Safety Catalyst: Becoming a High-flying Safety Advocate

Dave Brueher may have changed physically, but his passion for safety is steadfast and inspirational.

Dave Brueher is a fraction of the person he used to be and it's all for the better. Knowing that being overweight was neither good for him nor a support to the safety and health message he sought to inspire, Brueher dropped to 235 pounds from his former 372-pound frame. He made other important personal changes, cut his past-shoulder-length hair and now presents himself in a new way.

Interestingly, Brueher, who started as a union worker coming up through the ranks, credits his involvement in safety with helping give him "the capacity to make significant changes" in his personal life.

Brueher's been a safety advocate and catalyst for more than 20 years. He's worked as an insulator, sander masker, saw operator, spindle shaper operator, tool fabricator and more. He helped craft Boeing 747 aircraft and then was hired in the company's 777 aircraft division.

He was promoted last year from program manager to administrator with the International Association of Machinists-Boeing Health & Safety Institute ("IAM-Boeing HSI"). (Web site:

Formed out of a 1989 contract, IAM-Boeing HSI is a pioneering management-labor organization that spearheads safety projects throughout Boeing, focusing on spreading innovative approaches past safety obstacles that create mutual wins for both company and workers. There are an equal number of management and union representatives running this joint program.

As an IAM-Boeing HSI administrator on the "union" side, Brueher works closely with Boeing's in-house safety arm (SHEA), develops and provides training and consultation, screens prospective programs and more. Beyond his administrative role, he has a reputation for having positively impacted thousands of people within Boeing with his safety messages and training.

NO Need to Wear OUT

Brueher didn't start off valuing safety. "I was raised with a John Wayne attitude where you sacrifice your body for your job." But through association with safety, he says he learned "you don't have to wear out."

Even prior to beginning with IAM-Boeing HSI at its inception, he was a huge advocate of safety as a union steward, then counselor, then site safety representative.

No burnout here. After two decades as a safety proponent, Brueher's enthusiasm and commitment to safety looms large. "Safety has changed my life. I'm more connected and aware of life that goes around me," he says.

What can we learn from Brueher to elevate us into stronger, more effective safety catalysts?

  • Make strong contact with others to get their attention and trust. This is a precursor to persuading them to listen to a strong safety message.
  • Energy and enthusiasm shake hills of resistance. Combine this with a safety base and you can move mountains as well.
  • Live the talk. Always a good listener, Brueher's credibility soared higher as he made personal, observable changes. Asking people to work and live more safely ultimately means asking them to change. There's great power in showing you also are willing and able to change.
  • Focus on the positive benefits of safety. Brueher says, "I've seen what happens when things go horribly wrong," but doesn't limit his interventions to traditional follow-safety-so-bad-things-won't-happen motivation. He emphasizes positive outcomes such as having greater energy, improved work relationships and becoming better at favorite sports and activities.
  • Unearth and tap your personal mission. Brueher draws energy and power from "being part of something beyond myself." Brueher says, "One of my biggest life lessons is that we're all in this life together. That stewardship is key to safety; to reach out to one another our families, co-workers, community."

If you find yourself dispirited, remember what got you started in safety in the first place. Remind yourself of your personal mission regularly, especially when times are rough.

  • Share your personal stories and commitment to safety. There's incredible power in honesty, as well as in being personal. (Interesting anecdotes don't hurt either.)
  • Find and develop leaders from the floor. There are many people who have the potential to become Dave Bruehers for your company. Your job might be to find, tap and train them. Or just set them loose.
  • Reach others by emphasizing safety at home as well as at work. This can melt resistance in even the most hard-nosed people.

Most important, don't limit yourself to thinking of safety as just a way to prevent things from happening. Safety is a way of living your life healthy, feeling good about yourself, getting done what's important to you. Remind yourself of this true safety bottom line and, like Brueher, help others remember this as well. Rev up your catalyst skills to help your safety culture fly high.

Robert Pater ([email protected], is managing director of Portland, Ore.-based Strategic Safety Associates.

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