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Throwing Pennies in the Dark

Posted by Matt Meador, Division Vice President on Dec 11, 2017 8:00:00 AM

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As you know, we’ve all been tasked with achieving a goal of zero lost-time incidents. I believe that how we communicate can take us to zero. Right now, say you are in a meeting in Dallas. At this very moment, what are you doing to keep your vegetation management crews safe? Nothing. That’s why we need to continue to push the message down. And how we communicate matters. Think about how the following messages feel:

  • Go cut those trees OR go look at those trees and, if the conditions are safe, cut them
  • Mow that area OR if you can mow, mow; if not, let me know

Always communicate in a way that leaves an out.

Remember, your team also judges you by what you do, not only what you say. You can talk about safety all day long but, if you let an unsafe vehicle drive off the lot, your actions speak louder than words.

I would rather see 15 trucks sitting idle in the lot on a Tuesday afternoon than even one unsafe vehicle on the road. Don’t talk safety and put that truck on the road. Your crew members see your actions. Never compromise on safety.

Lastly, have you ever played the penny toss game? Here’s the scenario: Bring three people into the hallway outside a conference room. Blindfold them and give each ten pennies. When you bring the first person in, tell him that there’s a bucket somewhere in the room and he needs to throw the pennies to see if he can hit the bucket. Give him no directions. Repeat the exercise with the second guy but, on top of it, give him a hard time. For the third and last, coach him. “Take three steps forward and one to the left. Lower your hand slowly. Now drop the pennies.”

Clearly, the last person always wins the challenge but, importantly, how did each feel? Interestingly, the first person rarely asks for directions. It’s human nature to move into action especially in a situation where questions are not encouraged.

It’s the same on a job site. If you say, “Gary, go trim those trees,” without instruction, Gary will be throwing proverbial pennies in the dark. Instead, say “Gary, come here and let me show you what needs to be done. See that widow maker? Use caution.” Or, “Tom, if you can give me ten miles safely, please do. Any problems, come back and talk to me.”

The same level of clarity holds true with our Pre-job Hazard Surveys. Make them real; don’t just pencil-whip them. As a coworker once said to me, we need to treat each PJHS like we’re being dropped in Africa. Outline the present dangers (e.g., lions, hippos) and where to get help. If you’re not identifying real hazards and how to mitigate them, then why do it? You’re wasting everyone’s time.

If you have crew members who you know are just there for the paycheck, think about the impact they have on you and your family. Your family is counting on you to get home safely at night and you should be counting on your teammates for that, as well. If one is not your brothers’ keeper, maybe he shouldn’t be on the team. There’s too much at stake. Do not let unsafe employees put themselves or others in danger. If you love someone and want them to succeed but have concerns about their level of commitment and/or discipline, let them know that they may be more successful elsewhere. It’s better to have your friend alive and healthy 20 years from now than to have a life-altering experience today.

Can I get an “amen”?

Topics: communications, Job Done Right, total safety culture, zero lost-time incidents

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