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"All I Know About Safety I Learned From My Kids"
By: Denise Lineberry

On Tuesday in NASA Langley's Reid Conference Center, the Safety and Health Awareness Week (SHAW) keynote speaker, Timothy Ludwig, asked the audience, "How many of you are moms or dads?"

Timothy Ludwig.

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Timothy Ludwig presented, "All I Know About Safety I Learned From My Kids" at the kick-off event for Langley's Safety and Health Awareness Week. Credit: NASA/George Homich

Almost everyone in the filled auditorium raised his or her hand.

Ludwig received his PhD from Virginia Tech and has his own consulting firm that provides strategies for safety culture change. His talk at Langley, "All I Know About Safety I Learned From My Kids," tapped into his parental experiences.

"We try to protect them in their youth," Ludwig said, introducing photos of his two sons. His voice intentionally deepened: "But then they grow."

Ludwig fought a safety battle with son Christian, who skateboards. He would tell his son to wear proper protective equipment: knee pads, elbow pads and a helmet. But his son only agreed with the helmet, because the padding restricted his performance.

"We were always trying to one-up each other," he said.

Ludwig went to his local county board and asked it to do something to make the local skate park safer for children. The city responded with a safety sign at the park. When that didn’t work, the county enforced rules about wearing the proper equipment.

Those efforts backfired when the children got fed up with the rules and stopped going to the park.

"He was right. I was right. We were both right. We should have worked together," Ludwig said.

When his son started to drive, Ludwig tried a new approach. Instead of pointing out what he did that was unsafe, dad would commend Christian for what he did safely. His son would come to him with questions about driving and would seek his father’s advice.

"Reinforcement was stronger than punishment," Ludwig said. "It is the most effective device for safety."

Another effective device is to actively care. According to Ludwig, we should care enough about the health and safety of others and act accordingly.

At home, when Ludwig modeled safety, his sons learned to care about safety for themselves and for others. That hit home for Ludwig when his son brought out eye protection as dad was cutting his lawn.

According to Ludwig, these safety devices provide a further reach.

"The whole world turns to NASA for technologies to improve life," Ludwig said. "You are called upon frequently to reinforce, to care and to practice what you preach.

"It's not stopping at your family. It's not stopping at NASA. It's changing the world."

He left NASA Langley with a challenge: "To come up with something in your own voice to show how much you care."

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman