Risky Business

If you know anything about Oklahoma, you know that the state is known for its tornadoes. Oklahoma is the center of Tornado Alley, a stretch of the central part of the United States between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, and often ranks at or near the top for total number of tornadoes, total number of deadly tornadoes, and total number of tornadoes per 10,000 sq miles. However, Oklahoma ranks low on the list for total number of deaths per 10,000 sq. miles.

This is a great example of the difference between risk and exposure. Risk is the possibility of harm arising from a behavior or event. Exposure is the amount of, or frequency with which the event or behavior occurs. If the risk is low, but the exposure is high, harm will occur. However, it becomes irrelevant how much risk there is, if there is no exposure. There are hazards all around us. But a hazard doesn’t become a risk unless you are exposed to it.

Interestingly, in Oklahoma, we have managed to lower both risk and exposure where tornadoes are concerned. Tornado deaths occur when someone is caught in the path of a tornado without shelter that will prevent harm. By increasing the early warning and awareness of tornados, less people get caught unaware (decreased exposure) and more people can seek shelter to prevent harm (decreased risk.)

Traditionally, safety efforts focused on reducing risk. For instance, people were taught how to lift heavy objects “properly” in order to protect themselves from injury. This is an attempt to lower risk, like getting in a bathtub and covering yourself with a mattress during a tornado. A better strategy is to not lift heavy objects at all, which eliminates exposure—kind of like moving to a state where they don’t have tornados.

At Kimray, our goal is to keep people safe. The best strategy to accomplish this is to reduce exposure to potential harm rather than protect people from the harm they are exposed to, though we must do both. We continue to wear protective gear to safeguard our eyes, ears, fingers, and toes while we look for ways to eliminate the possibility of being harmed.

Safety is often thought of in physical terms; however, we also need to experience mental and emotional safety. Just like physical safety, it is more effective to reduce exposure to mental and emotional harm than it is to attempt to reduce the impact of harmful things once exposed to them. This is where the importance of a safe community becomes so evident.

We are all exposed to various levels of emotional and mental risk every day. Social media, entertainment, advertising, and even our interactions with other people expose us to damaging values and beliefs at almost every turn. This constant assault causes us to be constantly guarded and defensive. We need spaces and relationships where we can relax and feel safe to recover and recharge.

We spend about a third of our waking hours at work. If where we work is not a mentally and emotionally safe place, we have very little energy left for our families and friends once we get home. However, if we are safe and cared for where we work, we have significantly more to give to the other people in our lives. This has a broader impact than just how we feel individually. When we have energy in reserve to give to others, we become part of their safe place where they can recharge and recover.

As leaders, we must remember we are borrowing the people on our teams from their families, their communities, and from themselves. If your neighbor borrowed your lawn mower and returned it dirty with the gas tank empty and the blade broken, you would probably never let them borrow it again (and have some choice things to say about them too.) We need to make it a priority to send our team members back to their family and friends in better condition than when we borrowed them.

When communities invest in the mental and emotional health and safety of their team members, the impact spreads far beyond where people work. Living is risky business. There is potential for damage at nearly every turn. It is our responsibility as leaders to reduce the exposure to physical, mental, and emotional harm and make our workplace a safe place, and it is The Kimray Way.