Safety in the Workplace: Breaking the Rules Hurts Everyone

Safety in the Workplace: Breaking the Rules Hurts Everyone

In my early twenties, I experienced the true lengths a company will go to in order to protect themselves against lawsuits and compensation claims do to poor safety practises. While on the job working at a bottling company, a worker stuck his arm into a palletizer. This machine was massive and used hydraulics to fill wooden pallets full of over a thousand bottles of spring water so they could be shipped out to stores.

These machines had a reputation of mixing up the specific pattern the machine had to organize each case of water into, in order to fill each level of the palette properly. Since spring water comes in numerous different sized bottles, the machines in the production line were finicky and needed to be adjusted every time a different bottle size or design was being bottled for shipment.

Everything is robotic now, so it’s difficult to find an example to show you guys. Let’s just say this thing was massively dangerous and needed the power to move hundreds of pounds at once, tens of thousands of times a day.

Safety policy purposely ignored — and encouraged by all levels of management.

The company policy specifically stated no employee was ever to attempt fixing a problem without hitting the big red emergency shutdown button. Yet, it was an unwritten rule that every time the production line shut down, it cost the company money, and made the team look bad in management’s eyes. It also sidelined deliveries and this particular company bottled pure spring water from the foothills of rural southern Canada.

So, the lift-truck driver put in charge of operating the palettizer in this story was politely “nudged” by his supervisor to help the machine organize the cases properly, without shutting the production line down. The team was brainwashed into putting pressure on him too, as production bonuses were a possibility for the highest performing teams. He did as asked willingly — until a hydraulic-powered arm smashed his upper right arm into a metal wall inside the machine, crushing it and almost chopping it clean off!

CYA: Management lies to save the company.

Kinda long story so far, but I’ll sum it up. Ambulance and police were called. The minute the victim was carted off, upper management was immediately coaching everyone as to what to say to the po-po, and making it clear he shouldn’t have been doing this (even though they were all in cahoots with supervisors and wanted the lines to be kept moving at all costs). It was eventually determined by law enforcement and the Ontario Workplace Safety Board that the man was acting against the rules and made a foolish error in judgement.

The poor son-of-a-gun was coerced into taking a patsy job in the company for awhile. A job that didn’t require the use of his permanently-mangled arm, until finally being laid off forever around six months later. I’m sure he ended up on permanent disability, which typically pays $1200/month (CAD) — a pittance that leaves most on it in poverty. He had a family with four kids and I heard he was divorced two years later.

Who else was hurt by this?

As you can imagine, just because it “wasn’t the company’s fault,” government bodies tasked with keeping workers safe weren’t going to leave the company quietly alone. They audited all the safety standards, levied tens of thousands of dollars in required upgrades and repairs to the machines and facility in general. A safety committee was put in place, and the company was forced to operate within the letter of the law.

The victim’s life was diverted way off course, for $9/hr. I think I counted at least twelve people who lost their jobs soon after this incident. Can you guess why? They’d been taught to skirt the rules to keep production moving. Some of these people viewed their job as having potential for a better life. So, they did as they were taught in hopes of moving up in pay and stature.

When the consequences of ignoring common-sense safety protocols finally caught up with one person, several other people were forced to pay the price. Wages were also frozen as the updated safety protocols involved nearly $100,000 in repairs including new concrete flooring in the warehouse, equipment replacement, and fabrication and welding of safety guards all over the place.

The point?

Whether you found this story insightful or not, I hope you at least see how pointless it is to put numbers before an employee’s safety. Eventually, something is going to happen, and the consequences reach far and wide.

Main Image Credit: Nasa_Goddard/Flickr

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