Speaker Spotlight

Speaker Spotlight: Challenge your paradigms

October 2019 Speaker Spotlight

EDITOR’S NOTE: Every year, the National Safety Council Congress & Expo features some of the top thought-leaders and motivators in the occupational safety and health community. Safety+Health has invited the most highly rated presenters to contribute to this monthly column. For more on this year’s event, visit congress.nsc.org.

I’ve given thousands of presentations and spoken to countless safety professionals around the world during nearly 30 years of working with arc-rated and flame-resistant fibers, fabrics and clothing. These experiences have revealed one major and frustrating commonality across cultures, years and industries, which slows progress and impedes safety: the (very human) tendency to learn about something and presume that information or world view remains valid years later.

Much knowledge has a shelf life, and that’s never been more true given the rapid pace of technological advances and information sharing. The fix? Challenge your paradigms on a regular basis to ensure your policies and procedures are still based on the best and most current technology and information, or evolve and update them as appropriate.

People have an inherent tendency toward shortcuts, abbreviations and labels. We also like to be right, dislike being corrected and struggle with change. This saves us time and helps us process and store information, but can be a significant impediment to progress.

Confirmation bias (the tendency to seek out information that confirms existing beliefs and ignore contrary information) also plays a role. This is bad enough when applied to politics, etc., but quite troublesome when safety is at stake. It can – and does – make many of us slow to adopt better behavioral safety, better personal protective equipment and better culture. There may be slight risk in being a very early adopter, but there is definite risk in being a late adopter or in failure to evolve at all.

How many times have we heard or said, “That’s too expensive,” “It’s too uncomfortable,” “It’s too much hassle,” “It’s too much time,” “My people will hate that” or “But this is how we’ve always done it”? And how many times was that opinion based on information that was years or even decades old and no longer valid, or was no longer the best option?

The cellphone I take from my pocket today is vastly different and much more advanced than the one I had 10 years ago. And so is much of the PPE, standards, testing and behaviors that keep our workforce safe. Again, challenge your paradigms. Make sure what you once thought to be true still is; make sure you’re not missing the boat on significant improvements.

Many safety basics we take for granted today were fought or ignored for years before they became mainstream, and many lives were lost or needlessly impacted in the interim; one of our collective goals should be to shorten that gap to the extent possible. Training, hazard awareness and behavioral safety are huge factors, and the rapid advances in video quality and speed are game-changers for these areas – 5G cellular technology will soon be the next great leap. Are you positioned to take advantage? Comfort drives proper use and therefore compliance, and reduces complaints, so be especially alert for innovations in this area. Delivery models are changing almost as rapidly as the PPE itself.

Information is easier than ever to obtain, as are the opinions and experiences of others with similar issues. Webcasts are great, and trade shows are everywhere. Seek out current information, and compare it with what you or your organization perceive as facts. Think about your opinions and the policies and procedures that arise from them, and challenge your paradigms. Is your view of the topic accurate and up to date? Are your best practices still best? Are your people as safe and comfortable as their peers? Does your sourcing model allow you access to innovation as it occurs, or do you have to wait for years? Are there more cost-effective ways to do things? Are you getting all the service you pay for?

You may be surprised at how many times the answer will be “No.” The world is moving ahead rapidly – please make sure your safety programs are as well.

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


Scott Margolin, vice president of technical at Tyndale (tyndaleUSA.com), is recognized as an arc-rated, flame-resistant clothing expert. Margolin has spent 30 years researching and speaking on AR/FR topics around the world, including serving as a subject matter expert to OSHA, the National Fire Protection Association and others, on a wide variety of FR, PPE and thermal hazard issues.

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