In break rooms across the country, there are signs that read something like “days accident-free” preceded by a number. If the number is in the single digits, human resources has probably scheduled a “refresher course” on workplace safety. If the number is in triple digits, well, someone probably forgot to update the sign.
How does safety—usually the first topic discussed with new or prospective employees—become one of the most quickly and often overlooked?
When I worked for a department store, my training began with how to do everything safely, from lifting boxes to cleaning up hazardous material spills. The first day of work after my training was complete, I was told I was “too thorough” and if I wanted to keep my job, I had to get quicker. I needed to “work smarter,” which was implied through demonstration to mean I needed to figure out which safety procedures I could skip and which I had to observe only in the presence of management.
Even “small” accidents can be caused by employees that are usually careful and generally smart, but the really big ones are the kind so alarmingly unsafe that there can be no mistake at the intentional lack of safety concern–and people usually take pictures.
Warnings in the form of stories and lectures never seem to stop the right people. Those who aren’t smart enough are the same people who think they know better. There will always be a new story to tell and human resources will be there to fill out the paperwork–and we’ll all hear about it at the next “team safety” meeting.