Leadership Perspectives Blog

Teachable Moments Are Painful

Riding a bike. Touching hot stoves. Telling the truth on our income taxes. All of these things have one thing in common: They are teachable moments. And if you don't learn the lessons they offer, the result can be painful.

I am experiencing a teachable moment. Here at the National Safety Congress. And it's painful.

It's painful to admit I, Sandy Smith, and we, EHS Today, were wrong. It's painful to acknowledge that an article we ran online based on a presentation at the Safety Leadership Conference praised a company that might be trying hard to protect employees and improve its safety culture, but that experienced a fatality - one of four in a year at that particular facility - on the day we published the article. We were told the topic would focus on lessons learned - the teachable moment - but that was not the case and I didn't follow the situation as closely as I should have.

And it's painful to have Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels stop in the hall today to tell me he had a bone to pick with me about the article. Though he was gracious about it, I had the feeling he was disappointed in me. Frankly, I'm disappointed in myself.

Like everyone else on the planet, I've had a lot of responsibilities and opportunities offered to me this year. I feel like I've been doing a good job of juggling, but I certainly dropped this ball. 

At EHS Today, we pride ourselves on the content we provide, whether it's at our conference, in the magazine or on the web site. We truly believe in promoting safety leadership, safety culture and corporate cultures that embrace safety as a part of that culture. We - I - failed to do that with this particular article.

Can I know the ins and outs of every fatality or serious injury that occurs each day in the United States? No, not even if gathering such information was my full-time job and I had a staff of 20.

Can I make more informed choices when choosing the content we run in the magazine and on the web site and that we present at our (capitalized for emphasis) SAFETY LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE? Yes. 

Teachable moments are painful, but we learn from mistakes. Fortunately for me, my teachable moment didn't cause a fatality. The company we profiled wasn't so lucky. Let's hope this latest fatality is the teachable moment that jump starts their journey to a corporate culture that has safety as a cornerstone. 

To the readers who emailed me to tell me that we had made a mistake in publishing that article, thank you. And thank you to Dr. Michaels, who has never been anything but honest with me and who pays attention to our content and took the time to let me know that he was concerned. EHS Today will be a better source of information for our readers and online users and conference attendees as a result of your vigilance. 

I should not and cannot promote a company as having a strong safety culture/corporate culture when that company experiences fatalities. It's the first question I turn to when I start evaluating applications for America's Safest Companies. It's something I now will research with every speaker at our Safety Leadership Conference moving forward.

I apologize that I did not do it in this case. But I promise you I will not forget this teachable moment.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Oct 20, 2016

We have all been there Sandy. Thank you for sharing this teachable moment. Life lessons are painful yet rewarding because they cause a bend in the way you live and in your perspective/outlook. Each of us have many bends that make up who we are and in the end, we are better for it. I would rather collaborate with someone who has experienced a multitude of bends and has learned from them than with someone who feels they have experienced no teachable moments and has nothing to learn. Here's to experience and to the wonderful work you and the EHS Today team does to keep us at the leading edge of our profession.

on Mar 21, 2017

Don't be so hard on yourself! I do commend your work ethic. Keep up the good work, Sandy :)

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Advice, best practices and strategies for safety performance and professional development. For more, visit http://ehstoday.com/leadership.


Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic is an associate editor for EHS Today magazine, a Penton Media Inc. publication.  A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she has been in B2B publishing for eight years. Her work has...

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is editor-in-chief of EHS Today magazine, a Penton Media Inc. publication. She has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. She has been...
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