When Safety Dies, It Won’t Be An Accident

Last Friday ISHN released its list of the Power 101, people who “moves and shakes the safety world”. I’m honored to be among so notable a collection of professionals, but I won’t spend time writing about people writing about me writing. Not that I am above shameless self-promotion, or that I am in any way hesitant to pander to the media. It’s an ego feed to be on the list and I am all about ego. But what struck me about the list is the subtext. Buried in the footnotes are some real gems and I thought I would devote some digital ink to exploring things a bit further, because while the list reads like a who’s who of safety (you had to know I would describe myself as such) what is most significant is who’s NOT on the list. “You’ll notice missing from this list is OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. This is because Washington at this bitterly partisan point and time can accomplish nothing… For the same reason, no U.S. Senator or Congressman is on the list. If not for some associations and consultancies based in DC, plus Dr. John Howard and a few bloggers, Washington would be wiped off this list. It is a power and decision-making black hole.” To be fair there are some very influential OSHA professionals on the list, but the point ISHN makes is an important one and one that isn’t isolated to the U.S. When it comes to worker safety the government is fiddling while Rome burns. In the U.K, politicians decry safety as costing jobs and making it impossible to do business. In the U.S. any attempt to reign in business, business who by act or omission are recklessly putting workers at risk, is categorized as killing jobs. In Mexico enforcement is so lax that even if a company kills a worker they aren’t likely to be fined, never mind jailed. And in China …well to be fair I don’t have a duke of an idea where the Chinese government stands on worker safety but I’ll wager a guess that they have a Doritoesque approach that allows business to crunch all you want, there’s plenty more where they came from. Worker protections under the law have simultaneously elevated and recessed. On one hand safety regulations have increased globally but on the other, incidences of non-compliance in the name of jobs have become far more common. I am expecting the day will soon come where industry will describe workplace fatalities as job openings. Instead of being thrown into a black hole with the pederasts, thieves, and killers they will be hailed as job creators. To a large extent years of BBS BS have reinforced the mindset that workers who get hurt deserve it.  Some misguided social Darwinism that holds that the one thing all injured workers share is their need to be more careful. It’s shameful quackery that has harmed us all collectively

Truth be told I don’t think that more government meddling is the answer. OSHA is so out of touch with modern business practices that it won’t allow most safety training to be delivered via the web, without a proctor, perpetuating the checklist mentality (Note: I just mistyped “checklist” as “checklost” which I have to say is probably a better description of OSHA—and its European, Asian, British, and Aussie equivalents—approach to worker safety training.) We have to end the reliance on compliance but in this environment rolling back government regulations and more importantly enforcement will give business a literal license to kill, and kill they will. At what point do we say enough’s enough? At what point do we rightfully say that business can no longer treat workers as an expendable and inexhaustible commodity? The day is coming, and coming soon, where some horrific workplace catastrophe will so shock the world community that the outcry will be universal and profound; an incident where people will no longer be able to categorize safety as an overprotective nuisance pushed by the soft to shield the careless and the lazy. It’s a shame that we need such a consequence to jar us into action, but I fear we do.

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