Guest Column: A Navajo perspective on safety

To the editor:

As is often the case, the simplest solution is usually the right one. This is especially true with safety. Last year, Salt River Project’s Baseload Generation Group started a program to re-dedicate our commitment to safety and further instill our culture of safety into everything we do.

The program is called S.A.F.E. It stands for: Safety trumps production. Accept accountability for working safely. Family and loved ones deserve to have us home injury-free. Everyone is responsible for the safety of those around them.

Our goal at Navajo Generating Station is zero accidents. We’re promoting a culture of looking out for one another and seeing that everyone goes home to their families the same way they came to work. Our priority is that every task and every job needs to be done safely.

At NGS we have a group of about 30 employees called NGS Ambassadors. These are some of our Navajo co-workers who attend their home chapter and community meetings. When the opportunity arises, they tell their neighbors their personal stories about working at NGS and how it has helped them and their families achieve their goals. Our ambassadors suggested that we bring in a Navajo elder to discuss safety from the Navajo perspective.

That simple idea was the right one. Hearing about safety through familiar Navajo teachings, philosophy and humor would be informative, rejuvenating, calming and fun. It led to a visit to NGS by Johnson Dennison of Round Rock, Ariz., a well-known and respected educator, medicineman and community leader. Johnson is adept at Navajo language, culture, history, storytelling and native medicine. He grew up in the traditional way: sleeping on a sheepskin, helping to raise his family’s food crops, herding livestock, driving a wagon and listening to his parents’ and grandparents’ stories and philosophy around the fire of the family hogan.

As a young man he followed their instruction and sought education as a path to a fuller life. He earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of New Mexico. He also learned the songs and ceremonies of a Navajo medicineman. Today, Johnson is president of the Navajo Medicinemen’s Association. He has been a professor of Dine’ Educational Philosophy and dean of instruction at Diné College. He is currently a member of its Board of Regents. He is also a board member of the Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility where he retired as coordinator of the Office of Native Medicine, and developed a Tapestry of Wellness based on Navajo philosophy.

There is great value to approach certain aspects of our work, such as safety and relationships, from the proper cultural context. That’s what makes positive change possible and most effortless. It reduces the stress we inevitably feel when we need to accomplish highly technical tasks with great competence, knowing that many people are counting on us – from our supervisor to the people who use the power we produce to our families at home. Having Johnson come to speak to our employees and their families in their native language brought a great sense of well-being to us all.

From time to time, hearing a message on the value of one’s self, family and relationships with others from a person with rich traditional knowledge allows us to come away with a renewed sense of good thoughts. Renewal is an important Navajo concept. Its value with regard to safety cannot be overemphasized at a critical facility like ours.

In the recent employee sessions, Johnson used the metaphor of our jobs and workplace being like a mother and home. They provide so much to us, and others. Like home, he said, work is where we live, where we teach, where we learn and where we communicate with each other. It’s where we come together for camaraderie, to feel safe, comfortable, to accomplish a shared mission and to learn to live together.

Johnson Dennison reminds us of a simple truth that organization is a universal creation. From the Navajo point of view, the Earth, moon, sky, stars, the days of the week, the four seasons, all living beings, the water and mountains were organized long before we were born. It’s our job now, he said, to take care of it and use it to make life better.

Similarly, he said, policies and procedures about work and safety are organized for a reason. They set out the path to keep us whole and well. Safety ensures continued balance and harmony – a central Navajo ideal. Understanding safety from different frames of reference promotes complete well-being within ourselves, our co-workers, and even the millions who use and benefit from the electricity we make. In this way, they can have harmony in their lives, too.

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JohnMullen 8 months ago

Great article, I wrote a similar one on my blog at http://john-nevarez.blogspot.com/

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