The Cleveland Browns owe me a debt of gratitude. Why? Because as soon as I gave up on them, they started winning.

The first part of the season — the past several seasons, really — was dismal. Cleveland is one of those towns that lives (and mostly dies) by its sports teams. Cleveland Browns fans are famous for pelting opposing teams with dog biscuits from the “Dawg Pound,” for tailgating that starts at the crack of dawn on game day and often doesn't include tickets to the game and for sitting in a frigid stadium enduring a wind whipping off of Lake Erie that literally takes your breath away. (“They” told us the new Cleveland Browns stadium would be warmer than the old one; “they” lied.)

The Cleveland Browns, the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the American Hockey League Lake Erie Monsters — we'll have a few good games, a good season or two, some good or even brilliant players and … nothing. Others may be able to endure perpetual heartache at the hands of their hometown sports teams, but I am not that strong.

So, I gave up and switched my allegiance to the New Orleans Saints. I love the city. I love the team colors. My family is from the south. I love the food. The Saints were winning by pretty wide margins. I was stoked! Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

My new life as a Saints fan started out well. They won, 33-30, over the Washington Redskins. A little close for comfort but a win is a win, right? Then came the Atlanta Falcons and another win — another close one at 26-23. I became a little bit complacent, a little bit boastful. After all, my team was winning!

You know where I'm going with this, right? There was the Dec. 19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, and two days ago, a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay? Really?! Meanwhile, who's winning? The Browns!

Just like the guy who wears his “lucky” shirt to watch every game or the player who won't shave on game day, I know that the Browns' winning streak was caused by the fact that I switched allegiances. OK, if I'm being honest here, I had nothing to do with the Browns' winning streak or the Saints' losing streak. Hard work by the Browns started to pay off and it appears the Saints became complacent and took their eyes off the ball.

This is what we do with workplace injuries and illnesses. We work hard to get those rates down and once the situation is under control, we become complacent because we've “won” that battle.

Complacency has caused the death of more worthwhile workplace safety initiatives — and workers — than probably anything else. We think we know what we're doing. We think we know how to do it. (Imagine the sound of an air horn here and envision yellow “FOUL” flags being thrown.)

My mother used to tell me, “You know just enough to be dangerous.” At the time, I didn't understand what she meant. Now, I do. She was trying to tell me that because I thought I knew it all, I was taking unnecessary risks and making bad choices.

Workplace fatality rates in the United States continue to decline for the most part, and in general, so do injury and illness rates. Laissez les bon temps rouler, right?

Wrong! The number of workplaces and workers have declined, technology has improved to offer better engineering controls and worker PPE and companies are being fined millions of dollars for occupational safety and health violations and swearing on the graves of their dead workers that they're going to change. And still, people are dying and suffering catastrophic injuries at work.

We don't have zero injuries and fatalities because we've become complacent — or distracted — and that's all it takes for a tragedy to occur.

If I had a dollar for every safety manager who told me, “We didn't want to become complacent but we did and our injury rate skyrocketed” or “We became complacent and someone died,” I might not be rich, but I'd be writing this from a beach. By the same token, I've seen safety professionals avoid complacency and continue to work to improve already stellar safety processes and you know what? They're winners.

Here's a New Year's resolution for you: Never give up on trying to achieve zero injuries and illnesses.

Go Browns!


Send an e-mail with your thoughts to sandy.smith@penton.com.