• Nate Braymen


I created a monster!

Around my son’s fifth birthday, he decided he wanted to be a handyman when he grows up. That’s changed a few several dozen times since, but it was the flavor of the month at the time. Being encouraging parents, my wife and I decided we would let him pick out a toolbox and several tools at our local Harbor Freight. It was a pretty good present by his standards.

We spent what felt like hours roaming around looking at wrenches, hammers, and screwdrivers. He picked out a set of each along with a small toolbox. I even let him (much to wife’s disapproval) get a small Swiss-Army style pocket knife. On the way out he made a point to grab a pair of safety glasses and put them in his cart. He knows what I do for a living and I’ve done my best to instill a good safety mindset in both of my kids. It’s been a rewarding thing to watch them approach their activities that way.

By the time a few weeks passed my son had been given a few opportunities to test out his new handyman kit. I’d shown him how to pick the right screwdriver, how to use his hammer, things like that. But we always started with the glasses. He’s the kind of deadly serious kid that will tell on himself for “accidentally” saying hell at school, so when I say he took the directive to protect his eyes seriously I’m severely understating.

We were sitting on the couch one Saturday when my wife asked me to hang a few pictures. It was one of those urgent requests that have serious repercussions if not attended to promptly. Since I was already appropriately outfitted in my Ninja Turtle work pajamas, I borrowed my son’s hammer (his toolbox was always at the ready) and dug a couple of screws from the kitchen junk drawer.

I quickly eagle eye measured and placed a nail up against the wall. As I drew back the hammer, my son lept from the couch, swooped down, grabbed his glasses and held them up like a mini superhero.

“Dad,” he protested as he held the glasses up to my chest. “For SAFETY!” I fought back my gut reaction to call him a NARC and then took the glasses from him and put them on. He was right and I thanked him for correcting me.

No more rules without understanding, OK?

It’s no secret that I’m pretty critical of those who want to blame the worker when a rule is violated or someone is injured. That comes from years of observing and studying the glaring gaps in the systems companies design to “protect.” A side effect of that criticality is that I’m often mistaken for one who would remove all responsibility from the worker. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Personal responsibility is always key.

I’ve always known that nothing I do will make someone else behave safely or follow any given rule. But I’ve also known that my responsibility is to instill the importance and reasoning (the “why”) behind those directives. A common pitfall in this line of work is assuming that people instinctively know the difference between what is safe and what is unnecessarily risky. If that were true, we could rely on common sense. Anyone with half a brain knows that’s not a strategy for success, though.

I was accountable for my lack of eye protection that day because I knew the risk and chose to do it unsafe anyway. That’s not always the case when our workers take risks on our sites. The trick is being able to figure out when the system failed the worker or the worker failed (knowingly) to work within the system. If the latter is the case, the person needs to be held accountable. Otherwise, we owe it to our people to fix our process because it’s quite likely there are more out there who don’t know what’s expected of them.

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