About ten years ago I had an appointment with a potential major client in the Houston area. I picked up a rental car at the airport and as I was driving to their office, I decided to catch up on my voicemail. Not being familiar with where their office was located and having driven in Houston only a couple of times previously, I realized that I probably should not be using a cellular phone and driving at the same time. So, after about 20 minutes, I turned the phone off and concentrated on the drive.
When I arrived at their office, I was ushered into a large meeting room with six senior business unit managers. The potential client was a safety leader in the oil and gas industry, so I knew that our meeting would begin with a brief safety discussion. I offered to lead the discussion. This seemed to impress all of them and the meeting was off to a great start. I felt quite proud as I related the story of my recent experience in driving to their office while using my cell phone and then coming to the awareness that what I was doing was unsafe.
I concluded the story making a point about the danger of becoming complacent and also about having the presence of mind to notice when something is not safe. I was feeling pretty good about it and then asked for comments, questions or observations. I did not expect any discussion. Five of my listeners deferred to the most senior person in the room, who looked at me and said, “If you were working for us that would get you fired. We have a zero tolerance policy regarding cell phone use while driving.”
So much for the great start to the meeting, no surprise, we never did get any business with the company.
Even today, each time I get in my car I am tempted to act in an unsafe, and in many places an illegal, manner. Like most people my smart phone sits in the middle console. Whether it is a phone call, the buzz of an incoming text message or the strange urge to just “check” to see if I have any new email, acting on any of these would distract me from my primary task — driving safely. In the moment, it may seem harmless but the consequences can be devastating.
To act more safely, more often consider the following idea:
The lifestyle you enjoy and all of the elements of safety within it depend on a network of people that is so expansive it is hard to truly understand.
When you consider how fortunate you are and the benefits you have gained because of a safe workplace and a safe society, you might just realize that your personal safety is something that you have taken for granted. Clearly, you have a critical role in your ongoing safety that cannot be ignored, but your safety is highly dependent on the system in which you live … and this system is totally dependent on others.
For example, a former colleague repeatedly reminded me that in the high-voltage workplace, “Every rule in our safety manual is written in somebody’s blood.” This holds for society too. The freedom and safety that you and I enjoy in our communities in large part is due to the sacrifice of others.
But rather than focus on the negative aspects of the sacrifices or accidents, each lesson learned should be seen as a gift. It may take a while to see an accident as a gift, but when you do, you will be grateful for the lessons and the resultant benefits you enjoy. If you feel anything less than grateful, then you are not seeing your good fortune as a gift. Your gratitude will translate into action … as you express your genuine appreciation.
For you, as an electrical inspection professional, you are part of a system that ensures the safety of others through the creation and implementation of standards, work practices and training forums. Your work continues to build a system of safety that the majority of the world will never see and likely never even realize exists. Truly, your work is honourable and I suspect that you consider your work as a service to society and, perhaps, even see it as a calling. Melodramatic, maybe — but congratulations on being an unsung hero.
You are all too aware that the Electrical Safety Inspection system that you oversee and work within was created over the past century by countless electrical workers and electrical inspection professionals. Why not dedicate your work to the pioneers who paved the way for the work you do, and for the gifts of the lessons learned as a way to express your sincere gratitude and appreciation?
For me, I will appreciate the system of road safety and stay away from my smart phone while driving.