After finishing my presentation “What’s Your Safety Story?” at a recent safety conference, a participant came up and shared that his son had been deeply affected during a safety meeting at work by the tragic story of a young man, Clifton.
“He was standing in front of his team, relaying Clifton’s story to them, when he was forced to just stop and walk away,” his father told me. “He asked the attendees at the safety meeting to continue reading because he could no longer force the words out of his mouth.”
His son, overcome with emotion, had tried to share Clifton’s story. It was a story told by the victim’s mother about her son Clifton’s struggle for life, and it conveyed the anguish and terror that filled her heart as she prayed for his survival. Seventy–five percent of Clifton’s body was traumatically burned by molten steel.
Clifton’s story, unfortunately, is one of the many tragic accidents that occur in industrial plants throughout the world. When these powerful stories are shared, they bring the storyteller and the listener into an intimate relationship in which they both experience the story as if it is their own. Everyone who was present at that safety meeting will forever remember that moment. They will remember the story and they will remember the storyteller, and most importantly it will change how they approach their work.
Sharing stories is an emotional and physical bonding experience that has helped humans navigate a dangerous world for thousands of years. To this day, stories are one of the most effective methods of teaching, learning, engaging, motivating, and inspiring people to change. Stories form, transform, and help sustain all cultures, and they are the essence of a Safety First Culture.
I like to say that stories are what transform a house into a home. And they are what make an organization a community. Too many organizations are experts at just talking the talk (“Safety is our first priority!”); when you listen and look below the surface of these businesses, that’s when you hear the cynical stories among employees about how money rules everything.
These organizations are easy to identify because they are devoid of stories that genuinely demonstrate their espoused values. Organizations that walk their talk are consistently full of stories that convey how they walk and talk at the same time.
If you want your organization to be a Safety First Culture, start by crafting the story you want your employees to carry with them as they start and end each day. As Ryan Matthews and Watts Wacker wrote in What’s Your Story?, “Long before the first formal business was established … the six most powerful words in any language were Let me tell you a story.”
For more information on how to create a story-rich Safety First Culture in your workplace, contact