My Story: Chris May
I began working at my company 20 years ago. Fresh out of college, I had a degree in safety and health but not the experience. Admittedly, I was intimidated by all that I didn’t know and reluctant to challenge any employee’s behavior, even when I felt it was unsafe. I told myself, “Who am I to question their approach?”
Nearly eight months into my new position, I was visiting one of our construction jobsites when I noticed an operator wasn’t wearing his seat belt. From a previous training session, I knew that this worker had been operating a roller with the company for over 30 years. I remembered telling myself that he must know what he’s doing, he’s experienced and surely knew the potential risks. The easiest thing for me to do was to just keep walking. But then it happened: A little voice inside me told me to turn around.
I walked back to the roller, reintroduced myself to the operator and exchanged some small talk. I told him I noticed he wasn’t wearing his seat belt and that it concerned me. He reminded me he’d been doing the job for over 30 years without wearing his seat belt and without incident. He added that the project they were working on was flat, so there was no potential for a rollover, and that it was cumbersome to wear the seat belt because he got on and off the roller so much throughout the day.
I politely agreed with all of his comments, but asked him to consider the possibility that anything could happen and to think of what would happen to his family if it did. He agreed and said he would wear his seat belt. We shook hands and I walked away.
Two months later, I received a phone call from the project manager on behalf of this worker. She said he had asked her to call me to say thank you. I asked, “For what?” She explained that he’d been in an accident on the roller the night before. The roller had traveled down an embankment, completely flipping and eventually landing upside down. “But,” she exclaimed, “he was wearing his seat belt!” She said his words were: “Please call that little lady and tell her I said thanks – that seat belt saved my life.”
After that instance, I realized I couldn’t take the path of least resistance. I had to take action and do what’s right. Just as I would have warned a loved one at home to wear a seat belt, I had the same obligation to my family at work.
I take the lessons learned in that event with me everywhere I go. If I ever encounter a situation that’s uncomfortable or seems challenging, I think about that worker and the consequences of not taking action. We may never know what impact our actions will have in the lives of others. Maybe the worker would have chosen to wear his seat belt that day without me ever having to ask him, but maybe not. Thankfully, on that particular day, I didn’t just keep walking.
Vice President, EHS operations