Asking ‘Why?’ to enhance safety

June 24, 2016 By    

My toddler-aged grandchildren are constantly asking “Why?” I get frustrated when I forget the importance of asking “Why?” in the process of achieving an understanding.

As we age, many of us associate the word with work rather than understanding. This is the result of decades of leaders too busy to educate, offering only the lazy answer of “because.” Because that is the way we have always done it.

Because why? Why do we do it this way? I remember an old family story about a woman who always cut the ends off her meatloaf before putting it in the pan. One day, someone asked her why. Her answer was because that’s the way her mom always did it. One curious call to her mom turned up the logical answer – mom’s only pan was too small for 3 pounds of meatloaf.

When it comes to safety in the workplace, it is that understanding of “why” that gives us the cognitive ability to make logical connections as to why things happen. For example, I know from personal experiences why we perform a leak check on every out-of-gas situation: To comply with code and prevent an accident due to a leak in the system. I know this because I have had clients whose employees failed to perform a leak check and all stakeholders suffered emotional and economic consequences.


The challenge for all leadership is to effectively provide answers with specific reasons to the question “Why?” It starts before that – training those in the field, at the plant, in the office and even customers to care to ask “Why?”

To some leaders, silence is golden and no news is good news until an accident or some negative situation darkens their doorstep. Only then do they seek understanding too late in the game, hat in hand.

Knowing why is a critical key to implementation, yet many managers and individuals in leadership roles get too comfortable to ask “Why?” This applies to all leadership and propane industry stakeholders.

I believe we all have an obligation to teach, train and motivate truthful behavior. This involves inspecting what we expect and holding managers, as well as employees, accountable to rules, guidelines, policies and codes that are known to prevent accidents.


Training is a requirement that includes job-specific education and continuing education as specified by Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Transportation and National Fire Protection Association applicable codes; any state regulations; and most marketer and supplier company policies.

Many times, companies have to face the economic feasibility of compliance along with the need to achieve and document training. There are many resources for training, including state association-sponsored and discounted regional sessions, in-house training and industry e-learning. It is less important where that training occurs than the more important issue of achieving and documenting the understanding. In the end, we want them to know why.

The propane industry is blessed with many seasoned trainers who are veterans of safety management, with decades of industry experience. It is time we recognize those individuals who teach, train and make a difference in the lives of industry employees every day.

Your next meeting

I believe the “why” in safety holds the key to compliance. At your next safety or management meeting, discuss the topic and ask for input regarding concerns about why some important stuff is not happening in certain situations.

If management doesn’t have the courage to ask “Why?” in the quest to achieve understanding, how can it expect the workforce to seek answers that turn that question into reason, reason into action and action into profitable results?

Of course, the simple answer to why we must do things safely in the propane industry is because it’s the right thing to do.

Leaders must ask this key question and train their workers to do the same.


Jay Johnston is an insurance executive, business management consultant and inspirational safety speaker in the propane industry. He can be reached at or 612-802-0663.

Photo credit: e-magic via / CC BY-ND

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