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NASCC 2024

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Chad Hymas Challenges Everyone to Create Safety-Aware Cultures


SAN ANTONIO - A ranching accident changed Chad Hymas’ life in ways anyone who meets him can see. He relies on a wheelchair to move around—the result of a 2,000-pound hay bale shattering his neck and seven ribs in 2001, when he was 27. His spinal cord is permanently severed. His hands have limited gripping capacity.


“You don’t have to look at me too hard to understand why I’m passionate about this,” said Hymas, now a best-selling author, a member of the National Speaker Hall of Fame, and a decorated wheelchair athlete.


Hymas spent Wednesday morning, though, discussing other changes his accident caused during his NASCC: The Steel Conference keynote, titled “How A Split-Second Decision Can Change Your Life.” Changes he considers more important than his physical capabilities. Changes that took him longer to process than immediately realizing he was paralyzed. Changes that made him understand an inherent flaw in how people approach safety.


“We wait for the bus to tip over before we act,” Hymas said.


Or, in his case, wait for a habit of ignoring a low hydraulics warning light while operating a backhoe to cost him. Hymas had seen the warning light and continued anyway countless times without consequence. But repeated lack of harm does not equate to smart or right.


Like ranching, steel fabrication and construction present daily safety hazards and come with stringent and lengthy safety rules and guidelines. But their effectiveness is limited if a company’s culture lacks a passion for following carefully crafted safety policies and achieving flawless safety records. Creating a safety-aware culture shouldn’t be prompted by an accident.


Hymas challenged audience members to change the way they think about safety by telling them how he needed to change the way he lived. The day Hymas awoke from his coma, his father told him that post-injury life would be unnavigable without three pillars: a passion for people, a purpose every day, and a perspective of his situation.


Years later, Hymas realized he wasn’t fulfilling them. He discovered he was alive, but merely breathing air. He spent most days in bed watching “Judge Judy.”


One day, Hymas’ father called and said he was taking Hymas’ two young sons on his 28,000-acre ranch to look for elk—a passion Hymas once hoped he could share with them. His father was sending a message: I’m taking over dad duties because you aren’t doing them. Hymas immediately called back and said he would join, wheelchair and all.


The next day, they saw more than 300 elk. The lasting memory, though, is a picture of one of his sons on a mud-caked ATV, wearing one of Hymas’ old camouflage coats because Hymas never bought him one of his own and flashing a dentist-brochure smile. He takes the picture everywhere he goes. It’s a symbol of his realization that his injury didn’t preclude him from achieving his dreams, prevent him from having a purpose, or keep him from being an impactful father.


All it took was a willingness to go outside and get dirty.


Hymas encouraged his audience to get dirty as workers by exceeding safety minimums, just as he did when he turned off the TV and set an early morning alarm instead of staying in bed for yet another day. He saw an example of it in action just two hours before his speech.


A hotel bellman wheeled him from his hotel to the Henry B. González Convention Center entrance down the block—decidedly not a part of a bellman’s job. Hymas offered to tip him, but he refused the money. Hymas asked the bellman if he had a family, to which he responded he had two daughters. Hymas said the money was for buying them ice cream after work. In other words, it was for making a memory. The bellman took the tip.


View something through a lens of how it impacts family and friends, and it’s often easier to accept or obey. Hymas learned to view his circumstances that way, and it made him a better father, husband, rancher, and contributor to society. It made him no longer feel trapped.


A culture that promotes safety becomes a company’s DNA when employees view safety guidelines in that same way. Steel Conference attendees who make the conference about someone who’s not present, Hymas said, will find the most meaning in it.


“Are you here with intent,” Hymas said,” or are you just breathing air?”


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