• Mike Burke

It was just one of those days.

There I am on the loading dock overseeing 20 late delivery trucks.

Phone calls were pouring in from sales screaming why haven’t their customers’ orders hadn’t been delivered.

If that wasn’t enough, Vinnie Morrelli was driving his forklift without his seat belt on, and no one and i mean no one was wearing their safety vests.

Right then, all I could think of was that I was 15 minutes late for a meeting.

A meeting that I was hosting for the corporate safety committee that flew in this morning.

I looked over my shoulder, and I saw my boss giving the tour to the committee that I should be giving.

Steve, the head of the safety committee, was personal friends with our company president, and I was told that what he sees the president hears.

I wanted to make a good impression, but it wasn’t starting that way.

I walked over to Vinnie and said, “Vinnie, you need to put on your belt.”

He said, “I’m on and off this forklift 100’s a day. It slows me down. Do you want me to get these trucks loaded or what?”

I said, “Yea, I want you to do both.”

He shook his head and said, "OK, you’re the boss, but I hear those customers are pissed!” And he put on his belt and drove away.

Then I yelled, “Oh, put a safety vest on.”

He laughed as he sped away.

As I was walking into the meeting, all I could think about was the safety team finding out.

I got lucky that day.

Somehow, I got a passing safety rating from the committee.

Life was good!

Two weeks later, I was being paged over the Public Address System.

“Mike Burke you have an urgent call please call the operator.”

It was from Steve.

In a shaky voice, he said, “Mike, is everyone wearing their safety belts?”

I said, “Yea, why what’s the matter?”

He said, “because we just had a forklift driver in our New York facility that wasn’t wearing his belt.

He was driving onto a truck's trailer when the truck moved forward.

His forklift fell sideways, and he was thrown from his seat and crushed by the forklift.”

“He pleaded to me, “make sure everyone wears their belts. No exceptions!”

Then he said, “look I gotta go, I have to go to meet with the forklift driver’s wife and kids.”

My heart sank, and I was having trouble catching my breath.

I raced to the warehouse, and you know what I saw?

About half the forklift drivers weren’t wearing their seat belts and safety vests.

That very minute, I decided I was never going to look the other way.

In the days that followed, the company gave us a script to use when someone was breaking a safety rule.

I was going to sit down with every forklift driver and go over the script.

Here are the major bullets.

  1. Explain the rules are and where the employee breaking them.

  2. Describe why the rules are in place and the undesirable consequences (example: the death of a fellow forklift driver) of the employee breaking the rules.

  3. Ask for their input.

  4. Ask what they are going to do to correct the behavior and add anything that you feel is pertinent.

  5. Explain the disciplinary consequences of not following the safety rules.

  6. Get their agreement.

  7. Explain that you and the care about their health and well-being and believe they can change their behavior.

After hearing about the accident, most of the forklift drivers started following the rules.

Unbelievably, a couple of weeks later, I caught Vinnie not wearing his belt.

But this time I didn’t look the other way.

It turned out, all it took was for me to give him one written warning to get the message.

Thankfully I never had a fatality or even a serious injury in almost three decades of management.

In honesty, every time I saw someone acting unsafe, I thought about the manager that had to tell a family that their loved one wasn’t ever coming home.

That horrific accident helped me realize that it’s my job as a manager to do what’s right, not what’s easy.

I started using those same seven rules for someone that wasn’t acting as they were expected to act.

I modified them slightly based on the situation.

My major takeaway is that for every manager, there will be times you’re going to be unpopular.

But in the end, the most of the rules are there for a good reason.

©2020 by Mike Burke Management.