The reason that safety is looked at as something difficult to do is because they're looking at it as something else that they have to do when really it just is part of the job.
Welcome everybody to Radio Free Tenacity, the voice of worker safety. I'm Al Buczkowski rolling solo with hosting duties today, as Allie is out on assignment doing what she does best as our worksite safety specialist and that's helping crews figure out their proverbial stuff when it comes to safety planning and execution. Uh, fear not though we'll hear from her in a few minutes when we play a recent convo she had with safety and risk management consultant, podcaster, and author Abby Ferri. If you're plugged into the worker's safety scene at all you've probably heard the name. She's everywhere to the point where I'm fairly convinced she has a clone army or something working to support her. And thankfully she was kind enough to deploy one of those clones to chop it up with Allie on a variety of topics. Most notably how frontline managers are selling safety to their workers, why the words they use to do so matter, and how the safety gear they provide can say a lot without them actually saying anything at all. And later on, we welcome Greg Schrab to the pod. Say that three times fast. As senior VP of Product Development at Ergodyne, Greg oversees the team of mad safety scientists keeping our pipeline full and spewing out that sweet, sweet nectar of safety innovation. We'll be talking about, among other things, some of the newest gear he's excited about and how feedback from the field helped inform its development. But first let's get right to that conversation between Allie and safety and risks thought leader, Abby Ferri.
Hey everyone. Welcome back to Radio Free Tenacity. We are here today with Abby Ferri, kind of a superhero when it comes to safety. Um, so Abby you describe yourself as a practical, innovative, and influential safety pro and we certainly don't disagree. You're literally everywhere. A force of nature in the safety game, plain and simple. So what motivates you to be that?
I just want to know about the new stuff so I can tell other people about it. So honestly that sounds, does that sound bad? I don't really know. Um, but when I was consulting on my own, I just really liked to being in the role of knowing what was going on in the industry, as far as new equipment or, um, new thought processes, you know, new ways to look at things. And so I just like to be out there and knowing what's going on so I can help other safety professionals because they're just, they're too busy with their day to day. Um, and I've been in their boots. Like I know what it's like to be doing safety day to day, and you have no time to keep up with what's new. Um, you barely have time to keep up with your actual work. So I like to people learn about the latest regulations or if there's just rumbling about regulations. Um, technology trends is a big one that I've tried to carve out, uh, a thought leader kind of title for myself. Um, even just better ways of communicating. So I've been digging into a lot of psychology kind of stuff lately too, and how that parallels with safety. So that's been, that's been fun. And then as far as the being everywhere thing, um, that just came out of necessity. Again when I was consulting on my own social media is free. I mean, for the most part. So I just like to show people that using social media isn't such a big, bad thing, but it can actually be super helpful because it's a way for you to curate your news feed and find out about the things you want to learn about. And that it's, it is for professional use. So something like LinkedIn or Twitter, like there's a professional use case for that. So I try to be the example, but also be the person that has a lot of answers or at least a lot of connections to some answers.
Well you definitely do have that. And I think I could absolutely take some social media tips out of your bag. So we might have to connect on that.
But you know, you mentioned a few times, um, kind of what drove you to the consulting world and learning more about everything and all that's new because you know safety professionals, quite frankly, don't necessarily have the time. Not that they don't want to, but you know, safety in particular, what made this subject so important to you, um, that you've really devoted yourself to having the influence and to the degree that you have, you know, there's, there's a lot of other topics that potentially could have fit into this realm of constant learning, but what was it about safety in particular?
I think, um, I was talking to someone about this earlier, too, that like safety is boring to most people. That they hear about safety or even worse, what I do right now, I work in insurance and risk control and people hear that and they're like, "what?" you know, they remember Along Came Polly and, you know, Ben Stiller's character, or maybe people don't think about that and they have no frame of reference for what we do. So I also, you know, in addition to helping out safety professionals do their jobs better, I like to be just kind of a, uh, ambassador, I guess, of the profession. So that's become really important to me. Um, I went and got my master's in environment, health and safety after finishing my undergrad and just not wanting to be done with school yet. And so I feel like I never really felt that pull, um, to be, you know, this safety professional and get involved in things until I was consulting on my own. Like before that everything was just kind of, you know, keeping my head above water at work. And I didn't really identify as a safety professional. I honestly just identified as like someone that's doing safety stuff on the job site. Like, I, I didn't have time to do anything else or learn how to do it better. And so I think, um, you know, as I, as I got into the consulting world and then my job since then, I've been kind of consulting based too. I think that, um, that identity as a safety professional has really come out more and it's become, it's become clear to me, obviously that people think it's boring, but also that it's super necessary. So with COVID, um, and seeing how public health, uh, kind of gets into the workplace. And so who would you, uh, go to for that type of information in the workplace? You go to your safety professionals. So I'm seeing some interesting parallels between safety and public health. And I like that because if I were to go back to school, I'd either I don't want to do this, but if I were to feel motivated to go back to school, I'd go and get an MPH, a master in public health, or, um, I'd go to law school. So, but I don't want to do either of those things because I have a full plate doing everything I do right now.
Agreed. Those are good ideas though if you ever do. And you know, maybe I'll nudge you down the line and say, "Hey Abby, what about this idea? Maybe you have a little time."
Don't. Don't do it.
Okay. Noted, noted.
For those of you that don't know, Abby and her team have, she has her own podcast called the Safety Justice League and within that, her and her fellow safety justice leaguers have said quite honestly, that safety isn't that bleeping hard. Um, so I'd love to riff on that a little bit and talk about, you know, why there are still so many injuries on the job every year if safety isn't that hard and why are those injuries continuing to happen?
Yeah. If it's not that hard, right?
Um, so, so safety really isn't that effing hard. Um, but there's other things going on at work. So there's companies that will say things like safety first or safety is our priority or, you know, safety, whatever. And I don't think companies have to do that. I mean, if you're trying to get the job done and be productive and especially in construction, deliver a project on time, that's quality and doesn't have a lot of rework, safety is going to have to play some kind of role in that. It it's that, that three legged stool kind of principle. That if you're missing that safety leg, your, your stool is gonna fall over. So you can have really great production. You can have great quality, but if the safety part isn't there, it's not the kind of job that people are going to feel super proud of when it's completed, or it may take forever to complete because there might be some issues. So I think the reason that safety is looked at as something difficult to do is because they're looking at it as something else that they have to do when really, it just is part of the job. So I think if people have that mindset where it's like, we're going to do this safely, and that's just part of it, and maybe the safety part isn't even spoken, it's just that we're going to wear this gear. We're going to put this stuff up and it's just part of the job. So I think there's some like, uh, maybe it's just language and how we talk about safety needs to be changed a little bit, especially in the, the rugged kind of trades, like in construction, I think that could help. Um, but you have to also look at what the workers are being rewarded and recognized for. So I would see, you know, a great job site where things are going well and actually safety could be, you know, a good, um, they could be doing well on safety, on a particular project, but then I'll hear the foreman or the superintendent say, um, you know, I'm really glad that you got to do, you know, twice as much of, you know, whatever it was and, you know, good job. And then I think, well, there was a great opportunity to say you did this and you did it safely. Or, you know, something else like praising them in a more holistic way instead of just praising the workers for doing the thing quickly or doing the thing, you know, in whatever way. So we had to be really careful with what we're calling attention to because especially foremen and superintendents or other frontline managers, um, the workers do what they tell them to do. You know, they listen to what you're saying. They don't necessarily listen to me as a safety professional and take direction from me. In fact, they don't at all. They take what I say under advisement, but I don't boss those people around. I don't tell them what their plan is for the day. So I think, um, it's in language again, you know, what the supervisors are, are praising the workers for. Um, there's also this perceived stress, like tension or rush in a lot of professions, especially. And I just, I relate so many things back to construction because I spent so much time in construction, but there's studies out there that show that even a worker perceiving that there's a schedule issue or delay, or that there's cost crunches or that something is dramatic, that it can cause stress. And then that causes them to make some very interesting decisions. Um, even when we've come up with a safe work plan, they don't work that plan because they just get this like, ah, like this jittery kind of energy and then things just kind of go south. So I think what this translates to is that the workers, they, they aren't doing what they know they should be doing. And I don't know why, except for that, they have this perceived stretch or, um, uh, not stretch. What's the word, perceived stress. They should stress, um, or stretch, excuse me. So a lot of times people think safety takes extra time to, right. So, um, if they, if they're actually working in a holistic way, taking safety into consideration, they'll find that safety doesn't take extra time at all. So I think it's a lot of perception stuff versus actual reality.
No, I think you bring up a good point and, you know, we actually had another podcast guest Bill Geddings, and one thing that he mentioned was very similar to what you just said in that, you know, one thing that would help create a safer environment and encourage to work more safely is to eliminate being paid based on the output that you're providing. So especially when you're looking at, you know, agriculture and pickers or potentially construction, where you're getting extra pay for finishing a job early. You know that, that is encouraging them to work, like you said, a little bit more under stress and feel that time crunch. Where, not saying that they're going to take shortcuts, but it definitely opens the door for that to happen. So I think that's a really good point. And, you know, to kind of tie it back a little bit. Over the COVID lockdown, you actually wrote a book, so congratulations on that. Um, it's called The Safety Habit: They Can't Take It Away From You. And in it, you talk about the power of habit and the importance of breaking bad habit loops. So what would you say is an example of a bad habit loop leading to less than desirable, poor worker safety?
Yeah. So relating it back to what I just talked about. I mean, these foremen and supervisors, they're creating a bad habit loop by taking this one-sided approach of just getting the job done, like literally get 'er done. Like if people remember that reference. Um, so I think that's the loop that either the supervisor gets stuck in and, or the worker gets stuck in. So if the supervisor is praising the worker just for getting the job done at all costs, or the worker, you know, is thinking, if I get this done quickly, you're still going to get paid the same and you're still gonna leave at the same time. But for some reason, I think it's better to just get it done quicker. So I don't know what's up with that, but, um, I think if, uh, if they, excuse me, they're getting the job done at all costs, but it's nothing, um, without that safety component to the work. So the worker hears the production at all costs, but that's not the most important thing. So they need to break, I think the supervisors need to break, the bad habits. So what they can do is kind of like habit stacking, like I talked about in the book and like you hear about in some other habit books and podcasts and blogs lately is that a manager can start to attach a safety message to this production feedback that they're giving or this getter done feedback. They could say "way to getter done safely", you know, and just start adding it, you know, even if it's not, you know, in their nature, it will become, you know, in their nature, if they're looking for that safety message to attach to what they're already saying. So kind of like habit stacking again. Um, but it's more like message stacking. So praise the safe production, but work on being genuine about that because I think praising workers for safety often isn't, um, like a, a natural thing for some supervisors, so they just have to practice. So it's the supervisor building the habit of better communication to hopefully instill a better habit in the worker. So it is quite possible that crap is rolling downhill to the supervisors. So, um, that effect of things rolling downhill to those direct supervisors, to it, it causes to praise what they are praising. So if that's the case, there's even bigger issues at play, um, without corporate or organizational culture and approach is to the work. And that's tough. That's why a lot of safety professionals have kind of a, um, uh, like a jaded mentality that, you know, you're just kind of fighting for safety every single day, but really the problem is like two levels to three levels above you, that, how do you impact that? I mean, I've been in that position where you're leading from the field level, and you're hoping that some of the, the, uh, the enthusiasm or just the habits that the workers build is kind of trickling up, um, to their managers and supervisors. And then you hope. So it's a lot of hoping and maybes, um, that this, these messages and examples get up to the people that really need to hear it. So it's tough. I mean, I think because so much of safety and influence in safety is psychological and is dependent on independent worker psychology. That's what makes this so difficult. And that's why I wanted to write the book to introduce these concepts of, um, habit forming and habit stacking and breaking bad habits, um, into safety professionals, just kind of like their language, because while it's psychology, I think the habit stuff is, is approachable. You know, you're kind of learning psychology without getting too crazy deep into it. So hopefully it can have some impact, um, the safety habit book, it was meant to really be for anybody, not just for the workplace, but I think it supplements what goes on in the workplace pretty well, too.
Absolutely. I mean, I think it's huge. And, and, you know, you talked about the psychology of what's going on at the job site to all the way down to the worker level, up to the corporate level where they're making decisions and how to bring that all together. So I think that's really important. And one thing that kind of stuck out to me as you were going through that is, you know, a lot of times some of the challenges that we see on job sites when we are trying to provide safety solutions to these workers and to the foreman, is that, you know, at the end of the day, like we said, safety's boring. It's not everybody's favorite topic, but oftentimes people see it as, okay, I know I have to do this. So I'm going to buy the cheapest version. I'm going to buy whatever. I can check my boxes off. Because these aren't the right solutions for the worker, you end up in that way of thinking, which is exactly what you say. This is going to make my job harder. It's going to take longer because I have to use this, but really what's happening is that's not the right solution. So when you're talking to, you know, safety professionals on job sites, where they are having an opportunity to choose the right PPE solutions, what do you try to encourage them to get, to make sure that they're getting the right solutions for the jobs so that it only enhances productivity and enhance the safety rather than being seen as a negative?
Yeah. So something that I used to and didn't really, it didn't start off super genuine, was to involve the workers. So I am kind of a type A, type of person, which some people probably know that about me. And so I would think like, I've got these solutions for the workers. I know what's best. I've looked at the situation like I've got this, but alright, I'll let them try some things out so they can feel a part of the process. So sometimes that angle works. Other times I go through that, try it out phase with the workers and they would come up with something that was different than when I, then what I thought was best for them. Which of course, right? Because they're the ones doing the work. So I think, um, you really do have to be genuine and specific about and intentional, about bringing the workers in on decision-making. So there may be different levels that you bring the workers in on PPE decision making. Like you may want to triage some options for them and then bring some options to the table instead of here, go to this, uh, safety conference and go walk around and just find some stuff, which I have seen companies actually do that with workers, which is amazing. I think it's cool. I don't think it's for everybody. So I think of, I mean, I was one of those people that would try to get something as cheap as possible. Like back in the day, I would be incredibly stoked if I could find safety glasses for a buck 75, even better, if it's a dollar or less and okay, what kind of safety glasses do you get when they're a dollar, you know?
Not the best.
You get dollar store safety glasses.
No, exactly. You get what you pay for.
You get what you pay for. So, I mean, I would think about this and I don't know what the equivalent of like a $12 safety glasses from 2003 is in today's money, but let's just use, you know, $12 as a sweet pair of safety glasses just for easy math. So if I'm stoked about getting a pair of safety glasses for a dollar, but I have this person coming to my office and saying, "I need new safety glasses. They're all scratched up or they're foggy. These are awful." And I'm like, "here's another pair" and I throw 12 pairs of safety glasses at this person in a year. What if I just bought the $12 pair of safety glasses that they thought was cool and that they actually put back in the case and that they use the wipes that I bought them and kept them in good shape. And they had one pair of $12 safety glasses for the whole year. Maybe those even lasted into a second year because they took such good care of them. So I learned this from you guys, actually someone in your office would say that wearing the coolest stuff actually helps the workers comply with whatever the PPE program is. And so when I think of Ergodyne stuff, I'm like, this is cool. This is what workers want to wear. So I have relaxed my ways and how I would try and budget for safety equipment. This is so embarrassing how cheap I was.
You are not alone, Abby. You are not alone.
This is true speaking to my fellow cheapskate safety professionals because I know they're out there. Uh, so I would just be a little bit, uh, smarter with the budget, realizing that it's better to buy a $12 pair of safety glasses versus 12 to 20 pairs of dollar safety glasses because the workers think you're, cheaping out on them and that's not a good look either, you know, psychologically they think, "ah, they don't care. They just want to buy the bare minimum just to check the box." So that's another, you know, psychology thing again, um, that you want to try to steer away from, with the workers as well. So I, uh, yeah, I like to look at it that way and that's a super concrete example of equipment and how people approach it. And you could, you could extrapolate it to, you know, harnesses. Um, I used to buy universal of course, the universal size, fall protection harnesses, you know, cause those workers aren't going to be here at this job site for a long time. I mean, we literally used to buy the nice harnesses for the more longer tenured workers. Like that's messed up when you think about it now. So, um, there's other practices that we used to do where we'd split the cost of the harness with the worker and you know, what kind of, what are we telling people that, you know, that's just ridiculous. So I think, um, we need to be more realistic about our budgets with PPE and also bringing the workers in on the process and considering what they're going to think based on what you're buying.
No, I think that's a great point and, and you know exactly what you talked about, our kind of campaign around a lot of our work wear is cool drives compliance. And I think you look at, you know, what you're buying in your personal life and off the job site. If I know I'm going to lose a pair of sunglasses, I'm probably going to buy the pair at the gas station instead of going to Sunglass Hut and buying an expensive pair because then I know I don't have to take care of it. You know? So there's, there is that messaging that you're sending down to your workers, that's the same thing. Like here's a 50 cent piece of eyewear. I don't care about it. You don't have to care about it either. And you know, especially you bring up the harness piece. And the number one thing that somebody told me when I was, um, practicing and being prepared for climbing and wearing a fall protection harness was anything you put on your body imagine, would you trust it to carry a car? Because if you don't have the trust in that harness or that lifeline to hold the weight of a car, do you really want to be in that harness or attached to that lifeline? And now that really changed the way that I look at it cause same thing it's like, "well, I could wear this harness. That's a hundred dollars versus this really nice one." And then I started thinking about it and I was like, "well, I don't really feel safe in that one." So, you know, I think that that is a really good thing to point out that if you are consistently providing workers with, you know, just the cheapest that's available that may fall apart may scratch. You know, you have to go through a multiple times a year, what message are you sending to them? Is your safety really that important? I don't know. Um, but you know, what do you think is beyond that? When we start talking about the worker level PPE, what do you see as one of the most consistent challenges in getting workers to actually wear the PPE that is assigned to do their job?
Yeah. So I still go back to the managers and supervisors. So I'm not going to blame the worker. Although I know there are some special exceptions where workers are just like, "I'm not wearing this." And in that case, maybe they don't belong on this type of work. Um, because we have to wear this stuff. So I go back to the managers and supervisors because some of them like they hoard the gear for whatever reason. And they treat the workers like children and just straight up humiliate them sometimes when they come, you know, sheepishly asking for new safety glasses, if their current ones are completely scratched or fogging up. Then they give them that cheap crap and expect the worker to feel great about it. And that's just not the case. So I think we have to go back to, or continue to, treat PPE like the last resort that it is, right? The hierarchy of controls. It's the icing on the cake, you know, of considering those engineering controls first, then the work practice controls second. Um, and then having those locked in and then considering the PPE. So the PPE is just like that superhero uniform or, you know, athletic uniform, whatever it takes to, to get people on board, uh, that we get to wear to really make sure that we're protecting ourselves each day. So I, I hope that people aren't battling constantly, day-to-day about wearing gear. I think, um, especially safety glasses is one of those things and even gloves too, that the worker may not be wearing it because it doesn't work. You know, it either doesn't fit, right. It's super hot outside and they need a different, you know, a different thing for the season or it's too cold and they really shouldn't be out there. Um, so I think we have to take a step back when we see people consistently not wearing their equipment and think about why are they not wearing it? And that's always my approach. If I walk up to a worker and they're not, you know, their safety glasses are on the back of their head or, you know, they're nowhere to be seen. It's like, "Hey, why, why aren't you wearing them?" Not "go put on your safety glasses." It's "why don't you have them on?" And I remember some distinct conversations with equipment operators where they're like, "I'm in the cab and these cheap ass sunglasses, they distort the dirt." So they couldn't actually see how deep they were digging or where they were going. So there's always a reason. Um, sometimes the reasons aren't great. Um, and sometimes the reasons can give you a lot of insight and I think those are conversations worth having.
Absolutely. I think that's a really great point. And I know from my days of having to wear PPE on job sites and doing that type of work safety glasses were my nemesis. And I would, I would be reprimanded time and time again, "Allie why aren't your safety glasses on?" I was like, "I can't see through them. So I have to make a choice now of doing this work and being able to see the work that I'm working on or being safe with my eyewear." So I think that's a really good point that you make. Um, you know, just to kind of, we have two more questions essentially before we get going, but what sort of positive PPE trends are getting your attention right now that smart and mindful safety managers should know and consider?
Yeah, I mean the, the budget conversation I think is, you know, people are still getting there, but I think, um, you know, slowly people are understanding the cost of safety glasses and earplugs and other disposable kind of items and realizing that they need to spend a little bit more. And also some of us have been in the career for almost 20 years or more. We can't expect the prices from the earliest parts of our career to be maintained as we go later into our career. That's ridiculous, but I know a lot of us are guilty of that. Um, I also like that people are giving workers more options, um, for fit and also even for style. I've seen some really cool, like safety vests out there that have like the black trim or for women they're zipping up higher and just giving more options. So I really liked that because especially the focus on women that, um, when you start to fit women better, it really helps everybody else too. Um, I also like there's collaboration, I'm seeing too with a lot of, it's mostly larger companies or maybe kind of middle-market companies, but they might have a specific need that comes up in their workplace that it may come up other places, but they just have their selected vendor that they choose to purchase from. So they work with them on identifying some specific solutions. So I think that's really cool. I also like, um, more people are really going to bat for the workers and trying to change the minds of those higher ups that might be in charge of purchasing that are kind of holding those purse strings. So I think that's important too. Um, you know, the last thing I can think of is, uh, like heat and cold, uh, having specific gear for hot weather and gear for cold weather. Because I've been on both, both ends of the spectrum for, uh, outdoor temperatures for work. And there's always like this macho factor or, you know, kind of like almost hazing of people that, um, you know, if you can't handle it, like maybe you shouldn't be here. And it's like, well, you know, who can really handle 110 degrees, you know, in the middle of the day and working their butt off, like that's extreme or who can really handle 30 below zero, you know, on a bridge and up, you know, 200 feet on, uh, on the scaffolding. Like that's not normal. And so we have to realize, you know, and have some compassion there for the workers to give them the proper gear for those elements.
Absolutely. That's a, that's a great point. Um, encouraging unsafe behaviors is never ideal and understanding what they need and trying to help them get the job done safely. And more productively is really the end game. So, you know, over the years you've been a very vocal proponent of safety as a way of life, more or less, not just at work. You know, after all injuries, cost employers and employees, whether they happen during the week or on the weekend. So do you think enough is being done to preach that gospel of bringing safety home or is there more that we could do?
So this is a tough one for me because in my early career I was all about like sending home the paycheck stuffers when we used to get their paychecks in the envelope still and having like a bright and shiny newsletter for the family to read and see it on the refrigerator, things like that. Um, so this is tough for me cause I really, as I've grown in my career, I don't want to get super involved in people's lives off the clock, but I always want to make sure to communicate that I genuinely care about them and that they do things as safely at work as they are as safely at home as they do at work, hopefully. Um, and I just hope that some of the safety messages that I talk about at work make it home for the worker. Cause you know, people are hanging up lights, they're doing like the weekend warrior projects and things like that. So we want them to be safe. Like you mentioned. Um, the other piece of this too is public health again. I mean with COVID we learned that safety professionals can really be that credible resource to bridge that public health information with workplace safety. And so my hope is that the workers take that information home and can influence their friends and family members as we continue to respond to COVID or whatever the next pandemic is.
But don't end on that note.
No, absolutely. Um, thank you so much for your time today, Abby. You are a rock star as always, and we love hearing from you and hearing everything that you're doing on the ground level to make the workplace a better place.
All right back with you on Radio Free Tenacity after a really great back and forth between two worker safety dynamos our own Allie Thunstrom of course and longtime friend of Ergodyne, Abby Ferri. Uh, again, make sure you check out Abby on the Safety Justice League available on all the places podcasts are available.
Yeah, you know, Al I thought Abby made some really interesting points during that conversation about, you know, the responsibilities that leaders have in shaping the narrative of job site safety. You know, specifically looking in how they may negatively and unknowingly be slanting the perception with the words they use when speaking about it. But, you know, just as important as what they're communicating, without words like the effect it has on workers when budget becomes the main consideration guiding PPE decisions for workers.
Totally, totally. Abby's $1 safety glasses example is a good one, I think, and kind of what that does psychologically to a worker leaving them thinking, "God, they just want to provide the bare minimum to check a box", you know? Nevermind the fact that if you're constantly having to supply a new pair of $1 safety specs to your workers because they break, get scratched, or whatever, or, or worse yet workers just decide to ditch them altogether because they don't work and they hinder their productivity, that becomes more wasteful not to mention dangerous obviously than if you just spent a bit more money upfront on a pair of glasses that look good, feel good and allow the workers to perform their duty without hindrance. What a concept, right? Um, and one man who is, who is constantly thinking, this is called a segway in thebusiness one man, who is constantly thinking about how work gear can satisfy all three of those things is Greg Schrab. As Ergodyne Senior Vice President of Operations and Product Management, Greg leads two teams that work together to bring innovative safety solutions to life from initial ideation all the way to the field. And a large part of that effort is driven by one factor over all others. And that's providing workers with gear that goes well beyond what's needed for managers to check that box of basic compliance to a place motivated by what workers want and need not only to do their job safely, but just plain better. Greg, welcome to the pod, sir. Glad to glad you could join us.
Thank you. Really excited to be here and be part of this.
Awesome. Awesome. So, uh, let's just jump right in and there's a lot I want to get into. Um, and you know, when it comes to product design and innovation, uh, it seems there are kind of two distinct camps, right? One that are used the merits of innovating vis a vis customer feedback and the other that argues that people don't really know what they need and it's up to the pure genius of product developers like you Greg, to tell them what they need. Specifically, I'm kind of thinking about Steve Jobs here who was famously quoted as saying it's really hard to design products by focus groups and a lot of the times you don't know, people don't know what they want until you show it to them, right? So kind of what, what side of the argument do you and your team stand on?
Uh, well you didn't start out with a softball question for me, did ya?
No, no. Let's get right into it, man.
You went deep quick. Um, you know, it's a tricky question because I don't, I don't think there's a right answer. You know, I agree that true innovation and creativity comes from stepping away and taking chances and every once in a while, you know, not being afraid to be laughed at. Um, but I think myself and our team here at Ergodyne, we fall on the side of getting as many inputs as possible into our product design. Um, and we want the customers, we need our customers to be part of that design process and build, uh, just about everything we do. We, we involve with customers and make sure that we're getting feedback from them. So, yeah, it's a little bit different in the tech world because it's moving so fast. Um, people don't know what's available to them and, and what technology can even do for them. So I get why Steve Jobs said that, but I think, uh, the PPE and work apparel world is moving at a slightly slower pace than tech. So, um, you know, when I, when I look at our team and how we built things are our best ideas come from being out in the field, working side by side with end users, listening, observing, um, seeing what works and, and quite oftentimes seeing what doesn't, um, and then, you know, having that really smart and driven product team, um, that takes all those ideas and inputs and builds great products. So I think we're all on our team, smart enough to know that we don't have all the answers. Um, we learn every time we're out on a job site and, uh, we want to make, uh, those learnings. We want to bring those learnings back to the office and then build better products. So, um, the great thing about the whole worker engagement part of it is that, uh, once the product is built, it's a lot easier to go out and sell that product and stand behind it. When you can say, "Hey, this was developed in collaboration side by side with an iron worker or a warehouse worker, or what have you."
Yeah, no, that, that makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense. And when you're talking about, um, that, that customer feedback part of it in, in the development process, um, Allie, you, um, actually play a pretty big role in that yourself. I was wondering if, uh, maybe you could take us through how, how you fit into that equation?
Yeah absolutely. You know, it's, it's a really unique situation on our team and something that we take a lot of pride in exactly like Greg said is getting out there and talking directly to the people who are using this. So as far as my role fits into this entire puzzle of product development, essentially I'm responsible to go out onto different jobs sites across different industries, depending on of course, what the product being presented or the product and development is to, you know, ask their feedback, you know, are these the right features that you want for the job that you're doing? Is there something that we're missing? Or, you know, in some instances kind of going onto the Steve Jobs part, you know, in the tech world, you're looking for the next big thing. And even in safety, we're always trying to kind of push the boundaries and, and sometimes you can push them a little bit too far and add features that don't actually make sense for that job or for that worker. Something that you know, is going to potentially add a fair bit of cost, but not an equal amount of, um, um, equal amount of value. So for me, it's getting out there and, you know, showing these products, letting people field test them, working with them to say, you know, "does this impede doing your job as it is? Is it creating any type of issue, um, or, you know, are these the right features that you're looking for in the glove", if, if that's what we're talking about and kind of really getting their feedback and then bringing back to our team to refine it a little bit further. You know, one thing that even though we believe very deeply in the power of voice of customer, there's always discretion involved and, you know, not all customer ideas are going to be good ones and not all feedback on current product is going to be ideal either. You know, when you think of all the people in the workforce today, especially in the industrial world, in construction, in transportation, there's thousands of opinions. And, you know, we on our team have to kind of figure out which ones make the most sense and that the majority would feel, and that we're not taking something away that a lot of people would desire and kind of vice versa. So it gets to be, um, a challenge, but it's really fun to get out there and, and understand the people who are using our gear and how we can help them work better and more safely.
Allie, you touched on it, um, you know, with, with not all, not all customer ideas, being good ones. And, you know, you've been a big part of our VOC program. Um, I think that's why when I mentioned inputs, we try to get as many inputs as possible, uh, because what we're looking for is consistency in requests for products. So if we, if we're sitting in front of, you know, six, seven or 10 end users, um, we might have somebody, if we're throwing gloves at them who say, you know, "cut resistance is the most important thing." The next person might say "warmth is the most important thing." And the next person might say, "dexterity is the most important thing." And we're looking for three or four or five consistent people saying, you know "what I need is cut" or "what I need is dexterity." And so we'll take that and kind of lead with that.
Yeah and that's a good point. And sometimes it actually ends up branching into two different products because it's like, "okay, there is a group of people that feels very strongly here, but there's someone that feels equally strongly." And so that opens our eyes to definitely different and new opportunities that may be in the initial thought process didn't come up.
That's interesting. Is there, is there a, I don't know, like an equation or sorts that you use to kind of, um, that discern, you know, what feedback is practical and what's not, I mean, is that all costs based? I mean, obviously function comes into play, but how do you, how do you make those calls? I understand that, you know, you've got like a group of people saying this, this is great. And you got another group saying, this is great. And if you get like that, um, whatever, mass movement behind a certain concepts, um, that that's, uh, encouraging, but, um, what are those other factors you look for when it comes to actually, um, working that feedback into a product?
It's not always the same formula, right? Um, you know, we, we had, uh, several years ago, a large multinational, um, company come to us and they needed a different solution for their workers for knee protection. And, and they told us this was a safety team telling us we're actually using our product. It's, it's good, but we're getting requests to make something better. And here's our price point. We're paying, I'll throw out a number we're paying $10 for a knee pad. We cannot pay more than 15. So that was a really good input that kind of drove where we, you know, kind of set the cap as to what features we could build in. Cause we can build a fantastic product if the sky's the limit from a pricing standpoint. But when you're talking about 60,000 employees worldwide, um, they're not going to provide a hundred dollars pair of knee pads, you know, X times a year for all of them. So, um, those key, uh, data points that are given to us, whether it's the end price or the key feature, um, are all part of the decision-making process. As we go into the design and development. Um, in that particular case, we were able to take a couple of different pieces of foam and make a really unique and comfortable, more comfortable knee pad, um, more inexpensive than we'd ever done before. So it kind of, it drove us to do something that we were not previously doing. And the really great thing about that example is that product became the norm for us. And it's something we use throughout all of our independent designs or all of our standard knee pad designs today. Um, so that, while it started out with one specific customer request driven by a price point, it actually ended up benefiting the masses.
That's really interesting. I mean, uh, we kind of couch this conversation in, uh, the new product development, um, and not really thinking much about the evolution of existing products. Um, are there other, um, other strategies you take, I mean, obviously it was great that this one customer came to you and said, "Hey, look, we, we've got your, we've got your product. We think it's great. Uh, we think it could be even better if we did X, Y, Z to it." Um, are we, do you and your, your team kind of proactively look at, um, how we can evolve products or is that mostly, um, coming from the outside in?
Uh, no, it's, it's absolutely, I mean as a product manager, uh, at Ergodyne your tasked with not just developing what's new and what's going to be launched, you know, next year and the year after, and the year after that, it's continually looking at the existing product line and how do we make it better? Um, you know, we're talking about Steve Jobs, you know, he also famously said, always in beta, right? Everything's continually evolving. And, and our products, I feel the same way about them. They're, they're never good enough, but we're, we, we set a pretty high bar for ourselves and, uh, we take, uh, that be tenacious mantra very seriously here. And so we want everything to be perfect. Um, nothing can be perfect, but we're always striving for that. So we're continually looking at, you know, our materials. Have they, has material technology improved in the last few years? Can we upgrade our outer layer materials? Our inner foams in the example of a knee pad or our inner paddings in the, in the example of a vibration protecting gloves, uh, it's something that we definitely weave into our, our product team process and, uh, we're constantly pushing the limits of what we can do to try and make our products as good as we can.
Yeah, right on. It's , it's never finished. That's that's great. That's great. And, uh, Greg, one, one reason I was really excited to have you on the show, um, and Allie always excited to have you on the show for, for this reason too, is, you know, here you are, you're two people that are kind of constantly thinking about how work gear can perform better, smarter, harder. Uh, and you're, you're listening to these workers talk about what works, what doesn't, um, you know, what, what type of things do you see product testers get fired up about? Are there like some, some common popular themes that keep coming up? Uh, and I ask this because I, I think this is kind of a unique opportunity for, uh, those people charged with procuring PPE for their work sites to hear from people like you and Allie who are like this, this is your life. This is where your, your headspace is, um, is entertained, um, all the time. So, uh, I was wondering, yeah, if there was some, some common themes that keep popping up with, with workers and their PPE with the feedback that you get?
Yeah, you know, I think in terms of, especially looking at the Abby conversation, and I'm going to start a little bit with the second question that you asked, which is how can that help inform safety managers in their approach? And, you know, she talked about the dollar pair of glasses of safety eyewear, and, and of course, safety managers are in a very tough spot where they're having to manage budgets. And, you know, they're looking at the corporate level and having that pressure from that side, and then equally on the other side, you know, they're thinking about their workers and obviously they all want their workers to go home safe every night. So there's not a single safety manager that I've ever met that doesn't acutely care more so about their workers than the budget. But it's important to note that that is there. And I think oftentimes if you are making those decisions that are solely and strictly based on budget and not about the features and benefits that your workers need, um, you know, oftentimes we see it in eyewear again, with that dollar pair of safety glasses, gloves are a huge one as well, where, you know, they're looking for just something low cost, but that low cost piece isn't necessarily managing the heat. If they're, you know, using if they're handling high heat materials or if the cut level isn't enough, or you know, there's a lot of different things that can occur on a job site, a lot of different hazards. And when you're solely focused on that budgetary piece, the message that you're sending to that group is, well, you know, at the end of the day, we're just trying to, again, check boxes and not make sure that you're relying on that safe piece of equipment. And then on the flip side, the fit piece is really huge also. I hear a lot of workers saying, "well, yeah, they give me this, but it doesn't actually fit me. And now it's in the way". So I think there's, there's a lot of different things, but that's two of the big ones is that, you know, when you look at high performing and quality gear, you see a very large difference, um, in the low cost and the more budgetary type items. And it does tend to lead to that conversation coming to, are they actually trying to protect us or is this just make it look that way? Um, what do you think, Greg?
Yeah, no, I, I think you nailed it when, when Al you first asked the question, the first word that came to mind, um, was comfort. I think that comes up in every conversation. Every VOC, every time we're on a job site, people, people just want to be as comfortable as possible. They realize they have to wear safety gear and they may not like that they have to wear it. They know they have to wear it because it's smart and it's the right thing to do. And, or because their safety managers told them, "you have to wear this, or we're sending you home", um, which, you know, still happens, but comfort's really, really important. And, um, we can't take the product off of them. We can't take the safety glasses off to them, but we can make them lightweight. Um, we can't take the knee pads off to them, but we can make the straps more comfortable. And the padding more comfortable. So comfort is, is probably the one thing that, that rings true, uh, in every VOC. The, the second one which is related is, is style. Um, you know, I think whether you are a baggage handler or an iron worker, or what have you, you want to look the part you, you do not want to look sloppy. You don't want to look unprofessional, so style matters. And so we, you know, it's something that we've done for a really long time at Ergodyne, um, is make sure that there's a little bit of badass-ness to our products and edge to them. And, and we, we really want people to feel good about, you know, what they're wearing and how they look when they're on the job site, regardless of what their job is.
Yeah, It's like the old athletic adage look good, feel good, play good. And it's absolutely true on the job site. And these workers are no different than athletes, you know, and we, we often call them occupational athletes cause that's what they're working hard, intense work, 40 hour, 40 to 60 hours a week. And they want the same thing as, you know, they want to look good, they want to feel good and they want to perform their work good. And it's, it's actually really simple. It's just kind of putting it all together and trying to make both ends happy from a budgetary standpoint and from a worker standpoint.
No I, I think that's sort of really interesting point. You two both bring up, it's like, when you, when you're thinking about innovation and product development, um, you know, immediately your brain kind of goes again, maybe drawing from the tech world, like, oh, fancy bells and whistles. And, um, you know, what, what kind of like space-age features, can we give this thing? And, um, from what I hear you guys saying at the end of the day, does it fit, does it feel good? Does it not make me look like a dork? Um, those are three, like key considerations. Um, that's, that's really interesting. I, um, again, I guess kind of sticking with the, uh, with the tech world, um, you know, there's an adage there that says that good design should almost be in invisible, right? Like you, you look at the iPhone and people just take it for granted that that's what a smartphone should look like. It's, it's sleek, touchscreen, no buttons. And it just kind of happened that way. And that's kind of how it was accepted. People take it for granted. Um, and kind of only when there's a design flaw does the topic of design really come into play a lot of times. Do you think that holds true for PPE?
Uh, well, definitely there's good design and bad design. There's, there's no argument there. Um, you know, we, we look at our products and we want them to perfect every time. Um, we look at it in particular. I think that things like safety helmets and safety glasses and some of our other injection molded parts, and, you know, we, we kind of sit around and laugh as we're looking at competitive product and some of the stuff that's on the market that's very inexpensive and simplistic. Um, and say, you know, the plastic costs the same, whether you mold it in this, you know, in our eyes hideous shape, uh, or into something that's cool and people would want to wear it. I mean, it does not cost more for the plastic. We're just molding it into a cooler looking shape. And so, yes, we're spending more time on the front end designing stuff that look cool, but we didn't design cost into the product by doing it. So, um, you know, I think that drives us, uh, to always be thinking about how can we make the design cool. And I, obviously we, we believe there's good design. Um, and we think we're more often than not doing really good design. We can think of lots of examples of bad design that's out there.
So Greg not make you feel old at all, but you know, you have been in the safety game for over 25 years. But in all fairness, you started, you know, just out of diapers, so that's fine. But what would you say, you know, in talking about design and just kind of innovation and again, thinking tech world, what are some of the most dramatic changes that you've witnessed when it comes to worker PPE? You know, how has it evolved, but at the same time, how has it stayed the same?
Well, first off I feel, I feel old because of how I feel, not because of how long I've been working at Ergodyne. Um, I, I feel old because my daughter just graduated from high school last night.
Congratulations by the way.
Yeah, thank you. Um, so, you know, when I, when I think about PPE and where it's come, the safety world in the last 25 years, um, a lot has changed. Um, I think the biggest thing is we talked about, you know, VOC and just participation with, uh, the design process and building products, you know, just the acceptance of safety managers and workers to be part of it, um, to be part of the design process and the communication of what they want, uh, is, is just vastly different than it was 25 years ago. Part of that is technology, right? Now with MS Teams or Zoom or whatever people are using it's easier to get people involved, uh, but that's pretty new. And I would say that change has been happening over the last 10 or 15 years. Uh, just safety managers being much more open and willing to listen to their employees. 25 years ago I don't think that happened as much. I think there were some forward thinking companies that really paid attention to their employees and asked them what they wanted, but most of it was directed down to them. We're giving you this, put it on, shut up, don't ask any questions. Um, that doesn't happen as much anymore. I don't, I don't see it, Allie. I don't know if you do in the field. I think you're, you're seeing much more involvement at the worker level coming up, being brought up, and it's really, uh, a collaboration throughout an organization to help decide what is best what's what's needed to protect our workers and keep them safe. And that's a really positive movement. Um, you know, and when I look at other things that maybe haven't changed as much, um, there's, you know, I mentioned it really early on that safety PPE is moving at a slightly slower pace than technology in terms of what can change. Um, you know, the worker apparel, whether it's a hard hat or gloves, you know, they're still basically the same as they were 30, 40 years ago. What has changed is tech the technology of the fibers, uh, in gloves and other protective apparel. Cut resistance has gotten so much better. It's thinner, it's more comfortable. Um, that's changed a lot and it's changing really fast. Um, you can get A7, A8, A9 cut protection and in fibers that are so thin that, you know, 10 years ago those wouldn't have given you A2 protection. So that's pretty exciting. Um, and then when it comes to some of the padding for impact and, uh, vibration protection, there's just some really great technologies out there. So there's, there's some really good things move moving quickly. Um, there's, there's still a lot of, you know, old sameness out there too. Um, but, uh, I think generally things have moved very positively forward, both from a product standpoint and just engagement with people wanting to be part of the building of what they're wearing.
Yeah, I think that's a good point. And, um, you know, you, you mentioned that VOC and that worker feedback, and that is definitely something that is all across job sites. A lot of times going into a job site, these safety managers will have an entire team of workers across, you know, they'll have iron workers, they'll have carpenters, um, that comprise this committee that helps them guide PPE decisions. Which is at the end of the day, exactly what you want. You want it to be what the workers want to wear, what they're going to be happy wearing because then, you know, that increases productivity and all of that. But just as a quick plug, of course, we do have our VOC program. So if anybody listening wants to join that, you can head to ergo.zone/VOC. Um, and then kind of on that same notion that Greg was talking about.
Hey Allie, real quick, stupid question. VOC. What does that stand for?
That stands for voice of customer. So essentially we're eliciting and, or soliciting whichever way you want to look at it opinions from people that are wearing this gear. Whether you're a carpenter, you work baggage and aviation, um, iron workers, really anything, even if you're just, uh, a DIY or at home, you know, you're wearing this gear and using it to hopefully keep you safe and help your productivity and comfort. And we want to hear your feedback so that, you know, as we're in our innovation pipeline and going through the process, we can ensure that what we put on the shelves at the end of the day is exactly what you want and what you desire, and it fits, it's comfortable, and it does its job.
Right on. Yeah. As you, where you were at, you had another line of thought too, but we, we mentioned VOC a couple of times. I just wanted to make sure people knew what that meant.
Correct, that is, that is perfect. But the other thing I was just going to say is, you know, as we talk about the PPE itself and, you know, some things have changed and Greg mentioned the fibers and, you know, cut resistant gloves and padding and all of that. Those things have definitely been amazing, but I think where you're seeing the biggest shift is in how people think about PPE and what it's supposed to do. You know, you look at dropped object prevention, for example, and for a hundred years what people did was hardhat, steel toe boots, eyewear, you know, potentially impact resistant gloves to create a barrier when something has already fallen and just hope that that protects the worker that unfortunately the item is dropping on top of. And so now you're seeing a shift in that conversation to, well, why don't we just prevent that object from dropping in the first place? We're not going to replace or get rid of hardhats or steel toe boots or any of that by any stretch. But if we can take it one step further and prevent that object from falling the first place, which is where you see tool tethering, um, that's going to create a much safer job site at the end of the day. And so I think you're seeing a shift in "PPE is great, but how can we take it a step further to make it so that, that isn't the first line of defense anymore?"
Personal preventative equipment.
Yeah, there we go. Starting something new
Patent pending, patent pending don't steal that. So well, uh, as we kinda wrap up the convo, um, and we, we're speaking a lot about, you know, what makes a well-designed PPE, Greg here's, here's your chance to, to brag a little bit. I mean, your team is just absolutely prolific when it comes to the sheer amount of new gear that's developed every single year. I mean, the pipeline is always spewing. So I was kind of wondering if you could maybe identify, I don't know, I don't know if it's even possible for you, but if you could identify maybe three of the most unique innovations your team has come up with over the last couple of years, ones that you're especially proud of. I know you're proud of all of it.
Yeah, I'm proud of all my children.
That is not true.
Allie mentioned, you know, one of the first ones that would come to mind is, is to start tool tethering solutions, uh, which is innovative. Um, it's something that, as Allie mentioned 15 years ago, certainly 50 years ago was, was not even thought of how do you prevent the tool from falling in the first place, right? It was just worry about what you do if a tool falls. And that was wear hard hats wear steel toed boots. Um, our tool lanyard lineup is, is second to none. The amount of testing and innovation, uh, that goes into what we're building there, um, is really exciting. And what I, what I love about that product line is it it's a true line from the two lanyards to all the retrofit points. And what I mean by that, is it slapping a lanyard on a tool to stop it from falling easy, right? Except the tool picture of a hammer or a sledgehammer or a pry bar, doesn't have a place to put the carabiner into. So you need to build and design an attachment point. And so that's really the, the magic in the system is, is that connection point, or we call them traps. Um, and the offering that we have is second to none. So we have an incredible offering of tool lanyards, connection points and, and all kinds of other accessories to make sure that when you're working at height, we have a solution for, for every tool in your, in your tool belt. So that, that would be one of the ones I'm, I'm most proud of if I have to pick a favorite child. You know, some of the other more recent ones, um, we we'd spent five plus years developing a spikeless ice traction product. So we, we have these overshoes, um, that slip on over boots and shoes that are spiked and you wear them on snow and ice and, and really a nice product line of five or six different solutions. Um, lots of people use them all types of jobs, but we, uh, in our VOC and just being out in the field, we've gotten lots of requests for people who, uh, want something that isn't spiked because they're walking in their delivery drivers and they're, weren't walking in on concrete or hardwood floors. They don't want to scratch a hardwood floors, or if you wear a spike product on concrete, uh, it's very, very slippery and dangerous. So they can't wear our product because they're transitioning indoor to outdoor. Um, and we worked for many, many years trying to develop a spikeless product that worked. Uh, and we really, we kept running into this brick wall, which was, it just didn't give us enough grip. And we partnered with Michelin a couple years back using their rubber technology. Um, we have a proprietary way of attaching it to a, a TPE sling and we launched it last fall. And it, you know, had its first winter of sales. And it was really, it was one of those things that you, you spent so much time building it. So many people ask are really proud to finally see it launch and, and excited about what's the potential of that product category for us in the future. But that to me is a really big one. And then if I'm limited to three, uh, maybe the next one would be our bump caps. You know, we, we started out, we built our first bump cap, maybe eight or nine years ago and we continue to evolve it. So we, we had this great bump cap that was lightweight and a bump cap for, for those of you that don't know it's for people who are on job sites, who you don't need to wear a hardhat because you're not worried about something falling and hitting you, you're working in a confined space of some sort with things hanging overhead. And you're really more worried about you banging your noggin into something. So it's more worker generated impact, uh, protection. So it's lighter duty for sure. Um, it's not meant to replace a hard hat, but, um, there are a lot of jobs that use them and we, and we designed a really, really nice one. And we have continued to evolve that into universal inserts that can fit in your, you know, I'm a Packer fan. So a Green Bay Packer ball cap put it underneath and in a way you're, you're you go. Or you can, you know, you can wear your, your, uh, business uniform hat and slide this in and, and now you've got a little extra layer of protection. So we just launched, um, our newest, lightest weight product. So it's got a European EN 812 impact protection. It's got a real light foam padding, super lightweight, um, extra venting, ultra comfortable. And it seems like a really simple product, but the hours and hours that went into that design to make it, you know, as, as lightweight and breathable and still provide all the protection necessary, um, it, uh, something that, uh, I'm very proud of and I know our team is really proud of, so, and I can go on and on, but I know people will stop listening. We'll go on for hours.
They stopped listening after you said you were a Packers fan, man.
We'll edit that out ao as not to ding your authority. No, that's, that's great. And I know, I know it's hard to pick, I put you on the spot. Uh, what about the near future, Greg? I don't, I don't want you to, uh, let the cat out of the bag if there's some sensitive, you know, uh, patents out there that we don't want to reveal yet, but, um, is there anything on the development horizon that you're especially excited about? Maybe something that's going to be launching here soon?
Um, I think what we'll do is we'll, we'll, I think it's called a tease in the business. We'll just tell people to bookmark Ergodyne.com and check back often. We've got a wave of new products getting over the next 12 months and, and I do not want to let the cat out of the bag that would ruin the excitement of it all.
Master showman. I appreciate that.
But I'll second that they are great.
Right on, right on. I, I absolutely loved this convo. Greg, uh, thank you so much for joining. Any, anybody out there listening um, I mean, Greg, Greg already plugged it best, uh, check out, um, all, all of the, uh, exciting, innovative PPE, uh, Ergodyne has to offer at Ergodyne.com. If you want a little bit more help in maybe kind of deciding what gear is right for you the Tenacious Blog also on Ergodyne.com is a great resource to dig into, um, easily accessible on that homepage. Uh, top left corner, hit the blog link and you're there. Um, once again, Greg, thank you so much for joining us.
Thanks Al. Thanks Allie. This was fun.
And stay safe out there people.