You know you’re a safety geek when you slip and land on your butt on the bathroom floor in a factory’s front office thinking, “What at-risk behavior did I do to earn this bruise?”
My host, just as embarrassed, explained how they have an oil problem in the plant. Their machines send out an oil mist that gets everywhere; “even in the bathroom tile here in the front office.”
My mental note: “Never wear dress shoes to a plant visit again!”
Back in the safety committee meeting they said it used to be worse. “You used not to even be able to see the clock on the wall through all the oil mist. We have the new plant manager to thank for that.”
“But we just can’t get our people to mop the oils off the floor to prevent these slip hazards.” The plant manager was insistent: “We are doing what we can to reduce hazards, but the injuries we’re seeing are caused by our people not following procedures.”
An argument ensued: the employee members of the safety committee disagreed. A tit for tat then occurred.
“We gave you the mops and even the oilcutting chemicals but no one mops the floor!” One redheaded woman was especially adamant about not accepting the blame for the safety issues in the plant. “We gave up mopping because the water was always oily and we were just spreading the oil around.” It went on like this over different topics beyond housekeeping into tool use and guarding. The plant manager, in a moment of unexpected frustration (I thought), even said, “You can’t fix stupid.”
I had requested some time with just employee members of the safety committee to do some confidential interviewing about their safety culture, so the plant manager had to leave the room for about 90 minutes. Before he left, the redhead issued him a challenge: “You go out there and do a job and see who’s to blame for taking risks.” To the plant manager’s credit, he did it!
When he returned, he had a sheepish look on his face. The redhead jumped right on this: “Well? What did you find out?” The plant manager started, “Well, I know I couldn’t do anyone’s job as well as they could and I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way, so I decided to help maintenance out with some of their minor tasks that had built up. So I simply decided to help them replace lighting around the plant. And guess what… I almost fell!”
“How so?” asked the redhead knowingly.
“You know, I found myself on the top step of a step ladder with one foot up on a pipe reaching over a couple feet to unscrew a light bulb. I nearly lost my balance completely.”
“Why didn’t you use a proper ladder that would have gotten you up to the level of the light bulb?”
“Well, I did look around for such a ladder, but there was only the stepladder in the closet nearby. The standup ladders are in the loading dock. It would have taken me 15 minutes to walk there through the plant and another 15 minutes back carrying a seven-foot ladder through the machinery and our oily floors. It wasn’t worth it for a small light bulb change, so I just used what was there.”
“You can’t fix stupid,” chuckled the redhead.
“Maybe” replied the manager, “but we can fix this!”