NSC: Taking Responsibility for Safety

When former Exxon employee Charlie Morecraft looks back on the day in 1980 when he was horribly burned in a workplace accident, he concludes: “I had no one else to blame but myself.”

“It was my choice to abuse the safety procedures and the safety equipment that I had on me,” Morecraft told about 1,300 safety professionals and other stakeholders on hand for the National Safety Council’s Congress and Expo in San Diego.

Morecraft explained that it is important for workers to take personal responsibility for their own safety as well as for the safety of their co-workers -- rather than leaving it in the hands of safety managers or safety committees.

“People should stop looking for others to keep us safe,” Morecraft emphasized. “It’s our responsibility.”

Morecraft, who now travels the country as a motivational speaker, teamed up with noted safety performance expert Dr. E. Scott Geller to discuss the perils of taking safety shortcuts and of failing to take personal responsibility for safety.

To drive the point home, Morecraft talks about the day 26 years ago when he was burned on over 45 percent of his body.

Morecraft explained that he was called in to work that day to perform a procedure on a pipeline. When he arrived, he said he left the truck running and opened the pipeline valve without taking the required safety steps first.

As a result, chemicals sprayed out, causing Morecraft to be temporarily blinded.

As he ran to find help, Morecraft remembered that he had left the truck running. Before he could reach it, however, the chemical vapors engulfing broke out in flames, engulfing Morecraft.

Shortcuts Weren’t Worth the Pain

As Morecraft talked to safety congress attendees about the agonizing months that followed while recuperating in the burn unit of St. Barnabas Hospital, he noted that initially he blamed everyone but himself for the accident. After some time, he said he finally realized that had he followed company procedures and worn the proper personal protective equipment, he wouldn’t be bearing the scars of the accident today.

Ultimately, he came to the realization that the shortcuts he took were not worth the pain he endured -- and the pain he caused his family.

“I used to think wearing safety equipment was uncomfortable,” he said. “You know what’s more uncomfortable? Having to wear a face mask for a year.”

A “Powerful Case Study” on Complacency

Calling Morecraft’s story a “powerful case study,” Geller said that the accident Morecraft suffered was a telltale sign that Morecraft needed to wake up from his complacency.

Unfortunately, there are many complacent workers out there, Geller explained, and he urged the audience to feel empowered, to realize how meaningful their work is and to be conscious of the choices they make when they go to work everyday.

“We’re not doing the job in safety,” Geller said. “We’ve got to act on our caring.”

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