Mental Health And Psychological Safety

One woman’s extraordinary journey with SafeStart


By Marinela Salazar, Larry Wilson and Lucas Martinucci

I t could have been just another run-of-themill business trip, one like the many we made all over the world before the pandemic hit. In fact, it was to be the first time we, the SafeStart International team, had met since then. We got to the airport in Pereira, Colombia around 10:45 pm with another two hours by car left to get to our hotel in Manizales, where we would speak at the site of one of our global clients.

We were having a rough week: nine cities across two different countries in ten days. There I was, sitting (or more precisely lying down) in the back of the car listening to the presentations we had given that week, when suddenly I heard the sound of sirens on the road. A moment later, I saw paramedics covering a body lying on the ground. A motorcycle accident had killed someone just minutes before we passed the spot.

I couldn’t help but think about the family or loved one that was probably waiting for that person to get home, maybe after work, just like every other day. Now, they would just be getting a phone call instead, telling them that, in fact, their loved one would never come home again. And then the thought of my own family came to mind.
Dealing with death is never easy. What could the accident victim have done to avoid that crash? Self-trigger on the states? Possibly. I wondered to myself if that person might still be alive if he or she knew SafeStart? Possibly. Any way you looked at it, it was a heartbreaker.

Early the next morning, having barely made it to the site on time, it was time to be sharp, put our best foot forward to work and do the best job possible. Larry gave his characteristically powerful presentation, one with deep resonances.

I was on hand translating as best as I could, trying to incorporate his emotions into my own speech.
All went well. As we were going through the meet-and-greet after the presentation, a woman approached me asking me to translate something for Larry. Her opening line was… “SafeStart saved my life”. Quite an introduction! Here is the inspiring story in her own words.

Lucas Martinucci, Head of Global Marketing for SafeStart International

Lucas Martinucci, Head of Global Marketing for SafeStart InternationalHaving graduated in communication and business in the United States, Lucas Martinucci is the Head of Global Marketing for SafeStart International. He has more than 20 years experience in planning, analyzing, implementing and managing marketing and business concepts, market research and project coordination for a variety of industries and products.

Lucas has helped Larry Wilson, Author of SafeStart, to develop different global projects such as, most recently, the Paradigm Shifts series, the SafeConnection online series of expert-panel discussions, as well as the new series based on these panels: The Best vs The Worst.

Today, in addition to spearheading marketing for SafeStart, he serves as a speaker (and translator for Larry) at conferences in Latin America.

It was in early 2019 that, due to personal reasons, I divorced my husband after a ten-year relationship that I once thought was perfect. A lot happened the year prior to the divorce that really hurt me, and so I realized that was the end of it. I felt I was drifting away. Suddenly, I had no job and had to move back to my parents’ house. I was lost during a very difficult time. However, two months later, things started to change slightly. At least I thought so.

I finally got a job at Etex in Manizales, Colombia. It felt like a new beginning, an opportunity to rise and have everything turn around so that I could finally move forward in life. But it was not to be that way, as the pain remained, and I kept allowing my former husband to hurt me.

Fortunately, I was at least able to focus on something else at Etex. And that is when something completely unexpected happened. We started with the first SafeStart unit, which I thought was fun and interesting. However, it was just when we started with Unit 2 that something happened. Reading through the workbook at home, I started crying: everything in it was related to what was happening to me! The state-to-error risk pattern showed me that I was at a greater risk, that I was complacent, that I was negotiating and betting with myself, telling my own mind and heart that it was possible to change the relationship. But the result was in fact that I was just finding a way to justify all his actions against me. I was tired of suffering, frustrated, and rushing to make poor decisions that would hurt me even more. All of this led me to take my eyes and mind off the damage he was doing to me. I ended up always in the line of fire, allowing myself to get hurt – and the damage was growing day after day.

The truth is that I felt I was going crazy, and I often asked myself how a safety program could so influence my emotions?

I didn’t share any of this with anybody, but I started applying the first two Critical Error Reduction Techniques in my life, self-triggered on the states, worked on my habits, removed that person from my life and started to take better care of myself. At last, I really put myself as the number-one priority of my own life. That’s how I was able to leave all of it behind.

Today, I can finally say that I am a totally different person, that nobody can hurt me, and that I am the most important thing in my eyes. I have to thank SafeStart for showing up in my life at the right time. Thanks, Larry, for creating such a great program, thanks for saving my life: I had moments where I had some very negative thoughts.
During my training to become a SafeStart trainer, I told the instructor my story and he told me that if I ever had the opportunity to run into Larry, I should tell him my story as it was very inspiring. That day finally came on December 6, 2022.

One final note: other than the trainer, nobody at Etex knew my story, but coincidentally the workbook they gave me to get Larry’s autograph was… Unit 2: the one that had shown me that there was indeed light at the end of the tunnel!

Marinela Cardona Salazar, EHS Project Renovation Manager
Marinela Cardona Salazar, EHS Project Renovation ManagerMarinela Cardona Salazar is Colombian and responsible for EHS at the Etex Colombia renovation project. She is an occupational health professional and recently specialized in environmental management. She has been working in the safety field for about 7 years, strengthening her knowledge in high-risk tasks. Since 2021, she has been a SafeStart Trainer at Etex, which has given her a new perspective on her training and a practical application in her day-today life. She thinks SafeStart is a very important methodology to her work and, above all, to her life.

Funny thing about coincidences. You never really know why they happen. But that day, in the mountains of Colombia, when I was doing the presentation for the leadership group on Rate Your State, I included asking, “how are you doing – emotionally – on a scale from 0-10”, after asking about how much rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency have you had to deal with so far today? Then I concluded by saying that more construction workers in the UK die
from suicide than from accidental injuries, but quite often, nobody knew the person was having any problems.

So just asking about how are you doing – emotionally – and then giving them an easy way to answer if things are not good (on a scale from 0-10), might be a big help in terms of getting that person some help. Now why I sometimes add things I’ve never said before, at a presentation when I need a translator, is a bit of a mystery – especially to the translator – who hasn’t ever heard me say this or anything like it before. But for some reason, even though I had been thinking about it for a few weeks, on this day I added it.

Then, at the end of the presentation this lady asks Lucas something. He translates it for me, “this lady wants to thank you and SafeStart for saving her life”. I was expecting to hear a story about driving. The most common one is where they were stopped at a red light. And how, before SafeStart, when the light would turn green, they would just go without looking, but when they looked this time, a big truck was coming. However, that’s not what she said.

She just told us that she had been going through a very difficult divorce and that she self-triggered on the states, and that

Mental Health And Psychological Safety
saved her life. She didn’t tell Lucas and I what she was planning… and we didn’t ask. But when she hugged me after telling her story, she didn’t let go. I could feel her body heaving, then she started sobbing. Tears started streaming down her face – and then mine. The operations manager looked over at Lucas as if to say, “what’s going on?”

Lucas explained the situation quickly. All the manager said was, “I had no idea… I never knew.”

So yeah, it could have just been a coincidence. However, sometimes things happen for a reason. The reality is that we’ll never know. But just the same, I’m going to add the question, “how are you doing?” to the Rate Your State engagement process.

Larry Wilson, SafeStart Author and CEO
Larry Wilson, SafeStart Author and CEO
Larry Wilson is a pioneer in the area of Human Factors in safety. He has been a behaviour-based safety consultant for over 25 years and has worked on-site with hundreds of companies worldwide. He is also the author of SafeStart, an advanced safety and performance awareness program, successfully implemented in more than 3,500 companies, in over 60 countries, with more than 4,5 million people trained.

He has published hundreds of articles in magazines around the world and is co-author of the book “Inside Out: Rethinking Traditional Safety Management Paradigms” and author of the book “Defenseless Moments: a different perspective on serious injuries”. Larry is a renowned international speaker and is a regular guest at events throughout the year.

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