Recently I wrote about my experience with safety obligations. These were three statements that all employees where I work are expected to follow. In writing, and in discussion, they seem clear and easy, but we all have to learn to implement them successfully.
When I worked in a facility that put these in place, I had the pleasure of working with one of those creative genius types. This guy had incredibly good concepts, and a ton of energy to help deliver them. Frequently, however, he was seen as just plain crazy.
My favorite part of new employee orientation was when he was called in to teach the importance of the safety obligations. He had a unique way of demonstrating the first obligation – We are obligated to refuse to do work we cannot do safely.
After explaining the concept of the obligations, and defining the first one, he would ask for a volunteer to step forward. He would walk over to a desk on the side wall and open the top drawer. He explained that this was new, super-safe office furniture. It had two safety systems built in. The first was a sensor that would keep the drawer from closing if something was not completely in the drawer. Second, if there were a sudden movement, as if to slam the drawer, it would lock up just like a seatbelt does when there is a sudden pull. These safety features, he would explain, would assure that no one could get their hand caught in an office desk drawer, a frequent form of office injury.
Then, he would open the drawer and ask the volunteer to stick his hand into it so he could show how the systems worked. Sometimes, the person would just do it, and other times they would hesitate. If they said, “I refuse to do that” he would say “but it’s not unsafe, I just explained to you the safety systems that are built in”. At this point, regardless of what the volunteer did, he helped them see the most important aspect.
Even if you think you are protected, that doesn’t mean the protections can’t fail.
What people learned in this training was the importance not only of refusing to do work that could not be done safey, but also of refusing to take any risk that they don’t have to. Reaching into the drawer to help demonstrate the safety systems is not necessary. Plus, the systems can fail.
The real importance of this first obligation is recognizing that none of us need to take unnecessary risk. Just because someone in authority asks you to do something, you still need to think for yourself. Can I do that thing safely?
Well, can you?
Thanks, and lets be careful out there.