What we can learn earning a PLANET bronze safety award

maroney_Credit_AP_Julie Jacobson

McKayla Mulrooney shocked fans and critics alike when she briefly scowled on the awards podium at the 2012 London Olympics after having received a Silver medal for the vault competition. Some saw her as an ungrateful brat, while worse yet, some saw her as a shining example of the youth of the United States, complete with sense of entitlement.  What I saw was a flash of disappointment on the face of a 15 year old girl who had worked so hard and was upset with herself. Years of coaching my three children in football, basketball, and volleyball have taught me a lot about hard work, what winning feels like, and what can be learned from not quite achieving our goals.

Last month we received the stiff cardboard packaging that holds our annual safety award. We took a tough stance on safety about 7 years ago and the annual PLANET Safety award that arrives every fall has become a source of pride for us. My Safety Director unwrapped the cardboard folder and for just one moment, I could have sworn I was standing in front of the Olympics podium. She quickly recovered with a smile but explained her disappointment, “Last year was a rough year for us. 2 big injuries in June cost us the gold. We had been so good with our safety record the entire year and 2 days did it.” I agreed and said, “What’s important is that this Bronze award is an excellent teaching moment.”

We’re pretty big on teaching moments here. Sure, we can all agree that it takes hard work to rally our entire team, from crew member right up through management, to work at our most efficient but it takes true dedication to work this way while being safe. Dedication is something that is built daily. It starts in the beginning of your spring season, continues with the training of every new employee you onboard, and gets implemented everyday by your foremen as they hand out every ear plug and safety vest. Our record for working without a lost time accident had been over 1200 days before our 2 accidents last year. Building a culture of safety was hard work and we were all working in unison towards it. Unfortunately 1200 days of carefully guided work can end the moment just one of your employees works in a careless or unsafe manner. This is why we at Duke’s analyze and dissect every one of these moments. We try to get to the bottom of ‘how did this happen,’ ‘why did this happen’, and ‘what can we all do as a team to ensure this doesn’t happen to someone else.’ Turning an accident into a teaching moment is the best opportunity for us to learn how to become better. We discover where our weaknesses are and we learn how we can better train our employees. It allows us to grow stronger as a team so that we might achieve our goals (gold or otherwise) with more focus than before.




  1. Eric,

    That initial feeling must have been tough as none of us like the feeling of defeat. But the truth of the matter is failure does come to us all at one time or another and we cant know success without experiencing failure. And when you are dealing with a situation where it involves personal injury, the stakes are obviously much higher. You had a great run there which you should be proud of! Taking the situation and putting the focus on how to learn from it will most likely lead to an even greater safety culture for your organization.

    Best regards, Chris

    • Thanks, Chris. It’s true. Every day that we focus on being safe and learning from our mistakes is another day that we move towards being a Zero-Accident workplace. We’re currently at 521 days without a lost time accident and going strong.

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