Yesterday, for an hour, I listened to Jason Anker MBE talk to sign installers about the accident, 25 years ago, that changed his life for ever ... and that didn't have to happen.
His delivery is conversational; but his content is searing, merciless, no-holds-barred honesty.
It was tough for those of us just listening – how this guy relives his story, so graphically, and so personally, in front of an audience, is beyond me.
But you know what? This was actually a positive, funny, engaging experience. You read that right. You just have to do some hard listening along the way.
You’re invited to leave the room if it gets too much, because Jason withholds nothing. Really ... nothing. I mean that on a biological level.
At times the packed room was weirdly silent.
At other times, people shifted uncomfortably in their chairs, exchanging glances.
And some pretty tough folk welled-up as he talked about the impact on his marriage, his wider family, his friendships, his sex life (in detail, because young men in particular find that compelling), his financial wellbeing, and his relationship to alcohol.
Believe me, this engages your attention.
But it’s not actually about Jason; although he’s the central character in the story, it’s about health and safety, attitudes, and the will to speak up.
As an ambassador for health and safety, he's turned his life around.
It’ll never be what it was, but he has a mission; he’s dedicated to helping others avoid the type of accident that happened to him.
He’s selfless and doesn’t spare himself in his narrative (in fact, he’s brutal about himself) – but it’s done with humour, and yes (somewhat incongruously) he makes people laugh.
He engages his audience full-on, and they respond.
There are jokes about soccer mixed in with a video interview with his parents that he himself can listen to, but not watch (he turns his face away). When he’d finished, yesterday, people crowded around him.
It isn’t polished; it’s a bit rough around the edges; and it’s all the more real for that.
He talks mainly to site workers and those in plants and factories, and they can relate to the fact that this is a guy who had to fight all his instincts to sit in front of a large audience and speak, let alone speak uncomfortable truths with unforgiving integrity. I’m guessing, but I think he still fights that every time he does it; yet he does it … time, and time and time again.
And for those in leadership positions, he has a very hard message. One of the most common aspects of industrial accidents is that in the aftermath, people come forward and say “we could see that coming” (or words to that effect).
So why didn’t they speak up?
Mainly, because “managements don’t listen”.
The company that gave him a platform this time (and which self-evidently does listen) is my client Xmo Strata, so, OK, I’m biased.
For those who like data, I’ve worked for them for 15 years and produced scores of videos – and I’d say 95% of them are about health and safety, less than 5% about marketing. If you want to judge actions rather than words, don’t just listen to what a company says, look to where it spends its money.
Sign installers work on the roofs of tall buildings (sometimes using rock climbing techniques); on fuel forecourts where they face speeding traffic (yep, actual speeding, on forecourts … on wet surfaces, with limited manoeuvring room, whilst people are up scaffolds – and it happens a lot); they deal with a mixture of rain, electricity and explosive/flammable fuel vapours; they work on construction sites; and with access equipment (mobile elevated platforms, cranes, and cherry pickers). They often put signs weighing many tonnes in difficult, hard-to-reach locations (because it’s where they’re most visible). That’s why safety is right at the top of their priority list.
Other companies with the courage to put this guy in front of their employees have included e-on, Centrica, Kier, BAE and The Berkeley Group. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is on the list, too.
So … respect to them.
But above all, respect to Jason Anker MBE.
If you’re tough enough, and if health and safety is genuinely important to your company (rather than something you just pay lip service to), he’ll give you and your colleagues an hour that I promise, you really won’t forget in a hurry.
And the thing is, that might save a life, or prevent a life-changing injury.
You can learn more about Jason Anker MBE at http://www.jasonankerlive.com/