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All About You: Realize you’re making a difference

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

I was surprised by the results of the recent Safety+Health opinion poll question, Do the rewards of being an occupational safety and health professional outweigh the frustrations? About one-third of the responses were “No.” That’s more than I would have guessed.

As with any poll, the results may not perfectly represent the general population of professionals targeted, but it does show that many find our profession frustrating. The poll question is an important one that can apply to many aspects of our lives, such as the clubs we belong to, the relationships we’re in and our habits. Our answers could stimulate some soul-searching that may inspire us to make positive changes.

Objectively considering the personal pros and cons of our profession can give us a solid sense of whether the rewards outweigh the frustrations. However, because of our natural negative bias, we often tend to subjectively notice the cons more than the pros and let them dominate our emotions (i.e., one bad day at work erases five good ones).

My experience as a full-time occupational safety and health professional included frustrations, but I felt the rewards outweighed them. Now, as a professional speaker and consultant, I interact with all kinds of safety and health professionals regularly, so I still get to hear about the pains and joys of the job. I’m not dismissing the frustrations, because there can be many and each person’s situation is unique. However, I’ve found that people who have a positive outlook on their occupational safety and health career tend to strongly appreciate this main reward: the sense of satisfaction they get from realizing they’re making an important, positive difference in employees’ lives.

Although your efforts can seem futile at times – especially when you don’t get the support you need or you’re dealing with an apathetic safety culture – rest assured, your efforts do influence some people to live safer and healthier lives. And nothing affects a person’s quality of life more than their health and safety. As one safety professional commented on the poll, “I like to see people go home to their families at the end of every shift.”

One time, a worker came into my office and showed me a pair of safety glasses with a nick in one lens. He told me he was wearing them while using a weed trimmer at home when a stone flew up and hit his glasses. He said the only reason he was wearing eye protection was because he had attended a safety meeting I conducted. During the meeting, I explained how easy it was for a stone or piece of metal to penetrate an eye. I also compared the speed of a professional pitcher’s fastball to that of debris leaving a weed trimmer. He said that the pitching analogy stuck with him.

You rarely get such a direct link between your influence and preventing an injury. That’s one of the reasons it can seem like your efforts don’t make much of a difference. Imagine if you could list the names of people whose lives or limbs you have saved. I know my demand as a speaker would soar if I could prove who has not gotten hurt or killed because they attended one of my talks. But that’s not reality.

Yes, some employees, including those in upper management, may not appreciate your efforts, but most do and that’s a welcome perk. It’s encouraging to remember that you are part of a legacy of dramatic change that continues to make our society more humane.

Many other rewards come with being an occupational safety and health professional. One of my favorites is that we often get to work with a wide variety of people. Another is that we’re aware – and often involved in many aspects – of the work going on at our organization.

It has been a struggle at times, but I confidently can say that being a professional involved in the safety and health field for more than 35 years has given me more rewards than frustrations.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit


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