Tag Archives: Safety

Safety – Call It What It Is

Almost any company these days has a safety department, committee, branch, or division. Sometimes entire armies of inspectors and supervisors travel to sites waving the banner of “Safety First”, “Zero Lost Time Incidents”, “Safely Home”, “Journey to Zero”, and many other such slogans. Carrying clipboards and making sure all the workers are wearing the appropriate personal protection equipment and performing job tasks correctly, they also will almost certainly ask to see your hazard assessment documentation. Managing safety has become an industry unto itself. My current employer retains two full time staff tasked exclusively with safety matters, in addition to a safety committee of a dozen or so “volunteers” at each physical plant site.

At one of my previous employments I myself was tasked with being the Safety Manager for the facility of some 200 workers, responsible for making sure the workplace was as safe as was reasonably possible.

I am always suspicious whenever someone’s paid job is to look out for my best interest; those two motivations are in polar contradiction with each other. Generally speaking, no company is going to pay out cash to look after the best interests of an employee, unless those best interests are first serving the company’s best interests. So let’s look at Safety through this lens and call it what it really is: Liability Reduction Management.

If you get hurt on the job, you must file a claim with the Worker’s Compensation Board, who themselves launch an investigation into the incident that lead up to your injury. If they find that your employer did not take reasonable steps to ensure that your workplace and the activity you are expected to do as part of your line of work was safe, they can be held liable to cover the medical expenses of your recovery and in some cases, compensation for any losses pertaining to the nature of the injury. Safety staff are your company’s answer to this situation, tasked not with making sure that you are safe, but with ensuring that the company cannot get sued or fined should anyone on their payroll get injured on the job. It’s as simple as that.

So why the title of Safety? It’s a facade – a sugarcoating to make the situation more palatable to those being harassed by employees who are extensions of the company’s legal department with the power to send you home or even terminate you for lack of compliance with their liability mitigating strategies, aka “Safety Policies”.

Safety = Scapegoat.

The entire safety movement revolves around the idea of making the employee liable for their own actions. Make no mistake – I am not against this concept – I believe that every person ought to stand or fall by the decisions they make, but sometimes those decisions can affect other people. Just call it what it is.

Say two employees are working together on something inside a ceiling in an office building. They have a ladder, are wearing steel toed boots and safety glasses. The fellow at the bottom of the ladder even holds the ladder steady and ensures that no one collides into the base of it so that the fellow in the ceiling can concentrate on the tasks he is to perform. Now let’s say that while the employee is working on top of the ladder, a tool falls out of his hand and lands on the employee’s head who is holding the ladder below.

Enter: An Incident.

The safety officer for the company attends the site, interviews both employees and surveys the area in which the incident took place. He concludes that although they had taken some steps towards working safely given the environment, he notes that their hazard assessment did not include “things falling from above” and also that the employee below was not wearing a hard hat (even though this is an office building where hats are considered rude) and therefore – did not follow the company’s safety policy and therefore … drumroll … the company is not liable with the Worker’s Compensation Board because, to put it bluntly, it was his own damn fault.

It is all about liability mitigation; passing the buck from the employer to the employee. And I’m fine with that, but please – call it what it is.

Be Careful…

I was at the park with my kids and several other families’ worth of kids, all about the same age who had just gotten off the bus. The kids were all playing together on the jungle gym. Enter the antagonist of the story: A thirty-something pony tail ball cap in Lu Lu Lemon yoga pants and a teal tank top had placed her little girl, probably around the age of one or one-and-a-half in a sun hat on top of the main platform of the gym – Play Central. The little tot was watching very interested as I played the part of the troll underneath the bridge platform and popped up from place to place, trying to capture and eat the toes of half a dozen five-year-olds who shrieked with laughter every time they narrowly escaped my menacing clutches. This had started off as a game between myself and my own two children, and one by one all the other kids at the park had asked if they could¬†play too. The one-year-old was too small to talk, but was giggling away and stomping her feet as I made a point of trying to include her in the fun and to capture her toes along with those of the other children. Ah, I thought, the simple pleasures in life…

Now this whole time, Lu Lu Lemon Pony Tail is repeatedly calling out from the sidelines, Be Careful! to her child. Be Careful! The bigger kids were running around from ramp to slide to pole to climbing thing, etc. as children often do (Counting Blue Cars). Be Careful! Occasionally one of the bigger kids would bump the smaller child, evoking even more anxious Be Carefuls from the mother – none of which were being heeded by daughter or strangers alike. Finally the exasperated mother stormed up the ramp to the platform where all this careless activity was taking place, muttering heated words (I’m assuming at me and) to the other children for not being careful, seriously! I paused my play and asked her if her daughter was alright, but apparently this was her queue to do the ignoring as I got naught more than a dirty sideways look as she tried to peel her child away from all the dangerous fun and excitement. The little one screamed and writhed, clearly not wanting to leave but the mother assured her that it was for her own good and that it just wasn’t safe up here. I watched as the pair made their way to one of the park benches nearby and the mother restrained the child in the safe confines of her arms.

The Sheltered Child.

I’m guessing this was an only child, or if not only, than one whose siblings were significantly older than her. I’m also guessing that her house is child-proofed; every drawer locked, electrical outlet filled, covered or blocked, gates on the stairs, doorknob confounders on every handle, cat de-clawed, dog spayed AND neutered for good measure (thanks for that, Bob Barker…) – and on it goes.

This idea that we must make life as safe as possible is one that aggravates my rant nerve often. The whole¬†Safety Culture has gotten out of hand in the working world, but clearly this idea starts long before a person is able to earn a living. It starts when people have their first baby. Where? In a hospital. Why? Is the newborn is sick? No, because it’s safer… Today’s doctors are far better at delivering babies than the family, friends and neighbours that probably helped your mother birth you and every person born in every generation before them. The house is child-proof’d as I mentioned above. You can’t even take that baby home from the hospital unless you do so in a government approved car seat. (That’s a racket and a whole other topic of rant: Buy a mandatory car seat that costs more than any bicycle I’ve ever owned, it’s only good for five years and then – when your kid out-grows it, you can’t resell it to recoup even a fraction of the sticker price and it has to be discarded in the landfill. Where to I buy stocks in those companies?!)

Kids have to wear all manner of padding and helmets to even push a bicycle up a hill. Oh yes, it’s the law in some places! Imagine being that cop? Apparently in the city of Calgary now, you aren’t even allowed to toboggan down anything but a city-approved hill! Why? It’s too dangerous. I wish I was making that up…

Now before you start to get the wrong idea about me, I’m not advocating the idea that we need to be out there causing our children to get hurt. I am, however, a realist who recognizes the fact that there are some very real dangers out there in the world, and one of the first lessons any human being learning about this life needs to understand is the concept of cause and effect. Actions have reactions. Moves have counter-moves. Teaching our kids about life in a completely padded room and then sending them out into the real world on their own where there are no pads is dangerous and irresponsible. Why? Because it does not prepare them for real life, where actions can and do have real consequences and the amount of hurt they can encounter can get real, fast.

When I was a kid, I begged my parents for a trampoline. Eventually we got a used one out of the classifieds, and at a great price because it had no pads. Normally there is a foam pad that lines the circumference of the trampoline, covering the springs and outer frame bar; ours did not have that. And I’ll tell you this: I got VERY good at not landing on the springs VERY quickly! Why? Because after landing on the springs and/or metal bar a time or two, you decide that you never want to do that again and work with great determination to ensure that you don’t. That’s life. Look at the trampolines they’re selling nowadays – they’ve got the foam pads of course, along with a whole circus tent that mounts up and around the circumference of the thing so that there is almost no possible way a child jumping therein can fall off it. You know what we’d have done if we had those when I was a kid? I know there would have been a competition between some friends and I to see who could jump out and over the fence! And the winner would have earned the praise & admiration of his peers, and we’d have helped that guy get around while his broken leg healed.

A friend of a friend went out drinking with his buddies one night, and then in a state of alcohol-enhanced gusto decided he would try to jump over a 6′ chain link fence with his BMX bicycle. From what I heard tell of the story, he did make it over the fence, more or less, but at the hospital they discovered that in the process he broke his back and will never walk again. That’s a hard life lesson he might not have had to learn if he’d experienced a little more cause and effect – and perhaps even pain – as a child.

Pain is a great motivator!

Ask any psychologist about the effects of positive and negative reinforcement and they’ll bestow the virtues of pain in the course of learning. Pain serves as a fence, or perimeter outside which we learn not to travel and with good reason. In fact, it has been said that Life Is Pain (and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.)

Taking the pain out of growing up deprives a child of one of life’s greatest teachers.