Making Liars Out of Honest Men and Women

By now, the New Year is well underway and I hope for a better, safer, healthier and more prosperous year for all who are reading this. Another wish I have is that we have an honest year, but I am doubtful that this wish will come true due to a number of work rules put in place by our benevolent employer. 

More and more, we are put in no-win situations when it comes to health and safety, especially regarding the reporting of injuries. We are required to report any and all injuries, but if one suffers an injury and reports it, rest assured that every applicable Safe Job Procedure, Standard Work procedure, and the content of every CLMS and CPS class you have taken will be scoured to find a way to assign blame to the individual who reports the incident as required. Do you realize that the notebooks at the break tables that everyone so dutifully signs and dates are often Exhibit #1 in the case against you? Be honest with yourself, it’s not like your boss actually wants you to read those procedures every month, he just wants you to mark that you did. If your boss really wanted you to read and follow the SJP’s or Standard Work, they would regularly audit you for compliance, not wait until you were hurt. When was the last time you were audited?

I recently spoke with a manager about a safety policy that was enacted in response to a freak injury. No other injury of this type had occurred to people performing this particular task, yet the cumbersome and potentially dangerous PPE policy was rolled out as gospel. During our discussion, I pointed out that the policy was unreasonable, unfounded and unsupported by facts – he agreed. I also pointed out that many of the people we had just walked by were in violation of the policy. Again, he agreed and said it wasn’t a big deal. I asked him if it would be a big deal if another freak injury were to occur to one of those people he just witnessed not following the policy. He said that of course it would.

Often times the words we speak in First Aid immediately after being injured are used against us for purposes of discipline. The question that makes my head want to pop is, “What did you do to hurt yourself”, like I wanted to be injured in the first place…and these are the caregivers asking this question. I am convinced they want you to say things when you’re in pain or scared like, “It was all my fault” or “I shouldn’t have done it that way” or, the ever popular, “I knew that would happen”, because once you do, your boss is off the hook, and you are on the hook instead.

If you are asked what happened or what you were doing when the injury occurred, ask the person questioning you if the answers you give could lead to disciplinary action. If that answer is yes, ask for a union representative, and don’t answer any more questions about the incident until you speak with your rep. That said, don’t think you will be left alone, management might want you to make or write a statement. Again, ask about the possibility of discipline and call for your representative. Anything you say will be used against you.

What does it say about our employer when they put injury and illness reporting policies in place, which on paper have the appearance of genuine interest and concern about the well-being of employees, but in fact are only a pretext for issuing discipline after an incident? What are the messages being sent to the employees, “tell us the truth so we can discipline you”? Even writing the previous sentence makes me feel like I’m part of the “Grassy Knoll” conspiracy crowd, but truth is stranger than fiction.

However, if we don’t report injuries or illnesses, or do not do so in a manner that management considers timely, we face further sanctions. Almost all of the dozens of people who I’ve tried to help, who were disciplined after being hurt and reporting, not reporting, or not reporting in a timely manner, said they wish they kept their mouths shut. Included in this group of honest, but disappointed people, is someone who suffered a broken arm. I believe 30-40 additional people would be working if they had only lied. What does that mean when the reporting policies encourage honest people to lie?

One worker, who works in a plant in “the Bottoms”, thought he had an eyelash drop into his eye one afternoon, near the end of his shift. The sensation went away as quickly as it had come, so he didn’t think anything about it. At home, sometime later, he felt discomfort and sought treatment. He was told he had a rust ring in his eye where a sliver of metal was embedded, so they removed the sliver and the rust ring. As soon as he returned to work, he reported the injury, but was disciplined because he didn’t go to First Aid when he thought he had an eyelash in his eye. He wished he had worked for a while and then reported the injury. Again, an honest person who wished he had lied.

In another similar situation, I spoke with a manager regarding discipline issued to someone for reporting an ergonomic strain/sprain type injury that occurred the prior day. The injured worker felt a little tweak one afternoon, but suffered no further discomfort. Overnight, the individual’s back had stiffened, so he reported it to his supervisor. As soon as the worker returned from First Aid, he was disciplined. The manager said that the worker should have reported the initial tweak to medical in order to be compliant with the injury reporting policy. I asked the manager if he really wanted every bump, pop, twinge, scratch, bruise and scrape reported, because if so, I would encourage everyone I met to do so. The manager replied that of course he did not want all of those minor symptoms reported. Why?

So what are the answers to these problems? Does management really want you to report injuries and illnesses so they can fix the problems, or do they want to beat you down so their safety metrics performance does not negatively affect their STIP or SMART Goal payments? Is discipline the only way to make us, the unwashed masses, safer? No, you are the answer. You can help Caterpillar fix their problems.

Report all hazards, it’s your contractual obligation. Do not use the CPS C/I cards to report hazards or tell the Team Lead, tell your boss-that’s in the contract too. If you don’t have the correct tooling, tell your boss. If you have to pound parts with large hammers, use pry bars or cheater bars, tell your boss that there must be a better way to do the job. If you’re still using bar knobs, tell your boss. If your floor is uneven or slippery, tell your boss. If your PPE is worn out, does not fit correctly or is unsanitary, tell your boss.  If you have to lift from below your knees or above your shoulders, tell your boss. If you have to climb and cannot maintain three points of contact, tell your boss. If you smell, taste or feel coolant mist, tell your boss. If you are provided a hoist use it, if you can’t, tell your boss. If your boss can’t, won’t or doesn’t know how to address your concerns, ask for your UAW Health and Safety Representative.

I want everyone to maintain their integrity. Tell the truth and resist the temptation to become a liar. Report all symptoms of injury and stick together, don’t let yourselves be divided. Insist that your health and safety issues be addressed to your satisfaction by your boss or ask for your UAW Health and Safety Representative to assist you in making your workplace safer for you and for others. Do these things and it will be a better 2014 for all.