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What is Safety Culture?

The Price of Paying Attention

I received a message recently from fellow MEMIC Safety Management Consultant, Greg LaRochelle. Greg’s note touches on the human side of employee health and safety. You may have seen the term ‘safety culture’ on this blog several times before, but Greg’s point goes beyond the culture aspect and into safety consciousness.  All the training, processes and disciplinary actions in place in a workplace pale in comparison when your workers take appropriate steps to protect themselves and others.

Greg recently caught a story on the evening news about a teenage boy who was struck by a fast-moving train while rushing to school one morning.  The student, in a hurry and wearing his new iPod, took the chance of crossing the railroad tracks with the barriers in the down position.  In a split second, he was clipped by an oncoming train and was tossed roughly 20 feet into a snow bank.  He sustained multiple injuries, including broken leg bones which have required five surgeries.  Fortunately, he is recovering well but faces intensive physical therapy to get back on his feet.  Remarkably, the young man has a positive outlook and has commented that he learned a big lesson on the importance of paying attention. 

The news story compelled Greg to write to me, as this lad’s remarkable experience and post-accident revelation rings true not only in the workplace, but in everyday life.  An organization can have a comprehensive health and safety management system, complete with all the needed policies and procedures, hazard analyses, and controls in place, including physical safeguards and personal protective equipment. But the key ingredient to safety success is the employee’s alertness to his/her surroundings and focus on the task at hand.  Employees need to be conscious at all times of steering clear of the “line of fire,” stemming from the point of operation.  In this age of electronic gadgets, financial worries, and new struggles unfolding, it remains paramount that we pay close attention to what’s happening right in front of us. When we lose track of these things, it could hit us like a moving train with serious and long-lasting consequences.

I am positive we have all been in a hurry and distracted by a piece of technology and realized our near-miss accident. I encourage you to share your stories with us, so we all may listen and learn and take heed of our tasks at hand.

Color Wheel Price of Paying Attention


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Melvin Trefethen

I have been practicing safety for 20 years and I must agree, the greatest challenge in safety is combating complacency. Paying attention on the job is a function of insuring job's remain interesting and challenging to the employee. Jobs need to be designed or arranged in a manner that maximizes the decision latitude of an employee. Repetitive jobs, with low employee control can be considered high hazard jobs, in part because they promote complacency.


Being a new iPod owner, I completely understand the distraction this form of technology can have- especially when I walk to work. With the sidewalks in Portland not tip-top, sometimes it's easier to walk along the street. This, coupled with trying to figure out how the shuffle works on my iPod, could very well be an accident waiting to happen. Thank you for this reminder that no matter where I am, I need to be focused.

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