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Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D

Speech by Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D. (Keynote Speaker) Associate Professor, Environmental and Occupational Safety & Health NC A&T State University , Greensboro , NC Delivered at Greensboro City Annual Safety Breadfast on January 21, 2005

Mr. Mitchell Johnson, Deputy City Manager, Mr. Fred Allen, Safety & Health Director; Mr. Eugene Roddy, Safety Manager, members of Greensboro City Safety Committee. Members of the Greensboro City Annual Safety Breadfast Organizing, other officials of Greensboro City , Fellow faculty members and students of NC A&T State University here present, ladies and gentlemen:

First, let me thank God for all us of who were able to make it through 2004. The world is going through a lot of natural disaster and other are recovering from devastating civil wars as I speak. More than 150,000 people in several Asian and African nations recently lost their lives to very strong water-waves known as tsunami. As I speak, the whole world is sending in food, clothing, and other needed items to assist the victims of this great natural calamity of our time. In Liberia (native land) an estimated 400, 000 Liberians lost their lives and 600, 000 in refugee camps around the world. So we all need to thank God very much for our safe journey and assembly in this great Greensboro Coliseum this morning for the Annual Safety Breadfast. As safety professionals and students, and as present and former employees and friends of the City of Greensboro , we have come this far by faith and dedication to safety.

I have been sick lately and have been away from work for two months due to surgery. So when I was asked me to come to speak at this function, I almost said “no.” It is not surprising to many of you who know me that I always love to do my best in everything I do, so I began to worry that I might not be able to perform to expectation here today. But then I thought about my commitment to the safety profession and the special bond I have with the great City of Greensboro . Few months ago the City of Greensboro did not only participate but contribute to the Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc (LIHEDE) Annual Symposium on “Promoting Civil Liberties, Collective Security, and Development in Post-Conflict Liberia” jointly sponsored by North Carolina A&T State University & the Liberian History, Education Development, Inc. (LIHEDE)
in collaboration with Bennett College of Greensboro, North Carolina. Thus, and my conscious said to me, “Somah go.” So here I am!

I believe that the enforcement of any laws without proper education, training, individual empowerment, spiritual wellness, economic wellness, social wellness, environmental wellness of the people will not yield maximum results. For example, massive arrests, incarcerations, policing and civil war cannot totally abate crimes. It takes proper education of people on the consequences of their actions in order to minimize or deter crimes in society. The same logic applies to safety. Safety professionals must be property educated not only in safety principles, but they must also be wholesomely prepared mentally, physically, and socially to be effective. It is therefore based on these concepts that I have decided to speak to you on the topic: THE PRINCIPLES OF WHOLESOME FUNCTIONING SAFETY MANGEMENT .

So how do these principles work and what are involved in the process? For the most part, we know that management is the process of getting activities completed efficiently and effectively with and through the assistance of other people. This concept applies to nation building not just in the workplace. In other words, w hen a person has been persuaded that he or she has a vested interest in doing a job safety, he or she accepts ownership of the job and the safety requirements come along with it. And this is to say that once a safety employee accepts ownership and responsibility for a particular job task, the safety manager can step aside confidently, knowing that the job will be done not only on schedule but safely.

In our common world, the “WHOLESOME BEING” is the fulcrum around which all successful safety programs evolve. Unquestionably, the “wholesome functioning” of any safety program depends on the safety leaders who must be able to accomplish set institutional goals through other people. By safety leaders, I do not mean the administrative body of the safety program. I am talking about the embodiment of the rules of the match and the behavior blueprint of the leader who leads the employees. I am talking about a leader who enunciates a vision, hears all sides of an issue, and thoroughly devises alternative positions. I am talking about a leader who effectively presents positions on safety issues, and gathers support for strategizing, developing, implementing and evaluating plans and tasks of the safety program.

In essence, good safety leaders make good safety promotion decisions and enforce them by leading well. In fact, the task of any leader is to get subordinates employee from where they are to where they have not been. In most instances, subordinates, employees or people of a nation may not fully understand the world the leaders want them to travel in, but it is always necessary for professional safety leaders to lead by vision and conviction. Accordingly, great safety professionals build good safety programs while poor, non-visionary safety leaders create backward weak safety programs. Hence, a great economical and accident free work environment is a task (T) of a visionary, responsible and knowledgeable safety professional. Here is the simple equation:

Great economical and accident free environment = T (Visionary safety leadership). However, employees are people and people are sometimes followers. My point is that employees or subordinates usually follow the examples of their leaders, so the safety leaders must take great care in how they interact with their subordinates or people. But in order to lead by example, safety professionals and managers must first decide what they want! Second, safety professional and leaders must decide on what it will take to put in place a WHOLESOME FUNCTIONING SAFETY MANGEMENT.

Now, in addressing the first question, I think safety professionals and managers, we must show keen interest in the personal health and safety of our employees and nation! But that doesn’t make the issue simple either because by safety, which is defined as the total freedom from harm, we want our employees and nation to able to do the work right the first time always and thereafter. By health, we want the optimal state of well being of our employees and nation in all areas of life – physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. Health is more than the absence of disease, because health must include a sense of wholeness, a sense of belonging to a work environment, and a sense of control over one’s work environment and other circumstances (WHO, 1948).

Therefore, WHOLESOME FUNCTIONING SAFETY MANGEMENT philosophy must take into consideration Seven Stages of Well Being, which include 1) psychological or mental well being; 2) economic well being; 3) environmental well being; 4) social well being; 5) peaceful well being; 6) physical well being, and 7) spiritual well being. For the most part, well Being means different things to different people. For some people, financial well being is most important; for others, physically being well; and still others desire well being in relationships and family affairs. Generally, freedom from fear, civil war, worry, and anger, and the freedom to pursue individual dreams and goals in life are key considerations of individual well being. Let us now look more closely at the seven stages of well being that are the cornerstone of a wholesome functioning safety management.

  • Psychological or Mental Well-Being

Well being always begins in the mind with regard to human emotions. Thus, psychological or mental well being speaks to the science of the mind. The human mind is a complex machine, and it is the source of all human thought and behavior. Therefore, any failure by a safety professional and leader to understand and appreciate the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of co-workers or citizens can lead to deadly consequences in terms of individual output and general job safety.

Equally, it is very important for the safety leaders to never stop nourishing the sound minds of co-workers, subordinates and nation if a WHOLESOME FUNCTIONING SAFETY MANGEMENT must be achieved because there is a reciprocal relationship between personal factors such as cognitive skills or attitudes and behavior in relation to others.

  • Economic Well-Being

Economic Well Being is vital to a WHOLESOME FUNCTIONING SAFETY MANGEMENT. Mind you, I am not talking about every city employees earning $60, 00 dollars annually. Get over it. It will never happen! That would be economic growth, not economic well being. I am using economic well being to mean the extent to which a safety professional is informed about the consequences of different choices, given a set of assumption or normative in regard to various types of theories, axiom, ism, beliefs, or statements. I also mean how the safety professional or leader provides information and sets up opportunity for employees or people to economically develop or multiple what they earn. For example, making money and spending it foolishly is completely meaningless to the economic well being of an employee. Such an employee might work very hard but might never get to realize his or her economic dreams. People need help in these areas but they are often afraid to put their problems out there. But knowing the right investment strategies and other information might help an employee overcome this kind of problem and free his or her mind from worrying.

  • Environmental Well Being

First, understanding our environment whether at work, home, play, or travel is very important to our individual well being. Second our roles as stewards of nature (trees, water, birds, reptiles, animals, etc) are important to our environmental well being. In other words, an employee or individual’s well being in his or her work or natural environment is very important for maximum productivity. After all, when an employee or individual cannot wait for day to break to come back to work, there is something greatly wrong with the environment at home.

  • Social Well-Being or the B’s:

Getting along in a work environment plays a major role in abating accident. Just showing care for a co-worker can lead to the social well being of that co-worker, without the need to do anything extra. And this brings us to the three B’s: Being, Belonging, and Becoming.

    • Being: Being refers to defining who we are” (physically, psychologically, and spiritually) and includes personal values, attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors.
    • Belonging : is finding our place in the real world of employment and it is about an employee’s fit within a particular environment (physical, social, and company).
    • Becoming: is achieving our personal goals, hopes and aspirations, which include mastering social skills, developing lifelong learning habits, developing a sense of curiosity and exploration.


  • Physical Well-Being (Physical Wellness)

Life can be tremendously discouraging when a person is in civil war, convoluted conflict, unemployed, pain and there appears to be no way out. Physical well being encompasses both a person’s body and environment. It is helping employees and people in general to improve their physical well being and mental health outlook with an aim to reduce stress, organize their life, build their self-esteem, pursue and achieve goals, and develop a positive attitude with suggestions for motivation, inspiration, and self-improvement.

  • Peaceful Well Being

Well being comes ultimately from our inner sense of peace at home on the job. Employees must be given rest time to reflect on what is important in their life because that is the most important foundation for workplace safety. Workplace safety is enhanced when enough employee attain inner peace. One employee with inner peace can make a significant contribution to WHOLESOME FUNCTIONING SAFETY MANGEMENT .

  • Spiritually- Well Being

Spiritual well being is closely associated with our connection to nature and to our cosmic energy source. Spiritual well being is fundamental and critical to the development of human beings and safety management in that spirituality defines:

  • The foresight as a spiritual imminent of who we are
  • Why our existence on this earth and
  • Where we go hereafter

Values might be similarly defined as standards of spiritual worth by which we try to live in accordance with our vision. From this perspective, one's view of spirituality has an important influence on one’s values and self- concept.

By values, I mean everything from interminable ideas to behavioral actions. By self or self-concept, I mean the generally conscious reflection of one's own being or identity (culture), as an object separate from other people or the environment (nation). One’s self-image generally refers to the totality of a complex, organized, and dynamic system of learned beliefs, attitudes and opinions that each person holds to be true about his or her personal existence. I am not talking about having church service on the job. Spirituality is keeping in touch with a higher power, based on individual beliefs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, before I take my seat, I want to remind you that visionary leaders or safety professionals build great economical and hazard free environments, while non-visionary leaders or safety professionals create backward and dangerous work environments. I firmly believe that if safety professionals or safety leaders do not lead well, the people, employees or subordinates will not follow well. In fact, we often learn by examples set by our leaders. Of course, since two thinking heads are better than one, it is believed that the leaders or safety professionals and the employees once on the same mental, economic, spiritual, social, health, and environmental levels, a “Wholesome Functioning Safety Management” is assured. With the following, I end my treatise by stating that a leader or visionary safety professional is not someone who never makes mistakes, but an astute visionary leader or safety professional is someone who gains knowledge from his or her oversight and does not replicate them. Think on these things. Thanks!


Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health at NC A&T State University in Greensboro , North Carolina . He is author of: The Historical Resettlement of Liberia and Its Environmental Impact, Christianity, Colonization and State of African Spirituality, and Nyanyan Gohn-Manan: History, Migration & Government of the Bassa (a book about traditional Bassa leadership and cultural norms published in 2003). Somah is also the Executive Director of the Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), a nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina . He can be reached at: or

Other articles by Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D.

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