Be Strong, Be Loud, Be Happy

Cindy Leonard

Safety is personal.

When I share those words and think about that simple message, I also think back to an event that inspired me to be here today. I chose to be an educator because I wanted to help shape the lives of people around me. I chose safety, at least in part, because of a traumatic incident that knocked on our door one day, uninvited.

My daughter was 8 years old when she witnessed a distracted driver – who later reported seeing the light turn red but was unable to stop – slam into another vehicle. Unfortunately, a mother of three children was killed in a horrific crash. Her kids, passengers at the time, survived.

My daughter saw others scrambling to help on the scene. She watched the mom slide out of the front seat when rescuers opened the door. From a parent’s point of view, I likely will never fully understand the depth of emotion attached to the images etched in my daughter’s mind. But I witnessed her response to her classmate’s tragedy when she learned the identity of the mother. The days, weeks and months that followed were hard for all of us to process. But a strong school community moved in the direction of help, support and comfort for the family as best as it could.

Now, all these years later, I work with a talented team that strives to help employers prioritize transportation safety through continuous education and training. I’ve learned safety is real. Safety affects everyone’s life and there are no do-overs. My colleagues have learned valuable lessons, too:

  • Deanna Capra (program coordinator): Safety became a priority for me after joining the National Safety Council. As an employee, I recognize the internal actions the Council takes to keep us safe – offering important trainings such as defensive driving and first aid, or asking us to commit to not using our phones while driving. These things have made a lasting impact on my safety behaviors to this day.
  • DeAnn Crane (program manager): When my daughter was in grade school, a car ran a stop sign and blindsided our vehicle, causing us to spin and hit another car in the opposite lane and create a chain-reaction event that involved several other vehicles. Because I was alert and attentive and we had our seat belts fastened, we were able to walk away from the incident with only a few scratches. Three things stuck with me: the importance of being alert behind the wheel, the importance of wearing seat belts and the importance of avoiding risky driving behaviors.
  • Mike Ezzell (program manager): I personally elevated driving safety to a core value after a colleague died in crash on his way home from our former workplace. He failed to think about driving conditions and lost control of his vehicle. The big takeaway: Off-the-job safety cannot be overstated.
  • Ron Kremer (web content/social media): I was hit by car as a child. I ran into traffic on the way home from school. I was hospitalized overnight for a possible concussion, but otherwise unhurt. I was lucky. I know now the incident could have been much worse. The driver was paying attention. There were no cellphones then. What if he had been speeding or distracted?

I encourage you to share stories with your coworkers, to explain the “why” behind your work in safety.  You’re the educator in the room. You’ve learned when you go beyond the risks or the steps it takes to avoid unsafe behaviors, you are rewarded with results.

People are healthy and happy. They are more productive at work. They are able to return home unharmed to be with those they love. Keeping coworkers safe means you’re steering them away from drug misuse, distracted driving, drowsy driving, drunk driving and speeding. These are issues that confront all employers whether they bubble up on or off the job. Now more than ever you’re encouraging them to watch out for others using the roads, too, including pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter riders.

You’re making a difference. Think of your job as elevating the mind and bringing new energy to the character of all those around you. Yes, everyone plays a role in safety. Yes, it’s personal.

– Cindy Leonard is a senior program manager with the National Safety Council