Sorry, I’m busy

Often when I try to meet up with a client towards the end of the month, I get the “Sorry, I’m busy with the monthly report” excuse. I’m deliberately saying “excuse” because we make time for what is important to us. Let me explain further.

writing reports

The monthly report is an issue for most safety professionals / safety managers. At the end of the month, they have to report to the EXCO or board about the SHE issues and performance for that month. It is an activity they dislike intensely, and hence procrastinate over. The deadline hangs over their heads like a sword and it is a mad scramble to get all the information together and to then compile the report.

For many, the report is like a composition competition – choosing the right words and content so as to make a favorable impression on the bosses. The irony is that the report is a rear view mirror exercise and often not even read.

Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Keep it simple and factual. Less is more in terms of words. Provide links the reader can click to get more detail (a standard practice).
  • Focus on actions completed and results produced.
  • Have a standard template or framework and fill in the information.
  • Delegate the responsibility for each section to one of your subordinates. This splits the burden. If you’re working online, it’s easy to share the document.
  • Set the deadline for information to be submitted to you to one week before you have to submit your report.
  • Make notes on the template throughout the month, whenever a noteworthy occurrence takes place.
  • Set aside a fixed time to compile the final report and stick to it. The more time you spend on writing the report, the more you will be inclined to “waffle”.

The report is a safety communication tool. It is not an end in itself. Treat it as such.

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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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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Safety, for Safety’s Sake

Most companies have certain safety rules around driving, lifting, walking, personal safety behaviour, etc. Rules like:

  • reverse park your vehicle
  • switch on head lights when driving
  • bend knees and keep back straight when lifting something
  • hold onto hand rail when walking up or down stairs
  • use gloves, goggles and other PPE

While at work, people tend to follow these rules, especially when in leadership positions. They know they have to set an example. That’s true. Employees watch what leaders do and follow their lead.

Does safety matter when you are not being monitored?

The question is, though, what do you, the leader, do when you are at home? How do you park at the local shopping mall? Do you keep the car lights switched on when driving in town? Do you hold onto handrails when taking the stairs to the doctor’s rooms? Do you keep your back straight and wear gloves when working in your garage at home? If not, why not? Has the “safety reason” changed now that you’re not at your place of work? Most likely not, right? What has most probably changed is that you no longer feel watched. You no longer feel you have to comply with so-called “workplace” safety rules. You now behave “naturally”.

That is one of the fundamental safety issues – what I call the Speedcop Syndrome = when we do something out of fear of being caught and not because it is the safe thing to do.

As long as that is the driving force, then safety is not really a value inside people’s hearts. When people “reverse park” at home, that’s how you know that you have safety embedded in the culture of your company. But, trust me, it starts with you, the leader. Don’t expect the troops to behave correctly, consistently safe, if you have not yet made that leap yourself.

 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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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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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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Lala Kamnandi (Good Night)

We say “Lala Kamnandi” to each other.

Why do we have this habit in most cultures? It’s because sleep is important – to rejuvenate our spirits and recharge our batteries. Without proper sleep, we end up fatigued, frustrated and exhausted. 

This is a real risk in safety

When driving a vehicle or operating a critical machine, we have to be fully awake and alert all the time. Taking our eyes off the road (or ball) for even a few seconds can spell disaster. 

Apart from the safety issues, sleep also has a direct influence on our health. So often when people are asked “How are you?”, the reply is “Tired”, or they complain about back pain. 

Most of us spend 25%-35% of each day sleeping. So does it not stand to reason that we should take care of how and where we sleep? “How you make your bed, that’s how you will lie” is an old saying which holds very true. Just look at a dog settling down to sleep.     🙂

Many people will pay a fortune for their multi-media centers and lounge suites. … Hmmm. … Actually, for some, the investment in a TV couch makes good sense, since they spend many hours watching TV.     😉

Seriously though, we should rather spend more money on our beds and mattresses so that we can get a great night’s sleep, every night. 

One  area, where sleep deprivation and fatigue is a major cause of fatalities, is our roads. Many people get killed because of “losing control” = dozing off and closing their eyes for a few seconds. This was also mentioned by Minister Ndebele as one of the reasons why SA ranks third highest in road deaths globally. If you or your employees spend alot of time on the road, it might be worth investing in a fatigue warning system, like this nifty device – a Driver State Sensor (DSS) by BOOYCO

ACTION: Take a good look at your bed. If the mattress is older than 5 years, you should consider replacing it. The technology of beds and mattresses has evolved alot in the last few years, so make an investment in your sleep and health. Also make sure that you get enough rest each night, and “vuka vusa” (wake up, rise up) refreshed, every morning.

 Be safe – the SIMPLY SMART way,


ps. Ask me about my ROAD SAFETY COOL TOOL™ TOOLBOX TALKS – a 5 CD set. 

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