Many were surprised last month when NASCAR favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr., announced his departure from racing at the end of this year’s season. Why did he walk away, and why should safety professionals take note?
Travis Vance, an attorney with the employment law firm Fisher Phillips, asks why Earnhardt retired from racing at the height of his career. In 2016, despite injuries that plagued him for most of the season, he earned $23 million, more than any other driver. “So, why walk away from the sport now, at this young age, when he’s on top of NASCAR? The answer is s simple: workplace safety,” Vance concludes.
At a press conference announcing his decision, Earnhardt said that concussions, including one suffered during the 2016 season, led to his decision to hand up his helmet. The driver was concerned that a future injury may end his career, but could permanently impact his health. His father, the racing legend Dale Earnhardt, Sr., died during the 2001 Daytona 500.
Vance says there are lessons for safety professionals in Earnhardt’s abrupt decision to retire. Among those:
- Money isn’t the best way to lure talent. Salary is often used as a primary recruiting tool, but workers want a safe place to make a living and the opportunity to return to their families at night. Vance says younger employees won’t overlook poor safety practices just to remain loyal.
- A poor safety culture leads to turnover. Since the death of his father, Earnhardt was hyper-focused on safety. He decided he wouldn’t risk his life and health for workplace risks. Employees who see coworkers injured or witness near-misses may not stay with you. A robust safety program gives them a sense that you care.
- The time for change is now. Don’t tolerate incidents and near-misses. Make changes to your safety process immediately and avoid losing talented employees due to safety concerns. No matter how small the effort, from a toolbox talk to a safety poster, every action counts in bringing you closer to your safety goals.