Photo by Ben Hershey, Unsplash
Thank you to all who responded (and continue to respond) to the blog, Ancestor Message: The False Goal of Safety. In this blog we are visiting this topic again, or redux which is something brought back or revived. I like that word. Based on your comments and questions, let’s explore further, deepening and widening the idea that Safety is Not a Goal.
Safety was a literal goal with measures in the corporate utility company where I worked for 18 years. I was lucky enough to help Safety teams develop methods that transformed safety records. Some programs were due to federal government OSHA regulations, but most were based in a direct need to teach and remind Safe Procedures.
What follows are transformative examples that include a transformation of attitude.
Super Macho Electric Crews
On the electric side, the history was one of men risking their lives (and many dying) while electric line was strung across the western United States. Safety was for shmucks.
The answer here was to have the crew that lost a man be the teachers of the safe way to do whatever he was doing when he died or was badly burned or injured. Sometimes the survivor was the teacher. Injury rates dropped dramatically. Competition converted to asking “who has the best safety record?”
Snow Day becomes Training Day
In the gas street area there were many complicated procedures, and in every case a workman about to retire who did it better and faster than anyone else. With the advent of video we were able to use snow days to video these individuals demonstrating their work process (complicated welds, for example). On other snow days the team showed the video to their workmates. Everyone wanted to be better, faster and, almost by default, safer.
Tail Gate Meetings
Safety programs trained that “tail-gate meetings” at the start of the day not only laid out the work to be done, but asked safety questions such as:
- What could go wrong, where is there danger?
- What do we do to make sure we don’t get injured today?
- Which process (procedure, method, or instruction) could we review right now that will help us do this safely?
- When have you done this that everything went really well? What made it so successful?
Seat Belts Example
Seat belts became a requirement for all vehicles at the corporation. The big utility trucks were historically driven by men whose work required strength, minimally, and was quite dangerous (electric, gas, nuclear). The usual bell curve of compliance took place, with the push back of examples of “I know a person who was not wearing a seat belt and got thrown from the car to safety.” For the last holdouts it took a rule that if you were in an accident without a seatbelt you paid for all costs.
Families were encouraged to use seatbelts as well as employees. Our family added seatbelts to our VW bus, and took as a Lenten practice to use them every time we were in the car. It took about eight weeks before our bodies actually preferred the feeling of the seatbelt. At about week ten someone rammed into the front of our car while we were stopped at a red light; we were not injured.
The first time I was in New York city as an adult my friends went through a version of safety questions around choosing transport to and from an event. There were rules: “You are NEVER on the subways after 10 P.M.” Choices were based on mode of transport, speed, and safety: would taking the bus, cab, walking be quicker and safer?
To realize that Safety is not a Goal is to embrace that it must become an embedded part of each process.
Our planet isn’t designed to be safe; at no point does the environment become safer. What safety awareness, education and planning do is wake up the participants to the dangers and what to do about them. The participants do not assume safety, but danger, and make a plan.
Would safety precautions that worked have saved some of those trapped in the Maui fires? Maybe. Safety plans saved all human lives in the Colorado grass fires that destroyed almost one thousand homes in December 2021. The Maui fire was in a valley, not on the plains with multiple exit options. Fires will continue as temperatures rise – what are the safety precautions where you live?
The Good Samaritan, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907)
Safety and Mercy – The Good Samaritan Story
In the Christian New Testament, Luke (Chapter 10: 25- 37) retells the Good Samaritan story. He most likely learned it from Jesus’ mother Mary. The context for the story is that a lawyer tests Jesus, asking, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus asks him, “What’s written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Jesus is protecting himself from danger by turning the answer back to the lawyer testing him.)
So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
The lawyer “wanting to justify himself,” asks for a definition of neighbor. Jesus answers with The Good Samaritan parable. It begins with a man who discovers the world is not safe.
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”
Jesus, rather pointedly for the lawyer, has first a priest and then a Levite see the victim but says they “passed by on the other side.” Next comes a certain Samaritan, who is a traditional enemy in Jesus’ time though descended from tribes of Israel and keeping much of Jewish practice. Samaria is now part of Palestine.
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”
A person telling the story often stops at the point the compassionate man tends the wounded man, and takes him to an inn. I really like the next part where the Samaritan must leave but ensures the man’s care. It’s often interpreted as continued kindness, but I think there is room to see that by this act the innkeeper knows he will be returning to check on the situation.
On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”
Jesus then asks the lawyer which of the three was a neighbor. And the lawyer replies “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus advises him to “Go and do likewise.” I wish the corporations and their employees would show compassion to their workers. Laws (like OSHA and Civil Rights), lawyers, visiting social workers, teachers and neighbors help ensure what safety they can.
How to Safely Assist Others
And we can “Go and do likewise” if we include safety planning around providing assistance to a stranger. The Good Samaritan provided a place and process for recovery.
How to Be Safe in specific situations involves focusing on gathering information and using it to create and follow a process that puts that information to use.
Here are tips from a recent article, Bystander Intervention Do’s & Don’ts, in the Weekend Read from the American Friends Service Committee. The link will take you to the site, which offers more information and a poster.