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When Is It Too Late?


March 21, 2019 

By: Rocky Simmons, Region X VPPPA

“I’m sorry, you just missed it.”

I stared blankly back at the airline clerk who’d just informed me that, yes, the plane I was supposed to be on was in fact the same plane I just saw take off through the window behind her. Regardless of her sympathy and my great desire to have made it to my flight on time, I was just simply too late.

Scenarios like this one happen to us all the time. Whether it’s missing a flight or getting to the store a few minutes after they’ve closed, there are always consequences when we’ve missed the mark. They can be as benign as not having creamer for your coffee the next morning or as severe as losing trust, a relationship or, in tragic cases, your life.

Today, thousands of people are at home recovering from work injuries. Many of these people may be wondering what they could have done differently to avoid their injury, what it is they missed in the process. Unfortunately, despite the analysis and reflection, they are still at home, with the old adage, “hindsight is 20-20,” rattling around in their ears. While it would be great to have 20-20 foresight, we are still fallible humans. However, there are many systems available to assist us in the processes we use to plan and execute work with the ultimate goal of zero injuries – systems that are only effective when they take place before the work begins - before it’s too late.

The Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) has been part of OSHA’s cooperative leg for more than 30 years with the singular goal of cultivating a safety-conscious work environment that gets everyone home safely at the end of the day. VPP helps to create transparency in operations and puts safety at the forefront of the work-planning process. It requires continuous conversation at all levels to collaboratively improve and innovate the way we do what we do.

While VPP is a well-designed program, it can only be effective if employees take ownership of it. Employee participation is crucial and goes way beyond reading a safety memo or sitting through a safety meeting. Employee buy-in means active involvement - asking the hard questions, choosing not to fall into complacency during routine tasks, and constantly looking for ways to improve safety in day-to-day activities, both for themselves and for their fellow workers.

As safety leaders, we have a responsibility to exemplify this all-in attitude to those in our charge. If we walk through our work thinking that we are untouchable, that we have done the work for so long that injury won’t happen to us, the people around us will slip into the same false security. Enthusiasm is contagious. Encourage and cultivate safety leadership in the people around you to bolster the efficacy of your safety program. The results not only create a safer and more productive work environment, but also trickle down into the homes and personal lives of each worker. Anyone with children knows the importance of continual conversations regrading safety!

If the safety culture where you work has fallen into a routine, “let’s-check-the-box” mentality, know that it’s never too late to revitalize your attitude and that of your workplace. If you are reading this, you are still able to be a change agent and a leader that inspires others to do the same. Create more opportunities for employees to engage in conversations regarding safety improvement and innovation. Lead by example and ask the unpopular questions so that others are emboldened to do the same. Your efforts will not be in vain. Your family, and that of your fellow workers, will be forever grateful for the work you do today.

As the author said, “hindsight is 20-20,” and too many of us are left saying this phrase after an incident occurs. To read more articles about learning the lessons of safety, make sure you pick up The Leader’s Spring issue, Profiles in Safety. Not subscribed? Click here to get your $25 subscription today.