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Something Went Wrong. We didn’t see it coming. Could we?

Introductory note - While consultants working with client’ facility strategies infrequently find themselves in safety investigations or program building, safety demonstrates communications and organizational risk tolerance as cultural diagnostic elements that apply widely in the organization to demonstrate leadership and performance.

A coincidence of dates: on Friday the 13th of August 2021, Frank Wampol,[i] with decades of experience in safety with BL Harbert construction, spoke at the annual Safe and Sound program hosted by UA SafeState at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It was an unusual talk, especially in consideration of the folklore significance of Friday the thirteenth: bad luck. His presentation was infused with luck, informed by the long evolution of safe work, and definitive about signs of trouble. Before stuff happens, bad luck has ways of letting us know that it is around, so is it really luck? This blog summarizes Frank’s talk and viewpoint. He dug down to the fundamentals of safety, from individuals to organizations, in a powerful way, even more so for being so genially spoken.

“COVID”, I think that he began, then “immunity” and “infection” and a few other terms heard often during the rounds of COVID-19. “We had to mention those”, he noted, “but we won’t talk about them now.” He went on to deliver what was not a conventional safety lesson in my experience, where enforcement, compliance, losses, EMR,[ii] and even the familiar and deeply felt responsibility that we share to send people home safe to their families after work. These only obtained a mention, not because they are unimportant, but because they are results, more than causes. First a few elements basic to a robust safety program - they might not be what you think.

The obvious is also essential: most people want to do a good job. A safety program must work to this end. People want to perform. Safely is essential to performance. It takes strategy, design, attention, and participation to marry safety with performance. If we don’t have a robust safety program, we probably won’t stay in business for long. How do we translate safety to business knowledge? Answer: communicate in the language of the audience. To the C suite, find out their KPIs and show the effect of safety on each. To craft workers, with boots on the ground, the business of safety is keeping the job site open or the facility in operation: keeping people on the job. The safety professional serves by communicating. An organization with strong communication doesn’t need safety cops. A safety professional who acts as coach, partner, or sometimes counselor wins trust. Trust fans out and multiplies. Its opposite, catch-and-blame, instead closes in, ending trust and throttling communication. Trust trust. Now, back to luck.

See it coming… Say that we had a mishap with injury and/or substantial damage, or we dodged a close call. We didn’t see it coming. Could we? Is bad luck lurking? Refined and expanded communication and recognizing when to keep up your guard can contribute decisively to reducing mishaps and accidents as well keeping away close calls. Frank Wampol remembers mishaps. He has gone on scene for scores of investigations and follow-ups - meeting, viewing, gathering people, interpreting, reviewing, and revising how work takes place. Several circumstances that are not direct threats show up often enough to warrant a spotlight on each of them. When they appear, slow down and raise your guard. Wampol and his colleagues have tagged five for going on alert and proceeding with extra awareness - taking a PAUSE.

Personnel changes, especially in lead roles

A significant diversion from plans

Under a severe time crunch

Substantial rework

Equipment added, substituted, altered

One or more of the five, encountered in construction or in operations & maintenance, should bring a heightened state of alert, double checking plans, watching our moves.

When any of the PAUSE set shows up - and they will - recognize, go forward deliberately, communicate, and act with confidence. I keep a few lines handy.[iii]

“The short way to go

Ain’t always the shortest

The fox may be fast

But lose to the tortoise…”


About the Author

David Reynolds, CFM is a partner in the FM consulting organization Global Facility Management Alliance, member of the IFMA OMHS Community SAG, and Immediate Past President of the Facility Management Consulting Council of IFMA, FMCC. He is a member of the Board of FM Pipeline (producers of the Facilithon) and an active member of AFE. He is based in Jackson, Mississippi U.S.

David is a former sawmill operator, city firefighter, military pilot, and power transmission field engineer.

[i] Member, American Society of Safety Professionals, ASSP [ii] EMR - Experience Modification Rate, used by insurers to set Workmen’s Compensation premiums charged to employers [iii] Broadway musical Purlie, 1970, “Skinnin’ a Cat”, sung by Sherman Hemsley

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