Safety First, Second, & Third
Paul, electrical foreman for a northwest mechanical contracting company, told the Leadership Development Lab (LDL):
“For the past year, our company has been building a new digester tank for the Georgia Pacific paper mill in Camas, WA. In the middle of the day about six weeks ago, we were pulling wire with the help of a new apprentice. We were pulling this particular run with two guys by hand, when we hit a point in the pull where it was too hard for only two guys. I got on the radio and had two more guys come down to help tug on the wire. When the guys showed up, we grabbed a large pipe and wrapped the pull rope around the pipe, then had everyone grab ahold. (We didn’t talk about anything before we started pulling because I felt like our task was pretty straightforward.) After pulling several feet out of the pipe, we had finally gotten the head of the wire out of the pipe. Just as the head came out of the pipe, the rope broke away from the wire and sent the crew of people pulling the wire backwards a few feet.
Amazingly enough, only one person fell, and that person was our new apprentice. The Georgia Pacific’s Safety inspector was watching the whole thing and saw the apprentice’s face; I told him I would look into what happened. I talked to my apprentice and asked if he was okay. He said he was fine, so I let the crew go back to pulling the wire out. The crew reset the rope and started pulling again. A moment later, I yelled, ‘STOP. NO ONE MOVE.’ Everyone stopped and looked at me like I was crazy. I went over to the apprentice
and asked him to look at everyone’s foot placement. When he looked, much to his surprise, everyone had one foot behind them. He quickly changed his foot placement and everyone laughed. He learned a better way to pull wire that day.
“The lesson I learned from this experience is that just because something seems simple and so obvious to me, it doesn’t mean the guys I’m working with have the training and experience to operate at the safest level possible. The action I call you to take is, don’t take anything for granted. Remember that we have a lot of new people coming into our trades - you need to take them under your wing and lookout for them. The benefit you will gain is you will have a safer, more productive, quality focused work environment.”
One of the most important and counter intuitive things we must learn as engaging leaders is that just because something seems obvious and almost second nature to us, it can be completely unknown to those who work with and for us. As you share the benefit of your experience with your crew, you multiply your effectiveness.