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The Safety Guru Podcast with Erich Michrowski Episode 27 - Making Safety Personal with Candace Carnahan

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Incidents can happen to anyone, that’s why it’s important to make safety personal. Candace Carnahan was involved in a workplace incident when she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She highlights that everyone needs the courage to care, and to take responsibility for safety to reap the benefits. Candace reminds us that anyone can get hurt and the importance of speaking up to improve safety performance – if you know better, do better! Tune in to hear Candace’s story and insights.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m your host, Eric Michrowski. Today, I’m very excited to have Candace Carnahan with me. She’s a health and safety motivational speaker and advocate for health and safety based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Candace, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Eric. Happy to be here.

So, tell me a little bit about your story and what drove your passion for safety and to become this motivational speaker that speaks to a lot of global companies.

Well, as my story starts, almost two decades ago, I was working at a paper mill in I’m actually from a place called Miramichi, New Brunswick. And the paper mill was the bread and butter of the community, I guess. And I knew as a child of a parent that worked there, my mother, that I would be employed there. And so, I did a summer internship; I guess you would say labor work. And this would have been in nineteen ninety-seven that I started.

So maybe, needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway. Safety training was not really high on my radar, and really something that we were talking about in school training was looked upon as something that was a bit of a pain in the butt and overkill. Again, when you work at a place where your folks work at, you don’t really think that you’re being invited into the pits of danger. I, on my third summer, stepped over the top of a conveyor belt system.

I had been using that method of crossing from one point in the middle to the other for three full years, basically watching other people do it and following their examples and not thinking for myself and really making a choice to take a shortcut, not considering the consequences. And on August 11th, I put my foot down at the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. The margin of, you know, the chances of getting caught were so slim. But I did.

And my foot, yeah, my foot went into the rollers where the belt converged and the point, if you will, and I was stuck there for almost half an hour. Yeah. You know, stuck there while they called the ambulance. And they basically had to disassemble the system, the maintenance crew. Yeah. To free me and get me out. So, it was traumatic, to say the least.

And it’s really unfortunate. And I think it’s too often I hear that story of somebody new to the role coming in, and then something critical happens. And I think what would you talk about is really the importance of caring, having the courage to care to make a difference, the onboarding, training, talking about safety. Like you said, it’s not something that most people grew up in school thinking about safety. It’s just embedded in what how we think for most people.

Tell me a little bit about the courage to care and what that means, and how he could have made a difference.

Well, I think that after I saw the impact that my incident had on the fellows, I worked with, and it was a predominantly male industry and a great group of people. I think what people don’t realize sometimes is what a measure of strength can look like is actually speaking up and saying, be careful and not, you know, moving along with this. Let anything go. Shortcuts are cool. You know, the mentality that, unfortunately, is still very much alive and well in a lot of industries.

It takes courage to speak up and to tell somebody; I don’t want you to get hurt. I know everyone is doing something this way, but you know what? This way is safer, or that way is safer. So, there was a lot of guilt and feelings of, you know, why didn’t I say something? I should have spoken up. Yeah. With the people, I worked with. And in seeing that, it made me realize that sharing my story so that not only me and my family and my friends didn’t have to go through something like this ever again, that also the people that I worked with who were significantly affected didn’t have to go through it and had the tools and the understanding of how they could prevent it.

I think that’s a really important point is to two things, is that too often I hear people just they see something that doesn’t feel right, but they don’t necessarily say something because they’re afraid about how do I say this correctly? What’s going to be the impact if I do it? But the impact from what I remember when we spoke a little while back was even all the way down to the first responders in terms of how they respond and the impact on them.

That’s right. I’m happy you reminded me of that part of the story. Yeah. That the gentleman his name was Dale. He wouldn’t mind me saying that he was my first responder and rescue me. And it wasn’t until years later, I mean, 15, 16 years later, that I ran into him on the river fishing, as people do in America. And he shared with me that he was on a work of post-traumatic stress disorder and largely in part due to my experience and my incident.

And so, yeah, here I am living my life and have no idea what step, you know, impacted somebody else for so many years so greatly. Yeah.

And it’s really the power of telling stories, sharing those stories, sharing a lot of ideas around. How do you convey because what I’ve seen in many cases is a bit like you describe other people then start feeling guilt because they start thinking, I could have said something, I should have said something and not truly necessarily realizing what’s the risk; in front? And different people have a different understanding of risks and hazards. I know the first day, if I if I’d gone straight from school to working in a place like that, I wouldn’t have known what danger is and what I need to do to protect myself.

Well, you know, people say all the time, if you would, you don’t know. Can’t hurt you. And I try. That’s because I didn’t know I could get hurt. I didn’t know I didn’t. The first step in not getting hurt is truly recognizing that you can be you know, if it can happen to somebody else, it could happen to you. And you know something you said earlier just a moment ago about, you know, if I had known better and the people that I worked with, they did know better.

They just became a place and got used to taking that shortcut. And the more you get away with doing something; it reinforces that you’ll get away with doing that something again until you don’t. So, I always say to people, you know, if you know better, do better.

Absolutely, and I think I remember I started on the airline industry, an industry that’s known for its understanding of safety, the recognizing the importance of safety, and so many amazing disciplines around safety. But I remember from initial training, some of the elements of what you got trained and we got drilled in safety over and over and over for weeks before even having access to anything remotely close to a plane.

That’s good to know.

But once you are going to do this. Yes. You know, weeks and weeks of training and you didn’t circumvent, you had to show you understood. It is probably no industry I’ve ever seen other than maybe nuclear puts so much emphasis. And it really training and investing and understanding what that risk and the hazards are. But even then, you’d go on the line, and you start seeing people being slightly more complacent. And that becomes dangerous because if you have a little bit of complacency here and there, that’s where because it starts happening.

Listen, I could jump right in there. I’m going to tell you, as somebody who’s constantly flying to get to work on a weekly, daily basis, what really drives me nuts, and I can’t wait to get that kind of plane to be driven by it again. So, what really drives me nuts is when you’re on the plane, and they’re asking for a couple of minutes of your time, right. You listen. So, it’s not even the employees in the workforce.

It’s the passengers. Oh, for sure. You know, we have a few minutes of your time to let you know what the safety procedures are. And I’m sitting beside somebody on the inside. I’m on the inside. I like the window, and they’re on their phone. And I will say, excuse me, I do politely. Would you mind paying attention? And I had a fellow look at me one day, and he says, East Coast is coming out.

The fellow he says to me, you know what? What do you think the chances are that something’s going to happen? He’s really just joking with me, you know? And I looked at him, and I said, well, I don’t know. But they’re not none, are they? And he said, yes, you’re right. You know, so I mean, again, it’s that mentality of it’s not going to happen to me is just alive and well in all facets of our life.

And it’s if you’re looking for it, as I typically do, and you would also as The Safety Guru you said, you know, and it’s like this people can say, oh, I realize I’m not invincible yet. You know, as we always say, our actions speak louder than our words. So, if you were actually disregarding safety instruction and rules and regulations in any environment, then your kind of contradicting yourself as far as I’m concerned. Right, because you’re saying I actually am above this, and this isn’t going to hurt me.

It’s so, when you talked about that, you see something, and you say something. It’s something that you bring up a lot of your conversations. I’ve certainly had the same conversation with a fellow passenger on a plane who isn’t doing something that’s highly unsafe. Once, it was a person who are taking out their entire laptop just as soon as the flight ends had done the safety checks. And I called him on it very gently and highlighted the risk around why the laptops were gone.

They were obviously has done it as soon as the flight attendant took the safety checks, but it didn’t result particularly well. It resulted in about an hour and a half long flight of the guy grumbling and complaining and moaning about me for the duration of the flight until we arrived at the destination. But he did comply. So, you talk about this theme of saying something, something sometimes that goes well; I’ve had an executive sometimes tell me what it was.

In one case, he was correcting a team member who was doing something very unsafe, working on a ladder off-centre, drilling into the ceiling with no eye protection stuff, flying into his eyes, try to get that person to stop. And it said three times, it’s not always easy. So, tell me a little bit about what your experience has been around sharing stories, obviously saying something and driving the right outcome.

You know, I saw two of my things. I often say I cheer. If you see something, say something with my audience. And I believe that sharing story saves lives. And so those two go hand in hand. So oftentimes, clients and people I’m working with will say to me, how do I approach somebody and tell them yes or no, do it this way or you know, and that’s when I say, OK, that’s seeing something and saying something.

But it’s also great to share a story and make it personal. You know, it’s hard to argue with somebody who’s saying to you, I care about you. I don’t even know you, but I care about your family. I care about the effect you have on the environment here. I care about, you know, seeing that you get home safe. And I also care about myself and not having to live with the fact that I should have spoken up when I saw you do something that wasn’t safe.

But I did it, you know, so there’s a number of ways I think that we can approach situations. And you know what? They will not always be accepted with grace, but. I think that you know, that the more people, the more often approach the topic of safety and step away from rules and regulations. And because I said so and approach it with because I care, you know, there’s a much better chance, a greater chance of success because people have a bit of a harder time arguing with that.

And how do you get somebody to overcome that question mark that there’s say something that, you know, you see something? There’s a lot of people that that sometimes will say, hmm, but maybe nothing wrong will happen out of it. How do you help people get to the realization of I need to be comfortable saying something almost all the time? Well, we’re all that.

Yeah, for sure. And I think that what you just nailed there, Eric. As soon as you say and there say something like, that’s the sign, you know, don’t even second guess at all because your gut instinct, which in my mind is the most important piece of you have to work with, that’s your gut instinct. So as soon as your gut instinct is causing you to have that feeling, that means action is required almost always.

So, I think also that people when they’re you know, the question is this maybe it’s none of my business. That’s what I hear. Right. Someone told me it wasn’t my business, or I’m thinking maybe that’s not my business. And I always say when it comes to safety, make it your business. When it comes to safety, it’s everybody’s business. And again, you know, it goes back to the fallout of those affected by a workplace injury.

Nobody goes to work alone, and nobody gets hurt alone. So, it is you’re right. It is your responsibility and how you look at it as an opportunity, in addition to an obligation to have the courage to care to speak up, see something, say something, do the right thing. You know, if you know better, do better. There are so many ways that you can put it. And once I start talking about safety, I just get super jazzed of a safety nerd.

But there are so many ways that you can that you can, you know, that you can frame it. But the bottom line is, is that you don’t want to. Somebody’s not going home to their family; the people that you’re really going to work for are the people who are waiting for you at the dinner table, not the company that pays your check. You know, and I think that’s what we also have to keep in mind when we’re actually even ourselves challenging ourselves to take risks that nobody else is asking us to take.

You know, we’re not advocating for ourselves often enough. We should be having that conversation. Well, what’s it worth to me? What’s the risk? Who’s going to pay the price when we’re thinking about taking a shortcut or not bothering with that third step in the safety procedure? You’re not going to get a raise for that. You’re not going to get a pat on the back unless you’re working for a company that I’ve never met before. You know, and at the end of the day, you’ve got absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose, as does your family.

And I think that as individuals, we need to keep that in mind. I always go back to my incident. I mean, I if I did mention the other people who set the example. Sure. But at fault and blame our words I use; they’re not proactive. I use responsibility. Yes. It was the other people’s responsibility to set a great example, a good example to say, for example, it was my responsibility also to think about what I was doing and to consider the risks in my actions, you know.

So, pointing fingers and placing blame doesn’t bring back a loved one, and it doesn’t make limbs grow back. So, taking responsibility and being proactive is the state that I like to operate from.

And I think the leaders have a huge ability to influence that because they can create an environment where people are comfortable talking about it. They can reinforce the right behaviors that can reinforce that somebody stop work because they felt something didn’t feel right and in a really reinforce that challenging attitude day in and day out. So, I think a lot of that, in my opinion, rests on how the leaders show up and how they create the environment in the culture for the right behaviors to happen and appropriate proper basis.

Absolutely. You know, and I see it with people and the companies I work with every day, those that are demanding that people shut down massive operations. Right. You know, in the name of safety and actually exercising that right to refuse. And then, you know, ExxonMobil, for example, is a company that I worked with here on the East Coast off the label on the oil and gas rig. And I mean, there is there can be a great expense to shutting down, of course.

Right. But, you know, companies that put the priorities and the safety and the well-being of them of their workforce first, that’s where that’s where you want to go. That’s where you want to work with. And at the end of the day, also what I think is, you know, so admirable and that’s such a great example is when these organizations actually take those stories and those situations and make sure that globally they are diffused and shared at all levels so that, you know, an example is being set by that throughout the whole entire world, within the organization.

I mean, the power in that is I mean, I don’t have the words, but it’s really key. I remember way, way back early on in my career, again, in the airline industry, there was one decision, probably my first couple of months, maybe first year in the role. So, it’s very, very green. And I stopped work in this particular case, cancels part of the operation, which is specific flights for what seemed to be a very real hazard, ended up not being a real hazard.

The cost to the business was somewhere between a million and a half of those decisions. But I didn’t get fired. I got promoted not the next day, but I got promoted. It was recognized as the right choice, the right thing to do. And that speaks huge amounts if somebody is willing to take a cost in the millions because it’s the right thing to do.

Exactly. That’s exactly what I’m talking about, you know. And then the more people who share those stories and the more confidence is gained. I mean, you know, I believe that we should be aiming towards a fatality free work force. Obviously, you can’t just say it’s OK to hurt one person who wants to put their hand up for that to be their loved one. No pressure. Right. And so that those are the measures and those are the lengths that leaders and organizations need to go to.

And that, of course, the trickle-down then is that the smaller organizations see you know, that works, that’s getting people home and why these decisions might cost millions, as you know, what really costs millions and millions if we’re talking money, forget the emotional impact is an injury for sure. Right? I mean, so I think that. Always, always looking at anything that you do with regard to health and safety, whether it’s shutting it down, you know, having speakers, new safety programs, do whatever it is that you’re doing, you always have to look at it as an investment and not in it, not as an expense, 100 percent.

So, I want to close off with some thoughts. You displayed huge resilience through the experiences you’ve had. We’re now in pretty challenging times, obviously, with covid and resurgence of it at the time of recording this episode worldwide. What are some of the insights that you can share around resilience through challenging times, like what we’re going through right now?

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I think back to losing my leg, right? I think back to actually finding out that the foot would not be saved and I would lose my leg before below the knee, which I don’t think I even mentioned in the beginning, that that that’s what the end result was. And having to figure out, can I wear high heels again? How am I going to dance? You know life is going to throw us insane curveballs.

And I think that when we’re dealing with something like the pandemic right now, I’m grateful, you know, for the challenges I’ve had in the past. And I’m grateful that I have the ability to recognize those challenges as gifts because it allows you the capability and the resilience, and the strength to tackle the next challenge in the next situation that’s, you know, adverse to what you had hoped for it to be. I’ve basically, you know, this year had to as many have had to recreate my career, get up.

And I also think, you know, and I’m not talking about it in a religious way at all, but faith, you know, faith people are doing the right thing and moving forward is something that I draw on and taking everything as I did after I had gotten hurt, literally step by step, literally one day at a time. Because if you look too far in advance, you know, it’s overwhelming. And I think that when we’re talking about safety, if a company has X amount or number of injuries and X number of fatalities, sure, having those go down to zero would be the ultimate goal.

But it’s also really important to just bite off a new piece every day, do one thing safer today. Don’t worry about changing your entire safety program and replacing every piece of safety equipment that you have for something bigger, better, newer. You know, chances are great if we’re using our gut and our brain and our heart thinking about the people at home, actually taking the knowledge that we have and putting it to good work, and trusting our instincts. You know, we’ve got the tools we need to make the safer decisions each and every day, whether that be taking a second glance around your car, making sure that the snow is off the top.

If you live in a place where there’s snow, which I do, you know, there are so many little things that we can do to make moving forward and being better manageable. And every time you see the payoff with these little decisions, you don’t even realize it. But all of a sudden, here you’ve got a big result, right? You know.

Absolutely. So, Candace, I really appreciate you coming on the show, sharing your insights. You’ve had an incredible story, but you’re fighting an incredibly good fight. And I appreciate what you’re doing on that front. You speak to a lot of organizations about safety and speaking up. If somebody is interested in having you speak either at their leadership teams or with them with the frontline team members, how can they get in touch with you all?

They can just look me up. Candice Carnahan Dotcom is my website. I always say I could just pickaninnies with one-legged, and I will pop right up there if you can’t spell my last. And I’m doing, you know; I’m making the moves to do things now. Virtual reality and online streaming, of course, when it’s safe, still traveling in person and looking forward to getting back to that. So, I really hope, you know, I think a lot of people now have gotten used to the fact maybe they are more comfortable with the notion that we have to go ahead and talk about things other than the pandemic, all the things that were still an issue and still needed to be focused on before this happened still exist.

And I think in twenty, twenty-one, we realize now we can actually stay connected. Like, look at us. You know, we don’t need to be in person when we can’t be, but we can still impact each other. We can still share stories and, you know, make the world a better, safer place to be in.

Excellent. Well, thank you, Candace.

Thank you so much, Eric. This has been great.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s Fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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ABOUT THE GUEST

Candace Carnahan, Safety Advocate

With wisdom and wit, Candace presents a new way to think about safety. Through the power of stories, she demonstrates how to use your voice – to see safety as an opportunity not just an obligation. Having experienced a traumatic injury at the age of 21, Candace knows too well the impact it has not only on the worker, but also on everyone around them. For 20 years Candace has been taking the stage sharing stories to companies of all sizes – and already more than half a million people have been moved by her personal experience of injury, resilience, and strength. The way she weaves safety seamlessly into storytelling that is relatable and memorable is what resonates and provokes real change in attitude and action. Candace lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is a frequent traveller to clients in the manufacturing, transportation, energy, and production industries. 

For More Information: https://candacecarnahan.com/

 

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