How are you creating safety in your workplace?

She’d read about the plans for Ursa and made a phone call to say she could help. Claire Nuer knew lives were at stake. She had a “noble goal.”

I remembered the story while reading the 2022 US Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-being. It’s not a typical government document. This 2022 report has a different tone and philosophy.

In Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy’s introduction letter, he shares how he observed his immigrant parents' experience of work as a path toward mental health and well-being where purpose, dignity, and community were found.

The Framework takes on that goal and identifies five essential elements. The first one, Protection from Harm, includes workplace physical and psychological safety. 

Ursa was Shell’s $1.45 billion deepwater oil drilling platform that began construction in 1997 off the coast of New Orleans. Rick Fox, the project’s asset leader, knew the scale was beyond anything they had previously attempted, and they would need a new approach for how to build and operate it safely. Fox was the one who received Nuer’s call. 

Claire Nuer, a leadership consultant and a holocaust and cancer survivor, stopped Fox when he began to talk about the oil rig safety protocol. She believed that the safety protocol was not the issue. The issue was the fear of the workers to ask for help.

Fox and Nuer developed a radical program where the men who would work at Ursa began to share about their lives. They got vulnerable, and with more openness, other communication flowed more freely. 

They started to admit mistakes and became more open to saying, “I need help; I can't lift this thing by myself.” The protocol spread to all of their sites, resulting in an 84% decline in Shell's accident rate companywide.  

And something bigger happened. The men changed. They let go of the self-image of a steely rig hand and embraced a different version of themselves. 

Claire’s bold call and her commitment to a “noble goal” to support humanity was a result of her choice to turn her life’s challenges into good. She used her leadership skills to create safety for others and so much more. 

How are you creating safety in your workplace?

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