As part of job interviews, I ask candidates to tell me about a time when their supervisor required them to do something they truly considered unsafe. I want to know what they did about it. Did they refuse until there were adequate precautions? Did they grumble and just carry on, compounding the issue by having resentment as a dominant part of their mental state? Did they risk their job or risk injury?
One of the more memorable answers came from a former Major League Baseball pitcher. It was raining, and his footing was not good. The umpires seemed determined to let the game go on. He played through without incident, but he didn’t pitch his best because he was compensating for the poor condition of the mound.
Over the last few weeks, the management of the NFL has had two opportunities to act in regard to safety of its employees and of the general public. First, when the collapse of the Metrodome led to scheduling a game on the fozen field of the University of Minnesota, and then two weeks later when blizzard conditions in Philadelphia made travel in the city dangerous.
Stadiums in the NFL come in two versions: covered and not-covered. Those that are not covered have an underground system to keep the turf from freezing, allowing the players some level of certainty that their cleats will work effectively. Frozen turf leads to poor footing. Poor fitting leads to injury. In addition, frozen turf is like concrete, and every tackle will have a much greater impact on the players. Yes, it’s a tough game and they wear personal protective equipment, but that equipment was still designed with turf in mind. The decision: Play the game.
In the case of the snow event, the game was postponed. The reason given was that it was not safe for the fans to travel through the storm to get to the game, and endangering the public would be in no one’s best interest.
The problem with the frozen turf scenario is that there were not a lot of options that would allow the fans of the Minnesota Vikings to attend the game they had paid for. The University offered the nearest venue with enough seating to serve the fans and to allow the game to be played in a reasonable time. So management had to make a decision with minimal options. In the case of the weather problem in Philadelphia, it was evident that in a couple of days the conditions that caused the problem will not longer impact the opportunity to have the game. In short, it was an easier decision to make.
I’m not judging. I’m sure that the NFL has a robust protocol for decisions like this, including trainers and equipment experts who know the limitations of the equipment.
But what about where you work? Is your management faced with similar tough decisions? Does it look like there is a reasonable consistency to the decisions that impact the safety of the employees?