Many times people wonder how or why I settled on the moniker “TheSafetyDude.” It all started with my first true safety job. I was still fresh into the safety field and not sure if I would stay with it or try to find to find a job using my major rather than my minor. As in typical safety dude fashion, it was a pseudo-turnaround. Performance was not where it should be, and I was there to hopefully help improve the safety programs. Whether I knew it or not, this was a preview to where most of my career would take me (startups and turnarounds).
This was the early phase of my career where I did not really know how I wanted to manage being a safety professional. So, I had to learn by trial and error what would work and would not work. My early approach was to play the role of safety cop. I went around finding everything wrong and reporting about it publically. Looking back, this worked just as would now expect. It put some good supervisors in some bad places. It made it look like the front line supervisors were not managing the safety side of their business. One of the more outspoken of those supervisors coined the term safety dude.
“What’s up safety dude?”
“What are you going to find tonight, safety dude?”
“Do you think we need to install seat belts on the office chairs, safety dude?”
This bothered me fundamentally because I knew my process was ineffective in either making safety better or helping to education others in how to manage safety. Instead of making these comments into a moment to pick a fight, I used the opportunity to see where I was failing. I started working side-by-side with this supervisor. I would go to his pre-shift meetings and simply listen. I would talk to his team and understand their needs and obstacles. I started to see where I could use safety as an integrated benefit to his department. If they needed better PPE, I would try to find it. If they needed forklift training, I would provide it when they needed it. If they had a concern, I would be that voice to champion it. Instead of “safety dude” being a mocking term, it took on a tone of respectful camaraderie.
“Safety dude, come look at this issue.”
“Hey safety dude, let’s figure out how to fix this”
“What training can I provide to better help my team, safety dude?”
I have kept that nickname since as it reminds me of how I had to learn the hard way the right way to manage safety.