly.”

Admiral Brewer talks about the process in 5 steps:

  1. Identify the hazard
  2. Assess the risks
  3. Weigh the risks
  4. Control the risks
  5. Supervise the action

Now, let’s spread the culture of safety.

Mark Kimbrough

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