From the MRW Water Cooler:
Years ago this country’s workers were deliberately kept in the dark about the dangers of their work and to stand up against employers or to question the practices would risk them being fired.
Personal responsibility is obviously important and when we feel it is the company’s fault we look for justice. We are a country of litigation – the need to have consequences for unduly risk and lack of safety concerns is important so history does not repeat itself.
How do you feel about the evolution of safety practices? – J
Safety in American workplaces has evolved magnificently from the days past. The question is – where does the evolution stop?
A few generations ago, it was “Safety Tenth.” The issue wasn’t even on the table – it was squarely on the back of the worker. Of course, the country was being built in a very specific way back then. The Industrial Revolution was driving changes on every societal level, and businesses were seen as engines of opportunity. Job Safety was not a big deal, in part because there were so few jobs. Conditions in general had been so previously wretched – unemployment and want had been so high they couldn’t even be charted. In other words, we had bigger problems as a society, and people were so grateful to have a job they were happy to assume real risk.
As the country prospered though, we decided that Safety Tenth was a bad idea. It didn’t distribute the Risk fairly between employer and employee, so we began to push corporations to make workplaces safer – very sensible. The forces that drove that evolution (labor unions, government regulations, massive court settlements,) were successful, and massive improvements were made in a relatively short period of time. Now, our expectations are altogether different. We’ve gone from holding the employee entirely accountable, to holding the company entirely accountable. We look for and expect an ever-increasing form of “justice” when lapses occur. We no longer compensate for Risk – we mitigate it. We manage it. And we do all we can to eliminate it. We’ve gone from Safety Tenth, to Safety First! And we are, in my humble opinion, out of balance once again.
I believe we might disagree on the “obvious” part of personal responsibility. Corporations have assumed most of the responsibility for the worker, because insurance companies will underwrite the risk, and our government demands it. The “obviousness” of personal responsibility is what I fear has gone missing.
Safety has evolved through, so have ethics, and how many times does a mine have to cave in before people realize it’s a damn dangerous business? I’d say once should do it.
The “we” I’m referring to are not the activists OR the business owners, but the vast majority of people who supported the changes and deemed them worthwhile. Society supported the evolution.
Businesses spend north of One Billion dollars every week to insure, train, and comply with a long list of regulations that simply didn’t exist before. How can it be couched that is “no kind of accountability?” Should they spend more? Should the list be longer? Reasonable people might disagree. Safety has improved at a breath-taking pace. Could it be better? Sure. But it’s come a long way, baby.
To me, justice occurs when people suffer the consequences of their actions and decisions. You break the law, you go to jail, you do a bad job, you get fired, you default on your car payment, and you lose your car. You run GM into the ground, you go bankrupt. You invest in GM and you lose your money. Justice means understanding and accepting the consequences of your actions. It is simply in our nature to want someone else to pay for our mistakes. Today, we have many policies and regulations that encourage that desire – far more than existed at any time in history.
“Safety Third” however, is not political; it’s just a reaction – my reaction – to the circumstances that exist in the world that I know. Nothing more. At base, it’s merely a reminder that no amount of combined compliance, assurance, training, drug-testing, or mandatory regulation can guarantee your safety, and nothing can ever hope to replace an individuals ability to exercise common sense and personal responsibility.
What drives people crazy is the apparent contradiction that exists in the following statement – “Compulsory programs are responsible for saving lives AND creating complacency.” The idea of incorporating the Safety Third message into an existing program, is to point out the inherent flaw in the belief that Safety can be made “first” by anyone other than the worker himself. It’s to get workers to understand that their employers – regardless of their very best intentions – are not in business for the purpose of keeping you safe. Therefore, YOUR safety cannot be their TOP priority. I would like to see companies admit that, without guilt or apology. Because I believe it would ultimately make for a safer working environment.