June 6, 2019

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Are you safety conscious? Do you see things that are unsafe, and point them out? Noticing hazards can be the difference between life and death. Stay safe.

If this sounds like a weird question, don’t worry: it is. Something I’ve learned over the last year and a half 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, whether or not it feels natural.

Why Safety is Important

If I asked you this question, how many of you would raise your hand: “Did you do something dangerous today?”

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 we all 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 my last trip, I texted my fellow coworkers who were 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 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 -- maslow's hierarchy of needs
By FireflySixtySeven – Own work using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36551248

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?

In some cases, it’s due to the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome that permeates today’s society.

Practicing safety helps improve 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 actually walked the exit?

Before I attended my company’s safety conference in February, this thought had never crossed my mind. I held that belief: “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 the hallways were filled with smoke and I couldn’t see anything? Would I have the presence of mind to take my phone, keys, coat, and shoes with me?

Probably not.

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 that the exits are blocked or otherwise hazardous, tell the front desk.

Is it Worth That Extra Second?

Do you rush? Is it ever worth that extra second, that extra minute? At a recent safety summit, 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. 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.

Are you safety conscious? Do you see things that are unsafe, and point them out? Noticing hazards can be the difference between life and death. Stay safe.

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 un-hazardous job.

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.

Your Turn

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.

About the author 

Colleen Mitchell

Mindset & accountability life coach, writer, podcaster, and full-time analyst in the power industry. I'm passionate about showing people that how we think determines our realities.

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