"What do you want to be when you grow up?" That was the question my 3-year-old posed to me just the other week.
At school the answer was PE Teacher. I ended up becoming an employment lawyer.
It's certainly never the case that I wanted to become a workplace health and safety guest speaker when I grew up.
It surely wouldn't be anyone's aim. Because becoming such a speaker invariably results from a personal story borne of tragedy.
Why then did I become a workplace health and safety guest speaker?
The preventable death of my wee brother when he was aged just 26 is the personal tragedy which now sees me in this role.
Ahead of the first time I spoke in detail about what happened to Michael, the email which went to attendees said "The H&S Dept are bringing Louise Taggart into the yard to do a (one-off) short presentation in the manner of Jason Anker and Ken Woodward. Her (electrician) brother was killed in a shop-fitting accident caused by a failure in tag-out procedure."
It turned out to be far from a one-off. And given that I often say to people when I speak that: "true accidents do sometimes happen, but in the vast majority of cases that is not so", isn't it ironic that telling Michael's Story was never intended to turn into my "job", but that it's instead done so completely by accident rather than design.
Because, after I delivered that first session, the impact was such that I've been invited to tell his story time and again by many different employers and conference organisers.
I put "job" in inverted commas because I see it as so much more than that.
It's been levelled at me that I'm on a mission. Absolutely. I'm on a mission to ensure that lessons are learned from my wee brother's death so that others are able to return home safe and sound to their loved ones at the end of each and every working day or night. In doing so, I aim to ensure a lasting and meaningful legacy is left for my brother here on this earth.
But, I am one woman. So, on this day, that should have been Michael's birthday, I want to ask if you can help me over the next year, in the lead up to what should have been his 40th on 18 March 2019.
How can you help Michael's Story to have as wide an impact as possible?
Can I ask you to do these 3 things to help Michael's Story be a positive force for good:
- Watch the two short health and safety videos in this blog, then consider if you can use them to bring about positive change in your own workplaces and/or training courses;
- If you can use the videos, then consider making a donation to Scottish Hazards, a health and safety charity committed to improving workplace health and safety; and
- Mark International Workers' Memorial Day annually, in turn, furthering the advice work of the support group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) when doing so.
Can these safety videos help you bring about a positive change?
I've now been telling Michael's Story for more than 5 years. I've always resisted committing it to film. There have been many reasons for that. I wanted to have control over where Michael's Story was used. I also didn't think it could have the power of telling it in person.
Then I was approached by Siemens to speak at their Leadership Forum towards the end of 2017.
I couldn't do it as I was already booked for another piece of work and the request was made to do a short filmed piece instead. I was apprehensive.
But the brother and sister team of Simon and Rachel at The Mobile Studio Company, more than ably assisted by their friend and colleague Pete, have created these videos which makes me laugh, cry and smile every time I watch them.
A son, brother and fiancé left home one morning and did not return. Because of health and safety failings, he did not get the opportunity to become an uncle, a husband or a dad.
So I ask you to use these videos to bring about positive change in your organisation. Use them to:
- have leaders reflect on their own effectiveness;
- reinforce for people why safe systems of work are in place and why they need to be followed;
- reinvigorate for supervisors and line managers the role they must play in enabling and driving safe behaviours; and
- give people the courage to speak up when they see something unsafe.
If you do use the videos, I'm going to ask you to consider making a donation to Scottish Hazards.
Why am I asking you to support workplace health and safety charity Scottish Hazards?
I want to prevent anyone else from having to lose their life or their loved one in a work-related incident that could and should have been prevented. One way I can work towards this is by getting out and telling Michael's Story. But, I also want to aid the preventative and support work of others.
Were it not for me becoming involved in Scottish Hazards way back in 2006, I would likely still be an employment lawyer.
But through joining what was at the time a campaign network, I met Ian Tasker. He was an Assistant Secretary at the Scottish Trades Union Congress back then, with responsibility for health and safety. He was the one who threw my hat in the ring for that "one-off" speaking slot.
And it was a request from Scottish Hazards to take on a project which sealed the decision to hand in my notice at the law firm and embark on an altogether different career path.
The project was one which required Scottish Hazards to be set up as a registered charity, with a view to then opening a Scottish Hazards Centre, a place providing occupational health and safety advice, support and training to workers, plugging a gap that existed.
The primary aim of the Centre is prevention: to provide advice and support before someone suffers a life-changing or life-ending illness or injury.
I have relished the role of project worker but, as of this month, I will move onto the Board of Trustees. In this position I'll continue the work of profile raising and fundraising, with a view to setting Scottish Hazards on a secure long-term footing.
So, I ask you to make a donation should you use the video. Indeed, I ask you to make a donation even if you don't use the video.
Because, as a way of marking the year leading up to what should have been Michael's 40th, I aim to raise at least enough money to ensure Scottish Hazards can provide 40 days of preventative advice to workers. This will involve raising £4800.
There is coincidental poignancy in that figure. Because Michael died on the 4th day of the 8th month.
If you can help contribute to reaching that figure, it would be wonderful. A donation can be made by clicking this button.
How will you mark International Workers' Memorial Day in your workplace?
Finally, I am asking you to mark International Workers' Memorial Day (IWMD) on 28 April. And to do that not only this year, but to commit to doing it annually.
IWMD is a day when we remember the dead and reinforce our commitment to fight for the living. Ceremonies and seminars are held across the world to mark the day, and I urge you to think about what you could do in your workplace this year.
At the very least, order commemorative ribbons produced by the Hazards Campaign. At £33 for 100, it is a small investment, but the money raised through sale of these ribbons goes to support the work of FACK, work which is invaluable to families who have lost a loved one.
Just as with my connection to Scottish Hazards, had I not become a FACKer, I would not now have the strength to tell Michael's story, something I talk more about in this previous blog post.
The tragedy is that far too many families each year have to be helped by FACK and the inspirational Hilda Palmer. Typical of the sentiments of those who have received Hilda's support is this, from the mum of Ben Pallier-Singleton:
"We would also like to thank Families Against Corporate Killers for their help and support throughout this painful process. But for FACK’s Hilda Palmer and her huge and unwavering love and support I feel I truly might have been completely crushed."
So, using Michael's 40th as a target, it would be great to know that as a result of reading about my wee brother's story, we could get at least 40 more organisations signed up to mark IWMD in the year ahead as that would touch a great many lives.
What do they say? That life begins at 40...
My brother's life ended long before he had the opportunity to make it to 40. However, I believe we can bring about positive change, working together to ensure that in the lead up to his 40th the world of work is safer and healthier, and very many more people get to live their lives to the full.
Together we can make this world a safer place to work and to live. Let's make it a year of making a difference.
Louise is a popular health and safety workplace speaker and trainer who, through telling Michael's story, helps organisations reinforce their safety message. To find out more, contact Louise.