Denial Isn’t Just A River In Egypt—You’re Employees are Probably Under-Reporting

bloody pizza

By Phil La Duke

Whenever I post a topic where I assert something to which some disagree invariably they attack me personally. Some mistakenly believe that I don’t work as a safety practitioner and will cease on the fact that I supposedly don’t work in the “real world”, as if writing a blog and published articles for free somehow pays the bills. Others will pay the card of self-righteous indignation, because I called someone a mouth-breather or described them as softheaded. Still others write me privately with threats of violence or even death (ironic, isn’t it? people who sanctimoniously praise themselves for saving lives and keeping people free from injury threatening me with violence.)  I might worry were it not for the fact that these water heads couldn’t kill a beer let alone me. Others fall into the calling me unprofessional for saying “shit, hell, or damn” or because I don’t worry too much about my punctuation or grammar. My point is, bring it on. If what you read here threatens you and you can’t construct a coherent counterpoint feel free to hone in on these things. Nothing amuses me more than a slack-jawed imbecile making a fool of themselves either here or in on-line threads.

Last week I committed hearsay, I said that zero injuries, without understanding WHY we had zero injuries—which is, let’s face it, zero reported injuries—was a pointless and simple-minded exercise. If that mad you angry, strap in, because this week I mean to take it even further.

I can only speak for myself; from my prospective. I started working when I was 13 as the clean up boy at the local Dairy Queen, violating damned (oooh he said a bad word) near every child-labor law. When I was 18 I was working three jobs simultaneously. I have worked as a day laborer, on the line at General Motors, a research interviewer, a reporter, a clown, an actor, a trainer, a copywriter, and a host of other jobs. I was injured on the job too many times to count and never once reported (until I became a safety professional) the injury. I am of the ardent belief that I am not alone in my situation. So here is why I said nothing:

  1. I didn’t know I was supposed to. This sounds like a cop out, especially to those who live in the insular offices and cubes where a lot of safety practitioner park their ample asses. In fairness to the average safety practitioner, he or she can’t be everywhere, and what’s more it’s not their job to sniff around like a Jack Russell on the trail of a rat soliciting injuries. My supervisor never told me that I needed to tell him or her that I needed to report injuries. I was oblivious to OSHA regs and what was a recordable and what wasn’t.
  2. If I reported an injury it pissed people off. I had seen what happened to my coworkers who reported injuries—they generally got the third degree about what they did that caused the injury and heaven help them if they had been doing something they shouldn’t have been. People got written up and even fired for getting hurt after doing exactly what their boss had told them to do.
  3. Reporting an injury was viewed as most likely a scam. As I said, I saw plenty of people who reported injuries and we would always roll our eyes—it was always the same people and they were so meticulous in documenting every detail that you just KNEW was going to come up in court (one woman in particular sued her own mother because she fell on her icy porch). Both management and hourly alike knew that if you reported an injury you were probably cheating the system in some way.
  4. I would just tough it out. The plant doctor was willing to take the enormous pay cut and work in a factory because (it was rumored, a rumor I believe) that medical malpractice suits made it too expensive for him to continue his practice—he once gave me a medication to which I was allergic to its main ingredient—and I just felt a lot more comfortable with my own doctor.
  5. Nobody cared. When, while working as a fry cook, I three fingers bad enough to require eight stitches I was allowed to leave work (after clocking out) and go to the clinic where I paid for my medical treatment myself. I could give 20 similar examples where I suffered recordable injuries that never saw an OSHA log.
  6. I didn’t think the injury was serious enough to worry about it. I worked sharp metal parts building 1600 seats a day. The company did not require safety shoes, eye protection, or Kevlar sleeves. Not a day went by where I didn’t have a cut, bruise, muscle strain, etc. You didn’t dare ask to go to medical because most of the time supervision couldn’t cover your job so you wouldn’t be relieved so you couldn’t go. The supervisor would never forbid you to go that would bring him or her real trouble, but the boss would always look at you with puppy dog eyes and ask if I could wait until break. In one case I was loaned out to the body shop, where veterans thought it was a real hoot to pull their welding guns (which were suspended on bungee cords) and let them go usually narrowly missing the new guy. I took a direct hit to the back of the head that not only knocked me out cold, but also forward into a three-foot pit. When I came too the foreman had lifted me up by putting his arms under my armpits and was putting the weld gun into my hands and kept saying “you’re okay, you’re okay”. I had a bump literally the size of a goose egg on the back of my head a deep scratch on my face and my arm was bleeding. I used an obscene simile in response to his contention that I was okay and told him I was going to medical. Medical gave me two aspirins and stitched my arm with butterfly bandages.
  7. Because it happened on a Friday afternoon. The plant I worked in had the old, oil-soaked wood-block floors and they were constantly coming loose, sticking up causing people to trip on them, or just plain missing creating a 5 x4 inch hole in the floor. Once on a Friday afternoon about 10 minutes from quitting time I stepped in one of these holes and wrenched my ankle pretty good. I could barely walk, but I managed to hobble to my car excruciating pain, but I wasn’t about to have our quake doctor spend an hour of my weekend trying to treat me in a way that would make sure it wasn’t a recordable.

I have more reasons for not reporting, but I’m already going longer than I like. But the point is when there is a campaign to stop me from doing something that, I can’t control— things that I either don’t want or intend to do; am unaware that I am doing it; taking what I think are harmless and innocent shortcuts; or from interacting with physical hazards that I don’t have the ability to fix on my own the campaign just further distances me from the people preaching it. Once the safety guy has shown me that he or she thinks that I am the problem (the one thing they can’t control) he or she become my enemy, and I lose all respect for the person, and all the pizza and candy bars in the world won’t change that. And if he or she is wrong about all these other things I become convinced that he or she is probably wrong about a lot more.

And yet every company I go into, every executive I ask, and every safety manager I seem to meet puffs up their chest at the merest suggestion that their might be under reporting until I do an analysis and find that 25–50% of the employees I talk to tell me they don’t report at least some of their injuries. In one case, an executive told me that not reporting an injury is considered an ethics violation and the person would be automatically fired. So maybe you have created a Utopian workplace where there are no under reporting of injuries, but isn’t it worth considering that you aren’t performing as well as you think you are?