Life Skills

Safety Riddle: Who am I?

You may know me.
I’m your constant companion.
I’m your greatest helper – I’m your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure –
I am at your command.

Half the tasks you do might as well be turned over to me –
I’m able to do them quickly and I’m able to do them the same every time, if that’s what you want.

I’m easily managed; all you’ve got to do is be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want it done and, after a few lessons, I’ll do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great men and women and, of course, servant to the failures as well.
I’ve made all the great people who have ever been great –
And, I’ve made all the failures too.

But I work with all the precision of a marvelous computer, with the intelligence of a human being.
You may run me for profit or you may run me to ruin;
It makes no difference to me.

Take me, be firm with me and I’ll put the world at your feet – Be easy with me and I will destroy you!

Who am I?

(scroll down for the answer)








We do most things without thinking consciously about what we are doing! Let’s consider that for a moment. We would not be able to function without these habits. From walking, moving, driving a vehicle, to most of our lifestyle routines like sleeping, hygiene, eating and drinking, all of which we do automatically. The same is true in our work. From writing, spelling, typing, operating plant and equipment to following rules and procedures, or breaking rules and taking shortcuts.

Be careful. The best safety device is a careful worker. Get the safety habit.

In fact, SAFETY HABITS are fundamental to achieving our goal of ZERO HARM or ZERO INCIDENTS. People need to abide by the rules and procedures, without having a mental debate every time as to whether or not these are valid. Put on the seat belt, lock out the machines, test the lockout, put on the harness and hook up at heights, use the PPE and and and … a nearly endless list of life-saving rules. These SAFETY HABITS have to be taught and learned, like driving a car. It takes hours and hours of practice for us to reach the level where we can do it out of habit. Once we have acquired these SAFETY HABITS, we have to guard against falling into the trap of ignoring the basics and going for shortcuts – all in the name of trying to do it smarter.

The issue of habits is so important, that I have dedicated the very first chapter of my book to it!

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Leave a SHE Legacy

Plant a tree – from sapling to giant

Jurgen's sapling

There is an old Chinese saying: ‘You will have succeeded in life if you have raised a son, planted a tree and written a book.’

There is such a lot of wisdom in this saying. I know the feeling of planting a tree and then seeing the sapling grow into a 20 meter giant of a tree. Not only is it enriching to see this growth, but it does a lot of good to the environment. I have planted 13 trees on my property, the 2000 square meters of mother earth which I own. This gives me a real sense of making a difference to the environment and I often sit on my garden bench, in the shade of one of these giants.

Jurgen's giant

Planting trees is the cheapest way that every one of us can contribute to enriching our environment. Just imagine if each of the 50 million inhabitants of South Africa planted one tree in their life time! Now that would surely be caring for the ENVIRONMENT.


Use TREE PLANTING as a tool to reward people in your company. Find areas in your business premises, like walkways and parks, where you can plant trees. Make an occasion out of it and arrange for each tree to get a name plate with the details of the reward and the person receiving it. Publish an article in the company newsletter. Don’t leave the tree planting for only once a year on Arbor Day. Make a ruling that for every tree you have to cut down, you will plant five new trees on your business premises!


Planting trees brings with it the responsibility for nurturing the saplings and pruning the growth – the same as we should do with our safety efforts and systems – nurture the growth.


Your paper footprint – environmental murder?

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Show me the good stuff

I use my mirror technique to customise my presentations for each client.
For this technique to work, I need photos of the GOOD, bad and ugly stuff.

Hunt down the GOOD stuff and find the safety champion and give him/her the recognition.

This enables me to ask the audience:

“What do YOU see?
What is wrong?
What is GOOD?
Who is responsible?
Is it the player or is it the coach?”

This is a most powerful technique to engage the audience and to get them to take ownership for what they see. Play the video on my S.H.E. ATM screen to see what I mean.

Sometimes, however, for security reasons, clients do not allow me to use my own camera. In these cases they offer to let me have their photos. I invariably find that all they can give me is photos of the bad and ugly things. Photos of poor housekeeping and maintenance, waste and spillage are typical examples, because those are the obvious ones. Also, the photos are normally taken of the plant, equipment, stores, workshops and similar areas. It is seldom that I am given photos of personal work spaces like office desks, cupboards, toolboxes, rest areas, chairs, etc. We somehow focus on the negative, on the breaking of the rules and poor behaviour. People find it tough to share with me photos of GOOD areas which are clean, neat and tidy and where the rules are being followed.

I also do not get photos of improvements, where a safety problem has been fixed. Taking before and after photos is something safety professionals do not do.

When I take my own photos, I hunt down the GOOD stuff and find the safety champion so I can include him / her in my photo. Recognising people in this way is a most powerful tool for motivation.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,

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To Meet or Not to Meet, That’s YOUR Question

grandfather clock by speaker, author, thought leader Jurgen Tietz

Following on from my previous communiques on meetings, MyTime and So Many Meetings, So Little Time, and because time is such an important aspect of our lives.

Time is the most precious resource we have.
We all have this finite resource of 24 hours,
so why waste it in unproductive meetings?

And so, “To meet, or not to meet?” – that’s the question you need to answer if you are the meeting owner. 

Have a look at the 5 worst reasons for a meeting and examine your meetings. Do they fall into the category of “worst meetings”? 

Impromptu meetings, especially when abusing your position, really reflect on your lack of planning and crisis management style. You know how disruptive it is when you are called to a “the boss wants to see you now” meeting.

If you have to involve a group of people, then meet on your feet rather than on your seat. Sitting down with cookies and tea invariably draws out the session, but you can only stand for so long. 

If you want to know how others value your meeting, then organise it for after hours and see how many people don’t pitch or make excuses and how quickly you complete the agenda. 

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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So many safety professionals complain about too many meetings and too much time spent in meetings.

In my latest group mail, I talk about this meeting paradox: We don’t have time to prepare for effective meetings, because we spend too much time in ineffective meetings. Here, I want to share a different perspective.

Before I was retrenched in 1998, I too had a severe case of “meetings overdose”. Now that I am self-employed, I have taken control of MyTime – the time which I spend in meetings. I realised that a large proportion of the meetings I was involved in were my own doing. Now, when I get a meeting request from a client, or, before I set up a meeting with someone, I ask myself a few critical questions:

  1. Will the meeting make or save me some money? What is the business potential?
  2. Do I have a clear purpose? Can this be achieved without a face-to-face meeting using some other medium (telecon, Skype, e-mail, etc)?
  3. Do I have to establish, refresh or reinforce a relationship or trust with the other party?
  4. Do I have to demonstrate or share some of my COOL TOOL™ or showcase what I can do?
  5. Who is going to pay for my time ‘out on the road’ and travel & accommodation expenses?

I have learnt to say NO to a meeting request/meeting setup thought if the answers to these questions do not give me a “YES, HAVE A MEETING” sign. I have also developed my 10 Questions to get the information I need from a potential client, without having to meet ubuso ngombuso, i.e. face-to-face.

I hear you say, “BUT in my situation …”

Think about your meetings as if you were running your own business and it will change your perspective. You will drop the meetings which do not further your business interests. You will learn to say NO to your involvement in meetings which do not meet the above criteria.When you own your own business, you quickly learn to become as tough as nails about wasting MyTime, or you go hungry. 

Next time, I will share the best and worst reasons for setting up meetings.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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The Power of Gold

One of the most powerful motivators is RECOGNITION, and yet few of us use the full potential of this simple technique, because it’s a tough habit to practise. This is best illustrated using the Olympics as an example.

For most of the competitors. it is about making it onto the podium and bringing home a medal – preferably gold. They will have practised for countless hours, taken part in many events and pushed themselves to extreme limits.

Most of us have no idea just what it takes to get into the Olympic team. It is literally blood, sweat and tears combined with dogged determination, self-sacrifice and a single-minded goal mentality. Not because they are being paid for it, not because of policies and procedures, and certainly not because they have to (comply) … but because they want to be the best… the best they can be and to make it onto the winner’s podium.

That is what drives them – the ‘Power of Gold’.

Obviously, there are only a few who reach the Olympics level, but the principle of RECOGNITION applies to all levels of competitive sport. The ‘Power of Gold’ is imprinted on us from the time that we compete for the first time in primary school.

From a safety perspective, the ‘Power of Gold’ does not mean recognising only those safety achievements that are outstanding. To leverage this power, we should make it a habit to identify good safety behaviour by making the time and effort to tell the individual or team what you have taken note of and why it is important. This is why I encourage event organisers to use my “Isibopho” red / green card and whistle.

STOP, and say thank you when you see someone doing the right and safe thing. Just imagine if all your employees were to practise this habit on a regular basis – the ‘Power of Gold’ would be priceless, taking your safety culture to a different level.

WARNING – It goes without saying that recognition only works if it is genuine and deserved. Do not make it a hollow and meaningless gesture. Also, even if the person being recognised is uncomfortable when you give them genuine ‘hugs and kisses’, don’t let that put you off. Do it anyway. Keep it brief, specific and appropriate.

BTW … This is not a new concept. In the book ‘The One Minute Manager’, Kenneth Blanchard devotes an entire chapter to the ‘one-minute praises’.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Safety Common Sense

One of the most ‘common’ problems in safety is ‘common’ sense. 

What is common sense?
In general, we mean by this ‘something everyone knows’ or ‘common’ knowledge. 

In my book, common sense is a lack of thinking of the consequences when taking action.

It is NOT that we don’t understand or know. It is merely that we don’t pay attention or think about what can or will happen as a result of our actions. We are not alert, function in auto pilot or are plain careless. After an incident, we will often say that we should have ‘seen this comng’. But we did NOT, because we didn’t pay attention and think about the consequences.

In our attempt to overcome this ‘lack’ of common sense, we often put ridiculous safety rules and precautions in place, just to be safe, thereby undermining people’s attitude towards not only safety, but rules in general. (In this regard, see also “Speed Limit Syndrome“.) Rather, we should encourage people to think on the job, which will enable common sense to prevail. 

Here, with the compliments of Richard Hawk, a safety expert in the USA, is a link to a video clip which illustrates the business of common sense.

BTW, Richard puts out a monthly newsletter, well worth reading, about how to add humour to make the safety messages stick. 

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Where do you draw the line and what is PEOPOLOGY?

Still on the path to Safety As A Value

In the safety game, what is the role of the coach and what is the role of the player and where do the roles overlap?

All is revealed in my latest group mail on Safety Culture and Safety Performance. And … drumroll … BONUS … for the first time ever, I make my complete article on SAFETY CULTURE, which includes my PEOPLE Model, available to you, the reader, for FREE. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Oh. And if you want to know what peopology is, I give you an overview in the full article.

ps. There is a book on the subject, with lots of valuable tools and techniques, wrapped in sundry (often humorous) anecdotes. You can get the details here.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Some Good Advice


I learnt a lesson early on in my career: to listen to advice.

As a young engineer, this was especially important. I might have had all the smart book knowledge, but I definitely lacked the experience which is acquired over years. I made it a habit to ask the foreman, artisan or operator how things worked in their area, what problems there were and, most important, what the solution should be.

I never regretted having made time to ask these people with years of experience

Although not directly applicable to safety, here is some smart advice from 22 executives, sharing the ‘best advice they ever got’. Go and check it out – you won’t be sorry. 

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Do Just One Thing

I am a great believer in FOCUS by doing and FINISHING one thing at a time – see my current group mail series Do One (Safety) Thing This Month.

I have a habit of preparing important proposals and customizing my presentations at night. That is the best time for me to set aside a few hours, concentrate on the task at hand, and finish it. If I try to do these during the day, with all the interruptions, it takes me twice as long and the likelihood that I will make mistakes increases. 

If you are employed in a corporate setup, you can do it too – set aside time in your diary, ‘take the phone off the hook’, set your e-mail to offline and then focus on the important task you need to get done.

I have done it for years and it works. You just have to teach subordinates and colleagues, as well as your boss, to respect your Focus Time!

Let me know if you’d like my Habit Poster and be sure to read Tony Schwartz’ blog post The Magic of Doing One Thing At a Time for more on this technique.

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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