Who is responsible for your Safety at Caterpillar?


How will you answer this question? Are you the one ultimately responsible? Is everyone responsible for your safety? Is anyone?


According to the OSHA General Duty Clause 5(a)(1), “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”. Now, who is responsible?


The terms of the 2004 collective bargaining agreement states (I know, you haven’t received your contract book from the company yet)…”The parties further recognize the mutual advantage of correcting any deficiencies and resolving any disputes at the earliest opportunity. Therefore, the parties agree to place renewed attention, emphasis, and effort into the use of the local safety complaint procedure”…and...”The Company agrees to continue to ensure that Supervisors at all levels give proper priority to health and safety issues and that such Supervisors are informed of the facilities and techniques available to respond to health and safety issues” (8.1 Central). Who is responsible?


Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens says that Safety is more important than productivity or even quality. After hearing such positive commitment from the top, it is troubling to see certain Business Units attempt to shift the legal responsibility to “provide a workplace free of recognized hazards” to their workers, and fail to honor the commitment to “place renewed attention, emphasis, and effort into the use of the local safety complaint procedure” by implementing a blame-the-worker program called Behavior-Based Safety or as we call it, BS Safety.


The premise behind the BS Safety shell game is that the majority of injuries are caused by unsafe acts. Who does BS Safety think is responsible for these unsafe acts…you are! Ultimately, the goal of BS Safety is to have audits done by your peers to see what percentage of so-called “safe behavior” you have during the performance of your daily tasks. Who gets scored on this subjective evaluation and held responsible…you are!


Given that the majority of our serious injuries are Ergonomic in nature, how does the worker affect their workplace with unsafe acts? Do we design our workstations? No. Do we design the parts we have to work with? No. Do we research and purchase the tools we use? No.  Do we determine the way our parts come into our work areas? No. Do we set production rates? No. Do we have the ability to make changes in the workplace when we are injured? No. But under BS Safety, are we the ones who get audited and are held responsible for being injured? YES!  


If BS Safety is such a great idea, why not apply it to quality and product performance problems too? We learned a long time ago that we couldn’t inspect quality and performance into our products; we design and engineer those traits into them from the concept stage to production.


How are quality or performance problems addressed? Aren’t the root cause(s) of these problems identified, evaluated, and controlled by changing the process or equipment, or even an engineering change? If a tool makes a hole the wrong size or the wrong depth, don’t we fix the tool or get a better one? If parts don’t fit during the assembly process, don’t we determine where the discrepancy is and fix it? Were we to follow the BS Safety model, we’d watch the operator to see if they were doing the job according to the process, and then what, blame him or her for the problem? For more on BS Safety, check out www.uawlocal974.org and look at the Safety Chairman’s link.  


If you think about it, all injuries are caused by exposure to hazards. No exposure to a hazard—no injury. That is why we need to help Caterpillar place renewed attention, emphasis, and effort into the use of the Safety Complaint Procedure by identifying the hazards we are exposed to in order to get them corrected.


Stage 1 in the Safety Complaint Procedure is to identify the hazard. Report it to your supervisor and give he or she a chance to fix it.


Stage 2: If your supervisor doesn’t get the job done soon enough or keep you updated on their progress or address the problem to your satisfaction, call for your UAW Safety Representative. The Foreman has to get your UAW Safety Representative, “as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the employees next scheduled shift” for an investigation of the problem.


Stage 3 involves broadening the investigation of the complaint by including the Safety Committeeman and Superintendent-level management.


From here, there are two more actions that can be taken. Certain complaints, due to their nature, may result in a joint investigation by International UAW and Cat Safety Representatives.


In Stage 4, the Complaint turns into a grievance and is put directly into Third Step of the Grievance procedure, but we shouldn’t have to go to these lengths, we have Mr. Owens on our side.


Who is your representative? The list below will let you know who to talk to in order to get help. Monthly Safety Council meetings are held at the Union Hall for these representatives to educate them in ways to help reduce or eliminate your exposure to hazards in the workplace. If you make your concerns about Safety known, your UAW Safety Representative will do their best to help you, but first you have to raise your hand.


In Solidarity,


Steve Mitchell

Local 974 Safety Chairman