As a motivational speaker, O’Leary is best known for recounting the worst day of his life. When he was a nine-year-old boy, O’Leary was playing with fire and gasoline in his garage. The fumes ignited from a piece of cardboard on fire, it split the gas can in two and caused an explosion that sent John flying 20 feet across his garage, covered his body in gasoline and set his body ablaze. The result left 100% of his body burned and he was given less than a 1% chance to live. In his keynote, he will not only discuss the accident he had as a child but he will deliver the message of how to truly live. If people choose to work inspired, they will enhance their human factors to include accountability, transform their safety culture and ultimately improve business results.
John O’Leary: It’s very easy to view safety as something that happens to one person—[my fire] changed not only my life profoundly but changed the life of my five siblings, my parents and everybody who loved us back then. So that’s the starting point of this wild, painful and eventually redemptive story forward.
O’Leary recently sat down with SafeStart’s Danny Smith and Tim Page-Bottorff on the SafeTalk with SafeStart podcast to give you a preview of his captivating story—one which he didn’t speak about for almost twenty years after it happened. Here’s a quick snippet:
Tim Page-Bottorff: Transferring that over to 24/7 safety and how do you get families involved, how do you speak to your immediate family now about safety with this incident in your background?
John O’Leary: So, my mom, she was asked that question, did you ever talk about fire safety? And her answer was, “No!” Like, why would you? We talked about look left before you cross the street, then right. Put the seatbelt on. Wear a helmet when you’re on a bike. Things that you know will affect you. But we never talked about fire because we knew it would not affect you…I am not an overprotective parent, which might surprise some of our listeners right now, I don’t want my kids to never scrape their knees…So, I’m ok exposing my kids to life. I think that’s healthy. What I’m not ok with though, is ignoring things that I know could have a profoundly negative effect on them, longer-term. So, when Daddy is lighting the BBQ pit—I’m not afraid of fire today but I am respectful of fire. I’m respectful of that BBQ pit. We talk about it. We walk about why we’re doing this, why we’re standing back over here while this thing is starting to catch. Why we respect fire but also why we don’t run away from it. Every time I do anything with my kids that has a bit of risk married into it, I address it and we speak about it in real time. Because I want them to recognize there is risk in living but there’s also a gift in living. I want them to choose safety. The one thing we did—definitely in the safety world—for too long is we made it more punitive. We talked about if you don’t do this you lose your job. Do it, or else! And I want my kids to recognize the power of choosing safety for safety’s sake, for life’s sake, for their sake. For the purpose of living even a better life going forward.
You can listen to the full interview on the SafeTalk with SafeStart podcast and, better yet, register for the SafeStart Human Factors Conference taking place in Orlando, FL where John O’Leary will be delivering the keynote in person.