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Is Safety a Religion?

In the utility industry, we are often connected by families. By that I mean many lineworkers enter the profession because their father, uncle, mother or other relative worked at an electric utility. As for me, my dad was a Methodist minister. I sat in the pew many Sundays, listening to him speak from the pulpit and hearing the many ways he shared his beliefs. For years, I felt as though I didn’t follow in his footsteps. I mean, I’m in safety and he was a pastor. Then, one day, I realized something: Maybe our two worlds weren’t that far apart because we both wanted the same outcome; that is, he wanted people to believe, and I do, too.

So, in this month’s Tailgate Topic, I’d like us to explore some statements that come from my dad’s world yet also make sense in the safety world as we try to do and be better. I will also share some questions you can ask yourself at the end of each day so you can continue to grow in safety.

Do unto others … for safety’s sake.
We’ve all heard the statement about being our brother’s keeper. It serves as a connection to others, one that says, “I will watch out for your safety today and you will watch out for mine.” It’s the unwritten rule that I will do all in my power to make sure you get home tonight. It shows you care about your fellow worker.

Question 1: What have you done today to demonstrate you are your brother’s keeper?

We want people to be followers … of safety rules.
All the safety rules we have are useless if we don’t apply them to our work for the day. Listening to a safety presentation on the importance of wearing your chainsaw chaps won’t make you a safe person. What will? Wearing your chaps every time! Yes, gaining knowledge is important, yet change only comes through action. And sadly, you probably know a person or two who doesn’t follow all the rules, but they are first in line when it’s time to accept the safety prize. 

Question 2: Was there a safety rule that challenged you today? If so, why?

We want people to live their beliefs.
Many crews consist of workers with varying levels of experience, from apprentices just learning the trade to seasoned journeymen. I believe our journeymen often forget the way they influence others through their words and actions. They set the tone and culture for the workplace regarding such things as whether shortcuts will be allowed and whether someone will speak up in an unsafe situation. Others are watching and learning, and this unofficial mentoring is shaping the future of the workplace. We can’t just talk about safety; we must live it. One lineworker told me he never spoke up, even when he saw unsafe actions being performed, because of his first crew lead. This inaction on the lineworker’s part ended up allowing someone to get hurt years later; he now lives with that regret every day. What we say and what we do matter.

Question 3: What is one thing you did today that made your workplace safer?

We want people to do the right thing.
Making choices – including safety-related choices – is a daily part of being alive. I hear people give reasons for not behaving safely, such as “I was in a hurry” or “No one will check the work.” We have many competing goals, yet there is one goal that should always be given the highest priority: to do the job as safely as we can. We must know the hazards, understand the risks and then make the safest choice. But it isn’t always that easy. Making the right choice can be difficult and sometimes it can hurt. So, the next time you are feeling challenged, think to the future. How will your decision look and feel tomorrow? Will it make things better or worse? Will you be proud of your actions?

Question 4: When you were faced with a decision today, did you choose the safest response?

Pick a Question
I challenge you to pick at least one – if not all – of the four questions above and ponder your response as you return home from work today. If you are having difficulty coming up with an answer, or if you don’t like the answer you do come up with, then you will see where to put forth your energy tomorrow. I think you will be enlightened as to how your attitude about safety changes and how you grow not only in safety but as a person.

I’d also like to send a special message to my father for inspiring this Tailgate Topic. Dad, I miss you every day, and although you have been gone from this earth for 20 years, I thank you. Your words and actions made me a better person – and a safer one, too.

About the Author: Lidia Dilley Jacobson is the director of safety and loss control for the Minnesota Rural Electric Association, which serves 50 rural electric cooperatives in Minnesota. She is an experienced safety professional with 35 years in the industries of explosives, nuclear and electricity, and her work has involved technical, compliance-based and managerial responsibilities. Jacobson’s last 15 years have been focused on the electrical industry.

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