stressThe scene plays out in Western movies. The villain Jesse James, the most famous member of the James-Younger gang that terrorized the Minnesota area in the later 1800s, is shot in the back, defenseless, by a fellow member of his gang out to collect the bounty on James’ life. Robert Ford now is considered by history to be a…as the 2007 western movie stated in its title: The Assassination of Jesse James by the COWARD Robert Ford.

Work injuries are like getting shot in the back.

They attack unknowingly, often within the context of your own “gang” of work colleagues, leaders, and equipment. The question that must be answered is “How do we stand up to it?” By striking FEAR in the heart of all concerned? No!

I argue that fear is perhaps the major cause of injury.

Consider the outbreak of Meningitis among patients who had medical shots in the back to relieve chronic pain. The steroid in the shot, supposedly developed in a sterile lab, had been contaminated during the production process and shipped throughout the U.S. As of this writing 14 people have died across the 12 states the outbreak has spread to.

The contaminated steroids were linked back to a pharmacy called the New England Compounding Center. The New York Timesreports that employees were concerned about the production process that hired unqualified people then overlooked their quality errors.

Salespersons were used in production during rush orders.

Near misses included a narcotic almost being shipped at twice its potency.

The pharmacist involved was working overtime and hurrying to get his production numbers for the day.

People quit over their concerns. Former employees, risking a confidentiality agreement violation, have talked about a culture of shortcuts that threatened the safety of the medicines.

When employees raised safety concerns and tried to stop production they were fired. The focus was on the bottom line: “This line is worth more than all your lives combined, so don’t stop it.” Fear was used to hide the safety concerns and it killed people.

Is this a unique situation?

Hardly. According to ISHN, Norfolk Southern has been fined more than $1,000,000 this year alone for firing workers who reported work-related injuries. The same thing happened at Pacific Railroadmaking me concerned about the fear culture in the rail industry. Workers have been fired for simply raising concerns at Heartland Transportation and Goodman Manufacturingaccording to OSHA. The list goes on.

The fear message sent: Report an injury or a concern and we’ll fire you. The chilling effect? Less reporting, more injuries.

Managing safety with fear is cowardice. Quit hiding behind your workers. Look your safety concerns in the eye!

Cowardicea trait wherein fearand excess self-concern override what is socially-deemed as right (Wikipedia)