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Industry leader interviews covering safety, 5S, Lean, Six Sigma and continuous improvement topics. 30-minute podcasts on PPE, software, tools, GHS labeling and more. Rich library of safety-related content.

Safety Kickoffs That Really Work, Pt 2

Safety kickoffs can alienate experienced workers. Learn how to bring these staffers into new, safer realms with John Drebinger, Jr., expert safety speaker.

John Drebinger, Jr., C.Ht. CSP

John also lists the five reasons to watch out for other people’s safety. In this podcast, Dan Clark asks John to share other tips from his book “Would You Watch Out For My Safety?”

A safety speaker for over a quarter century, John Drebinger, Jr., C.Ht. CSP, has kept the attention of employees at General Motors, Con Edison, Dow Corning, 3M, Chevron, and more. Look for the link to John’s website below.

Part 1 of this podcast can be heard here.


Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at for links and transcripts.

(intro music)

John Drebinger, Jr.: The safety person comes on and explains something and then everybody looks to see what the people with experience do. You can’t have two standards. You can’t say “The old people do this way and the new guys do it this way.”

Dan Clark: Are established workers skeptical about new safety measures? Listen for a solution.

Hello, I’m Dan Clark we’re back with part two of Safety Kickoffs That Really Work, with safety speaker John Drebinger, Jr. For over 25 years, John has been speaking before companies to help them reduce workplace injuries. John is the author of the books “Mastering Safety Communication” and “Would You Watch Out For My Safety?”

So, let’s get back to it, John.

John: Alrighty!

Dan: Here’s the scene. The safety manager begins the meeting with some new ideas. And some of the long-term employees are in the back thinking “Oh. Here we go again, the flavor of the week.” How do we get them on board?

John: Oh, I love it. Okay. Actually, this is one I developed. Originally, it was at an Exxon Mobil meeting. The question was “How do you deal with the experienced workers and different things coming up.”

If you remember earlier in our discussion I said “You need to give people the ‘why’ first.”

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: So, why should the experienced worker be excited about some new safety procedure? And what I came up with is this: I start out and I say “Look, here’s the deal, guys. You’ve been doing your job 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 years.” I mean, I was in a session the other day with a railway that was…they’re most experienced person in the room had been with the company doing that kind of work for 37 years. So you can bet he’s seen a lot of different things happening over the 37 years—new procedures, safety devices, programs and the like.

So, what I did was, in talking to this group—and these are all craftspeople that know their job. They’re excellent at it. They’re professionals. And I said to them “Look, here’s the deal. Invariably in your careers, the safety team comes in someday and says ‘Hey, we’ve got a new way to do your job.’ And you’re thinking ‘Great.’” And for the experienced worker, they’ve never been hurt doing it the old way.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: Alright, I’m talking about somebody that’s been doing it the way that we’ve been doing it the past five years, 10 years or whatever. And they’re going “I’ve never been hurt. I don’t even know anybody else that’s been hurt doing it that way. Why do we need to have this new guard, this new step, procedure or whatever else?”

And I explained to them, I said “The reason that the new procedure came up is that someplace, somewhere in your industry, somebody got hurt or had a close call. Hopefully it was a close call but something happened. And then safety team made up of people just like you—with experience—sat down and said ‘How we do this job so that can never happen again?’”

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: “And a new procedure, device, tool is developed at which point it’s then shared, for the most part, throughout all of industry.” The safety people are pretty good about sharing concepts that aren’t going to hurt the proprietary nature of the business. And so, that gets shared around the industry and now there’s a new way to do something.

And I said “The reality is, in the safety business, the majority of times, not always but a huge number of times, the injury that occurs happens to the new person. It’s the new man or woman on the job. Doesn’t have the years of experience.”

And, by the way, that’s the thing I mentioned to the experienced worker. I said “The reason you can probably go the rest your career without using the new device is you have software the new guy doesn’t have.”

Dan: Right.

John: “You’ve been doing stuff for years. Your brain has experience that’ll protect you. You know how a machine sounds. The vibration changes when something’s wrong and you stop. But that new person doesn’t know that. Your software protects you.”

I used an illustration. My next door neighbor is a cabinetmaker and I’d take stuff for the Boy Scouts over for him to trim up. And I’d watch him work. And then one day I bought a table saw myself and I was cutting a piece of wood. And all of a sudden it came flying back at me. And the anti-kickback device engages and grabs the wood and keeps it from hitting me in the face. And I thought later “I bet you my next door neighbor, Tom, could do the job without the anti-kickback device on it ‘cause he’s cut so many pieces of wood, he’d feel the vibration that would tell him that the saw wasn’t just right.”

Dan: Right.

John: And he’d stop and readjust the work or he’d hear the pitch of the saw would change just enough and he’d go “Whoop, wait a minute.” And he’d alter what he was doing. That would protect him. But me, as the new guy—I’d end up with a board in the face.

And one guy shared with me once after a presentation. He said “John, you know what your friend knows what it sounds like right before a board hits you in the face? (laughs) Because it did once.

Dan: (laughs)

John: (laughs) You know, that’s a good point. So I let the experienced guys know, “Look, you might be able to got the rest your career doing it the old way but I’d appreciate if you’d do it the new way, if not for you, for that new person the job that doesn’t know what you know.”

Because, you can’t have two standards. You can’t say the old people do this way and the new guys do it this way. Because the newer people will always look to the experienced workers to see what we really do.

Dan: Wow.

John: The safety person comes on and explains something. And then everybody looks to see what the people with experience do. And they go “Okay, that’s how I do the job.” And so you need the experienced people to do it.

I get done with that discussion and after the meeting, this guy follows me out to the parking lot. And he was the most experienced worker in the facility. He followed me to the parking lot and he said “John.” He says “First off, I appreciate you acknowledging that I know what I’m doing.” He said “Nobody ever does that.”

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: (laughs) And I said “Well, I’m pleased to do that because I know you guys are good at your job.” And he said “Secondly,” he says, “I’ll do it for the new guy.” He says “I don’t think I need to do it for me but I’ll do it for them.”

And that’s the difference. I gave him a reason why he’d want to do the new procedure.

Dan: Oh!

John: Helping other people is a very high value, I’ve found, particularly in the United States where, if there’s a disaster, people come out of the wood works to help out.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: I was in New Orleans three weeks after Katrina. Speaking at NASA over in Mississippi and flying into New Orleans, three weeks after Katrina, there was not a single other person on the airplane that wasn’t down there to help with the relief efforts.

Dan: Wow.

John: Companies around the country were sending people. Individuals had volunteered to go down to work on teams to help the city recover. So, we’re great at helping others. And that’s what I appealed to. I appealed to the experienced workers saying “Hey, help the new people by doing at the new way.”

Dan: You told him “Why.”

John: Yep. Exactly.

Safety_Kickoffs_That_Really_Work_Pt_2-Creative_Safety_Supply-250x321Dan: Well, that’s great. Well, John, I want to ask you about your book “Would You Watch Out For My Safety?”

John: Mm-hm.

Dan: Having all employees spotting safety issues and watching out for others.

John: Yep.

Dan: Can you give us a synopsis of what this theory is?

John: Sure. It was written in two parts. The first part is a story about a guy learning the concepts in the book. The second half is pretty much a narrative of the presentation I do on the subject. Plus, we’re also working on an e-learning program to teach the concepts in there for organizations that can’t have me come out and speak to their whole group because they’re spread all over the country, or something.

But, anyway, the book goes into five reasons why people would want to watch out for other people’s safety.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: Once again, starting from that position of “Why?” Why should people want to watch out for each other? Of the five reasons, I actually point out that two of them are beneficial to you. There’s two of the five reasons where I could literally find somebody that didn’t care about other people’s safety and say “Listen, you should watch out for other people for these two reasons alone. (laughs) And be selfish.”

Dan: (laughs)

Safety_Kickoffs_That_Really_Work_Pt_2a-Creative_Safety_Supply-125x93John: The first one is one of those. The first reason you watch out for the safety of other people is your own personal safety awareness goes up. My bet is, you mentioned you got involved in safety a while ago, your knowledge of it has increased over the course of time here. My guess is, Dan, you’re a safer person today than you were a year ago because of what you’ve been exposed to.

Dan: Absolutely.

John: Right.

Dan: And I was helping my neighbor with his house yesterday and he was up on his ladder and he wasn’t using his ladder right. And I go “Hey, hang on a second!”

John: Yep! Exactly. And you see stuff, that you’re in a hardware store, at a grocery store and people have got stuff laying all over the place ‘cause they don’t have the housekeeping rules they should have. Your awareness of watching out for other people and yourself allows you to see things that most people wouldn’t even notice. That would go unnoticed and put them at risk. So, that actually protects you.

And another thing I tell people is when you watch out for other people’s safety, it protects your kids. They see you using the hearing protection when you’re using a leaf blower.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: They notice that “Wow, there’s mom or dad mowing the lawn and they’ve got hearing protection on.” or “They’ve got safety glasses when they’re doing something.” That makes what used to be different just normal for the next generation.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: When kids grow up seeing mom and dad always wearing safety glasses when they’re working in the shop or doing something where that makes sense, they’re just going to do it.

When my son was younger—he’s 25 now—when he was younger, one of his birthdays and his birthday’s in February, he said “Can we do some fireworks on my birthday?” And I said “Sure.” And I said “You set them up outside, and I’ll come out and supervise.” And I walked out in the backyard and there he is with seven of his friends and they’re all wearing safety glasses.

Dan: Oh, wow! (laughs)

John: Now, he had never taken a fireworks safety class, or anything else, but he’d never seen dad light a fireworks without safety glasses on.

Dan: Right.

John: So, when he set it up, part of that was to go in the garage, reach in the box, grab a pair of safety glasses for each of his friends and off he went. That’s huge on how that’s going to affect generations in the future.

‘Cause some of the stuff that we had to consciously change, I mean, when I grew up you never wore safety glasses. I mean, forget it. I worked at scout camps. Some of the stuff we did was crazy. We built a 25 foot signal tower when I was Scoutmaster of a troop in Minnesota back in in, it would have been, like, 1974. Great experience for the kids but nowadays you’d think “Wow, you wouldn’t want a kid at 24 feet without fall protection.

I was at the National Jamboree in 2010. They’ve got a signal tower they’re building, but they’ve built a rig above it with the kids tied off. So, they’re not missing out on any of the fun of building a 25 foot signal tower by lashing polls together, but they’re tied off and that makes a huge difference.

Dan: Yeah, the OSHA regulation is six feet.

John: Right, and when we built the signal tower in Minnesota, by the way, we had a kid fall off of it part way up. Hit the ground and collapsed a lung. We had to take him to the hospital and they fixed them up fine, but it scared the heck out of all of us, I’ll tell you that.

Dan: Absolutely. It’s a scary warning, isn’t it?

John: Oh, yeah. You bet. So the first reason is people, their own personal awareness goes up.

Safety_Kickoffs_That_Really_Work_Pt_2b-Creative_Safety_Supply-125x93The second reason you watch out for other people is that people get distracted. Distractions are a normal part of human existence. Phone goes off. A noise. You can be in a factory and some strange noise happens. You turn and look at it. Well, if you look at the moment that you need to be focused cutting something, son-of-a-gun. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a process of setting something up to do a job and you get interrupted. You don’t remember that you’ve skipped one of the steps or you’re looking at a hazard and because of a distraction you don’t even see it.

And some of the distractions are mental. I tell the story in my presentation about a gentleman in our church who had a rare blood disease and was toward the end of his life and they’d informed they’d, pretty much, done anything they could. He knew he had a few months to live. He chose, he didn’t want to everybody to know. His family knew but he didn’t really want everybody coming up to him, consoling him all the time. He wanted to live a normal life as long as he could.

Dan: Hm.

John: So they didn’t tell anyone. But, for those last couple of months, you can imagine—it was a family business—his kids driving a forklift around the warehouse. As they went past dad’s office had to think every so often “Gee, wonder if this will be the last week he’s here?”

Dan: Hm.

John: And with their mind thinking of him, they could be looking at a hazard they’d seen hundreds of times and not seen it. And somebody else pointing that hazard out to them could make the difference between their getting hurt or not. And the other workers in the place wouldn’t have known they were, had a reason to be distracted.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: Because they don’t know that the dad’s near death.

So, you point out safety. You know, somebody could be distracted. It could be an experienced worker looking at a hazard they’d seen 100 times but, because their mind is on their kid who’s home sick today, boom, something bad could happen. So I do several illustrations with their distractions. And I do a pretty cool trick that points that out too.

Safety_Kickoffs_That_Really_Work_Pt_2c-Creative_Safety_Supply-125x93Then, the third reason you watch out for the people’s safety is that our minds aren’t perfect. There’s this thing called the cognitive failure, and it’s not a respecter of age, skill or ability. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are, how smart you are or how skilled you are. There’s times you can be looking right at something and not see it.

Dan: Right.

John: And the illustration I use is “How many times have you looked through your house for your keys?” You can’t find your keys anywhere and then you finally ask for somebody’s help and they walk in the room. And you hate it when they point at your keys which are on a table in plain sight.

Dan: (laughs)

John: And you feel like an idiot, like, “Why didn’t I see that?” Well, ‘cause you looked at the keys. The image when from your keys, to the eye to the optic nerve and, for a split second, didn’t record.

Dan: Hm.

John: And it’s as if they weren’t there. I tell the story in the presentation about where a truck pulled on front of me because the guy looked right at me and didn’t see me. If I hadn’t had a safety belt on, I wouldn’t be here.

That cognitive failure can happen to anybody. In the book there’s a story about a guy that’s at a park with his daughter. His little girl, and his wife. And suddenly the little girl disappears. And he’s panicked and he’s screaming at the wife “Our daughter’s missing.” His wife’s over there laughing. The reason why is he is having a cognitive failure. And, in the book, it tells the story of what happened to him and why he didn’t notice the little girl. But, anyway, it’s quite humorous, so…

Dan: There’s a good tease for the book! Go ahead. (laughs) I love it.

John: Yeah, right. Oh yeah, well, and by the way, when I do the presentation we have the companies provide a copy of the book for each of the people in the audience ‘cause it’s good reinforcement material plus the readership of it is very high ‘cause of the way it’s written. It reads very quickly. And, like I said, you can read the first half, the second half, or the whole thing and get it.

But in the presentation, it’s along the lines what told you about keeping people’s attention.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: In the presentation I do, I tell people portions of stories in the book that, if they want to find out—and then there’s a compelling desire to find out—“How did the story end?”, they’ve got to read the book.

Dan: Mr. Cliffhanger, we’ll call you.

John: Yeah, in a sense. And so, the key there is, once again, you have to give people a reason why they would want to do something. You put enough interesting things in there that they’d want to check out and then it causes them to pick it up. So, that’s the third reason was the cognitive failure.

Safety_Kickoffs_That_Really_Work_Pt_2d-Creative_Safety_Supply-125x93Fourth reason is that you won’t have any regrets when you point safety out to other people. And what that means is—there are hundreds of people I’ve interviewed over the years at different locations around the country, at safety conferences. And one of the saddest groups of people are people that tell you about an incident where they saw a person near a hazard or doing something unsafe and they didn’t say anything.

Dan: Oh!

John: And then everyone wrong. And you can argue—and at safety conferences professionals will argue “Are all incidents preventable, or all accidents preventable, or all injuries preventable?” I guarantee you that where somebody saw the hazard or the behavior, it was 100% preventable.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: And the most significant one was about three years ago. A lady waited after my presentation at the American Society of Safety Engineers and several hundred people left the room after it was all done. I’m packing my stuff up and she waited ’til everybody was done asking questions at the front of the room. After everybody left she walked up and she was visibly shaking.

Dan: Hm.

John: You could just tell there is a lot of emotion going on. She walked up and she said “John, keep telling people to watch out for each other.” And I said “Well, I will.” And she said “The reason I say that is 11 years ago I was watching somebody. They were doing something unsafe and I didn’t say anything and then everything went wrong.” Now, I didn’t ask her what happened. She didn’t volunteer and she was clearly in pain, so I didn’t feel like prying. But I would tell you, based upon the tone of her voice and the tremble in her body, it had to be a disabling injury or fatality.

Dan: Sure.

John: And she said “There hasn’t been a day for the past 11 years” where she hadn’t relived the nightmare of that moment.

Dan: Wow.

John: And so, for 11 years she said. So, when I say “If you point safety out to other people, you won’t have any regrets,” that’s what I mean. You’re not going to sit there later going “Wow, I wish that I would have said something.”

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: And I tell the story in the book about a guy at a gas station watching somebody smoking a cigarette and pumping gas at the same time. And he takes the time to do something about it. And I can tell you one thing. Because he took action, he’ll never have the regret or look into the rearview mirror seeing a ball of flame going “Oh, my gosh! I should’ve said something.”

Dan: Yeah, absolutely.

John: So that fourth one is no regrets.

Safety_Kickoffs_That_Really_Work_Pt_2e-Creative_Safety_Supply-125x93The fifth one is it’s just because it’s the right thing to do. There’s things people of character do because they’re the right thing to do. Not because somebody’s going to praise you for it. In fact, sometimes somebody might yell back “Oh, leave me alone.” But there’s things in life we do because it’s the right thing to do and watching out for other people is one of those.

Dan: Well, those are five great steps and I’m sure it’s packed with much more. How do people get the book “Would You Watch Out For My Safety?” and what’s your website?

John: Yeah, it’s W W W dot D R E B I N G E R dot com. If you go there, it’s got a section that says Products or Resources. There’s actually a picture of the book on the right hand side of the webpage.

Dan: Okay.

John: If a company wants to buy more than 50 copies, we have discount that we do.

Dan: Oh, excellent.

John: But you need to call us for that.

Dan: Okay.

John: And then, on the website, they can also sign up for a newsletter that I do every week on different thoughts and ideas on safety.

Dan: I’m going to sign up for that, ‘cause I need it.

John: There you go. Yep.

Dan: Well, any final thoughts on that big safety kickoff for that safety manager?

John: Well, I’d say make it fun, interesting. I’d change things up so they’re not always the same every year. I can encourage you to bring outside speakers in. Many, if you’ve got that in in the budget that’s well worth doing. It also, actually, isn’t as expensive as some people think because the main cost is all the people you have in a room that aren’t out there doing their job for that moment. You’ve got the stand down period for a meeting. The investment the company puts into that is huge. The speaker they’re bringing in is nothing.

Dan: Mm-hm.

John: Getting the most out of that time is probably very valuable. And there’s some outstanding speakers. If you call our office, if I’m not available, we’ll give you the names of some other people we recommend that we know are good and can support you on that.

Dan: Well, this is fantastic, John. Our guest has been safety speaker John Drebinger, Jr., from his office in Galt, Calif., and author of the books “Would You Watch Out For My Safety?” and “Mastering Safety Communication.” Thanks for joining us, John.

John: Alright, Dan. Take care.

Dan: I’m Dan Clark.

(outro music with voice over)

Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to


John Drebinger images, book by John Drebinger Presentions © ℗ 2005, 2015; Workers in PPE, workers with tanks by Dept. Of Energy (Pubic Domain)