Health & Safety

Leveraging Safety Resources in Your Own Community

By David McHenry

In private industry, safety professionals share best practices through a number of different platforms across all types of work environments. What has surprised me is the lack of contact fire safety professionals have outside of the fire service.

One exception is former police officer and renowned safety expert Gordon Graham. Graham has succeeded in addressing police and firefighter groups. Earlier this year, when I was attending a weekend health and safety officer (HSO) class, the instructor popped in an old Gordon Graham speech I had not seen before. In the clip, Graham explained that, when he had first learned to drive, he studied something called “The Smith System,” which is a driver safety training system. He went on to explain how important systems were to reduce risk. As his talk continued, he brought up United Parcel Service (UPS) and how it also successfully used systems to manage safety. This story ended when he revealed that UPS also used “The Smith System” to train their drivers on how to prevent crashes. Let me explain just a little of what UPS’s multilayered system encompasses.

First, I would like to say that Graham had it right—UPS does have a very integrated safety system which includes a lot of reliance on the “Smith System.” So, can these best practices be exploited by the fire service? I believe they can.

Although the fire service has a system to investigate fatalities such as line-of-duty deaths as well as a near miss reporting system, everyday injuries are not being addressed successfully. The best way a department HSO could optimally understand such a system and begin to ascertain potential examples or ideas they may want to replicate is simply by talking to their local expert; that would be your own local delivery driver. Undoubtedly, a UPS driver who delivers to your location several times a week. A driver in New York will have the same knowledge as a driver in Seattle. Why? UPS uses a nationwide standardized system.

Unfortunately, a UPS driver on route is not going to have the time to talk with you. The driver’s performance is evaluated by computer daily (another system). Perhaps you could suggest to your UPS driver that you could feed him lunch (he gets one hour) for a conversation. A driver is required to take lunch between the third and fifth hour on the clock. If your driver happens to agree, I think you will find it was one of the most cost-effective “seminars” you ever attended.

I would start by asking the driver to recite the “five seeing habits” (which is actually a full page of information), then give the “10-point commentary” (another full page of memorized info). These two lists are derived from the auto safety program, “The Smith System.” And, it actually does not stop there. Also ask for the “rules for backing” (auto safety). At this time, you can now move into regular injury prevention. Suggest that he demonstrates “the 8 keys to lifting and lowering” and “the five keys for slips and falls.” It might sound unbelievable, but there are even more additional questions about “yard control,” “lockout/tagout,” and so on, but I think you get the picture. Drivers tend to review and practice these questions several times a month to retain that level of mastery.

If you really want to understand a true safety system and you have a UPS facility in your community, call them up or knock on their door. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 1910.38 (emergency action plans), UPS wants to reach out to the local fire department once a year. If you arrange to visit the delivery center at driver start-up time, you will witness a daily toolbox talk with at least one safety tip and, perhaps, even see the drivers engaged in morning warm-up stretches. If there was a crash or injury just the day before, it will have been fully investigated the day of occurrence and management will review the story with the entire workgroup including any pictures/diagrams (which are required) and, especially, focus on how to prevent the injury/crash from happening again. If a demonstration can be put together by the manager, you will see that as well. I recommend that you specifically ask to meet the safety committee co-chair. Also, walk over to their safety board, which will have minutes from the last three months, a 15-month safety communication plan, data analysis of previous injuries and crashes, and even their safety recognition program. The committee is responsible to lead wellness initiatives as well. A well-run safety committee is incredibly important. Strong management safety leadership is also imperative; ask the center manager or any of his management team to repeat verbatim their full page “management commitment statement”!

UPS is not unique for having a system to reduce risk in their organization; it is simply the organization where I have spent many years. The American Society of Safety Professionals has monthly lunchtime meetings in most major metropolitan areas. If you attend, you will have the opportunity to meet many helpful safety professionals from around your community. The outline of a good safety program is listed for you on the OSHA Web site. Most industry safety programs are built to some extent around these OSHA suggestions. 

(L-R) Photos by William J. Grimes and Peter Stehlik



David McHenry is a career safety professional. He has MS degrees in aviation safety and industrial safety. He worked for 32 years with United Parcel Service, where he was the safety manager for the Central Plains District. He has also worked in the chemical and medical industry and is a certified hazardous material manager and certified healthcare emergency planner. He is the safety coordinator for the city of St. Louis, Missouri, through CCMSI Insurance Company. He has attended ISO, HSO, and the National Fire Academy’s Safety Management Program.