Bad Behavior – Again
By Steve Mitchell, Plantwide Safety Chairman
It’s hard to believe that by the time you read this will be April 2015. I have the opportunity six times a year to address the brothers and sisters of UAW Local 974 through this forum with what a good friend calls my “screeds”. If you look at the local union’s website on the Safety Chairman’s page (http://uawlocal974.org/safety_chairman.asp ), there are all of my past “screeds” and a link entitled, “Post a Question for the Safety Chairman”. Last month I received this question, “Why do you allow behavior based safety programs that are unrealistic in nature exist without a fight”?
I apologize to the individual who posed this question for not responding back directly, but you didn’t leave an email address for me to contact you. Specifically to your question, to my knowledge there has been only one grievance filed related to behavior based safety and I filed it (it is in the arbitration backlog for Issue Cases). I have heard of no other formal objections, only the rolled eyes, snickers and disgust from those who have to endure the behavior-based classes our employer has wasted millions of dollars upon.
I have written numerous times regarding behavior-based safety, or as it is more accurately referred to by our Steelworker friends as BS Safety. BS Safety is founded upon the principle that almost every injury or illness is the fault of the employee who is hurt or made ill. The particular percentage of injuries and illnesses that are attributed to the fault of the injured worker depends on the specific brand of BS Safety, but they generally range from 75% to 96%. For a more in-depth description of BS Safety go to the following link http://uawlocal974.org/BSSafety/Warning!_Behavior-Based_Safety_Can_Be_Hazardous_To_Your_Health_and_Safety_Program!.pdf
BS safety is not new. More than 80 years ago, a researcher named Heinrich looked at thousands of injury and illness reports filled out primarily by supervisors. In these reports, the supervisors would have to either: a) take the blame for allowing workers to perform tasks while exposed to unsafe conditions, or b) blame the worker. Which of these two responses do you think Mr. Heinrich said were most abundant?
In order for BS Safety to work, we as workers have to be perfect every minute of every day. We can never make a mistake. We cannot be tired. We can never forget. We cannot be distracted. We have to perform our work tasks exactly the same every time. We cannot deviate from procedure, even slightly. That doesn’t sound very possible, much less human, does it?
So the question I ask you is why do we get hurt? What causes our injuries? Is it the new job? Are we in a hurry? Do we get complacent? Is our mind not on the job? Are we accident-prone? Could we have taken a shortcut? Are we concerned about our job security? Have we been up all night with a sick child or an aging parent? Do we have a teenager in trouble? Is our relationship or marriage falling apart? Do any of these things sound like something a human being might reasonably be expected to experience? According to BS Safety, these are the things you do to cause of your injuries and illnesses.
If you only remember one thing from this article, remember this, there is really only one thing that causes every injury or illness that has ever occurred or ever will occur and that is when a worker is exposed to a hazard. We cannot get cut on the sharp edge that is not there. We cannot get caught in a pinch point that is properly guarded. We can’t be exposed to chemicals if they were either replaced with something non-toxic or if there is proper ventilation. Your employer, not you, has the legal obligation under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their workers that is free of recognized hazards.
It’s easy to understand why BS Safety is so attractive to management. BS Safety turns the obligation to provide a safe workplace upside down and places the responsibility for remaining safe on the workers. Think of what is taught in these BS Safety classes. Stay out of the line of fire. Keep your mind on the task. Keep your eyes on the path. Watch out for pinch points. Granted, we have to follow rules and training we receive on specific hazards, but to me, listening to the tenants of BS Safety, it sounds like the hazards are just out in the open waiting to swallow you up. To this day, I have yet to see an incident where BS Safety would indicate an injury was the fault of the employer and not the employee.
What then would you think about the behavior of a manager who removes safety equipment from a work area? Do you think it makes sense to remove welding curtains from one specific work area in our largest fabrication building? In this particular area, workers weld, grind and carbon arc gouge in workstations only 15 to 20 feet apart. Originally workers who complained were told the removal was part of a 5S project. Later they were told that the curtains were removed because people were hiding behind them. As hard as it is to believe, a grievance regarding this specific issue was recently certified for arbitration.
To me, it is truly disappointing to have to use the grievance procedure for such a no – brainer problem. If the curtains were dirty either clean them or replace them. If people were truly hiding behind the curtain may be the company should hire someone to manage them, oh, that’s what Supervisors used to do.
What was even more disappointing was to hear of the behavior of some so-called “Safety Professionals” who provided excuses for management after the curtains were removed. These “Professionals” believe the curtains were not needed because the polycarbonate safety glasses provided by the company filter out radiation that could harm one’s eyes and protected from the rest of the hazards. If that were truly the case, why is this the only welding fabrication area in the building where the welding curtains were removed? Why are there weld curtains along tour routes? Aren’t there any adults in charge down in the Bottoms?
In a different part of the East Peoria Plant, I’m told that an untrained worker was encouraged by a supervisor to perform tasks that would require Lockout/Tagout. As the story went, a particular maintenance function needed to be performed. The machine would have to be shut down until the contractor could be summoned and perform the task. Reportedly, with encouragement from his supervisor, the worker performed the task without Lockout/Tagout not once, but twice. Naturally, when questioned about this transgression, the supervisor developed amnesia and after some one-on-one counseling, so did the worker. How about that as an example of behavior?
One need not look much further for examples of the behavioral mindset than is common in some Medical departments. I have personally been asked when reporting to medical with an injury, “What did you do to hurt yourself”? Sometimes it is difficult when burned, crushed, broken, bruised, punctured, abraded, lacerated or otherwise damaged to remain civil when asked such a stupid question. The factual answer to the stupid question is, “I was doing my job”.
After being injured, workers are especially vulnerable when
it comes to answering questions. The reporting of injuries has turned into a
contest in which everyone blamestorming the incident points their fingers at
the injured. Remember, everything you say in medical or during an
investigation can and will be used against you later on.
Ask for your union representative to be present when you are asked to answer any questions that you feel could lead to you being disciplined or worse. Once you ask for your representative, wait in silence and do not answer any questions about the incident until you’ve had a chance to speak with your union rep. Remember, the less you say, the better, but be truthful no matter what. Ask your representative to copy what you say word for word, then ask for a copy of what management has written down. Read it thoroughly and clear up any discrepancies right there and then.
In conclusion, going back to the question that was originally posed to me, “Why do you allow behavior based safety programs that are unrealistic in nature exist without a fight”? The short answer is that I don’t allow it, you do. I don’t believe in C/I cards, I believe in the Safety Complaint Procedure in 8.3 of the contract. I filed a grievance and await the opportunity to have the case presented to an arbitrator. I have provided information as to why these programs have cost our employer millions of dollars that could have been used to address real problems that affect you every day. BS Safety is just that, it’s BS. Someday, you and your co-workers will have finally had enough of the BS. It is you and your brothers and sisters that have the power to make changes happen.