Safety Tips

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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Taking your eye off the ball / road / task

One of the main causes for most accidents is lack of concentration or taking our eye of the ball / road / task at hand. Often, this is only for a few seconds. That’s all that’s needed to ‘lose control’ of a vehicle, fall or trip when we don’t look to see where we’re going, losing our balance or footing and falling from a height, losing our grip and dropping something. The list is virtually endless. You can choose any verb you like and it can be linked to some kind of incident, because it is all about human action.

When we do something which involves a degree of risk, even if it is as mundane as walking or driving, we have to pay attention and stay 100% alert, all the time.

There are many reasons why we get distracted, but one of the most prevalent ones is fatigue.

safety incident - boredomsafety incident - daydreamingEspecially when concentrating for longer periods of time, we do get tired and often really exhausted. This is made worse if the task at hand is familiar, repetitive, or boring and the working environment hot, humid or uncomfortable. In addition to fatigue, there are a host of other factors which cause us to lose focus, which means our minds wander. We could be daydreaming or thinking about the home, family, girlfriend, car, something which happened yesterday, last month, or some need we have.

safety incident - tired

There are no easy answers. As the employer, you have no control over how much sleep employees get, how much alcohol they consume or the family relationships, to name just three of the issues involved. I can, however, suggest a few things that you, as the employer, can do.

  1. Look at all critical operations involving risk and investigate ways and means to change the operation, automate the process or do something which will make it easier, and safer, for the ‘operator’ to take a mental break, every so often, without ‘losing control’.
  2. Ask those people “who push the buttons and use the tools” to help you identify these opportunities, including those where they are taking short cuts in order to cope with this problem of ‘losing concentration’.
  3. Look at the working environment, including stress levels, shift patterns and working hours, and provide innovative solutions to help people combat fatigue and stress. There are many opportunities like Health & Fitness centres, EAR, etc.

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Safety Data – a blessing or a curse?

Data is USELESS unless it is USED, unless it is analysed and the insights gleaned from this analysis ACTED on.

With today’s technology we are swimming in data. You can find information on anything (and just about anyone) under the sun. It is increasingly and more rapidly available to us if we know where and how to look for it and what to do with it.

We have to be highly selective about what information we ask for and read. This is especially true of emails and the internet. Always ask: “What for?” or “Why?” do I need this information and “By When?”.

safety MIS overload

One of the biggest complaints made by front line supervisors especially is that they no longer have the time to ‘supervise’ and manage on their feet. They are ‘forced’ to manage on their seat because of the demands made on them by the many systems requiring input of data. Most of this data they, the front line supervisors, do not directly benefit from – it is feeding the information hunger of the systems and is ultimately for senior management’s benefit. Ironically, much of the data does not get used for pro-active purposes, but rather for being re-active = the “rearview mirror” effect.

Look at your systems, especially your safety systems, and ask what is it doing for you and those people ‘who push the buttons and use the tools’. Is it helping rather than hindering them? Be brutally honest about this and challenge the systems people to give you a tool that works for you, rather than you working for the system !!!

safety MIS analysis

This post gives a macro perspective of what data can do if used correctly.

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Jump Starting at Grootvlei

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean ‘jump starting Grootvlei Power Station’. 😆 Auke Maas, the SHE manager and his team are switched on. I mean jump starting my Harley Davidson motor bike at Grootvlei. Yes, a Harley Davidson, “nogal” (= “on top of it all”), with a reputation of being a super-reliable bike. But let me explain.

I was late for my meeting with Auke and his team  😐  and, in my haste, I forgot to switch off the Harley’s ignition. As a safety feature, the main light is always on when the ignition is switched on. So, when I left the meeting, I proudly started, er, rephrase, tried to start the bike, because Auke, Arno and Peter wanted to hear the engine. NOTHING. Not a click.  😳 The battery was DEAD.

There I stood, far from home and miles from a service station.

Fortunately, I had the support of the Grootvlei team and, with the help of Arno, who got some tools, we opened the battery compartment. In the meantime, Peter, the chief fire master, got the portable jump start unit from the fire station. In no time at all, the Harley was running, and I was on my way home.

A helping hand from the folks at Eskom Grootvlei

What are the safety lessons?

  1. Even when in a hurry, take the time to follow the correct procedures and do the right things, one step at a time (stop the engine, switch off the ignition and lock the helmet, panniers and bike.) Doing things in a hurry often leads to incidents = NEAR HITS.
  2. Be prepared. Have a set of tools in your vehicle for emergencies. A small fire extinguisher is a good idea too.
  3. Have a backup in place. The portable jump start unit is a brilliant idea for emergency vehicles. One cannot have an ambulance or fire engine not starting because the battery ran flat.
  4. Establish a root cause, even if it was a near hit with no injury or damage, and make the necessary change to avoid making the same mistake again. In my case, it required a behaviour change – I make it a habit now to switch off the ignition to stop the engine.

 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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Walk Your Talk

Walk your talk. Put your money where your mouth is. Be ruthless in getting SAFETY FIRST – from HEAD TO TOE.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Safety As A Value

This month I introduce a second group mail series wherein I will share with subscribers my thoughts on Why Safety is an Issue for Most Companies, or, putting it differently, Things we Must Address if we Want to Improve our Safety Performance.

In the first one, I am talking about one aspect of a safety culture, namely our individual values and the resulting behaviour.
Read more here.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Speed Limit Syndrome

Picture this.I enter the premises of a big company.
There are road works ahead – barricades, detour markers, a speed limit sign … the works.

Nothing wrong with that.
EXCEPT, the sign reads 20 kph.
Now this is where the problem lies.

I pull aside and observe what happens.

The road is straight and clear and one vehicle after the other drives past me at 40 and even 60 kph, totally ignoring the speed limit of 20.

Why, you may ask, did these drivers not adhere to the 20 kph speed limit?

Because it is human nature to ignore rules and regulations (in this case speed limits and other traffic signs) that are judged to be unreasonable.

This is what I call the Speed Limit Syndrome and it happens alot on public roads too, as we all know.

One of the worst practices on our roads is that signs are not being immediately removed when the road works or the need for the sign no longer exists! This encourages a culture of not taking traffic signs, or, for that matter, rules and regulations, seriously, because they are deemed to be unreasonable and/or obsolete.

I urge you to watch out for this trap in your own operations.

Make sure that your rules and regulations are necessary, realistic and truly serve the purpose of safeguarding people. When people ignore your rules and regulations, first ask if they are not being perceived as unreasonable and, if so, why.

The flip side of this coin is equally important. Once you are 100% sure that your rules and regulations are necessary and realistic, then you have to enforce them – ruthlessly. You have to discipline those who ignore and break the rules and regulations!

Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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Is Your Back-End A “Dead”-End?

April’s “Do Just One (Safety) Thing Each Month” Safety Tip questions the state of your plant or operation’s waste and effluent areas.
Read more here.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


ps. Contact me if you’d like to subscribe to my fortnightly SAFETY TIPS group mail.

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Safety in Action

I’ve said it before, and I’m going to keep saying it: I love it when I see safety in ACTION. To me the key to ACTION is *doing*, not talking-about-doing. Too many companies (i.e. people, because companies are made up of people doing things) take ages to make decisions and get into gear.

I recently had an experience with ESKOM Gauteng Operating Unit which set a new record for me. (Northam is now a close second). I got a call at 10h00 one morning to do a safety talk to new employees the next day. So, within 24 hours, I prepared and customised my talk for this particular audience and was on stage knocking-the-socks-off the new ESKOMITES.

I could not have done this without the most efficient and prompt help of some people from the Gauteng Operating unit. Just goes to show again, if you are SERIOUS about Safety, you do take ACTION !!!

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


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