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I Thought I was Safe

Safety Topics presents; A little story I heard from a worker…

I was called into our plant manager’s office to discuss my latest injury.  During the previous week, I had to go to the emergency room for the third time that year to have a piece of material removed from one of my eyes.  Being a union shop,  a steward was usually present when a member went before management, so I wasn’t surprised to see mine in the manager’s office when I arrived.  The plant manager was a great guy I’d known for several years.  By the look on his and the steward’s faces, it was obvious that this meeting was not to be a friendly game of Spades.

As the meeting began, the manager expressed his concern with the number of eye injuries I had sustained over the past several months.  The steward sat and nodded his head as the manager spoke, never making eye contact with me. That was not a good sign for me.  The manager  explained that his goal is that each employee utilize every safety rule, procedure and personal protective equipment available to ensure that they would not be injured while working in his plant.  It was obvious that he didn’t believe my story written in the injury report about how the particles got around the safety glasses I was wearing at the time of each injury (but he didn’t say it directly).  As I sat and listened to him, it occurred to me that disciplinary action was coming.

I began to build my mental fortress by giving him an angry stare, crossed my arms and then finally said, “So what are you going to do to me?”
As a CSP (Certified Safety Professional) who is a CMC (Certified Management Consultant) I find myself working with company leaders who ask, “What can I do to get a worker’s attention who is continually getting injured.”   In my work, the “frequently injured” employee often have two common characteristics: first, they often state “I thought I was safe” and they simply failed to do what they needed to do; second, we often see the worker with a “you owe me” attitude.  A third characteristic I often see in workers with repeat injuries is that they are very productive and considered a “good” employee.  Managers, supervisors and team leaders get worn out trying to get this “frequently injured” employee to stop and think before doing a task.

The rest of the story from the plant employee…

When I asked the question, “So what are you going to do to me?” you could see the amount of control my manager was using to keep from yelling at me.  At that point I thought, “I got him!”  Then his face and body seemed to relax and he said, “I don’t need to do anything, you are going to do it to yourself.  If you have one more incident of getting something in one of your eyes, you have put your job at risk.”  I looked at the steward who gave me a look that said, “Well, go ahead and say something stupid.”

I said, “Is that all?”

“Yep” and I left his office.

As I walked through the plant back to my work area, I was angry about what had just happened.  But what my manager said sank into my head like the stone hitting Goliath.  This was my choice and he was right!  The risk was not just losing my job, but losing my eyesight. The bottom line was, I couldn’t do my job with my eyesight.  That was more than 12 years ago.  That day caused me to change the way I think about safety and why we have the rules and procedures.
Your safety is your choice.  Being safe means acting safe and following through.

Thinking you are safe is not enough to hit the goal of zero injuries.  Observable behavior is the key to preventing injuries in the workplace.  This week, take the time with your work group to discuss “how to” conduct a safe and successful job so that Nobody Gets Hurt.

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