Play it Safe

Safety procedures often are sidestepped because the employee thinks he or she can get away with it every once in a while. Yet fluky injuries do happen during brief lapses in good judgement.

I’m a fairly conservative guy. My family might not agree with that statement; after all, while we’re all products of our own environment, we tend to branch out in our individual ways. Relative to my brothers and sisters, and especially my parents, I might be seen as less reserved and maybe even a risk taker. But to most people, I’m probably more like Warren Buffett than Jimmy Buffett.

A person can be conservative (or not) in a number of ways. The term can apply to political views, investments, career choices, hobbies, fashion or many other facets of life. I often look back at chances I’ve taken in life and some I’ve passed on, and I consider how my life may be different had I chosen another option. I think about career moves, relationships, investments and other such choices to which I gave a lot of thought. I also remember reckless decisions that led to foolish behavior that I’m lucky to have survived (imagine hill hopping with the boys while standing in the bed of a pickup truck) and activities that I passed on that ended badly for friends.

For the most part, I’ve outgrown any seriously risky behavior. I like to think I’ve gotten wiser through the years as it’s now so much easier to tell myself, “It’s just not worth the risk.” But I do admit to the occasional lapse in judgment, usually due to haste. The first thing that comes to mind is skipping the eye protection.

During the warmer months, I regularly use a gas powered lawn trimmer, and I’ve taken enough sticks and pebbles to the face to know that it’s only a matter of time before one of those projectiles will be aimed at an eye. But yes, sometimes I’m already started on the job before I remember my goggles, and then I decide that I’ll be okay this one time.

“This one time” is a dangerous phrase. Use of eye protection is only one example of the many safety procedures that are in place on the typical shop floor to prevent injuries and maintain a safe and productive work environment. But many of these procedures can be and often are sidestepped because the employee thinks he or she can get away with it every once in a while. Yet fluky injuries do happen during brief lapses in good judgment, and not only because of pure carelessness. They are not exclusive to shops that aren’t strict about safety; they can happen in your shop.

It’s important that shops not only have well-defined rules and appropriate safety equipment in place, but that they also provide sufficient training, regular monitoring, and appropriate discipline for violations. Employees need to be aware of protocol such as the requirements for safety glasses as well as proper clothing, footwear, and hair management. Safety signage at the facility should be clearly visible throughout the shop, aisles should be clear of debris, caution zones should be clearly marked, machines should be maintained to prevent fluid leakage, and any leakage should be removed from floors.

Unlike many of life’s choices, the burden of responsibility for shop safety lies not only on the individual, but also on a larger entity—the employer. While the employee should be expected to follow the rules, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide the structure for a safe environment, provide the training for behavior that maintains that safe environment, and oversee operations to ensure the behavior is carried out. Few people enjoy bringing down the hammer when it comes to employee misconduct, but in the process of protecting the employee, companies must also protect themselves against OSHA citations and even potential lawsuits by documenting known infractions and the corresponding disciplinary actions taken.

Like anyone, shopfloor employees should think long and hard before making a decision to ignore safety guidelines (they really should not ignore them at all). Not only does such action endanger the company’s production effectiveness and good name, it also exposes the individual’s own health and well-being and even puts his or her job at risk.

As we move through this new year, and I’m yet another year older and wiser, I will make an even greater effort toward good safety decisions. I hope our readers follow my lead and do the same.