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Safety Leadership and Empowerment

By Bryan McWhorter
Published: May 28, 2020
Key Takeaways

Everyone needs to know how to handle a safety emergency and be enabled to take immediate action.

Caption: Two workers Source: kzenon / iStock

It was a typical hot summer night in the Midwest. I was the supervisor for a manufacturing facility with over one hundred employees on the shift. All was going smoothly - until three in the morning. That's when I received a call telling me an employee had been injured.

One of our mechanics had been rushing to answer an alarm on the production line. He slipped and fell, hit his head, and was unconscious.

This happened at the opposite end of the factory. Even though I rushed over, it took ten minutes before I got to the injured employee. I walked up just as the EMTs made it to the scene. They beat me to the employee!


(Find out What the Latest Statistics Can Teach Us About Slip, Trip, and Fall Prevention.)

The employee was just now regaining consciousness. And I was amazed and proud of our employees. They worked as a team and handled the situation perfectly:

  1. An employee stayed with the unconscious mechanic.
  2. An employee called 911.
  3. An employee called me.
  4. An employee went out to the parking lot to guide the emergency medical technicians into the building and to the injured mechanic.

All of that happened because our employees were prepared, empowered, and ready to act.

Be Prepared

The Boy Scouts have it right with their motto “be prepared.”

The military states it like this: “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

When preparation meets with an opportunity, it is often viewed as luck. Our employees knew how to respond to the medical emergency because they had been trained. Luck had nothing to do with it.

As part of our annual safety training, we teach employees how to respond to medical emergencies. We had employees on each shift trained in first aid and CPR. The response used on the night of the incident was outlined for employees to use in the event of a medical emergency. They coordinate as a team and take immediate action.

(Learn about First Aid for Major Trauma: Crushes, Amputation, Impalement.)

According to our medical emergency outline, employees are to work together to:

  • Check on the injured employee and render first aid. Stay with the injury victim. (We had enough people to make this a rule: never leave the injured person alone.)
  • Call 911. (We base calling on severity and judgment, but all employees were encouraged to err on the side of caution. If they feel we may need an ambulance, just make the call.)
  • Send one person out to watch for the ambulance. All our entrances were numbered, and we made sure to tell dispatch the number, but we still made someone available to guide the ambulance and lead them into the injured person.

Every year we would invite our local fire department and EMTs into our facility. This way, they could become familiar with it and give us tips on how we can aid them as responders. Our employees were the true first responders until the EMTs arrived. The EMTs and firefighters were always very supportive, and we created a good relationship.


All the training and preparation do little good if employees are not empowered to act.

When medical emergencies happen, emotions run high and panic can make people freeze. Our employees had a great deal of freedom and empowerment. Supervisors are told to act like coaches, not bosses.

We discourage micromanagement. Employees are urged to come up with solutions to problems and help achieve company goals. Creativity and individual initiative are encouraged. Employees must be able to confirm that they have freedom and empowerment by making decisions at work.

All our employees belong to self-directed work teams. They were empowered and engaged. They were confident, and this helped to control panic and enable a quick response to emergencies of all types, including medical.


Do not rely on luck. When I think back to that night and how our team responded to an injured coworker, it fills me with pride. I can relax in the knowledge that our employees were leaders and not just followers. They are dragon slayers (problem solvers).

(Read the story of The Dragon Slayer: Why Safety Should Be a Communal Effort.)

Management had provided them with training for competence and coaching for leadership and ownership, which helped our employees achieve such a high level of maturity.

The lesson here is simple. Provide safety training and empowerment. You will be amazed at what your employees accomplish.


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Written by Bryan McWhorter | Lead Safety Advisor, Author, Writer, Speaker

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Bryan McWhorter is a safety professional with eight years of experience in driving and teaching safety. Bryan gained his knowledge and experience as the safety officer and Senior Trainer for Philips Lighting. Philips is a strong health and well-being company that promotes a safety first culture.

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