Does Your Company Value Your Safety?

coins-currency-investment-insurance-128867.jpegBy Phil La Duke

At first glance most of you silently answered, “of course they do” but is your personal safety truly a value of the company?  In many cases while you may think so it just isn’t the case. When I say values, I am talking about the most deeply seated beliefs held by the company, the non-negotiables by which all the decisions are made at the firm.  

Think of someone you greatly respect and admire, someone you know well.  What are his or her values? Is this person honest? Loyal? Brave? Kind? Just what is it about them that makes you admire them?  When you answer these questions like as not, you will have a good understanding of their values. And how did you get to know these values? Was it because this person SAID these things where his or her values or was it more likely the way he or she behaved, the way they treated others?

Jesus said, and Abraham Lincoln quoted him, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.  In a real way this means that you can’t consistently live your life acting outside your values without it leading to failure and catastrophe.  A dear friend of mine quit his job one day because, as he told me, “I don’t like what I am becoming; what this job is turning me into.” He was talking about being forced DAILY to compromise his values in order to do and keep his job. So take a hard look at your company’s website and then look at how people make decisions and behave?

Have you ever seen anyone caught violating a safety policy and have the supervisor overlook it? Do your senior leaders talk a good game when it comes to safety but when doing the job safely means jeopardizing a production timeline they consistently risk it and push production? Do middle managers get judged on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to everything BUT safety?

I’ve talked about people who mistake supporting safety philosophically but ignoring it operationally before.  These aren’t bad people, in fact, their hear is in the right place it’s just that their head isn’t. I support world peace, but I am nothing about it.  You’re not likely to see me get the Nobel Prize (Hell, you won’t even see me get a nod for speaking up about the need for safety improvements) because world peace isn’t really my value.  Do you want to truly know what you value? Take a hard look at how you spend your time and money. Don’t tell me you view your family when you are missing every big moment in your kid’s life—and don’t diminish what might be a big moment in your kid’s life a gawdawful holiday pageant may be torturous to sit through with kids shouting (not singing) Christmas carols and what not, but the first thing your little boy or girl will say to you when it’s over is “DID YOU SEE ME?!?!?” It’s not about them thinking they will be Broadway stars, it’s about connecting with you. It’s the affirmation that you value them above your bowling team, above a drink with a college buddy, and above a client dinner.

So think about your company and what it DOES to protect you from harm, what it does to reduce your risk.  While in the U.S. injuries that happen on your commute to work don’t count as workplace injuries, but in many parts of the world they do.  Statistically, at least in most parts of the world you are far more likely to be killed or seriously injured in your commute to work, and yet I still know many companies that limit how much time a person can work from home.  Does this sound like the actions of a company that values the safety of their workers? Or does it sound like the actions of a company that values facetime in the office?

Don’t even get me started on case management.  There are bureaucrats out there whose sole job is to prove that a worker injury claim is not job related.  If I have an old football injury that means my shoulder hurts once in awhile and then get a rack of engine blocks slammed into me aggravating that injury there are many companies that will pay three times more money to prove that my injury was a preexisting condition and therefore not their responsibility.  If my car has a dent in it, and you slam your truck into it and total it, are you absolved of any responsibility because my car had a preexisting condition.

Often employers are more subtle in demonstrating that they don’t value safety. Have you ever seen a supervisor or manager tell someone to “get it done whatever it takes?” I have and what they are not-so-subtly telling you is that we value job completion even if that means it darn near kills you.  Of course after the fact they are all saying “I never told him not to lock out” or “obviously I didn’t mean run a red light and kill that man” but they DID mean exactly that.

Sometimes a lack of value for safety manifests as safety policies and rules that make it practically impossible to do the job without taking risky short cuts.  We are forced to do the job at high risk and for them it’s a no-lose proposition. If we violate the procedure even though we took needless risk they met their goals and are heroes.  If we violate the procedure and hurt ourselves we get written up for the violation. Is this what valuing safety looks like?

Putting “we provide our workers with a safe workplace” or some other vague and fanciful slogan on your company website may look good for the stockholders and customers, but for money, don’t TELL me you value my safety and well being SHOW me you value my safety and well-being and show me every day.