Safety News Update: Safety Expressions We Used to Say
Recently I had a conversation with an elderly man at a church gathering where he affectionately referred to his wife as a “dame.” Dame… That’s not a word you often hear these days except in old Popeye cartoon re-runs. Here’s another old saying: My wife’s grandmother described a pain she recently suffered as “hurting like the dickens!” I’ve heard that expression many times before but on that occasion I wondered what in the world is “dickens” anyway? Charles Dickens perhaps… What did that legendary author have to do with pain? Remember Wally in Leave it to Beaver? He used to use the word “swell” to describe things as being good. Doesn’t swell mean the same thing as swollen? Anyway, I digress. Though baffling and bazaar as these old sayings may be to us newbies, we can’t ignore the fact that these sayings once held real meaning and were commonly used forms of expressions. I feel the same way about these old expressions when I speak with my friends in industry that proudly tell me their business has gone (you pick the number) of days without an accident. Why in Sam Hill (Sam Hill – what is it and where is it?) Is it “swell” to count the days that nobody gets hurt? Here’s my two cents (thoughts) about that!
The truth is, I get why people brag about nobody getting hurt or not experiencing any accidents for a length of time. However, this so-called metric is quickly becoming a nostalgic achievement to current-day safety professionals that doesn’t really mean safety is achieved. Now, when someone tells me their plant has gone 300 days without an accident, I often wonder if I’m just receiving an earful of nonsense and there’s more to the story.
A few years back, I visited a plant where one of my employees was struck by another employee driving a forklift. The MAU employee was injured badly and I wanted to see the scene of the collision. To be clear, the pedestrian in this incident was an MAU employee and the person driving the forklift was employed by my client. As I entered the facility I noticed a sign on the wall boasting 197 safe days. Didn’t this pedestrian/forklift incident just happen yesterday I wondered to myself? Are they still counting safe days despite the fact a forklift hit a pedestrian? I quickly learned they were! I asked the warehouse manager why they were still counting safe days despite the incident and he literally smiled and said, “Oh yeah, our guy didn’t get hurt.” To make matters worse, that same manager asked me a few days later to contribute to their safety celebration for achieving 200 safe days. I didn’t contribute, if you’re wondering.
There were so many things wrong with this situation but I want to focus on the idea that this plant used safe days as a metric and attached a celebration for achieving them. All the while, they really didn’t achieve 200 safe days. Management at this plant chose to ignore a very visible injury that took place under their own roof because their employee didn’t get injured in the incident. Yet paramedics carried a person out of the facility on a stretcher and drove away in an ambulance. I wonder how many other incidents occurred in which “their guy” didn’t get hurt or how many near hits/misses they experienced in which they got lucky. How many people stuck a bloody hand in their pocket to hide their injury because they didn’t want to be the one that prevented the 200-safe-days party? What kind of a message did their employees receive at the celebration when just four days previous a forklift seriously injured someone in the plant? I venture (why would you “venture” to say anything? Just say it!) to say some in the room were confused and thought the steak dinner they were served tasted quite processed. Hogwash (another confusing, old expression meaning who knows what)!
Ever hear the saying that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions?” Employer safety metrics and incentive programs are typically designed with good intentions not necessary leading to Hell but, again, an old confusing expression... OSHA is paying very close attention to employer safety incentive programs and cracking down on employers they catch that still practice them in a way that employees may be encouraged to not report injuries. Not too long ago I often would see jet skis, bass boats and even automobiles in plant lobbies that enticed employees to not get hurt because after a year without an injury they may be the lucky person to win this big prize in a drawing. These bass-boat programs get on OSHA’s last nerve (last nerve? I didn’t know nerves were ordered)! OSHA views this type of scenario as a disincentive to report an injury and possible whistleblower retaliation if injured employees are disqualified from employer safety programs as a result of a workplace accident. A memorandum written by OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary, Richard Fairfax, on March 12, 2012 says as much: http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/whistleblowermemo.html. I say that a safety incentive program based entirely on achieving safe days or a certain OSHA injury illness rate falls knee high to a grasshopper (meaning short) and may not properly motivate employees to be safe.
If you’re reading this and thinking this stuff is all a bunch of hullabaloo (huh?), you may need to rethink your idea of what truly is safety success. What safety metrics do you pay attention to monthly? What safety achievement triggers your organization to celebrate? Are you focused on lagging indicators of safety or what happened that you no longer control or are you focused on leading indicators or things you do that create/control safety? If you’re more focused on lagging, consider revising your program to reward employees for completing safety audits or participating in safety activities or for coming up with an idea that makes everyone safer. I bet you dollars to donuts (strange expression but I do like donuts) a revision to your metrics/incentive program toward leading indicators will make a big difference. It’ll be a real dandy (what’s a dandy – dandy lion is a weed?)! So what are you waiting for? Get a move on and shake a leg (hurry up)! Make safety happen and focus on leading indicators of safety. Its 2012, time to get the right program that really encourages safety.
Good luck and remember: never kiss a gift horse in the mouth! Whatever that means???
About the Author: Robert Loose ASP, PHR
Safety Professional with Manufacturing, HR and Health Care management experience, Rob has worked for MAU Workforce Solutions since 2006 supporting both HR and operations functions. Currently he serves as MAU’s Corporate Safety & Risk Manager. A 1998 graduate of Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, Rob now calls North Augusta, SC home where he lives with his wife and two kids. Rob is a member of the Augusta, GA chapter of ASSE.
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