What’s your story?

Or better yet, what would you like it to be? As the new year approaches, many of us reflect on where we’ve been; where we are and where we want to be. We look at the new year as a chance for a do-over; a clean slate; a blank page in a new chapter: we resolve to change.

About half of us make at least one resolution for the new year. Maybe it’s losing weight and getting healthier; getting our financial ducks in a row; starting a new career; or maybe it’s just being a better person. Six months into the year, only half of the original half will still be on track. Why?

Could be the resolution isn’t really the “right” one; it’s too vague, it’s not being done for the right reasons; it’s not measurable or realistic. Maybe expectations are too high or maybe we just give up too easily.

January 1 starts a new chapter in the book of your life. What’s your story going to be? A mystery? Action packed? A romance? A comedy? The comeback of the year? Fame and fortune? It’s yours to write, so make sure it’s a good one.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

Posted by MJ Thomas

Do you believe?

I do. After all these years, I still believe in the magic of Christmas. That magic is a beautiful thing. Why? Because it lies in the heart. It’s not in the gifts or material things; it can’t be bought. It doesn’t come from someone or somewhere; it comes from within. It’s patience and tolerance and forgiveness; the willingness to see the good in people. It’s caring and compassion and goodwill. It’s friends and family and loved ones near and far. It’s about being in the moment; being thankful; knowing that if there were no gifts, no decorations, no lights, no parties – you would still believe in the spirit of Christmas.

Christmas is more than a day; it’s a frame of mind. And in these times, there are a lot of things that can mess with your frame of mind. The stress, the money, illness, family and friends who are no longer with us; the holidays seem to magnify the intensity and really test our beliefs. Maybe that’s the time we need to believe the most. Believing brings with it hope; a sense that it will be okay. At least it does for me. And that keeps the magic alive.

Norman Vincent Peale said, “I truly believe that if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can bring joy and happiness and peace to the world.”

Choose to believe in the magic and remember the true spirit lies in the heart. Wishing you happiness, health, peace and prosperity in the true spirit of Christmas now and always.

Posted by MJ Thomas

A little whimsy for the holidays

“A little nonsense every now and then, is relished by the wisest men.” Ah, the words of Willy Wonka ringing out so true in these days leading up to Christmas 2017.

Typically, this is the time when the stress that comes with the holidays rears its ugly head. There’s a lot to do and time’s ticking away – last minute shopping, baking, mailing packages, preparing to travel, crowds, lines, the endless search for a parking space that isn’t in the next city, concerts, parties and so much more.

Sometimes, you just need something to take your mind off things for a while, sit back, relax and smile. So, today’s blog focuses on something that many turn to in time of stress – CHOCOLATE! In fact, the four basic food groups are defined by some as milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and chocolate truffles. Works for me.

And, much to my surprise, guess what tomorrow is? It is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day. Who knew? Celebrate it. Drizzle, pour, spread that chocolate on whatever suits your fancy. Indulge, binge; make an event out of it. Chocolate strawberries, marshmallows, pretzels, chips, bacon, coffee beans, bananas, raisins – go for it. Get creative. Make up your own delicacy.

Here’s the best part. Chocolate is good for you! It contains nutrients that include potassium, calcium and iron and it contains the B-vitamin riboflavin. Studies in the past have shown that people who consumed cocoa regularly had lower blood pressure than those that didn’t, were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and had better peripheral blood flow. It’s also been noted that chocolate has an antibacterial effect on the mouth and protects against tooth decay! How about this? When it comes to coughs, chocolate is more effective that codeine; it’s a natural pain killer and it can contribute to brain health.

Okay, point made. If all this doesn’t convince you to ease the stress of holiday preparations with chocolate, consider this line of thinking. According to an article posted on mentalfloss.com, chocolate is a vegetable – sort of. Chocolate comes from the cacao bean which grows on the cacao tree, an evergreen. This makes the most important part of the sweet treat a vegetable. And we all know that eating vegetables is good for you.

That’s it for the whimsy today. Hope it makes you smile a little. The holidays are supposed to be fun. Don’t get caught up in all the “stuff.” Enjoy and have some chocolate.

Posted by MJ Thomas

‘Tis the season to be jolly…

…Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la la, la. Let the decorating begin. Pull out those tangled strands of lights and boxes of ornaments passed down through the years. Set up the tree, roll out the ribbon, light up the candles. Most of all? BE SAFE. The hidden dangers of holiday decorating can take quite a toll and that’s not jolly.

These statistics from both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Electrical Safety Foundation International give some food for thought. It is estimated that 76 percent of Americans decorate their homes during the holiday season. And, each year, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for injuries such as falls, cuts, and shocks related to holiday lights, electrical decorations and Christmas trees. Hmmm.

Before you set out to replicate Clark Griswold’s display of 25,000 twinkling lights, here are some safety reminders to consider. Check everything prior to use. Check lights for frayed cords, broken bulbs and bad plugs. Indoor bulbs are for indoor use and outdoor bulbs are for outdoor use. Seems simple enough, right? Avoid electrical overload – no more than three standard-size sets of lights per extension cord. Use only lights tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Before climbing up on that ladder, make sure it is on secure and level footing. Always have a buddy system; use caution. Falls do not a jolly experience make.

Live trees should be fresh – green, with needles hard to pull for the branches and the bottom of the tree should be sticky with resin. Monitor water levels, keep out of high traffic areas and away from any heat source – fireplaces, vents, radiators. Artificial trees should be labeled “fire resistant”. Keep children and pets safe. Small pieces and parts ornaments can be choking hazards. Holly, mistletoe, poinsettias and other seasonal plants can be toxic if ingested.

Did you know that Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day are the top three days of the year for candle fires? Never leave a burning candle unattended, keep them on stable, heat-resistant surfaces and away from items that can easily catch fire.

These are just a few tips to consider for a safer holiday. Now go deck those halls! Happy Holidays!

Posted by MJ Thomas

Here’s the thing

Unless you’ve been hiding on a remote island, you are more than aware that the holiday shopping season has officially begun. Forget the fact that most stores had Christmas decorations on the shelves before Halloween was over. Now it’s official – Black Friday, Cyber Monday – whatever they want to label all of it – the frenzy is here.

I always thought it should be a fun experience. The truth is, it doesn’t bring out the best in everybody. Go figure. Here’s my take on things. Before you head out to experience the wonders of holiday shopping – be prepared. It’s safer that way.

Be prepared to stand in long lines, with agitated people who are holding armfuls of stuff and invading your personal space to the point where you can feel their breath on the back of your neck. For some reason, the closer they get to you makes them feel farther ahead in the line.

Be prepared for the person in front of you to have a return – without a receipt – for something they bought months ago but now need that money for the holidays.

Be prepared to get cut off numerous times in the parking lot by drivers trying to beat you to the nearest parking space. It’s not worth an accident or a confrontation. Be prepared for the noise – the yelling, the crying, the screaming, the never-ending din of the crowd and of course, the Christmas music.

Be prepared for items to be out of stock, coupons to be invalid, and that person who pushes you aside to grab the last one of something off the shelf. Be prepared for snarky people, stressed out store personnel and don’t expect any of it to make sense.

Notice I said, “Be prepared.” Will you experience all the things mentioned above? Probably – hopefully – not. But, if you prepare for it, it’s easier to handle, there are no surprises and you won’t take it personally. Ho-ho-ho.

It comes around once a year. Have fun with it and enjoy it.

Posted by MJ Thomas

A time to be thankful

Thursday, we celebrate Thanksgiving 2017 and the celebration for everyone will be a little different. Some look forward to family gatherings and the chance to spend time with loved ones and friends; some anticipate the holiday feast; some count the hours until the Black Friday shopping frenzy; others are “getting ready for some football.” No matter how we celebrate the one thing that’s universal about this day is that it is a time to give thanks; be grateful for what we have and for the people in our lives.

We all know that, right? So, as a little bit of a twist in direction, here's some things you may not know about the day.

Did you know that the year of the first Thanksgiving celebration was 1621, but it wasn’t until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the day a national holiday? Or how about that Thanksgiving ranks second among America’s favorite holidays? How about this? The average number of calories consumed on Thanksgiving is a whopping 4,500 and the Butterball Turkey hotline answers more than 100 thousand questions each November and December. In 2016, 154 million people shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend. The average person’s spending was $289+.

Since 1966, the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys have played each other on Thanksgiving. The Macy’s Parade became a Thanksgiving fixture for the first time in 1924. More than three million attend the parade each year. The number one thing we are most thankful for? It’s a tie between family health and family relationships.

There you have it. Some interesting tidbits you can throw out at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

In the true spirit of the day, I leave you with this thought, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." Have a safe, healthy and Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Over the river and through the woods…

Thanksgiving. What a great holiday. Family, friends, feasting, fun and football. What’s not to like? If you want to keep this holiday a safe one for you and your family, there are some things to remember. In anticipation of next week’s festivities, I thought it would be a good time for a few gentle reminders.

Traveling? Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year; by plane, train or car, millions will travel to spend the holiday with family and friends. When you’re behind the wheel, don’t let the distractions get to you, put away the cell phone, and if you’re starting to get drowsy (especially after the big feast) pull off the road. Name a designated driver if you plan to indulge, make sure everyone is buckled up, be prepared for traffic delays and inclement weather. If you are going to be away from your house, remove tell-tale signs of your absence; mail piling up, no lights on, etc. Make sure your house is not a target for thieves.

Let’s talk turkey – literally. Every year firefighters respond to house fires caused by families deep frying the turkey. If you plan on frying the bird this year, do it safely – outside, away from the house and children and pets, and with a grease fire rated fire extinguisher on hand – just in case. Take all the safety precautions necessary to avoid mishaps. Know the do’s and don’ts of fryer operations.

That goes for the kitchen too. A fire extinguisher on hand for any emergencies is a good thing. Oh, and how about making sure the smoke alarms are in working order? Check.

Read up on food safety rules. A call to the Poison Control Center shouldn’t be part of the day’s festivities. Take extra care with children and pets.

Last but certainly not least - don’t stress. Thanksgiving is about sharing time with family, expressing gratitude and enjoying the moment. A less than perfect bird or burnt pumpkin pie doesn’t really matter.

Now, go forth and prepare the celebration – SAFELY.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Thank you!

Saturday, November 11 is Veterans Day – a day set aside to honor America’s military veterans for their service, their patriotism and the sacrifices made to protect our nation and preserve our freedoms. This year, recognition has been extended to include and recognize the contributions of military families as well as veterans by designating November as National Veterans and Military Families.

There is a very profound reason that the Veterans Day observation falls on November 11. It was on the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 that an armistice went into effect stopping the fighting between the allied nations and Germany, ending World War I. At the time World War, I was thought to be “the war to end all wars.” Sadly, that was not the case. Many years and many conflicts later, our military are still making sacrifices to “preserve, protect and defend” the freedoms and opportunities that we cherish and yet sometimes take for granted.

In some way, we are all connected to someone in military service; fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents, co-workers, friends, family, neighbors. Veterans Day is a time to say, “thank you” and show our appreciation for their service and commitment.

To the more than 18 million veterans in the United States and their families – “thank you.” As we say thanks, it’s important to remember the words of John F. Kennedy – “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Happy Veterans Day.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Common sense is not so common

This week, I’m writing about a topic that I am very passionate about – common sense. It’s timely since Saturday, November 4 is Common Sense Day. Yep, that’s a fact. There’s a day for it. So how do you celebrate Common Sense Day? Why, use your common sense, of course. Easy, you say? Well, easier for some than others. Just read the headlines each day.

What is common sense? It’s defined as a sense of common; the knowledge of simple, sensible things; sound judgment derived from experience rather than study; a process of making good judgments to avoid making mistakes. Like not putting your iPhone in the microwave to recharge it or dry it out or the fact that McDonald’s coffee is very hot or that it’s not a good idea to smoke a cigarette while pumping gas. Who doesn’t know that? Think about it.

I used to think that you either had common sense or you didn’t. Now I'm leaning more toward what degree do we use the common sense we have? Maybe we all have it; it just needs to be dusted off and used more frequently.

There are ways to improve your common sense. In the interest of brevity, I will cite one. Try taking a little more time to pause and consider your options before acting on impulse. Before deciding that something is a good idea, step back, take a deep breath, think it through and weigh the possible outcomes. For example, is it really such a great idea to stack two chairs on top of each other to reach an item on the top shelf? Just maybe a ladder or a step stool would be a better choice.

Take time to think! Then choose the action that is fastest, easiest, has the least chance of “side effects” and gets the best results. That’s using common sense.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “When you have got an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it’s best to let him run.” Well said.

Posted by MJ Thomas

It’s just a bunch of Hocus Pocus…or is it?

Halloween is still a few days away, so there’s still time before the Trick-or-Treaters start running amok in the neighborhood. Here at Sentry, were all about safety, so let’s look at some things that can help make your Halloween safe.

Halloween is listed as second in popularity only to Christmas. Didn’t see that one coming did you? It’s a night of costumes, candy, parties, ghosts and goblins, haunted houses and magical fun. At least it should be and it can be if safety is top of mind.

Halloween is one of the deadliest days of the year for child pedestrian accidents. Sadly, it’s true and per one report, over 60% of the accidents occurred between 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. – prime time for trick-or-treaters. Think about it. It’s dark, the kids are excited, they’re quick and can dart in and out of traffic if not supervised. Basically, the children’s presence on the road and even around houses requires extra caution. Motorists need to be on the lookout for children on roadways, medians and curbs: remember that they don’t always wait to get to the intersection before crossing. Enter and exit driveways and parking lots with caution. Go slow.

Don't let young children go unsupervised and only go to houses with porch lights lit. Do not let them eat any of their candy until they get home and then make sure you check it carefully for any irregularities. Reflective tape is a great way to “light up” costumes for high visibility.

If you love to decorate for the holiday, make sure you keep safety in mind as well. Burning candles are a mainstay for Halloween décor. They can also be extremely dangerous and lead to unexpected damage to your home or worse. Battery-operated candles are a great alternative. Make sure the placement of your holiday decor doesn’t lend itself to being knocked over, tripped over or otherwise causing damage or injury.

Keep pets safe too. Candy is for the kids, not for your pets. Candy can be toxic to your pets so make sure it is out of reach. The constant arrivals at the front door can be scary for them too. Keep them calm and always keep pets inside. If you are absolutely compelled to dress up your pet for Halloween, make sure it doesn’t stress them out; make sure the costume fits properly and doesn’t restrict their movement or breathing.

Seems like a lot to think about to keep Halloween safe. It’s not; just a little extra caution and a lot of common sense.

Trick or Treat

Posted by MJ Thomas

TMI? Oh, yeah.

Believe it or not, today is Information Overload Day. No kidding, Honest. In fact, it’s been celebrated on October 20 every year since 2007. The premise of the observation is to call attention to the “never ending fire hose of data” we are bombarded with each day.

Information overload – the exposure to or provision of too much information or data. Ever happen to you? Come on. Admit it. It happens to me every day. Phone calls, emails, tweets, snail mail, television, radio, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Internet searches, Facebook – and the list goes on, but I’m overloading so I will leave it there. You get the point.

Are there days when you just want to put your hands over your ears, close your eyes and scream, “Make it stop!”?

Information overload leads to indecisiveness, decreased productivity, lack of focus and confusion. How many of you read customer reviews when you shop online? It can get confusing to the point where sometimes you just move on because it’s too overwhelming. It’s more than the brain can handle. Ever have so much on your to-do list that you didn’t know where to begin? What did you do? Nothing, because you couldn’t focus. Something that should take maybe an hour turns into a three-hour project. As Herbert A. Simon said, “…a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”

There is hope and help. In his book, The Organized Mind, Daniel J. Levitin offers some tips for pushing back the flood of information and thinking straight. Here are a few.

Clear your mind. Create a list of all the bits of information running around in your head. Getting it on paper clears it from your mind. Then you can prioritize, delegate, delete and move forward.

Follow the two-minute rule. Set aside a time – maybe an hour – to deal with smaller tasks; checking email, phone calls, etc. Then do it and only it. That means eliminating distractions. For example, does that little bell ring every time you get a new email? Do you immediately feel the need to respond? That’s a distraction that takes you away from focusing on the current task. Turn the bell off! Sometimes it’s necessary to “trick” our brains to stay on track.

“Eat the frog” first thing in the morning. That means taking the most unpleasant thing to do on your schedule and getting it out of the way. Energy levels are higher in the morning and that’s a good thing when making important decisions. Besides, getting it out of the way makes the rest of the day go better.

Overloaded yet? Just kidding. Your mission today, should you accept it, is to take control of your information overload. Good luck.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Are you talking to me or at me?

Ever have someone ask your opinion and then proceed to talk “at you?” Guess what? They really didn’t want to hear your opinion. Basically, they wanted an audience and – at that time – you were just perfect, thank you very much. The exchange was one-sided because they wanted to tell you things not hear what you had to say about anything.

The people that talk at you mistakenly believe they are having a conversation. They’re not. A conversation involves talking with people; having a discussion and exchange of ideas; everyone is equally engaged and actively participating.

When someone continually talks at you, it can get annoying. I mean, really. If you just need an audience, go stand in front of the mirror to deliver your monologue and don’t waste my time. Right? Ever feel that way? Of course, you have. I get it. People need to vent sometimes and that’s okay. If that’s the case, just tell me up front. Then I know the rules. But if you ask my opinion and then talk at me, my non-verbals will surely give away how the “conversation” is going.

Talking at someone is much less effective that talking to or with someone. Think about it. If you are so busy getting your message across, you aren’t thinking about how that message is being received or whether your remarks are appropriate or what non-verbal cues your audience is displaying or reading the messages between the lines.

And, oh the things you will hear – and learn – when you really listen to people and let them share their feedback! Two-way dialogue improves relationships with people; makes you more approachable, makes you real. Just saying.

Now go have a real conversation and have a great weekend.

Posted by MJ Thomas

It was a dark and stormy night.

No, wait. It’s a cloudy and rainy morning and another interesting commute to work is on the books. One can learn quite a bit on the morning commute – mostly behaviors you shouldn’t be emulating. I admit, my driving behavior is not always perfect, but here’s the thing. It should always be about safety – yours and everyone else’s on the road.

Seriously, there are some behaviors that fall into the category of “things that make you go hmmm.” Here are a few.

Assured clear distance – there is no doubt that keeping a reasonable distance between you and the car in front of you is necessary. After all, you never know when you are going to have to unexpectedly hit the brakes. However, nowhere have I found that assured clear distance is defined as the length of a football field. When traffic is bumper to bumper and crawling along, that kind of distance psychologically messes with the person behind you. That leads to anxiety and anger and well, you know where this is headed.

Cruising in the middle lane – NOT. There is something called “lane etiquette” and cruising in the middle lane is a violation. According to the Autoblog, traffic in the middle lane should be moving faster than the traffic on the right. If a faster car approaches from the rear and the right lane is clear – MOVE OVER. When slow moving drivers stay in the middle lane, it bogs down traffic and faster drivers start trying to pass on either side and that’s dangerous.

Multi-tasking – shaving, putting on make-up, texting – you know what I am talking about. Don’t do it! Stay focused, stay aware, be present.

Left lane campers - driving too slowly can be just as dangerous as speeding. Slow drivers that “linger” in the left lane force others to pass on the right leading to confusion, disorganization and accidents.

There you have it. A few interesting observations from this morning’s commute. My point? Be safe. Arriving at your destination a few minutes late is a small price to pay for your safety.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by MJ Thomas

“Couldn’t sleep at all last night…”

Anyone remember the oldie by Bobby Lewis called Tossin’ and Turnin’? Didn’t think so, BUT I’m not going to let that stop me today. Why? Because today’s blog is about sleep; more importantly lack of it and the dangers it creates.

Sleep deprivation may mean different things for different people BUT the one sure thing is that it’s not good. Lack of shut eye is linked to some major health issues including an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. And guess what? Lack of sleep can cause accidents!

In the workplace, that’s a problem. Consider these points. Sleep deprived workers communicate less, have slower response times, decreased vigilance, lack focus, make more mistakes, experience short term or working memory loss, exhibit inappropriate moodiness and the inability to adjust and are likely to take greater risks. And let’s talk about driving impairment. Twenty-two hours of sleep deprivation results in neurobehavioral performance impairments that are comparable to an 0.08 percent blood alcohol level.

In this 24/7 world we live in, everyone is trying to do more, faster, harder, non-stop. At one time, not so long ago, being able to function on only a few hours of sleep was like a badge of honor; gave you bragging rights. That’s not a badge I want to wear anymore. There’s too much at stake – for me and for my co-workers.

The National Safety Council just unveiled a Fatigue Cost Calculator tool to help address workers’ fatigue levels and begin to address sleep disorders. Input the type of industry, number of employees and the shifts they work and the tool calculates the annual costs of sleep disorders. And, oh, by the way, the estimated cost to U.S. employers is estimated (by one source) as about $18 billion!

NSC and Brigham Health (who partnered with NSC on this project) know it’s about a lot more than the money. In addition to using the tool, employers should establish sleep education programs and voluntary screening for sleep disorders. Employers need to recognize sleep disorders as a true health problem. Otherwise it won’t be a matter of if your workplace has a sleep deprived related accident but when and to what consequence.

Peaceful dreams.

Posted by MJ Thomas

What do you think?

Today’s blog is about opinions and perspective. For example, if I were to ask what you think the image pictured here represents, what would you say? A butterfly? A lobster with its claws out? A blob of ink? What? The point is there are probably many answers out there. Are they wrong? No, they’re just different. News flash! When you ask someone’s opinion, they won’t always agree with yours! Whoa.

Two people can look at the same thing and see something totally different. There’s always more than one way to get to the same place. Differences are an opportunity for learning. It’s how we handle them that makes the difference.

Different opinions in the workplace are a given. Different strokes for different folks, and so on and so on and scooby dooby doo. What really makes or breaks a situation is how we handle these differences.

Here are a few things to remember when handling different people and their views that I picked up from an article in Economic Times.

·         Respect is paramount – disagreement should never be mistaken for disrespect.
·         Look inward – it’s easy to assume the other person is wrong. But could it be that you’re being too  rigid in your stance? Try to look at things from another point of view. Set stubbornness aside and try  to understand. It could give you a new perspective.
·         Be nice – revenge, sarcasm, anger, eye rolling only serve to escalate things.

As DODINSKY, the New York Times best-selling author says, “Always remember we all have our own opinions and beliefs. We have different ways in dealing with life’s troubles and joys. To survive our differences without hurting each other is what GOODNESS is all about.”

Celebrate the differences.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Keep your eye on the ball!

As I write this, the Cleveland Indians are preparing to face the Detroit Tigers tonight and a chance to make it 22 wins in a row. In case you haven’t heard, the Indians are on a winning streak – a huge one. In fact, one that broke the American League record for straight wins.

Cause for distraction? You bet. It’s all over the media, fans are going crazy, prognosticators are prognosticating; everybody’s talking about it – except maybe the team itself. Sure, they have to talk about IT when someone sticks a microphone in their face and directly asks the question, but if you’ve been keeping track, it’s pretty clear that the team – from Manager Terry Francona on down – is more focused on the “one game at a time, show up and do your best to outplay your opponent today” goal.

Indians' right fielder Jay Bruce summed it up like this, “You know everyone talks about the streak and being consumed with it. What consumes us is the daily kind of schedule and game we have to get ready for.”

It doesn’t mean they don’t acknowledge the success or enjoy it: it just means they haven’t lost sight of the long-term goal. They stay focused. They don’t let up.

Now hang in there with me while I make a leap to connect this with your work safety program. What, you say? Told you it was a leap.

How many times have you walked through an organization and seen a sign that recognizes the number of days the facility has been accident or injury free? It’s a great thing to acknowledge and recognize; let employees know what a good job they are doing keeping everyone safe and accident free. But, you can’t let up, you can’t slack off, you can’t be lulled into complacency by the numbers. A successful safety program requires focus – each day, every day, 24/7.

Workplace safety should always be a priority. Making it so is one of the best decisions your company can make. Stay focused and stay safe.

Now, Go Tribe!

Here’s to the elder statesmen of the family!

This week’s blog isn’t about safety or the latest technology or a review of the latest headlines. It’s about grandparents. This Sunday is National Grandparents Day – a time to “honor grandparents and to help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer.” Exactly.

When I think about my grandparents, who have long since passed, it brings back so many great memories and life lessons learned. My grandparents were immigrants from the “old country”; people who came through Ellis Island to America looking for great opportunity. They worked hard. They weren’t school educated, but they were wise, very wise. And that wisdom guided their children (four boys and three girls) and grandchildren to be good people, work hard, do the right thing and cherish family. They survived the great depression, losing a son in the service of his country; illness; and their faith remained unshakable. They lived to be in their 90’s: they were the best. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a haven for “us kids” as I refer to me, my brother and my cousins. We were fortunate that we all lived close by and during the summer would meet there daily to hang out, play and most likely annoy them to the max. If we did, they never let on. Grandma was a great cook who was always feeding us. Grandpa would hand out what he called “lucky money” – a quarter here, fifty cents there and always with a wink of his eye and the “shhh” sign indicating that it was just between us. And the stories, oh the stories they would tell us; a valuable lesson in every one of them.

They instilled in us a true sense of what it means to be family – through good and bad; ups and downs; when we were lovable and when we were not so lovable. As kids, we thought they would live forever; always be there. Then they weren’t. If you are lucky enough to have your grandparents still with you, don’t take it for granted. Listen to them, learn from them, spend time with them. It will enrich your life beyond expectations.

In the words of Alex Haley, "Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children." Big kids too.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

This weekend is commonly known as Labor Day Weekend, culminating in the celebration of Labor Day on Monday. It’s what the celebration is all about. Or is it?

What once was a celebration of the efforts and contributions of working men and women in America, has become synonymous with the end of summer, the start of another school year, the onset of football season, barbecues, a three-day weekend and sales, sales, sales.

That’s quite an evolution from its original purpose. Interesting when you think about how much time we spend at work throughout the year. One study shows that the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. It also points out that 80 percent of people are dissatisfied with their jobs. When you consider that as of July 2017, there were more than 160 million people in the civilian labor force in the US, that’s a lot of unhappy people! So, what’s to celebrate?

According to the Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Amen. No matter how you choose to celebrate Labor Day 2017, let’s take a minute to remember the real reason we commemorate the day.

By the way, ever wonder where the whole “can’t wear white after Labor Day” thing started? It was a silly rule started with the vacationing elite; the ones who left the city for a summer at the cottage on the ocean or a cabin in the mountains. They could afford lighter fabric, white articles of clothing associated with summer months. But at the end of summer – signified by Labor Day – it was time to return to reality and the summer wardrobes were exchanged for “real life” clothes. If you wore white after Labor Day, it was thought you were still vacationing. Thankfully, that rule has gone by the wayside. Who thinks this stuff up anyway?

Wishing you a safe and happy Labor Day.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Ten years? No way!

Yes, way! Ten years ago, the hashtag was born. First used in a tweet on August 23, 2007, the symbol formerly known to most of us as the pound sign took on a whole new meaning. Chris Messina, web marketing specialist proposed the hashtag as a way of grouping or classifying the content in messages; a way to organize online conversations. Today, it’s estimated that 125 million hashtags are tweeted every single day. That’s a lot of hashtags! Let’s hear it for social media.

Here’s the beauty of this social media thing – it gives people another way to connect to others with similar interests, thoughts or persuasions. And not just on a personal level, but on a business level. Social media for businesses is not an option.

The benefits of social media for your business are many, including raising brand awareness, showcasing your company to a huge audience, gaining valuable customer insight, converting leads, increasing web traffic, distributing your message faster and farther. These are all great but to me the number one benefit is the ability to directly engage with customers; build relationships; communicate. I’m not talking about sales “pitching” either. It’s not about continually blasting out the hard sell. It’s about a two-way communication channel, engaging with customers, building relationships and trust and developing advocates. It’s a process, not an event. Aim for quality in your program, not just how many likes or followers or connections you generate. The rewards won’t come overnight, but in the long run, they’ll be much more valuable.

In the words of John Powell, “Communication works for those who work at it.”

Posted by MJ Thomas

What kind of training?

Safety training, sir!  Egad, NOT the dreaded safety training! There you have it. As important as safety, safety meetings and safety training are to the well-being of employees in the workplace, the mention of safety training in any shape or form is often met with moans, groans and assorted eye rolls. Why?

Is the training the same year after year, time after time? If it’s the “same old, same old” chances are employees are tuning out. Is the presentation boring? Are you subjecting them to death by PowerPoint? Are they engaged in the program? Are they participants or spectators? Is the training just a repeat of the presentation you’ve used for the last five years? Are you engaged in the presentation or are you reading documents word-for-word just to meet requirements? Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.

It’s time to change things up. Here are some things to consider for your company’s safety training to hit the mark.

Safety training is serious but it doesn’t have to be boring. Use visuals; be unpredictable; tell stories; use video and demonstrations; interact; have a conversation; be relevant. Explain the whys and the wherefores – don’t just recite an endless list of rules. Employees should feel like the training is created specifically for them. What’s in it for them? How does it affect their lives? What does it mean to them?

Bottom line? Give them reasons to listen.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Aha, Ta-da and Boo-ya!

In case you were wondering, the above are all exclamations of success and triumph; something – that due to a recent experience – I thought I would talk about today. Specifically, the great feeling that washes over us upon successful completion of a task that is totally new; that stretches the boundaries of our comfort zone.

The details leading to my epiphany are too lengthy to mention here so I will cut to the bottom line. Adopted a dog. Agency told me he was six years old. According to the vet, he’s more like three years old. He likes to chew things. In a span of 24 hours, the electric cords to my new paper shredder and my vacuum cleaner (neither plugged in) were in several pieces on the floor. This guy is quick. Took my eyes off him for a minute.

After the initial meltdown, it was time to figure things out. Hmmm, I wonder if I could fix these myself? Never done anything electrical. Could be tricky; maybe even dangerous; no clue how to get started. After an extensive Internet search and a chat with a very knowledgeable Home Depot employee, I set out to tread the unchartered waters. The trepidation felt upon plugging each repaired device into an electrical outlet for the first time was quickly replaced by a great sense of accomplishment. Now, I realize this is only a big deal to me, but we’ve all had those moments when we’ve conquered something new; something we didn’t think we could do.

The benefits of trying something new are many. It helps you overcome fear, you discover unknown talents, you become more creative, gain knowledge and increase your confidence. In the workplace, it makes you more marketable. The new talents and skills you acquire make you versatile and that can result in exciting opportunities.

The reality is that too often we hesitate to try new things until we are pushed. It’s easier to keep things status quo; easier to stay within the confines of the comfort zone. Today’s challenge? Expand your comfort zone. Try something new. The opportunities are endless.

By the way, anyone need any electrical work done? Just kidding. Definitely, just kidding.

Posted by MJ Thomas

“You talking to me?”

There you have it. One of the top ten movie quotes of all time. In this case, it was Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver who coined the famous phrase. It’s also the foundation for this week’s blog.

When a person greets you with a “Hello” or a “Good Morning” or even a “What’s up?” how do you respond? Do you even respond at all? Twice in the last few days, I observed one person’s greeting to another totally ignored. Well maybe not totally. One situation warranted the blank stare response. Both were in customer situations. Awkward. In the first scenario, the sales person greeted a customer and welcomed her to the store. No response; nothing. I happened to be standing nearby, so I asked her
how she felt when people just blew past her without acknowledging her greeting. She said she was used to it; that it happened all the time. Wow.

What’s so hard about acknowledging people? Responding to a person’s greeting doesn’t mean you become their new best friend. It means you recognize them. Greeting is a basic function of communication. Yet, how many times have you passed someone in the hallway and one of you puts your head down and stares at the floor to avoid saying anything? How many times have you walked into a meeting and no one acknowledges your presence? How many times have you entered a store or a restaurant and you feel invisible because no one greets you?

We all have the need to be recognized and acknowledged; the need to feel connected. It just makes the experience that much better. Taking time to acknowledge the people around us may seem like a small thing, but it can make a big difference.

Have a great weekend.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Small talk? Seriously?

Today is “Talk in an Elevator Day” – a day that encourages us to make conversation while riding in an elevator; small talk. Hmmm. Think I will pass on this one.

That’s not to say I’m against small talk. In fact, there are times when it’s enjoyable. The reality is that relationships – work-related or personal – often start with small talk.

Small talk gets a bad rap just by definition. It’s often defined as conversation about things that are not of any great importance. It gets dismissed as fluff, filler conversation, unnecessary. But is it? I think not. Small talk can set the tone for future conversations and interactions; make us feel socially connected; make things more enjoyable. And, if you listen more than you talk, you can learn things.

So why do some people dread it so much? There are many reason, but one is “not knowing what to say.”  Researching this topic, I found some small talk tips that are a great place to start for those wanting to improve their small talk acumen. Think REACH.

Reveal something about yourself – where you work, what you do. Explore another’s interests. Shift the focus to the other person. Ask open ended questions. One-word responses do not a conversation make. Consciously listen for facts and feelings that the other person may share. It will provide additional conversation points. Highlight similarities. Find out what you have in common and build on it.

Small talk can help you make a good impression, inspire new ideas, solve problems and lead to lasting relationships. It doesn’t have to be boring. It’s what you make it.

So, next time you are in an elevator, sitting at a table of people you don’t know, standing in line at the store, at a business conference or in a situation where the silence is deafening, give small talk a try. You just never know. You might even like it.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Nobody does anything about it?

The weather – everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. How many times have you heard that quote? I would guess that more times than not, we ignore it. However, if you have anything to do with the safety program at your workplace, you had better pay close attention. The weather – severe weather – can have significant impact on the work environment. Being prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us is a necessity.

It seems that situations of extreme weather conditions are rising every year – tornadoes, floods, extreme temperatures, lightning storms, high winds. Each one can threaten workplace safety if your organization and employees are not prepared.

For example, in case of a tornado are appropriate shelter locations identified? Are emergency alarm systems in place and fully operational? Are emergency supply kits available? Is your facility vulnerable to flooding? Is there a plan to safely evacuate the building? How do you secure equipment and electrical power? What additional risks are there to employees in a flooded environment? Can your employees recognize the signs of heat or cold stress? Do they know what to do in each case? Does your company have an action plan? How often are safety drills scheduled? Who are the designated go-to people?

It may be a beautiful summer day today, but the conditions can change in an instant. Being prepared – planning, training and awareness – can reduce the risks that severe weather presents. We can do something about it.

Make maintaining a safe work environment  in any kind of weather – a daily priority.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Hocus Pocus FOCUS!

If only it was that easy. Wave a magic wand, recite a brief incantation and poof – your ability to focus on the task at hand is magically restored. At one time or another, we’ve all been there. Today, it’s my turn. The task at hand? Writing this blog. Distractions? Oh yeah. They’re everywhere. Emails, phone calls, a new industry trade magazine that I must read right now, the need for another cup of coffee (that’s three already this morning), checking on the weather and a few other miscellaneous “shiny ball” moments.

The bottom line is that no matter how many distractions invade my space today, the blog needs to get written. That requires focus. Focus is power. It gives you the ability to push through the clutter and reach the goal.

Did you know that in the office, nearly 50 percent of American employees say they work for only 15 minutes before becoming distracted? Fifty-three percent say an hour or more of their day is wasted on disruptions.  What’s a person to do?

Luckily, helpful tips to beat distractions and stay focused can be found in abundance just by doing a little research. To me, the most important one is to pinpoint the cause of the distraction and then fix it. Are you tired? Hungry? Didn’t get enough sleep? Surrounded by too much noise? Trying to tackle too big of a task at once? Too much clutter around you? Checking emails too often? Once you define the cause of the distraction, you can do something about it. Before you start make sure you have all the tools you need at hand – notes, documents, files – so you don’t’ have to stop what you’re doing and spend time looking for them. If your focus starts to falter somewhere along the way, take a break. Then come back and pick up where you left off. Give yourself a deadline. It’s a motivator to stay the course until the job is done. Find what works for you.

And now, my task is complete. I will leave you with this thought. Starve your distractions. Feed your focus.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Someone’s calling you again

Did you know that July is National Cell Phone Courtesy Month?  Really, honest, I mean it. It’s also National Anti-Boredom Month, National Hot Dog Month and National Ice Cream Month. I tell you, there’s a month for everything. But, I digress. Back to National Cell Phone Courtesy Month. It was founded in 2002 with the intent of making cell phone users more respectful of their surroundings. Great concept; but one that requires a change in behavior. That makes it harder to put things in play.

We’ve all experienced poor cell phone etiquette; most of us have probably even practiced it on occasion. Let’s face it. Cell phone have become a very important part of our lives. They keep us connected 24/7 – we can talk with one another, search for information, get directions, text, take photos and videos, schedule appointments, and so on and so on and so on. Our phones are a constant companion.  It’s one thing to stay connected, it’s another thing to be rude about it.

I’m sure you can think of at least a few times when a person’s use of their cell phone has been disruptive and annoying. Studies show that the habits that generate the most concern are texting while driving, loud public conversations, and talking on the phone in restaurants, movie theaters, churches, etc.

Here are a few points of etiquette to consider. Keep conversations private; not everyone needs to know the details of your last doctor’s appointment. Don’t “cell yell.” Keep your voice at a reasonable level; not everyone within a three-mile radius needs to hear your conversation. At work, be completely present at meetings and make sure the ringer is on silent or vibrate. Make the people you are with more important than the phone. Don’t text and drive – it puts you and others on the road at risk.

Remember…too much of a good thing? Just saying.

Posted by MJ Thomas

Happy Birthday, America!

On July 4, our nation will commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence some 241 years ago. We look forward to time off from work, parades, cook-outs, baseball games, concerts, Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating contest and fireworks as we celebrate the birth of our great country.

From the very beginning, the celebrations of Independence Day included fireworks. Some think that John Adams started it all in a letter he wrote to his wife. In the letter, he stated that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

As far back as 1777, Philadelphia put together a full day of festivities that included a parade, dinner, music, musket salutes and fireworks.

Fireworks are magical; explosions of bright colors, shapes and sounds lighting up the night sky as young and old alike watch in awe. They are the grand finale for the day’s celebrations. Fireworks are also dangerous.  Think about it. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, fireworks were involved in an estimated 11,100 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments during calendar year 2016. And according to the National Fire Protection Agency, fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires per year, resulting in numerous injuries and an average of $43 million in direct property damage. This doesn’t even include the adverse effect they have on pets. If you are a pet owner, you know what I am talking about. 

Remember, it’s only fun until someone gets hurt. Leave things to the professionals. Be smart, be responsible and be safe.

And, amidst all the festivities, please take a few minutes to remember the real reason we celebrate this day – our freedom and all of those who fought and still fight to preserve it.

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Posted by MJ Thomas

Things are heating up

According to the calendar, Wednesday, June 21 was the first day of summer; the warmest season of the year. The other tell-tale sign that summer is here is the need to adjust the office air conditioning daily. As unpredictable as the weather has been, it’s hard to tell how high temperatures will rise; but one thing is for sure – it will get hot. That’s great for fun days at the beach, cook-outs, swimming and other summer leisure activities. Heat in the workplace – whether indoors or outdoors – is another story. Every year, thousands of workers get sick from occupational heat exposure, some even die. The good news is that these illnesses and fatalities can be prevented.

Basically, heat illness is the body’s inability to cool itself. The body’s natural reaction to a rise in temperature is to sweat; it’s how the body cools itself. However, there comes a point, where that no longer works. That’s when heat-related illness can develop in one of the three degrees of heat stress – heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 

The best way to prevent heat illness is to be proactive; practice heat safety. If you are an employer, make sure employees are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat illness; implement a heat acclimatization program; allow for work/rest schedules; make sure hydrating fluids are readily available; monitor employees for signs of heat illness and be ready to provide prompt medical attention if needed.

Workers need to take responsibility too. Stay hydrated, take breaks when needed, wear breathable clothing, monitor co-workers for signs of heat illness and practice common sense. Don’t fall victim to heat illness – anywhere. Be safe and enjoy what summer has to offer.

On a lighter note, I leave you today with a quote from Steven Wright – “If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?”

Posted by MJ Thomas

“Keep Each Other Safe”

June is National Safety Month; an annual observance that focuses on reducing the leading causes of injury at work, in our homes, on the road and in our communities. “Keep Each Other Safe” is this year’s theme; four words that together send a powerful message.

Safety – at work, at home or at play – really is everyone’s responsibility. Face it. It’s a jungle out there and it’s important to keep safety in the forefront as we tackle our daily challenges. Now before you roll your eyes and tell me you already have enough to think about every day, remember, it only takes a minute for the status quo to change, sometimes dramatically. All it takes is a little common sense and a keen awareness of our surroundings to make things safer for everyone.

See that cart sitting in the middle of the aisle? Move it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Notice that spill on the floor? Clean it up or at least report it. How about those boxes stacked too high and off-center on that racking system? How about that torn piece of carpeting? Don’t wait until someone trips on it and gets hurt. Take action. Do you know where the first aid and emergency equipment are located? Do you know the procedure in that situation? You get the drift. It’s why safety training is so important; why each of us needs to take it seriously.

National Safety Month is a great opportunity to be a safety ambassador; spread the word; get involved in reducing the risks of injuries. Make a difference.

Be safe out there.

Posted by MJ Thomas