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Are we there yet...?

It's approx. 6 am on the 16th June 2018. I'm standing in a field, to my left is a guy dressed as a roman centurion, to my right is my younger brother who is cool, calm and collected. I on the other hand…well…I was desperately wishing to be anywhere else in the world. Nervous, excited, anxious, overwhelmed, happy – which is a very odd feeling and one I have never experienced.

What the hell am I doing? I really haven’t thought this through, have I?

No…. I didn’t think it through! This was the result of a few beers and being egged on by previously mentioned younger brother (who by the way is as fit as a fiddle and most definitely the athlete of the family). I'm about to attempt to run from Carlisle to Newcastle, following parts of the Hadrian’s Wall. 69 miles in total. I’m not a runner. Running doesn’t come naturally. It still doesn’t to be honest. In preparation I disappeared down a hole of books, articles, blogs and websites, written by ultra-marathon runners, from the novice to the experienced. I went about absorbing as much information as I could in the hope there was some sort of cheats guide to running…no such luck I’m afraid.

In all honesty not a lot of the information stuck, and it was quickly forgotten. The best bit of advice I received. Left leg, right leg, your body will follow. Yeah…I wasn’t too sure on that one either and I’m quietly confident you’ve reacted in the same way I did – an eye roll, a look of disbelief and a passing thought of ‘yeah, ok mate’. Turns out they weren’t too far from the truth… I'd learn more about myself in the next 16 1/2 hours than I had in the previous 34 years. I’m not one for the dramatics, but this was proper tough. Mentally and physically, I was pushed to my absolute limits. It’s only when you’re in those moments, when you’re at your lowest point or when something hasn’t quite gone to plan, that you find out how you will respond.


On reflection, I loved every minute. And as cliché at sounds, it made me start to look at thing differently. I became acutely self-aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and how to use one to support the other.

 

So, what did I learn?

· Resilience · Good communication is key · Stubbornness has its place · Drive and determination · The importance of support · There is a huge difference between avoiding failure and achieving success.


I’m not writing this to inflate my ego or wax lyrical about the sense of achievement. I often talk about these experiences during safety training and workshops to provide context on what we can expect when working towards a more proactive and pragmatic approach to safety…or just wanting to do things differently.


I think most of this can be applied to roles in safety. And in a bid to try something new I thought I’d give a bit of writing a go.


I fully appreciate it may be difficult to find similarities between a long run and health and safety but there is a tedious link in there somewhere….

 

Resilience


At about 10 miles into the run my water bladder split. I had absolutely no idea, but a very kind spectator informed that I was leaking (wasn’t sure how to take that at first), but I quickly felt the back of my legs getting wet and cold. The ‘oh sh*t’ moment had happened.



Most safety professionals will have been in situations where things haven’t gone to plan – an accident, a confrontation, failure to get buy in or engagement, a bad audit.


It’s tough not to take these things personally.


There have been a few times where I wished my shoulders were just a little broader, or my upper lip a little stiffer.


I’ve been pinned up against a wall, locked in a room until I agreed to change an audit score and had a hard hat bounced of me noggin for telling someone to put said hard hat on.


I’ve also had my fair share of safety initiatives or ideas shot down at the initial stages.


Working in safety requires a good dose of resilience.


Not everyone will like your ideas or suggestions and not everything will work first time. There will be bumps, many bumps, along the way but that’s all part of the journey to ensuring what we’re doing is going to make a difference.


Don’t let that stop you. Keep going. Reflect. Understand what you could do differently. Go away and come back with an alternative approach or option.


Safety is not the only thing on a business agenda (sorry to burst that bubble). You have to pick your battles. But whatever you do, keep going.


"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."Martin Luther King Jr

 

Communication

I don’t profess to being an expert in communication. But I do know that barking orders, dictating, and simply picking faults will just switch people off.


Imagine being told you’re not doing your job correctly, by someone that has never done your job. Someone who doesn’t understand the operational pressures, hasn’t bothered to understand or isn’t interested in trying to help or find solutions.


It’s likely to leave a bad taste and will do you no favours when trying to engage again in the future.


This happens a lot in the safety space. I’ve seen it and I’ve done it.


Communication can happen in many ways – upward, downward, training, toolbox talks, briefings. From experience it needs to be relevant, interactive, and positive for it to have the greatest impact.


I remember having a chat with a couple of guys that had flown over from Germany to do the ultramarathon. You tend to latch on to people when you’re running on your own just for a bit of company.


We got chatting about where we were from, reasons for doing the run and so on. Turns out they fly all over the world to do these types of events. We built a bit of rapport, and I felt comfortable to ask for some advice…turns out running up the hills is a complete waste of energy and I needed to stop doing it. I gladly obliged!


The power of a conversation is underrated. You don’t even have to talk about safety all the time. Sometimes just getting to know people that bit better, understanding what a good day looks like, what the frustrations are and how we can help make work easier can go a long way.


Be curious. We can’t possibly know it all!

 

Support

“You’re not here to make friends.” Hands down the worst bit of advice I have ever received in my career. What a lonely place that would be…


Whatever you’re trying to do, you can’t do it on your own.


You will need to bring people with you on the ‘journey’. I know that sounds cliché but it’s true.


I’m a firm believer that you can’t ‘do’ safety to people. We are there to advise, guide, influence, facilitate and you can only do that if you have the support of those around you.


I genuinely don’t believe I would have got to the finish line had it not been for the support from others taking part, my brother, my mum and stepdad (who travelled along the route and met us at each pit stop.)


Little words of encouragement. Pep talks. It was my mum who solved my water bladder issue and provided a running belt that I could use to carry some water.


Sometimes you will need to lean on people. Sometimes you will need a bit of help. Sometimes you will need the advice and expertise of others.


Go and find your tribe!


I’ve met many a health and safety professional who felt lonely and isolated. There are communities out there that have been created to provide support and a safe place to share, challenge and collaborate.


‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’

 

Give it a go


One of the things I became acutely aware of is my tendency to avoid failure, rather than achieve success.


I naturally default to ‘what can I do to prevent this from going wrong’, rather than ‘this is going to be awesome, and I know it’s going to be a huge success’.


It’s held me back a fair few times in my career.


I mentioned earlier that I disappeared down a hole of articles, blogs, books, and websites. I’ve done the same with safety. I’m the first to admit that I’ve got into a right muddle with trying to keep up with all the new, shiny way of doing things.


I’ve come to realise that nothing beats getting out there and giving it a go. You can read the books, articles, and research papers and listen to all the podcast you want. But the real learning comes when you get out there and give it a go.


Pick your own path. Find what works best for you. Speak to your support network and get feedback on how things have worked in reality…not in theory.


Left leg, right leg, your body will follow.


Somethings will work. Somethings won’t. Celebrate the little wins. And don’t be afraid to get things wrong.


Had I not been egged on and had a distorted view of my abilities after a few beers I would never have signed up to do the ultramarathon. I would have missed out on the experience and the sense of achievement (there were a few tears!!).

 

Play the long game


Safety is most certainly not a sprint!


It. Is. Not. Easy. It’s not meant to be.


“Nothing worth having comes easy.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

But there are endless opportunities to learn and improve as long as you keep going. I was asked recently...'what happens when we finish'. There’s a saying, “the only thing that is constant is change” and for that reason we should continue to be curious, continue to learn and continue to find ways to make things just that bit better.


Truth be told....it never finishes. Sometimes the finish line, is just the start.

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