supervisorOriginally published in the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Business Journal

I've been thinking a lot about the construction profession and our obligations to each other and our clients.

All professionals have an obligation to those they serve. There are contractual obligations between companies and clients, and legal obligations between the government and taxpayers. There are also moral obligations. However, when we think about moral professionals, we usual think about doctors, religious leaders or politicians (I threw that one in to make sure you were paying attention).

Construction workers don’t typically come to mind.

Some professions, namely physicians, take this moral obligation in their work so seriously that new physicians participate in a rite of passage that includes reciting the Hippocratic Oath. The Hippocratic Oath is a statement that binds the individual to the ideals and beliefs of the medical community. The oath most famously bids the orator to “cause no pain” to the patients they treat. Doctors have a huge responsibility in their work as they quite literally hold people’s lives in their hands.

But what about the construction profession?

Aren’t we responsible for people’s lives every day on the job site? Our action, or inaction, can kill people. Job-site safety is our moral obligation! With that in mind, I propose that we all take an oath to protect the people we work with and never compromise on job-site safety. 

The oath

“I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

“I will respect the generations of skilled tradespeople in whose steps I walk and gladly share my knowledge with those who are to follow.

“I will apply, for the safety of my coworkers, all measures which are required, avoiding the temptation to sacrifice speed for safety.

“I will remember that leading by example is the strongest way to encourage a culture of safety, but I also acknowledge that force may be needed to stop an unsafe situation.

“I will not be ashamed to say 'I know not,' nor will I fail to call on my co-workers when working safely requires knowledge and techniques that I do not have myself.

“I will respect the experience of everyone on the job site, for they surely know things that I do not. But it may also be within my power to stop an unsafe practice regardless of my position, title or affiliations on the job site. Above all, I must remember that creating safe working conditions is everyone’s responsibility.

“I will remember that the projects we work on are built with the sweat of human beings who have families and friends counting on them to return home each day. I am equally responsible for those families and loved ones when I am working with them.

“I will prevent unsafe conditions before they exist whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to correction.

“I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those who work in my organization and those who work for others.

“If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life after the work day and return all my brothers and sisters in construction to their families and loved ones. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of building the places in my community where I live, work, and worship."

I challenge all of us in construction to consider our only real moral obligation: to ensure that everyone one on our job site returns home just the way that they left in the morning. No budget or schedule deadline is more important than the health of the workers who are striving for that goal. Go forth and “cause no pain,” for it is our highest obligation.

Grand Rapids (Michigan) Business Journal