Read the new article, Burnt Toast, by ISPC's Executive Director, Mack Turner, CUSP

Burnt Toast  by Mack Turner, CUSP  

I have a beautiful and caring better half. She is always there for me. One of the things she does for me is make breakfast. Now I am an old country boy, so any old breakfast won’t do. I want meat, eggs, potatoes and toast and she is happy to prepare them for me. 

One morning as I sat down for the breakfast she prepared, I looked at my plate and right on top was the toast, and it was burnt. Now I DO NOT like my toast burnt. How dare she, after all these years, try to feed me burnt toast. So, what did I do? I grabbed the jam and smiled as I thanked my better half for my breakfast as I ate the burnt toast. 

I then got up from the table and left for work. While I was driving to work, I could not help but think that my burnt toast was somewhat symbolic of our employee safety programs and the behavior of our employees. We all have Safety Rules, Standard Operating Procedures, and Work Methods that are designed around keeping all our employees safe. In spite of all these directives, our safety culture is not what we want it to be. We have all heard our employees say things like Safe behavior takes too much time, or We have always done this task this way, or I don’t have the right tool so I will improvise. In other words, we are all willing to accept burnt toast. The sad thing is that as leaders, are willing to accept these unsafe behaviors and conditions and justify our burnt toast by saying to ourselves things like I have too much to do to focus on employee safety or There are too many rules, or We need to hurry to get this done so we can go home. 

This brings us to what do we do to get rid of the burnt toast. First, we have to acknowledge that we really don’t mind the burnt toast, but also realize that we should not accept the burnt toast anymore. After all, it represents a culture that accepts unsafe behaviors and conditions, and in the long run, that could lead to a catastrophe. We also need to acknowledge that burnt toast is just a little thing, but as we know, if we do not take care of the little things, big things happen.  

Next, leaders need to communicate to all employees that burnt toast will not be accepted anymore. Set the expectation that all employees must recognize unsafe conditions and behaviors and remediate them. 

Life will continue to hand us burnt toast, and that’s okay. However, we cannot just smile and accept it, and spread on some jam. To have a true and meaningful safety culture, we have to step up and refuse anything less than safe conditions and behavior in our workplaces.