Monday, June 21, 2010

i nag because i care

My husband ... that wonderful, caring, devoted man that I wrote about yesterday?


Today, he's trying to give me a heart attack.

I work for a major oil company and since the first day of my employment, it has been ingrained that we do not do work if we cannot do it safely. That is why I make it a priority that people working for me know that they are empowered. And, that they are being held responsible to look out for others and insure that every one goes home safely at the end of the day.

There is no job more important than that.

In my career, I've shut down several jobs.

I've told eight men drill crews and an entire fleet of traffic control to pack it up and go home for the day because they couldn't produce the appropriate training certifications, or they didn't have the correct equipment for the task. I've had entire gas stations shut down for days at a time, with a chain link fence put up around the perimeter, because I was worried that my guys would be run over by the high volume of cars that were short cutting across the lot.

I believe it is in large part due to my commitment to safety, that over the past few years, I've fielded several phone calls from people working for me that have told me that they don't feel safe about doing a particular task and they have stopped a project. And instead of dreading the money it will cost to do the job with additional safety measures, or more qualified staff, or the inevitable delay in schedule that will result, I've applauded them for taking action.

There are times we cannot correct an error that has been made, so I take it very seriously.

You can too.

All you need to do is ask, "What's the WORST thing that can happen?" with any job - any task - any time. What's the worst thing that can happen leaving my toddlers in the house while I dash outside to grab a slice of cheese from the outside refrigerator for a grilled cheese sandwich I'm cooking on the stove? Your children might lock the door. You might get trapped outside. You might discover that all of your doors are locked and you will need to break a window with a broom handle. Your house could burn down. Any of those things are possibilities. The risk of them happening might be one in a million, but what if the "stars" line up and the worst thing actually does happen?

Bad things can (and sometimes do) occur whenever we start a new task and we can mitigate the risk of the "worst thing" that could happen if we only THINK about all of the things that could wrong and then, adjust our behavior, accordingly. This is known as a "behavior based safety philosophy" in that, our behavior dictates our safety. We have control over our behavior.

Do we have the right training?

Do we have the right tools and equipment?

Do we have ample time to do the job, or will we be hurried?

Do we have the appropriate set up?

This "behavior based safety philosophy" could apply to something as complex as drilling an oil well 6,000-feet below the ocean surface, or it could be applied to something as simple as making a pot of soup.

Everyone probably knows about the catastrophic situation with BP. And just last week, my good friend told me that she spilled scalding hot soup on her foot because the pot was incorrectly placed on the stove and she wasn't wearing closed toed shoes while cooking.

One calamity will cost the loss of natural resources and billions of dollars to remedy. The other cost my friend her dinner and the top layer of skin on her foot. Both could have been prevented if people simply thought before they acted, and adjusted their behavior accordingly.

Suffice to say, my husband has not been surrounded by the same safety culture that I have been surrounded by for the past 10 years. As a result, he doesn't think about things as obsessively the way that I do and he's had a number of close calls.

There was the time he was on a drilling job at the bay and when they hit refusal at eight feet below grade, he stuck a metal ... METAL ... pole down the hole to probe around. And, he was shocked. Not surprised, SHOCKED. Because, as it turns out, they drilled straight through a 480-volt electric power line supplying energy to the dock. The only reason he wasn't sent home to his Maker leaving me a widow at the young age 30 is because: 1) his mother in heaven was looking over him and 2) the electric line was submerged in salt water which dissipated the energy.

(Although, I almost sent him home to his Maker when I heard the dumb thing that my highly intelligent husband did. YOU STUCK A METAL ROD down a hole to see why you hit refusal?! Did the thought ever once cross your mind that it might be an ENERGIZED UTILITY?!)

Once, he used the wrong piece of equipment for a job and sliced open his arm. His father happened to be there with him, and he was rushed off to the hospital where he received several stitches. He then took those same stitches out - while I was out of town - after slugging back a beer and using a pair of toenail clippers.

My husband is brilliant and he knows all about risk. But he often doesn't take the next step to mitigate the risk. So it's me, the overprotective wife, that will force him to wear a Tyvek suit and half-faced respirator when he is climbing around in our attic near fiberglass insulation. I'm the one that also insists he wear cut-resistant gloves when sawing, and goggles and a dust mask when he is sanding.

When it comes to our children's safety, he's on the ball. He makes sure that they wear helmets whenever they ride their bicycles, keeps a close tab on them at all times, and verifies that their carseats are appropriately sized and installed, with an annual check through the highway patrol.

But when it comes to his own safety, he's sometimes lax. I've been trying to explain that our children learn by watching him, but he very much has the mentality that he's vibrant and strong and thanks to Neosporin, he heals really quickly.

This week, Charlie will be doing a job for one of his clients. After a phone call with the regulatory agency this morning, he excitedly told me that his scope has been expanded to include the evaluation of vapor phase benzene from a condensate brine. When I asked how he was planning to accomplish this, he enthusiastically told me that he'd need to climb an eight-foot ladder and collect 200-degree effluent water from a 12,000-gallon holding tank.

My response?

"Yeah. Um. No. That's definitely not going to happen. You'll need to have your client send a technician who is appropriately TRAINED to climb an eight-foot ladder and dangle over a 12,000-gallon holding tank with 200-degree effluent water to collect that four-ounce sample. Or, they can develop some kind of sampling device so that you can do it remotely. ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?! I've got enough things happening, I really don't have time to also plan a funeral!"

I hope that didn't come off as insensitive.

What I meant to say is that I love him desperately and would like to keep him around.

(And I'll really need his big muscles for the move.)


  1. "I hope that didn't come off as insensitive." Classic!

  2. You would shut my husband down for good if you knew him. No helmets, no seatbelt, no safety googles, no masks, no...well, you get the idea. I tell him he's the reason my knees have callouses. Well, him and my teenagers. I never thought he'd see 60 but here he is. Now I just keep praying that he makes it to 61. Oh, and he's diabetic and don't even get me started on his eating habits.

  3. He could hire Greg. There is no job too big or too dangerous for Greg. You'd last five minutes being married to him!!!

  4. Insensitive no, highly hysterical yes lol.

    And who knew our quiet, well behaved, even tempered Jen had such power! YEAH FOR YOU!

    Now perhaps you can give your colleagues a few lessons. I hope every day that I never hear that you work for BP.

  5. 12,000 gallon water tank...I'd rather hire a guy to wash the windows of our 2 story home than have my husband fart around on a ladder. Unless of course your kids have a spider man costume your husband can borrow, a death wish, and more than a million dollars worth of life insurance out on him....

  6. Holly, let's get this straight ... it isn't "just" a 12,000-gallon water tank. It is a 12,000-gallon water tank filled with 200+ degree condensate brine and vapor phase BENZENE, which is a known carcinogen.

    I seriously almost fell of my chair when he told me what he was planning to do.

    It scared me almost as badly as the time he suggested climbing in to a storm drain (i.e., confined space) to retrieve a $5.00 toy Henry had dropped. It wasn't until I asked how he was planning to monitor the atmosphere to insure that there was no toxic buildup of gases that would asphyxiate him on the spot, that he stopped and reconsidered. My heart. I can't take it!!!

    Winecat: I don't work for BP. But I know several good people that do, and it's a crying shame what's happened. I really hope that they can pull it together soon.

  7. I;d be interested to hear what you think about the BP fiasco from a professional standpoint. I understand you probably don't want to write it here so email is fine, but I really am intrigued. I have to say that I left my previous oil employer (S****) since I felt uncomfortable with the environmental safety record of ALL oil companies (I should clarify, it wasn't anything specific, just a general environmental ethic - great graduate job, but just not the right environmental mindset for me) - good to know you are on the case.

  8. You were not being insensitive at all. But when working in a dangerous industry, you do get trained to look at things differently (with safety as a natural instinct (and there is nothing wrong with that)).

    He is very lucky he has you to see the risk instantly and shut it down.

    He obviously needs a standard risk assessment sheet to fill out before accepting the jobs. Plus I think he needs you to sign off on them before he does them. And I am not joking. Not at all. Not if they are the sort of jobs he is accepting. (I am married to someone who's nickname was the flasher - not for the reason that it seemed, but part of his risk assessment for running at the time of day that he did was to wear a flashing vest and arm bands. He became quite a familiar sight - this was when we lived in the country).

  9. Nag away! I nag my husband about safety a lot, given that he gets shot at for a living.

    I'm curious as to your take, given your professional background, on Schneier's article on worst-case thinking.

    One last thing - we seem to keep forgetting the cost in human lives of the BP catastrophe. 13 workers died in the explosion.

  10. Crunch_Conservative6/23/10, 12:26 AM

    On a serious note, a friend of mine is burying her 28-year-old husband this week. No, he didn't do anything stupid, but the fact remains that in 2 months she'll be delivering her first child and he won't be there to see his son. I don't think we should live in fear, but it's a good idea to acknowledge that our choices can have severe consequences - if not for ourselves, than for the ones we leave behind.

  11. Crunchy Conservative - that is so sad, my most sincere condolences to your friend.

    Some things we can't prevent, but some things we can. And the greatest tragedy to me, is when something happens that could have been prevented. I hope that your friend has a good support structure around her ... I'm sure she'll need it.