Thursday, August 04, 2011

Stick With "Workplace: Mission Zero" and Nobody Gets Hurt

As I was walking out of the building where our safety meeting was held this morning, I caught my high heel on a water hose snaking across the landscaping, and nearly tripped and fell. Driving out of the parking lot a few seconds later, I saw my former boss doing the same thing.

Safety, they keep telling us, comes first. Then they prove incontrovertibly otherwise by their official actions. Yet it is not malice that does this, or shoddy work practices, or cutting corners. It just seems to me that reality keeps rearing its undeniable head and making a neat mess of all the plans, policies, programs, and lofty intentions we keep implementing to deny it.

However, I don't mean this bitterly. Our senior management is deeply serious about the issue of workplace safety, to the point where they happily spend a full day with us in an overcooled classroom, participating with joyless loyalty in roundtables, telling tear-jerking stories, trying to discover... what? Why does the workplace, despite the brightly-colored ideals of unrestrained capitalism, fail to conform to the brightly-colored ideals of a workplace Utopia?

They are genuinely sincere. And we want to be safe... right? I mean, every employee, on a personal level, values his or her own personal ability to go home at the end of the day and do whatever he or she does best - be it hug the kids or go out on a massive happy-hour-instigated bender - to at least the point at which he or she would not, by any means, find it a matter of indifference to determine whether said employee might just as well be wiped out by a stray cement mixer.

Are you with me? (As one of our facilitators kept saying this morning.)

Well, we went through exercises and brainstorming, and determined (over the protests of one of our participants, who I'm sorry to report I thought was not nearly as bright as she should have been) that the most important element in incentivizing* employees to implement safety initiatives was to give them ownership.**

So, while accountability is important, said most of us in our group, the most important element is to personalize and internalize the concept of safety, to where the reason people look out for it is because they want to and believe in it, not because you'll get in trouble if someone gets hurt. Right?

But one woman in my group had a lot of trouble with this concept, and kept arguing it. "I'm sorry, you guys, I'm just not getting it," she said. "You have to have accountability. Why are you all arguing with this? It's got to be the top priority!" Others tried to explain the carrot vs. stick concept to her, all with varying degrees of failure; then time was up, and we submitted our inconclusive results with the rest.

More troubling to me, really, was the beginning of the day's exercises. This is a government agency I work for, and the initiatives we implement today ought to be not merely for the good of employees, but for the general public. So I was deeply troubled when an official representative of the meeting organizer stood up and began our day with an official prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the success of our endeavors today.

Yahweh, Ashtoreth, fickle Fate, lucky chance, or whoever assist us, please, in the preservation of human and animal lives to their full and healthy span. But ordering a roomful of employees, of whatever religion or lack thereof, to bow their heads and participate in a sacred convocation in the name of a particular deity whom many do not observe, upset me a lot. Keeping everyone I work with, including the public, is sacred to me. But invoking a prayer as an opening ceremony which excludes many of us from the get-go is a very bad, bad thing indeed, and I hope to get this addressed by the appropriate, responsible parties.

I've been away for umpteen months, so you shouldn't expect this to be funny. However, if it's any consolation, I'd like to point out that at least we didn't have to watch "Highway to Certain Death," largely concerned with the individual employee's responsibility for avoiding the blind spot of a cement mixer, today or at any threatened point in the immediate future.

Peace, blessings, and workplace safety to all.

*You will never be able to pay enough to earn what it actually cost me, on a personal level, to get me to use that word... never.
**This also once meant something.

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At August 18, 2011 11:35 PM, Blogger Billy Joe said...

I've missed your bloggin's.

Now I have yet another painful image of that place, though I haven't been there in years. The last one you gave me was when the police officer said Obama made him want to throw up.

That place is just f'ed up.


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