Chain of Thought

Should an Unsafe Worker's Job be in Jeopardy Too?

In my last blog post I noted how hard it is to recruit workers of any kind—particularly young people—into warehousing. Those who do get hired often exhibit an attitude problem about using personal protective equipment (PPE) like ear plugs or safety glasses. Al Will, who now trains young people in the ways of warehousing, and whom I quoted in that post, followed up with me afterwards, adding: “It seems as though we're in a Catch-22. If a company fires workers for PPE non compliance, they can't readily find replacements.”

That's why supervisors are sometimes lax in enforcing safety rules. Good material handlers are hard to find. One industry magazine article I read recently advocated a “take no prisoners” approach to safety enforcement:

“The rules are that a careless workman must be discharged and a foreman who keeps a careless operator, even though he be a good workman, lacks the discipline necessary to safely handle materials in a plant.”

This article spread the blame for safety negligence in a plant across all functions: “the employer, for not having proper and sufficient equipment, the foreman for not properly instructing the workman, and the workman who does not complete his part of a task, as when he removes a barrel head and carelessly leaves nails protruding in the barrel.”

If the writer of this article sounds a bit like your grandfather, you have a good ear for history. This piece appeared in the July 6th, 1922 edition of The Iron Trade Review—the predecessor of what is today called Industry Week, MH&L's sister publication. I exhumed this little blast from the past to show that the workplace safety culture really hasn't changed much over the last century—even with technology's fast evolution.

Take lift trucks, for example. They've been around in some form since that article was written, and rules about their safe operation have evolved with them. Twenty years ago revolutionary change came to this evolution. Although training was always a requirement, OSHA added the need for site-specific and equipment specific training. Jim Shephard, president of Shephard's Industrial Training Systems and another member of MH&L's editorial advisory board, says those little details are often ignored by time-strapped supervisors.

“The regulation specifies that training can consist of a number of elements, including videos,” Shephard observes. “Some companies read that and decided to go that route. But if you just give a person a videotape as training, OSHA will eventually come back at you and say they're not trained. I'm tired of cleaning up after these videos because the person goes in and watches it, and they still don't know what they're doing on the floor. The statement in the training says the company is responsible for training on the uniqueness of the facility. A lot of folks miss that.”

It takes a lot of effort to mine safety's value, but as our little flashback showed, its worth has withstood the passage of time.

Now I'M sounding like your grandfather.

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