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Are you safety conscious? If this sounds like a weird question, don’t worry: it is. Something I’ve learned over the last almost three years on my company’s safety committee is that for most people, safety is an afterthought.
But safety should be the first thing we think about for every situation we go into, even if it doesn't feel natural.
Why Safety is Important
If I asked you this question, “Did you do something dangerous today?”, how many of you would raise your hand? If you got in your car at any point today to drive somewhere and didn’t raise your hand, you’re wrong.
Driving is extremely hazardous, but because most of us do it every day, we’ve forgotten what it feels like to be a new driver and terrified that everyone will crash into you.
Safety is important because we all have that mentality that “it won’t happen to me.”
You want to know something? We’re all that “someone else.”
For me, and for the workers in my industry, the highest priority is getting back home to our families in one piece—safely.
Safety Comes in Many Forms
Going for a run? Let someone know you’re going. Take your phone with you. For me, I need to carry Smarties to treat low blood sugars while away from home or my hotel room. While on a business trip in May 2019, I texted the coworkers traveling with me when I left and when I got back.
That way, if I didn’t check in when I said I would, they would know something is wrong.
Like I just mentioned, I’m on my company’s safety committee. One of my duties (when I'm in the office, though everyone is WFH in 2020 now) is to check the fire extinguishers and AEDs (automatic external defibrillators) every month. This has ingrained a habit in me in which I check every single fire extinguisher I pass—even out in public on my personal time.
And I’ve caught some things.
A book store with an undercharged extinguisher and an oblivious staff.
A hotel where every single extinguisher I walked past was past its service date—expired, for lack of a better term, right as a conference of safety professionals descended on the building.
Being Safe Helps You Stay Mentally Healthy
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, do you know where safety is?
It’s second from the bottom.
Safety is more important than love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. The only thing more dire than safety is access to food, water, and shelter.
If safety is so important to our mental needs, why do many of us treat it as unimportant?
Sometimes, it’s because of the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome that permeates today’s society.
Practicing safety improves mental health. When we know that we’re following safe practices and procedures, we don’t have that nagging worry in the back of our minds that something might go wrong. We don’t want things to go wrong.
That’s why I automatically check every fire extinguisher I pass by—and sometimes end up finding a lot of expired ones.
If you knew that you and everyone else in your family always did their best to be safe, wouldn’t that lift a lot of worry off your shoulders?
Did You Walk the Exits?
You know those maps on the inside of your hotel room doors? The one that shows the emergency exit route in case of a fire?
When was the last time you looked at that and walked the exit?
Before I attended my company’s safety conference in February 2019 (in Vegas, of all places), this thought had never crossed my mind. I believed, “It won’t happen to me.”
But what if it does? Would I know what to do? Where to go? How to get out if smoke filled the hallways and I couldn’t see anything? Would I have mind to take my phone, keys, coat, and shoes with me?
Now, at every hotel, I walk the emergency exits. I find out how far it is from my room, what the walk down feels like, and where I come out of the building.
I’d like to encourage you to take that five or ten minutes to find the emergency exit routes wherever you’re staying and walk them. Make sure you know how to get out of the building if the worst happens. If you find something blocking the exits or some other hazard, tell the front desk.
Is it Worth That Extra Second?
Do you rush? Is it ever worth that extra second, that extra minute? At an OSHA safety summit in Portland, OR, the keynote speaker was a man who survived two back-to-back explosions that occurred because his working partner wanted to save three minutes.
I won’t reiterate Brad Livingston’s entire story to you here, but rather emphasize that the desire to save time at the expense of doing things safely is never a good idea.
Is it worth living life with permanent mobility issues, scars, and emotional and physical pain because you (or someone else) wanted to break procedure to save three minutes?
Is it worth getting to work three minutes early if it means you’re speeding down the road and risk getting into an accident?
I’ve trained myself to take every interruption in stride on my commute to work or doctor's appointments. If a big truck pulls out in front of me, forcing me to slow down, I’m accepting it for what it is—a way to force me to slow down. I can get irritated and angry about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there.
For all I know, that slow tractor trailer in front of me saved me from getting into an accident down the hill. Be careful of becoming a victim of fundamental attribution error.
The Decisions You Make Don’t Affect Just You
At that same safety conference, Brad Livingston’s daughter Kayla spoke to us to tell us the other side of that story. The ripple effect that occurs when you make decisions that risk your life, your livelihood, and your family.
Living through her father’s accident and recovery turned Kayla into an anxious person. As she told us, every time she hears an ambulance or fire truck siren, she’s convinced it’s heading for her husband—despite her husband’s decisively nonhazardous job as a band director.
She grew up learning to deal with the stares that people gave her dad. The decisions her dad made didn’t affect just him. They affected his entire family.
Do you ever think about who your decisions affect?
If you never use your blinker while driving and it leads to an accident, who does it affect?
Not just you.
On your next trip, take a moment to look at the exit plan in your hotel room. Instead of taking the elevator, take the emergency exit stairwell and find out where it leads. Get your bearings. Know where you are in relation to your parking spot.
When you walk past the fire extinguishers, take a quick peek to see if the little needle is in the green zone. While “expired” extinguishers are bad, under or over-charged extinguishers are worse.
Take a moment to remember what it was like the first time you slid into the driver’s seat. Remember when you had that “beginner’s mind”? When you could clearly see every hazard and preemptively account for them? Remember that.
And remember that nothing is worth saving that extra second or those extra three minutes. It’s better to be late and safe than injured or dead.
Those ripple effects last a lifetime, and there’s nothing you can do about it once you drop the rock into the water.