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Here’s how I intend to continue sharing my passion for safety with you in safe, new and innovative way!
It’s hard to know what to say, write, and feel about the National Day of Mourning this particular year when it seems like every day has been just that. Since COVID-19, and more recently the massacre here, in my home province of Nova Scotia, the experience of mourning seems constant.
Honestly, as of late, I am waking and choosing the peaceful piano playlist on Spotify over social media, and CBC… at least until noon. I figure the bad news will be there then, whether I’m ready for it or not.
It feels unfamiliar to communicate to you in this tone – one of some sadness and helplessness. The words don’t feel like mine when I write them. My feelings don’t feel like mine as I’m feeling them, but I suspect that when we are living in a world we can barely recognize, foreign emotions are to be expected.
While the magnitude of loss and suffering feel insurmountable in this moment in time – the collective gratitude and goodness continues to conquer. I see it every day. Acts of kindness performed from a distance, making us feel closer. Music being made and funds being raised to support where it’s needed – which is everywhere. Candles being lit, music everywhere, hockey sticks being tapped (a truly Canadian way to show support) and pots being banged each evening – rallying for our front line workers who are tirelessly tackling this pandemic.
Heroes. That’s what they are, these brave people who are leaving their families at home and working tirelessly to protect us, hoping to return safely. The reality is that in these valiant efforts to answer the call of duty to save lives, many are still being lost.
We hear it everyday, “we are all in this together” – and it’s true. We will celebrate with a hug when we are once again allowed to embrace our loved ones.
For today, on this Day of Mourning, I will hold close to my heart those who have not returned home from work. I will pray for those who have been left waiting for the hug that will never happen.
For today, I will leave a candle burning in the window throughout the day and the night in honor of those who aren’t coming home, and to light the way for those who are.
For today, I will bang my pot on the porch at 7 pm for the safe return home of our frontline workers. I don’t know if banging pots on a Day of Mourning is the appropriate thing to do – but I do know that in a time where we may feel at a loss in knowing what feels “right” – we still can do something, and that’s not nothing.
I love going to work from home in Halifax – especially when I get to visit with my friends at Exxon Mobil! Over the past several years I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with them at many of their excellent Safe Starts and other internal Health and Safety events. This is a company that strives for constant improvement. Celebrating what is working well and then building upon it to make it better. Each time I join them and sit and listen in on new safety developments I am always so impressed at their ability to keep their messaging consistent, yet new and exciting.
The last time I worked with Exxon Mobil the push was on to ‘Finish Strong’. Meaning, even when the day is done, or a project is winding down – we don’t let our guard down – we stay the course to ensure that #nobodygetshurt.
While preparing my message this time, I noticed they have added to their powerful message of Finish Strong. Now, it’s “start slow to finish strong” – I love this!
A placard given to me by my late Grammy Mullin hangs on my wall. It reads “the Hurrier I go the Behinder I get”, an ever-present reminder of my very special grandmother, and also to slow down. It was the perfect accompaniment to complement my message for the morning.
I grabbed it off my wall as I walked out the door -and wrapped it up to protect it (which is what we should with things that are precious, dear to us and irreplaceable, right – like ourselves! How’d ya like my PPE metaphor;) and I brought it to share as a reminder that going fast rarely saves time. In fact, rushing often causes stress, dangerous situations and sometimes results in injury.
Safety doesn’t have to be complicated – Grammy Mullin wasn’t – she knew that simply slowing down in life was one of the best ways to stay happy, safe, and focused on what matters most – being present and healthy to spend time with the people you’re really working for – your family!!
The National Day of Mourning was last month. At the time, I shared some reflections.
Over the years I’ve also thought about this, and other, “Days of…”, and how they do a very good job of raising awareness of a particular issue on a particular day. But the real work comes after the Day – and every day.
On the National Day of Mourning, I was flying to Ottawa feeling grateful for the dinner I had planned with Dee, one of my dearest friends from university – the kind of friend that you’re already all caught up with no matter how much time has passed between visits.
We had plans to toast a new baby, new love, and mostly the gratitude that after all of these years, and busy lives, we still manage to make these impromptu dinners happen more often than not.
In the midst of libations and laughs, out of the corner of my eye and my ear I see the bartender standing on the top step of a ladder to reach a bottle high up. The ladder isn’t all that high, and this everyday action may not even have registered had I not heard the co-worker caution her about the safety of being on the top rung. She responded somewhat jokingly, “What are you, the safety police.”
Her co-worker responded “Well yes, I’m on the JOHS committee, but that’s not the point. It’s because I care.”
Because I care…
My mile a minute chatter came to an abrupt halt. Dee, knowing me very well, recognized the significance of this.
I couldn’t really believe what I thought I had seen and heard, so as I sometimes do, I jumped into their conversation. “Did you just ask her to step down from that ladder and cite the reason as caring?”, I asked.
Yes, I had heard right.
One of the questions I am asked most often is how to communicate discomfort about a situation, or to call out plainly unsafe behaviour to a co-worker in a manner that will be well received.
While I struggle with the fact that people still take offence when someone makes the time to reach out in an effort to ensure their safety, I know that it’s still a reality.
The question that I have struggled to respond to confidently for so many years had now been answered. This was an interaction between two people that while very light in tone, held significant weight.
There are (and will) continue to be disagreement about what constitutes appropriate safety measures in the workplace. Personal safety is just that – personal. But while ideas may differ, regulations are in place and they are there for a reason – and when the time comes that someone needs to be reminded, try using “Because I care”.
Today is a day to remember. A day to give pause in recognition of so many who lost their lives at work. Those who died making a living. For me, it also signifies, and calls to mind, all of the details of the day that my life as I knew it changed. I was one of the lucky ones who survived what countless others did not – I didn’t return home at the end of the work day, but I did eventually go home.
What could have been my ending, turned out to be a new beginning. For that I am eternally grateful. As I sit quietly this morning – the Day of Mourning – sipping my coffee, I give pause and I think of my own family, knowing that no matter how many years pass, the day that changes your life forever will always feel like yesterday… if you’ll allow yourself to revisit. If you can summon up the strength to go there.
I believe today, it’s important to make that journey, as it is through reflection that we not only remember the past, but we also reset for the future and consider the role we plan to play in making our world a safer place to work. A place where getting hurt or killed at work is in no way part of the job.
While mourning and hope aren’t typically thought to go hand and hand, making time and space for our grief is a continuous part of the coping process – a process that will for many, never end. It is my thought that hope often times defeats helplessness. That taking positive action towards preventing what we failed to do in the past may not lessen the pain, but can offer us purpose.
Today, there are services taking place in communities nationwide to commemorate the Day of Mourning. We can also choose to honour those lives lost by visiting a space within ourselves where we truly think about our actions, and commit to improving on an aspect in our lives that directly relates to safety. We can all do “onethingsafer”.
Some women wear their hearts on their sleeve. I wear mine on my leg.
I’m 39 now, but when I was 21 I took a step that would change my life forever. At my summer job at a paper mill, I put my foot on top of an unguarded conveyer belt. It would be the last step I would take with my left foot before the machinery mangled it. My leg had to be amputated below the knee.
My heart was broken. I was no longer the girl spending time contemplating what shoes to wear or skipping out the door in the morning after eating my dad’s banana pancakes. Instead I was trying to choose a suitable foot to replace the one I had lost.
I came as close as one could by way of a English gentleman called David. His eye would craft the look of my first custom designed high heeled limb. His hands would shape it. Though our time together was brief, his affection for me I would wear for the rest of my life by way of a tiny heart, disguised as a freckle on my left ankle.
I had my heart back. Rather than wasting my time looking for love in all the wrong places, I looked within. It wasn’t always easy. Ever since the incident, when looking in the mirror, what was missing was all I had been able to see. But I also came to see that what happened to me was not a “freak accident.”
Every day Canadians—young Canadians in particular—are losing lives and limbs at work. In 2015, the most recent year for official statistics,there were 852 workplace-related fatalities in Canada, according to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety. Among those dead were 15 workers under age 24.
I deliberately don’t use the phrase “workplace accidents” because that implies these deaths could not have been prevented. Injuries in the workplace are preventable. So if we want to change our culture, we need to change our language and our approach. If we are going to eradicate these injuries in the workplace—and that is an achievable goal—companies and individuals need to accept responsibility.
I am not a not a workplace health and safety specialist. I’m a person who got hurt, one of many. My role is not to speak about rules and regulations – but to appeal to the hearts and minds of the workforce to make safety personal and never optional. Put another way: if you don’t truly understand how a workplace injury could affect your life, no amount of training will matter.
And I want to reach the employers too. I see mandates and missions boasting “Zero Injuries” as the only acceptable goal for corporate Canada.
Just this week I learned about a 33-year old man in New Brunswick who lost his life this month from a fall on a construction site, a fall that could have been prevented.
Once again, my heart is broken. I know his mother’s phone will ring—just as my mother’s did on August 11, 1999. This mother will not be nearly as lucky as mine was. Her son is not coming home.
As another Valentine’s Day approaches, I’ve had enough relationships and time to reflect on the meaning of love — and loss. My love letter to Canadian workers is a short one: No one goes to work alone and no one gets hurt alone. One of the best ways to show you care to the people you love is to come home safe. Trust me when I tell you, when you take a risk it’s not just your risk to take.
People say that when you do what you love, it isn’t work. But it takes a lot of heart to do this work. Thank heavens I have a spare one on my ankle.
Well hello again, and a happy October to you all!
Just a few short weeks ago I was boarding the one of four flights that would add up to a record breaking (at least for me) 32 hours of transit, en route to Australia to offer the International Keynote for one of the largest safety conferences in the country – Safety in Action. Yeah for me!
About halfway through the journey I began to think of the distance people will go to rally for a cause they are truly passionate about. I thought about all of the people in the world hopping on one plane and off another. The people you enjoy a glass of something or other with while you wait for the next flight after yet another missed connection. So often these days we stick to the facts, the requirements of what it is we have to do, and what it is we should do. We greet our seat mate after praying that we won’t get one (be honest – you do it), sightlessly determine who gets the arm rest, perhaps recommend a film or enquire as to whether or not the departure city is where they are from, but most often – that is where we leave it.
Everyone has a story to tell…
I get it, I don’t want to be engaged, emotional and thrust to action on every flight I’m on – however I’ve become acutely aware that everyone who is along for the ride has a story to tell – that may not be the purpose of their voyage – to share a story – but often times in some way or another… it is.
Why? Why do people travel for miles and days to tell a story? Why do people travel for miles and days to hear one? I fired up the google machine and did a little research. You know I am all about the “good vibes” – but sometimes society demands facts, they want proof. Science.
Essentially, what it boils down to is that sharing stories changes lives. Sharing stories can even SAVE lives. Truth.
Maybe this isn’t a shocking or new piece of information to you. In all honestly, I vaguely recall something about the hypothalamus and the things it could do from my undergrad (psychology major), so I should have honed in on this connection ages ago… I digress.
You see our brain produces this thing call oxytocin – in the past is was referred to as the “love hormone” but has since been dubbed the “moral molecule”. Yes, look it up!
Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted, when we share a personal story with one person or a group of people we are telling them that we trust them.
Oxytocin is the neurochemical responsible for empathy and what we know is that it makes us more sensitive to social cues, and social cues are what motivate us to engage and help others, particularly if help is needed.
Empathy does not stop affecting us just yet! Nope – it also allows us to understand how others are likely to react to a situation, including people we work with!
You can imagine how delightful this information must be to the gal who globe-trots with a suitcase full of spare legs, often removing them during speeches while revving up audiences to “SEE SOMETHING… and SAY SOMETHING”!!!!
What this means is that if I’ve done my job well – meaning transported my audience through my story – the result is that we create a whole room of people who are feeling empathy, releasing oxytocin and are SCIENTIFICALLY motivated and engaged in being more aware of their co-worker and whether or not they may need guidance, help, or even a hug. We’ve got people who have a more acute understanding of how to go about “saying something” after what they’ve seen as they are now naturally more able to understand the reaction they will receive…
What we’ve got here folks, are people who are building up with the courage to care – to do one thing, or say one thing, that might change a life, or even save one.