Safety is where you find it

October 1, 2003 By    

Ask a North Dakota farmer where to hunt for grouse and he’ll tell you, “Grouse are where you find them.” Kind of like the line, “you’ll never catch a fish unless your line is in the water,” but more vague. So where do we hunt for safety?

Many times, safety directors view compliance from a retroactive perspective.

If it didn’t go boom, it didn’t happen

One safety manager expresses his frustration: “I’m viewed more like the safety police. When they talk together as I approach, it makes me wonder what I am missing.”

All the while, good stuff is happening that should be recognized and encouraged. The question is, where do you find it?

To be a successful hunter, first of all, you must understand your objective. Safety can be a subjective ghost until you define the parameters of the quest.

Like grouse that live in bushes, run down rows of grain and flush just out of range, safety must be sought out with parameters and obstacles in mind.

DOT, OSHA, NFPA, insurance companies, plaintiff attorneys and the tort system provide parameters and obstacles out the wazoo. They lend a disciplined perspective to the process so you know what to inspect at every level.

Now what? This is where the rubber meets the road, and safety awaits your imminent discovery. Do you reward safe practices or simply expect them?

In order to reward safe practices, you must catch the troops doing the right thing on a regular basis. It requires measurement, and that means you, as safety director, hold the ruler.

Do you have a safety ruler?

Yes, you do. It’s a bit more complicated than the usual ruler. When you must consider DOT, OSHA, insurance companies, plaintiff attorneys and the tort system, it’s more like a turbo-charged slide rule. That is how safety measurement can seem when you ignore the guidelines and are not aware of the obstacles.

HM 126 F training guidelines can also seem like an endless trail of paperwork, until you hire a professional consultant to audit your compliance. I’m talking about hiring a seasoned veteran who has been through the DOT audit trenches. Retired in-house DOT supervisors bring hands-on experience that can be worth their weight in gold.

OSHA guidelines can be disarmingly complicated until you take a course and buy a good book on requirements and definitions. Consider a self-audit or outsourcing internal administrative training.

I have personally taken NFPA Train the Trainer courses on 54 & 58 from the master, Ted Lemoff. NFPA is a tremendous resource when hunting for propane safety. But it is the day-to-day working knowledge of compliance application that counts the most. Make sure your people in the field have working knowledge of code and/or access to an on-call resource.

Your insurance company loss control department will do a voluntary inspection upon your request. The problem is that nobody asks. Why wait until the insurance renewal to get the help you so richly pay for?

Educate yourself

Plaintiff attorney’s allegations and your local tort system are also arenas that must command your attention. Read and subscribe to publications about cases, awards, settlements and summary judgments that impact your industry. You don’t have to experience a tragic claim to prevent one.

If the wheel only gets the grease when it squeaks, how do you know when it’s on track?

Now that you know where to look for safety, it is imperative that you get out into the field. No one can rule the kingdom from afar. Besides, visibility is critical to compliance.

You must be seen, heard and expected when looking for safety.

Once you find safety, recognize and reward it. Encourage and support it again, and again, and again, until you find that all you do all day is catch people doing the right thing through the expected practice of being safe.

When looking for safety, understand the guidelines and obstacles. Use them to measure safety and reward results. Walk the talk; practice what you preach.

Like pheasants piled up in the corner of tall corn or grouse running through the windy prairie, safety is where you find it.

Jay Johnston is president of Jay Johnston & Associates, a risk management firm specializing in insurance consulting, market evaluation, bid management, premium negotiation, behavior motivation, inspirational safety presentations and commitment-based compliance training. He also is the editor of The Safety Leader newsletter, a forum for leadership development for the propane industry. He can be reached at or at 952-253-2710.

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