May 10, 2018
From the ‘People Power’ column in Timber Harvesting magazine
By: Wendy Farrand, Owner of WFarrand Consulting
There are many things that help strengthen safety in the woods, including PPE, bright colored vests, chaps, separation of duties, eye contact, meetings, best practices, and lockout-tagout procedures. All of these and more are vital to creating a safe work environment and combating complacency.
Even so, one of the most important tools loggers have when it comes to safety is that beautiful gem that fits snuggly under a hardhat, the brain. Utilizing that tool effectively can make the difference between life and death.
Mindfulness is an activity that simply means placing one’s attention squarely on the present, in the moment, and the immediate surroundings. It’s a very hard thing to do in the best of circumstances, let alone under the stressful work environment loggers endure. Regulations, fuel prices, payments, lining up jobs and quotas can pull your thoughts out of the moment and into dangerous distraction.
As you read this, stop and make yourself aware of your immediate surroundings. Become mindful: Clear your head of the chatter, the future, the past, kids, family members and bills to pay. Be present in the sound and the light and the activity around you. You may hear a car going by or a bird calling out—sounds you most likely wouldn’t notice during the most hectic parts of your day.
It’s not an easy thing to do, is it? Our minds are swirling with all sorts of information that takes us out of the present, but mindfulness can grow stronger the more you do it.
Once I finished a safety presentation and a retired cutter came up and told me how he had been working in the woods since he was 14. On one of his first days on the job, his boss gave him a stern lecture: “Boy! You ever find your mind wandering while you’re cuttin’, you stop! Ya hear me? Put that saw down and sit on a stump until your mind is ready to focus on cuttin’.’”
What an incredible amount of insight that old-time boss had. He taught that young logger a lesson and gave him a beautiful gift burned into his memory that stayed for his entire career—scaring a young logger into mindfulness so he could live to retire. And the retired cutter who told the story remembered the lesson like it was yesterday.
Alerting crew members to the danger present when their minds wander draws attention to how important mindfulness and employee engagement are. Let them know that mindfulness is expected while they are operating your equipment.
Supervisors are responsible for cultivating a mindful crew. Being mindful is an activity, a conscious choice, and should be discussed daily to raise the level of safety awareness. Mindfulness in any profession is key to employee engagement and self-awareness, and for those who risk their lives, it is critical for safety.
Know Your Crew
Take the time to know each employee, their tendencies, work habits, strengths and weaknesses. Knowing those things can alert you when something is going on, leading to an employee not fully engaged in their job. Does an employee seem stressed, distant, sick or worried about a loved one? These types of things take us outside of the moment and sidetrack the brain to think of things that have nothing to do with the immediate task at hand.
Leaders can sometimes shy away from what they might label “touchy feely” stuff, and trust me, you are not alone in your thinking. I have heard that from a lot of people I have worked with, regardless of the industry and level of danger. I have also seen the results of a leader who pays close attention to these things, and the positive impact that it has on safety and production.
It’s your job to notice when a typically reliable employee starts to show signs of waning engagement on the job. A good leader will not judge these changes before asking some important questions of that crew member to get a feel for what might be going on. The more questions you ask, the better.
Yes, there are a lot of things that go into creating a safe job site, but maintaining mindfulness serves as the foundation for all the other things that you and your company have in place. How effective is a hardhat if the employee forgets to put it on in a moment of distraction? How effective are those chaps if a frustrated employee says, “I’m not walking back to Joe’s truck to get the chaps.” How effective is separation of duties when an employee is on the phone making decisions for a sick loved one, or pacing distractedly around dangerous equipment?
Mindfulness is the glue that holds all the other safety initiatives in place, for without a mindful employee a distracted moment can cancel the effectiveness of the most effective PPE.
Step up to the leadership plate and remind employees every day that a mindful crew is a safer crew. Emphasizing mindfulness can strengthen employee engagement and may someday save a life. Share the importance of mindfulness early and share it often, so your crew members can live to thank you for it!