If safety is not in your job description, are you obligated to mention unsafe work conditions? That was one of the topics that appeared in the responses to a story featured on the ISHN website on July 18: “Safety pro asks, ‘Who can fight for my rights?’”

In it, a construction superintendent named Lester who’d been hired recently to supervise two projects expressed his frustration at observing – and complaining about – unsafe working conditions and seeing no action taken to abate the hazards.

“I have been telling the mason contractor that his scaffolding is unsafe and not OSHA approved,” wrote Lester, in an email to ISHN Editor Dave Johnson. “I also told my boss and the contractor. My boss said; ‘Let them work.’ The mason contractor won’t return my calls and the job foremen said don't bother his men."

Lester felt that he would be held responsible for any injuries or fatalities that occurred at the worksites, despite the fact that he had raised the alarm about dangers.

Some background information: Lester has OSHA training and other safety training. He is 67 years old and was out of work for more than three years before being hired. He is understandably concerned about job security.

Safety professionals commenting on the article had differing opinions as to what course of action Lester should take.

"What you're fighting for is worth it!"

“Lester should stick to his guns,” said John, a Safety Coordinator. “If his job is at stake for doing his job then it's a ceremonial job anyway. If he's given any flack by anyone, turn the whole lot into OSHA before he gets fired. Besides that, there are whistle blower regs that can protect him. The main thing is keeping the employees and company safe even in spite of themselves. Lester should be loyal to himself and his occupation. What you're fighting is worth it Lester! Hang in there, man.”

The liability chain

Judd, a Safety Director, suggested telling the Foreman that OSHA fines can be costly and cause delays in the project.

“Also, explain that their competent person, who should be inspecting the scaffolding daily, is the one that is the onsite representative of the owner and could be held liable with the possibility of criminal charges if there were a death. He needs to continue to document everything and remember he is protected under the ‘whistle blower’ regs. I am also concerned with the OSHA training he has received as OSHA doesn't approve anything. Remind him, as soon as he let his boss and the contractor know of the problem they are now in the liability chain and could possibly face fines, charges or both as well.”

Try a blunt approach

David, another Safety Director, suggested that Lester take his complaints higher up the chain of command.

“It would probably make life difficult for a while, but I would imagine your boss (like many others) would be afraid to fire you for going around him - it would make him look weak. Have you tried a more blunt approach with your boss? Something like ‘Look, you hired me to enforce safety. If you're not going to let me do that than why am I here?!’ A lot of these guys will back down if pushed. Or use the business approach - gather all the data you can about the cost of a fall, and how much workers' comp claims could cost, and how much damage it could cause to the company's reputation, and present it to your boss. Clearly explain how shutting down for an afternoon to correct the deficiencies easily outweighs the negatives of what could happen. If all else fails, and you're certain someone is going to get hurt and you'll be fired, tell him you won't stand around and watch it happen and he needs to find someone else. You can get fired for allowing an injury, or can get fired and leave with a clear conscience. That will carry a lot of weight with the good companies when you start your job search. Good luck! Stand strong!

Is safety your responsibility?

EHS Manager Tony wonders if safety is part of Lester’s job description.

“Aside from the moral/ethical issues here, I think we should ask, ‘what does his job description say?’ Is ‘Safety’ the responsibility of the ‘Construction Superintendent’? It sounds like his Boss doesn't think so! Perhaps he wasn't hired for his ‘OSHA and safety training. Just saying...

A Monday morning safety chat

Operations Manager “Motorcycleboy” took issue with the author’s comment; “No one is listening to me.”

“WHAT ABOUT THE WORKERS?! I've been in manufacturing for nearly 30 years, and most (sadly not all) people are sincerely concerned about their safety...enough so that they won't take chances like working on unsafe scaffolding. How about having a brief Safety Chat with them on Monday morning?

Safety is everyone's concern

James a Facilities Manager, said if the safety violation is that blatant, Lester should take it to OSHA right away.

“Safety IS everyone's concern regardless if it’s in your title or not. If someone get hurt and you say nothing then you are also responsible for the problem.”

Three options

Cory, a Safety Professional, took an organizational approach to Lester’s dilemma.

“In this situation, it sounds like the local organizational structure does not have any type of safety culture and that ethics are generally lacking,” he wrote.

“With this, three options come to mind:

1. The Safety Professional can appeal to the workers themselves and hope that their individual safety perspectives can outweigh their leadership; in short, hope that they'll watch out for their own safety as their leadership is not going to.

2. The Safety Professional can attempt to circumvent local organizational leadership and appeal to regional or a higher echelon of management (some organizations have a separate chain of command for safety and the Regional Safety Manager or the like can intervene with local management).

3. The Safety Professional can create (as it sounds like he's already doing) a well-documented evidence log that (a. the organizational is willfully negligent and (b. he is doing everything he can within his scope of authority and, in the meantime, look for another job and hope that no incidents occur while doing so.”

Cory noted that each option has pros and cons. “Thought I'd share. Thanks!”