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3 Fresh Ideas on Safety Meetings- Anxiety and Developing the Craft - by Brad Chase

3 Fresh Ideas on Safety Meetings- Anxiety and Developing the Craft - by Brad Chase
3 Fresh Ideas on Safety Meetings- Anxiety and Developing the Craft - by Brad Chase

3 Fresh Ideas on Safety Meetings- Anxiety and Developing the Craft

Twenty-five years ago, I was asked to lead my first tailgate safety meeting. I was attending UMass as an Arboriculture student and interning with the F.A. Bartlett Tree Experts Company. I vividly recall the request because it sent a hint of dread throughout my entire body. The meeting was scheduled for the following Tuesday, and I certainly did not get more than a few hours of sleep each night leading up to the day. The topic was an important one for any arborist looking to work for more than a few years in the industry- "Back injury prevention". It was a subject I could relate to having had a back injury while strength training in high school and although I was not an expert, I certainly knew much more on the subject than most. I prepared for the meeting by reviewing the Safety Manual a couple of times.

The day finally came and as I stood in front of the group of 9-10 tree climbers. I read every word in the section as clearly and precisely as I could. "I did it"! I was proud of myself, and it was terrible.

A few years back I was sitting at a lakeside fire pit and enjoying some good times with friends and family. My buddy, Brian had the attention of the entire group as he masterfully worked his way through a story of meeting hockey legend Ray Bourque in the men’s room at a wedding a few years prior. He had my brother standing up pretending to be his childhood idle, Mr. Bourque, and in detail described the awkwardness that followed of him trying to shake his hand and take a picture. He had the attention of the entire group and although not every person thought it was as funny as I did, Brian had everyone’s full attention.

Brian owns and operates a very successful contracting business and I have had the opportunity to work with him on several projects. His safety message is delivered in the same fashion as his fire side chats. He tells a story with passion. He delivers it using people as props and makes sure everyone is paying attention.

I am now the Operations Manager for JC Grounds Management and have enjoyed working here for the past 8 years. I gave a back injury prevention tailgate safety meeting talk a few months back, similar to the one I delivered 24 years ago. I have learned a lot over the years and regularly find myself in front of a group of people delivering a message and as I do, I look amongst the faces of the people I lead and indeed I have their attention. I am thankful that the crippling pre-speech anxiety is gone and as I look back, the process of improving has in fact been a process. I started with YouTube, looking to see if anyone was posting anything interesting and I did find some good ideas. I put the ideas on the whiteboard in my office. To this day the whiteboard is filled with safety meeting ideas; some are good others are not so much, but they are ideas that may develop over time. The list has grown, and I have repeated some of them several times over my career.

JC Grounds Management is a Landscape/Snow and Ice Management company that cares deeply for people. I recently asked the owner, Jon Crandall what his most important asset was (I already knew the answer) and as expected he said, “the people”. Jon loves the people he works with every day. Whether it is the customer, the vendor, or the people he employs, if you spend a lunch time speaking with him you will see he loves people. If people are the most important thing to the company, safety in fact needs to be as well.

I am thankful to the good people of Bartlett Tree Experts for putting me on the spot and pushing me to lead my first meeting. I am also thankful to Jon Crandall (Owner of JC Grounds Management) for allowing me the time and pushing me to improve the skill of leading a safety meeting. I especially appreciate Jon’s honesty and him letting me know what has worked and not worked through the years. I am not a natural like my friend Brian, so I have had to work at this craft. Here are some ideas I have used in the past for safety meetings that are a little out of the box. I am still learning every day and writing down new ideas. I would love to hear from you if you have any ideas that work for you and your company. After all, safety is about people and everyone deserves to go home safe. Brad@JCGrounds.com

Painter’s Tape and General Safety Awareness

  • Ask for a volunteer in the group (I typically ask/tell someone to volunteer prior to the meeting and let them know the plan -- we call them “the plant”)
  • Ask the group if they have ever been injured on the job and place a piece of tape on the body part injured. It is ok if there are repeats on body parts injured
  • Ask the group if anyone on their crew has been injured and what body part… add more tape
  • Depending on the size of the group you will likely see your volunteer will be covered in tape
  • Discuss the most common areas to be injured. It is usually lower back, fingers, cuts.
  • I have found that this is great way to get people to speak up in the group and participate in the meeting.

Ski Helmet and PPE

  • One person in the group wears a ski helmet (the plant) this can be the presenter if needed
  • Do not mention the ski helmet and don’t discuss until the appropriate time
  • Discuss PPE: eye, ear, hardhats, etc.
  • I then tell the story of how when I first started skiing only racers and weirdos (ha) wore helmets. If you wore a helmet in the 90’s while skiing it was ridiculous
  • Now if you go to a ski mountain and you are not wearing a helmet you will stick out
  • Why- Ski helmets are awesome and so is your PPE (in short)

Folding Knife and the power of proper training

  • If you hand someone a folding knife with a safety to stop the blade from closing while open it will take them a few minutes to figure out how to close it properly without cutting themselves. Someone not familiar with knives may never figure out how to close an open folding knife.
  • Prepare a foreman prior to the safety meeting and teach him/her how to use a pocketknife with a built-in blade safety on it. He/ She will be your volunteer (the plant) for the safety meeting
  • The foreman will be handed the open pocketknife with safety on. They will pretend they do not have the knowledge to properly close the knife.
  • Foreman asks for help and then the presenter teaches and hands on trains the foreman how to properly disengage the safety and safely close the knife
  • Foreman then on their own closes the knife in front of the group
  • Conversation to follow shows the importance of training/ hands on training/ knowing when to ask for help


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