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Leadership Perspectives Blog

To Grasp the Gravity of Workplace Safety, Seeing Is Believing

Do you believe in gravity?

If I asked you this question, you'd of course say yes. If I took some time to explain Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravity or Einstein's general theory of relativity, or even explained how Galileo Galilei in the late 16th century would roll balls down hills and drop them off towers to show that gravitation accelerates all objects at the same rate, you'd might think I was a genius. But more importantly, you'd have some knowledge of how gravity works, giving you some clarity on what you think about the subject.

With all that being said, the most important aspect of all this gravity talk is that unless you're in outer space right now (or you're Sandra Bullock in the movie "Gravity"), gravity is a real thing in your day-to-day life. Obviously we depend on this phenomenon to stay on the ground. We take gravity into consideration when we throw a football, or when someone yells "heads up" and we duck. Our lives are based around this concept.

Let's hit the pause button on this gravity jargon for a minute. When an individual has decided that he or she wants to embark on this journey that is health and safety, we learn the OSHA general-duty clause on Day 1 of training, along with Section 11 (recordkeeping) and what to do when an OSHA compliance officer shows up at your door. Any safety professional can quote, or at least summarize, the general-duty clause.

Sec. 5. Duties

(a) Each employer –

(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;

(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

I realize that I'm leaving out the little 'b' that addresses employees' responsibility, and while really important, that's an entirely different article. 

During my time as a safety professional, I've developed my own theory – some say just as groundbreaking as Sir Isaac Newton's. I believe there are three safety principles that companies follow: public principles, private principles and core principles. Here's how I define them:

  • Public principles – What companies publicly say about workplace health and safety, because it's the right thing to say. (Whether they actually believe it or not is an entirely different thing.) That's why most, if not all, companies will tell you that safety is their top priority. Politicians are good at this kind of thing.
  • Private principles – What company managers think they believe about the importance of workplace safety and health. While company leaders very well might think they believe that safety is critical to a successful business operation, their beliefs get pushed aside when circumstances change – such as when they're feeling deadline or production pressure.
  • Core principles - What company leaders not only say about workplace health and safety but also what they show through their actions. Their team members witness their core beliefs by seeing what they do every day. Core beliefs are those things you know in your heart to be true. They serve as a personal guide (or in this case, a corporate guide) to safety.  

When company leaders can reach this Jedi Knight level of safety principles, it will have a colossal effect on everyone around them. For workplace health and safety efforts to truly excel, it takes a lot more than saying - or even believing - that safety is important. We need to see it.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if an individual had the ability to obtain invisible status and followed your managers around for 30 days. What would they see? This invisible observer would have full access to the thoughts and intentions of your management, and at the end of the 30 days would write a quick report on their findings. 

Would their actions reflect the general-duty clause, or would they look more like this?

Sec. 5 Duties

(a) Each employer –

(1) Should do its best to provide his employees a workplace mostly free from recognized hazards that may cause serious injury or death, but training on hazard recognition and corrective measures will take time away from production, which may result in lower profits, so do what you can, and hope that you don't experience a serious injury or fatality to any of your employees.

(2) Should probably at least become a little familiar with the OSHA standards in case your facility ever gets inspected.

You might disagree with my theoretical skills, and that's OK.  The point of this article is to start a conversation and get us to take a hard look at our safety principles both as individuals and at a corporate level. It's not easy to reach this Jedi Knight status, but it's important to understand the "gravity" of the safety situation.

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