Enjoying Those Cornflakes? Why Some Employers Are Watching You Chew
Is there such a thing as being too safe?
"Mr. Bennett says he sometimes tracks his lunch treks, noting on his safety card how he will control for every possible threat on the way, from flights of stairs to the busy intersection outside the office."Is this due to adiagnosed disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, or an anxiety disorder? No. He's simply following safety protocol as spokesman for Rio Tinto Kennecott Mine, according to the Wall Street Journal.
I've visited Kennecott Mine, and it is a fascinating and dangerous place with an intense need for safety protocols. But, when people who work across town, in an office building, have to document daily "safety hazards" such as eating bread, it becomes ridiculous.
And, that is the problem, right there. Safety is extremely important, but when we we do not differentiate between real safety hazards (being run over by a mining machine, handling dangerous chemicals) and normal life (eating bread, crossing a street) what happens is we stop taking the real safety hazards as seriously. It's not that choking isn't a true danger. It is. But, the chances of an adult employee choking are very, very small. Most choking deaths happen to small children and the elderly. It's doubtful that safety conscious companies employee many 3 year olds or many 86 year olds (although, they may employ some of the latter).
So, what's wrong with having your employees write down that they took small bites and avoided bread as a way to show how safety conscious they are? Well, not only does it distract them from actual work that needs to be accomplished, it makes us start to believe safe things (eating lunch)aremore dangerous thanthey areand truly dangerous things (operating mining equipment) areless danger than they truly are. If we have to document both activities the same way, we start to think they are equal. They are not. And it should be absolutely critical to remind employees that they are not equal.
I understand why companies do this. They want to be able to document, should an employee be injured at work, that they've done everything in their power to prevent such accidents. Got it. They want to lower workman's compensation claims. They want a safe work place environment. But, at what cost?
Not only does having your employees document every possible safety hazard throughout the day take time, you have to have someone to coordinate these efforts, document the documentation and follow up on every little thing. If you aren't going to follow up, then you're just opening yourself up for greater lawsuits should something happen. (They knew there was a cord between the printer and the outlet, yet no one covered it up! They knew it was a danger. Here are 14 cards written by employees saying it was atripping hazard!)
It also makes your employees not trust you as much when you speak of real dangers. And why should they? If I've got to sit down each day and figure the safety hazards of my job (typing on a non-ergonomic keyboard can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, holding my phone with my shoulder so I can type with both hands can lead to neck problems, sitting too long in one place can lead to blood clots in my legs), I'm going to laugh at the ridiculousness of the whole thing. So, when I get the 42nd memo documenting a "safety hazard" I'm not likely to read it, even though this particular one may actually contain something critical.
The Wall Street Journal writes:
Corporate safety consultants and executives point out that strict rules for office safety can reduce injuries, cut down on workers' comp costs, make employees more aware of the dangers their colleagues in the field are facing and promote teamwork.
Yes, strict rules for safety can reduce injury. This is why we require steel toed shoes in manufacturing areas, make sure that that all lab workers wear the proper protective gear, and give our fork lift operators training. We don't spend our time focusing on the things that aren't as critical.
Most companies, of course, aren't this safety conscious. This is a good thing. The last thing we want to do is turn our workplaces into the ridiculous places our schools are, with their zero tolerance policies. Instead, we want to focus on what is really important. Keep in mind that the office environment is a very safe one. No need to induce panic. Or document that you'll go down the stairs slowly and hold onto the railing.
SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist
Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.