Heidi Brightly is the mayor of a small town in Minnesota who describes herself as former “oil field trash.” Thomas Rice is a Clemson Tigers football fan with a penchant for singing Motown tunes.
On paper, Thomas and Heidi are different people. But talk to them for any length of time and you’ll discover they have one very important thing in common: a passion for safety. And that’s why they’re both regulars at the Safety in Action conference. Here are their stories:
“I turn around and here’s this train coming.” That’s how Thomas Rice describes what he saw one fateful morning about 20 years ago. He was just coming on his job at the International Paper Mill in South Carolina when he put in ear plugs to soften the factory noise.
“And then you cross over railroad tracks that come through the building. I still have my ear plugs in so I’m in the zone,” he explains. “And when I look at this train, the only thing I can do was slide my body over to the side of this train. And had I not been the slim gentleman that I am, I probably would have been killed.”
From that moment on, Rice had a new appreciation for how important it is to always be aware of your work surroundings.
“I started to get more into behavior based [safety] and what [were] the thoughts behind people doing tasks,” Rice says. “What got people hurt? Well 9 times out of 10, they were either thinking about something else or they weren’t thinking at all.”
Rice is now the Safety Coordinator at International Paper Mill. Every year he tries to send as many of his co-workers to the Safety in Action conference as he can and have them participate in the Safety Showcase. He does this, he says, so his co-workers can lead others when they get back home to South Carolina.
“Those folks who are the leaders in safety, I always call the ‘drum beaters’ – the folks who beat the drums for safety -- they have to be motivated,” Rice says. “They have to be told they’re doing a great job. You have to always ask them how you can help them. And you can help them by showing folks the job they’ve done.”
“I never saw anybody so incompetent in my life.” That’s how Heidi Brightly describes her first interactions with an OSHA inspector. She was just a girl growing up in the oil fields when a serious accident brought OSHA inspectors into her life. She says their inability to administer safety inspired her to do better when she got older.
“When the oil field went down and I grew up,” Brightly explains, “I became an OSHA safety inspector. And from there I went as a safety manager in the sugar industry. And it has completely transformed my life.”
Now retired from the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, Brightly still regularly attends the Safety in Action conference because, she says, safety is a lifetime commitment.
“You have a work family and at home you have a home family,” Brightly says.
“And when you’re traveling, you are with your traveling family. So, it doesn’t matter where you go or who you’re with, there are people who possibly would depend on your feedback and observation to guide them in the direction of a safe day.”
This attitude gets reinforced every time Brightly and her colleagues from the Cooperative attend the Safety Showcase at Safety in Action.
“The Showcase is the most fabulous thing that anybody will ever go to,” she says.
“There are people that have been there for many years and there are newcomers. There are line people and there are CEOs. I took one of our CEOs one year. And he could not believe the spirit of the line worker. And he said, ‘If we could just drench our whole company with this, we would have no problems.’”