My home state of Michigan has been in the international news lately. People are tired of being locked down in their homes and being unemployed. Frankly, I question that second part of that statement. My suspicion is that people would be gleefully unemployed if they could return to the ass grove they’ve spent shaping on the neighborhood bar stool or spend four hours sitting in a restaurant cradling a bad cup of coffee ogling a waitress who is way out of their leagues but who puts up with their lewd innuendos enough for them to think they just might have a shot.
For those of us in the Safety Field, the yowling of the barely literate Constitutional scholars turned epidemiologists that are so desperate for a haircut that they show up at the State Capital with long guns and menace elected officials and block hospital entrances while waving Nazi and Confederate flags sound awfully familiar.
“They can’t make me wear PPE!” “I have a right to…” and “I’m not gonna do it” are all things that the belligerent blowhards on the frontlines of our workplaces have said to us at least once, and probably dozens of times. And just as the State Police did nothing—not so much as check the long-gun toting “protestors” open carry or concealed weapon permits—so to do the managers of the Safety belligerents they have the power and authority to intervene but too often they don’t want to “make a big deal out of things.”
An ex-colleague of mine once said in frustration (after a long day working with a client that just couldn’t wrap his mind around what we were trying to accomplish in safety) “safety boils down to risk tolerance and decision rights” and that is exactly what both these situations hold in common.
Let’s start with some level setting:
Risk tolerance is the amount of peril you are personally willing to endure in pursuit of a reward. Some people may refer to risk tolerance as a risk-to-reward ratio but let’s just keep it simple. We all have a risk tolerance and it is highly dependant on circumstance, situation, and experience. We typically make decisions without giving a lot of concentration figuring out whether it’s worth the risk, in fact, most of our risk tolerance is subconscious—we do things that carry risk in the commission of the act—like the fetid pustule who blew a stop sign while texting while I was on my morning dog walk. We have individual risk tolerances, organizational risk tolerances, and community risk tolerances at all levels of government. Our risk tolerances are typically codified into laws, safety regulations, or corporate policies.
Decision Rights, on the other hand, are the circumstances under which we are entitled to act outside of the rule (for our purposes I will use the term “rule” to refer to any rule, law, norm, regulation, ordinance, or limits.)
No process, no policy, no past practice can cover every contingency that may arise in the completion of a task. It is inconceivable that a worker would ask permission every time a job requires a decision so we give workers (usually informally) the right to use their own judgment to solve a problem. Unfortunately, unless we establish limits as to the extent to which the worker can improvise, we essentially give the worker carte blanc, and that can be deadly.
Decision Rights can be tough to define and articulate. Does the worker have the right to use a ratchet instead of a standard wrench? Probably. Does the worker have the right not to wear a harness when working at heights because he’s only going to be up there for a minute? Absolutely not. So where is the line? In the case of safety, the only acceptable decision rights any worker has are: to violate a safety rule when following it would create a greater danger.
For example, driving when the traffic flow is 15–20 kph over the speed limit. You can obstinately refuse to exceed the speed limit and increase the risk of injury to yourself or others or you can keep up with the flow of traffic. Depending on where you live you may or may not have this decision right, but the opposite is certainly true—if the road conditions prevent you from safely operating your vehicle you are, in most jurisdictions, required to slow your rate of speed even if it falls below the minimum speed required by law.
It is precisely because the limits of one’s power to deviate from the standard are so frequently vague or not identified at all that gets us into trouble. I have heard so many people say, “they can’t tell me that I can’t…” in the workplace that it drives me to distraction. YES, THEY CAN. Unless you have a contract (either as an individual or under collective bargaining) you have a choice comply or say goodbye. It’s that simple. You have no legal recourse unless your employer has violated the law. So yes, in most cases they can force you to work overtime—to a point, you can refuse and be fired, or you can quit, but save for the threat of loss of employment again as no laws are broken they can force you to work overtime.
And yes, both your government and your employer can limit your liberties, where need be, to protect others. When your actions violate a safety policy and rise to the level of recklessness you can and likely will be fired. Why because you are so beloved by your employer that they want desperately to keep you alive? No, because your depraved indifference constitutes a threat to others. But you aren’t even allowed to endanger your OWN life in may places. Seat belt laws are in place primarily to save your life. Motorcycle helmet laws, limits on fireworks, using street drugs are all there for YOUR protection. These laws exist to protect people too stupid to take reasonable care to protect themselves. Personally, I see an upside to fewer stupid, reckless people but there are people out there who care more about the survival of these sub simian imbeciles than I do.
The question before us are these: Do we know and communicate the reason why one needs to exercise caution when completing a task (build a case for decreased risk tolerance) and do we discipline those appropriately for wantonly disregarding their own or others’ safety? Because if we can’t answer these questions we have already given up.
Stay safe and stay healthy
WARNING: What follows may just teach you something but you won’t get any CEUs for it, you’ll just be better educated and informed but seriously who wants or needs that?
Some time ago, I read an article in the Metro Times (a Detroit Weekly) about a Facebook group essentially dedicated to encouraging attacks on women, Democrats, Muslims, and LGBTQ persons. There were hundreds of specific threats of violence. You don’t have to buy my book, but I wish you would. But if you want to help follow this link. Search LinkedIn to find out where these people work and encourage their employers to fire them. This isn’t a political statement, I would react the same way if people were saying that White Heterosexual Christian Men were the targets. Purveyors of hate need to feel real-world consequences. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good to do nothing.
Violent acts begin with violent thoughts that turn into violent posts on social media. How long are you going to continue to throw your hands up and say, “what can I do?” My second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. answers this question. This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. In light of all the talk and panic around gun violence, and the shamefully bad advice some “experts” are giving I hope some of you will read it and pass it along to your executives and HR leads (go ahead, expense it, they will be glad you did.)
Before you dismiss this as yet another shameless plug for my book I want you to ask yourself these questions:
- What if anything is my employer doing to reduce its risk of a workplace attack?
- Do the people who are doing the hiring at my workplace know the warning signs of a workplace attack?
- What can I do to prevent workplace violence?
I should warn you, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights. The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence. But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is peppered with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.) You should buy it. Seriously I’m not telling you how to live your life but you should buy it. Okay, I AM telling you how to live your life, just buy the damned book.
Of course, my first book is still for sale, and is ALSO available in the eBook format you might rightly ask yourself, why on God’s green Earth would I read a book that contains previously released material? Simple, like the rain-forest and the polar bears my work is disappearing from the web very quickly. All but a handful of my works for Facility Management Magazine are gone, and you can basically only go back two years on my blog (eight year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck.) And besides, about a third of the book is newly written material that cannot be found anywhere else. So buy it. People who have read it say that it belongs in everyone who works in safety’s library. It will teach you, entertain you, and make you want to read more it can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Noble.com.
As always, Read. Learn. Live. Share. Inspire