Lonnie Brannin

Lonnie Brannin, right, received the Balmert Consulting Award for Distinguished Safety Leadership.

People don’t want to get hurt while they’re at work, but wanting to be safe and actually being safe are two very different things.

That’s one lesson Paul Balmert learned from decades in the chemical industry followed by work as a consultant. After traveling around the world he realized many people don’t understand how important leaders are for safety.

“Leaders sending followers home safely every day is probably the most overlooked,” Balmert, founder of Balmert Consulting and author of “Alive And Well At The End Of The Day: The Supervisor’s Guide To Managing Safety Performance In Operations” told the Williston Herald.

In 2003, that led to the creation of the Balmert Consulting Award for Distinguished Safety Leadership. On Friday, Lonnie Brannin, director of northern operations for Steel Energy Services, received the award.

The award isn’t an annual feature, or even a regular one — it only goes to leaders Balmert and his team think are the best of the best.

“In two decades, we’ve given out a handful of these,” Balmert said.

Brannin said he was honored by the award because it recognized how important it is that everyone on his team goes home alive and well at the end of a shift.

“The award itself is a high point of my career so far,” Brannin told the Williston Herald. “It’s unbelievable. It signifies what we’re all about.”

Brannin was nominated for the award by Van Long, a senior consultant with Balmert Consulting.

“Like so many of his peers in the energy services business, Lonnie was running a highly hazardous operation characterized by high turnover and a ‘get it done’ culture,” Long said. “Achieving real change in safety performance can seem to fall somewhere between difficult and just about impossible.”

In 2017, the Recordable Injury Frequency Rate for his operation was 6.8, more than double the industrial average. Today it stands at .45.

That held true even during 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic and a price war both causing turmoil in the energy industry.

In March 2020, operations slowed down and remained slow for about three months, but safety has still been a priority.

“It all starts with onboarding and training,” Brannin said.

Bruce Garthwaite, a consultant with Balmert Consulting, was also the first recipient of the award in 2003. On Friday, he was among those who presented Branning with the award.

Garthwaite said he saw Brannin as an example of a servant leader.

“Servant leaders put the welfare of their followers above their own,” he said.

Balmert said Brannin showed clearly how one leader can make a big difference.

“His award comes as well-deserved recognition for his accomplishments in making the world a safer place to work,” Balmert said. “We know the example he’s setting will serve as a role model for the thousands of industrial leaders the world over who will learn of his work.”

Brannin said the advice he had for leaders was to understand how much the team matters.

“Valuing your people above all else makes you a successful leader,” he said.

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