I’m so excited to share with you another one of our in-depth talks on safety, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Jeff Woods, Safety Compliance Analyst at Graphic Products. Jeff lives in Vancouver, Washington but he has worked in various other states where he has built himself an extensive career in all things to do with safety.
Jeff has held several roles in major companies and agencies, from being a Security Specialist with the US Air Force to being an Operator Assistant II at Halliburton then going on to become an HSE Manager for Bilfinger Westcon – amongst countless other roles.
Each time I interview a safety leader, I always ask them the reason why they decided to move into the safety industry. Some get into by chance. Some are inspired or motivated by a significant life event. Some simply find that have a personal inkling to become involved in the industry.
I’ve found out Jeff belongs to the latter group. He told me an interesting story – as a kid, when he and his friends were climbing trees, he was the one who always had his arm around the tree limbs. That was his fall protection strategy, and adhering to it has saved him a lot of broken bones. He was taught to be careful. And he didn’t want to be that boy who fell off from the tree and spent the rest of the summer nursing a broken leg. So even as a child he knew that safety was important.
It was an interesting reflection for me also, as I strangely used to be the kind of kid who always fell out of the tree – but that’s another story.
Given Jeff’s lifelong career in safety, I wanted to know when the major turning point was for him in his career. He told me that it was when he worked in the oil fields in Texas – an environment where lots of things could go wrong due to the risk factors involved in working with riggings and heavy industrial equipment. Adding to that, he said getting medical help (when needed) was difficult as the sites were pretty far general support services. This particular experience serves as a lesson to all of us on ust how important it is to adhere to all the safety rules and guidelines and to work together as a team.
Having worked as an HSE Manager for a few companies, I wondered whether Jeff had a particular strategy for telling workers when they’re not doing the safest thing on site. I find this to be a common issue among safety managers, because it is actually challenging not to offend people when telling them that they’re doing something wrong.
In fact, Jeff’s technique is based on what he calls the IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) principle. He explained:
“Basically the way I do it is that I watch them then I approach them and tell them first off what they were doing right, i.e. “I have noticed that you wore your PPE. I notice that you had a guard on the tool but I also notice this… and I was wondering why it is that you do that.”
Jeff follows up a compliment with a question designed to encourage an individual to participate in a friendly safety dialogue.
Jeff said this approach has helped him to get more into the behaviour-based safety and to find out the real issue – whether it was the training (or lack thereof), or the way the workers were taught to do it, or if it is just how they thought it should be done. In his opinion, understanding the issue makes it easier to come up with simple explanations and corrective actions.
Jeff further explained that as an HSE manager, you’re there as a support, not as an overlord.
Of course, workplace health and safety is not just the responsibility of the safety manager but also the workers themselves. In this regard, Jeff shared a key tip for all the guys in the field:
“One of the things I discovered is that it doesn’t matter how big the job or how small the job – if you’ll break groups down into 5 people, then you’ll always have somebody in charge, meaning a person in charge no matter whether they’ve got their boss there or not.”
What this means, according to Jeff, is that everyone in these smaller groups are accountable for the safety of each other. That way, the responsibility level goes up and everyone gets involved. Because every person knows the role they’re playing, it is easier to fulfil safety goals and do the job right.
Jeff also has an important message to those who are taking chances and risking other people’s lives:
“What it comes down to is responsibility. Everyone of those people on the job has somebody that they go home to, and they have a life. If you actually get to know one of those people and become involved in their lives, you realise how important it is – every decision you make can change their lives forever. Whether it’s a loss of a finger or bad fall or incapacitation, it doesn’t matter, your job is not just production anymore [but safety as well]…Everybody is responsible. Everybody needs to learn what it is they need to do to be safe. If they don’t know, they need to ask.”
Jeff also added that OSHA does not hesitate in coming after people who don’t follow safety rules, regardless of whether they are CEOs or frontline supervisors. For him, keeping yourself from landing in jail for a violation of safety is motivation enough.
On the benefits of operating safely
Reducing injury and saving lives are obviously the main benefits of safe operations. But there are also other advantages such as higher morale and productivity among workers. So I asked Jeff is he thinks there are other ways companies can benefit from operating safely.
His answer was honestly one of the best lines I’ve heard:
“Absolutely. When you take responsibility for yourself and your actions and also the actions of other people, the benefits come across the board. People work together. They understand how it’s supposed to be done safely and all goes smoother… If safety does something other than saving lives, it improves communication.”
The more people communicate, the better things go. And that, for Jeff, is a big part of safety. This point really resonated with me – by having an increased level of communication onsite future incidents are avoided and productivity increases – this can be simply implemented by increased participation in a safety program.
On the role of technology
Within the industries Jeff has worked in, he’s seen the evolving role of technology in safety. In fact over the last two or three years, Jeff has seen a huge push for software in the management of safety programs. He says electronics and software are getting more and more precise, enabling safety professionals to understand trends and get ahead of things before they happen.
As a matter of fact, Graphics Products, the company Jeff works for as a Safety Compliance Analyst, has an innovative technology that could help safety managers make the workplace safer. The technology is a battery-operated portable printer which can be used to create labels for chemicals, signage, graphics for safety procedures, etc.
It’s simple yet it makes sense. Pretty much the same thing we are trying to achieve with our Safesite app – a simple way for companies to manage and collaborate on workplace safety and health.
Tune in for more safety insights! And feel free to drop myself or Jeff a line in the comments below – would love to get your thoughts!