Force a Divorce From Unsafe Practices

Force a Divorce From Unsafe Practices

By | April 22, 2020

AFTER READING A PROPUBLICA ARTICLE THAT SAID “DOZENS” OF AFFLUENT SUBURBAN CHICAGO PARENTS HAVE DECIDED TO give up the legal guardianship of their high school-age children to get financial aid for college, it got me thinking about, first of all, “What the what?” and second … divorce.

The movie “Irreconcilable Differences” came to mind because, in the ’80s film, Casey Brodsky (a young Drew Barrymore) decides she wants to divorce her self-centered parents and make her nanny her legal guardian. In the movie, Casey wisely proclaims: “I’m just a kid and I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes, but I think you should know better when you’re all grown up.”

That’s a great point that also got me thinking about how critical it is for companies to get workers to divorce themselves from unsafe practices.

Even as adults, we don’t always know what’s right. Even when we do know best, there are often obstacles along the way: The “I’ve done this a million times, and I know what I’m doing” mentality and “The rules don’t apply to me” nonsense can be cumbersome for companies. This type of siloed sentiment can also emanate when two cultures collide following a merger. Getting your employees to divorce themselves from those safety-sacrificing sentiments takes communication and education.

Every organization has Operational Risk, and some of those risks can lead to incidents and near-misses. While eliminating risk altogether is unobtainable, it’s a company’s duty to provide and promote a strong safety culture that helps workers understand the reason behind and importance of following protocols to annul bad habits.

There’s no Gandalfian magic wand that can transform a company overnight, but a focus on culture can lead to enormous safety gains. It starts at the top. Industrial Safety & Hygiene News said it succinctly in an article called “8 Steps to a Strong Safety Culture”: “Upper management commitment to workplace safety helps workers take it more seriously and translates into a safer work environment for everyone.”

A manager who takes the time to don personal protective equipment while walking the plant sets a great example for workers that safety is serious business. Compare that with a boss who acts like they don’t have time to put on safety goggles or that it’s beneath them. Which tack do you think is more likely to influence workers to divorce themselves from bad habits?

In the United States especially, OSHA takes the use of personal protective equipment seriously. (A “serious” or “other than serious” violation can now cost a company up to $13,260 per violation.) There were 1,474 violations in 2018 alone for companies failing to ensure that workers who were exposed to eye or face hazards were wearing protective goggles and face protection. It’s likely that in some of those cases the equipment was available but the worker chose not to use it because:

A. They forgot.
B. They were not trained properly.
C. They just didn’t see the need.

All are exemplary grounds for divorce!

Signage helps, too. When we visited Fermilab—the particle physics laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, for Sphera Safety Day—it was impressive to see signs throughout impressing upon people just how important safety truly is.

One sign listed the number of days without a lost-time injury with a motivational message below it that said, “The best previous record was 873 days. Do your part to help make a new record.”

Encouraging, informative; gavel drop.

Safety is a group effort that takes lots of work. It’s never safe to assume workers know better; they might not or they might and just couldn’t be bothered. It is critical to get them to divorce themselves from their lax safety practices. Otherwise, irreconcilable differences could occur.


James Tehrani is Spark’s editor-in-chief. He is an award-winning writer based in the Chicago area.

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