Read and heed if you want to avoid death threats

Everyone who’s worked on a construction site has met the iron-fisted superintendent in this story (figuratively at least, I’m sorry if you’ve ever met the real guy). We’ll call him… Craig. Just like the villain in some of my previous posts. My apologies to any nice guys named Craig.

Anyhoo Craig, as you can imagine, was a special kind of awful. He was tall, massively built, and intimidating. But only in a physical sense. Intellectually he was a rather small man. His authority was borne only from the fear of being walked out the gate should you test him.

He and I didn’t cross paths much because I worked on the operational part of that particular plant. His crew was in the commissioning phase of the project and due to mobilize out within a year or so. I mostly just rolled my eyes whenever I happened upon him belittling someone or making some stupid, arbitrarily rule. Seldom did his reign of terror affect my team.

Until one day…

Craig’s administrative assistant was walking in the parking lot (looking at her phone), when a car reversed out of it’s spot. You guys, she totally, almost, DIED! According to her. To be fair, I didn’t see it happen, but I imagine it was not the near death experience it was made out to be.

Over the next several weeks parking lot safety was the thing. There were reports of similar occurrences and a band of do-gooders rallied for change before someone was killt (not the garment). Then came the all too familiar “solution” when one of Craig’s henchmen suggested that “people always back into parking spots” where he came from (which may as well have been Narnia as far as I’m concerned).

So parking backward (backing in) became policy… lest ye be written up. It was one of those perfect examples of trying to eliminate a hazard by creating more. Because, to put it lightly, we SUCKED at parking backward. What had been a relatively calm patch of dirt with rows marked by railroad ties became a thunder-dome of horns, thirty-point turns, and screeching brakes.

So Craig did exactly what you’d expect he’d do

He doubled down. And I don’t mean just a little. The backward parking remained and a new requirement was added. Beginning one Monday at 5 PM, only one row of cars was released at a time. It started the at the front of the lot (at least that part was fair considering they got there first) and went row by row. After one day of it union grievances began flooding in for all of the unpaid time people sat parked in their cars after they had clocked out.

That’s where I got tied up in the mess. And I don’t regret it one bit… because it was hilarious. At the time, I was making a series of safety videos for the operations team. With my manager’s permission, Craig sequestered my services to film the exodus. His intent was to dismiss the grievances, but it had exactly the opposite affect.

I perched myself on top of a tower overlooking the parking lot with enough time to capture the guards take their places. At quitting time, the herd rushed out in a flurry of middle fingers and foul language as Craig stood on a balcony just below me. I was too far up to be noticed, but even if anyone saw me I don’t think they cared. They all wanted to murder Craig. No one was shy about voicing that desire either.

In the end money won

Craig lost his grievances with the union. Apparently my two-hour video of cars waiting to leave a parking lot was not proof of fair treatment. The backing rule was never “officially” reversed, but it was never enforced again. Soon no one remembered. But safety took a huge nosedive in those final months of the construction phase. It was something the workforce had to do, not something they wanted to.

I’ve stated many times before that legal compliance and people safety are two distinctly different objectives. Craig was a perfect case study for that. Compliance is required… no one’s arguing that. But OSHA isn’t what keeps the average worker awake at night. Having a life is. Figure out what that life is about, invest some time in teaching them why safety will make it possible, and help them understand when risk is unacceptable. That’s how real safety works.

As an added bonus, far fewer people will want to punch you in the throat.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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