National Safety Month: An Industry Veteran's Words of Wisdom

June 24, 2022

Darin Dillow, professor of practice and Chair of Occupational Health and Safety programs at Capitol, is a 20+ safety industry veteran who has watched the field change and evolve significantly. With the advent of modern technological innovations as well as new ideas about how workplace safety standards and procedures should be implemented, Professor Dillow is here to impart knowledge, advice, and words of wisdom about the physical and mental importance of the field.

As National Safety Month approaches the last days of recognition, I feel it is essential to reflect on the changes I have noted in the last twenty-plus years in the business. Some of those changes are obvious, such as the role that technology has played in shaping American workers' Safety. Detection technology, stronger and lighter hard hats, more lightweight composite shoes, and fall harnesses are less restrictive and offer more protection. These are all examples of modern technology that has been applied to ensure that workers go home safely at the end of the day. This doesn't even scratch the surface of engineering controls adopted by safety managers and directors throughout our country. However, I believe one of the most significant changes I have witnessed is the move from catching rule-breakers to understanding why rules are being broken.

Safety should not be about just trying to enforce the rules, but should be about protecting the people. Rules are in place for a reason, and we should follow them as they help protect us when we need them the most. Yet, we see that many employees will still forget to follow some of the simplest of rules at times. They fail to wear their safety glasses or may try to cut a corner to enhance productivity. These are all common, but the question is, why does this happen?

Safety should not be about making a name for ourselves or putting a feather in our cap when we catch something wrong. It should be about being proud of helping our fellow workers and their families. During our training for our safety careers, we learned about codes and standards, enforcement fines, and leading indicators. Rarely in the training I received did we examine how to look for those employees who may need help in their personal well-being. We as safety professionals need to remember that we are responsible for not only the people employed with us, but also their families who count on us. Next time you "catch" someone breaking the rules, take time to stop and think there may be underlying reasons for this. We often do not know what is happening behind the scenes for the individual. Have they had a fight with their spouse, are they losing a loved one, or are their kids struggling? We all have rough items in our lives, which is why in Safety, first and foremost, people should come first, and this will help to create a culture of individuals who want to follow the rules rather than being told to.

In closing, there is an adage that states an employee should always leave the same as they came in. This is probably accurate regarding the physical being, but what about their mental state? Our job as safety professionals is to look out for the individual both physically and mentally. If you can make someone smile or possibly take their mind off bad situations, go the extra mile to make that happen. Work doesn't always have to be just a "job;" it can also be a place to improve mental health and quality of life if handled properly.