Nothing to Hide

After the last issue of the Local 974 News was delivered, I received a call from someone at the East Peoria plant regarding the content of my article. It appears a member of management was surprised to learn that there were no Safe Job Procedures (SJP’s) for a number of jobs in the building he manages. Reportedly, he called a meeting of his direct reports and chewed some serious butt. Not only was he upset about the non-existent SJP’s, he was livid because he had to learn of it from Local 974 News. Why wasn’t this manager told by his subordinates of the safety shortcomings in the building for which he is ultimately responsible? What was there to hide?

I’m not suggesting anyone in management wants to see a worker get hurt, but as long as iron is going out the door, a lot of things are allowed to slide on by. Those SJP’s are funny things. Day in and day out, “standard work” and SJP’s are ignored and nobody caresis not followed, but as long as the parts are good, nobody cares—until someone gets hurt. At that point, the SJP becomes almost biblical and discipline is handed down from on high based on the normally ignoredthe authority of the SJPdetails.

Maybe some of the managers were embarrassed that the lack of SJP’s would mean that there would be no document to comb through to help assign blame to an injured worker. Assigning blame based on the words of theses “bibles” has become standard practice. I’ll bet the managers and personnel responsible for this lapse have not been disciplined, but if an injured worker failed to follow the SJP to the letter, you can bet that he or she would have been disciplined.

I’m aware of a worker who was disciplined for not inspecting a common fixture component, a bar knob. For a moment, ignore the fact that bar knobs were cutting edge technology in the 1940’s and 1950’s and that today there are many better, faster and more efficient ways of holding parts in a fixture. This worker had performed his job the same way as the other shifts for months and there were no complaints. One day his pry bar slips on the nearly pre-historic bar knob and he is injured. He reports the injury and the next morning is suspended for not inspecting the bar knob. Not a word was spoken to anyone else doing the same job in the same way. Did he get disciplined for not following the procedure… or was it because he was injured—you be the judge.

If the managers really wanted to know about safety or health issues in their buildings, they’d ask the UAW Safety Representatives and I’ll tell you why—we have nothing to hide.

When workers or their representatives bring health and/or safety concerns, complaints and/or grievances to management, we’re already on the moral high ground. Can the same be said for anyone working against us as we seek improved worker health and safety? Are the priorities of some individuals in positions of responsibility in the wrong order? Additionally, anyone taking actions to discourage workers from reporting injuries (rewards or discipline) or playing games with the OSHA Recordkeeping Standards apparently has something to hide.

I assume you’ve heard the saying, “If you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result, that is a sign of insanity”? Do you agree? When injuries go un-reported or un-recorded, for whatever reason, hazards are left unabated and more workers will fall victim. That’s doing the same thing and expecting a different result, right?

Recently, as the result of an OSHA Citation being contested by CAT, there was an “entry on land” at one of the facilities represented by our Local Union. Entry on land is a legal term meaning that OSHA and the union got to go into the facility where an injury occurred to gather information, such as pictures and videotape, in anticipation of an upcoming hearing in front of a judge. Prior to entering the plant, workers on the line being visited were told not to speak with OSHA or the UAW Representatives under any circumstances. OSHA and the UAW Representatives were told that they could not “impede production” by speaking with the workers in the plant. What was there to hide?

In this particular case, the penalty issued to CAT by OSHA was a whopping $900. That entire penalty would not cover one hour of the fees charged by the attorneys CAT had onsite. One expert estimates CAT will spend 100 times the penalty in defense of the citation. You’d think the workers in this area would appreciate getting a number of battery-powered hand trucks to replace the archaic manual pallet jacks instead of lining the pockets of the rich lawyers, wouldn’t you? Do you suppose CAT had the attorneys there because they were trying to make that particular job safer or to make sure that we did not find something.something? What was there to hide?

In a similar situation in another CAT Local Union, workers in an area to be visited by OSHA and the OSHA Machine Guarding specialist were scheduled for mandatory training a half an hour before OSHA arrived. Therefore, no workers were available to speak with OSHA or their specialist. What was there to hide?

My guess is CAT is hiding their failure to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards for their employees. Another way to hide the responsibility is to blame us for injuries that occur from worker exposure to hazards on the job.

I reported in the last Local 974 News that the SafeStart Behavioral behavioral Based based Safety safety Program program is being kicked off at the Tech Center. The intent of this “blame the worker” program is obvious considering recent “investigations” of two recordable injuries. One person was hurt while working with another employee removing a 125 pound pin from a piece of equipment. They were assigned this task by their supervisor. The “investigation” using SafeStart criteria indicated that complacency; eyes not on task, being in the line of fire and mind not on the job were the root causes of the injury. At no point did anyone look at the 125 lb. pin, other than to say the workers could have used a truck with a crane to assist with the lift. The lifting limit for that facility is 50 lbs. and coincidently, the root causes were also the corrective actions. In other words, there was nothing done to prevent this incident from happening again other than the workers were essentially told, “It’s your fault and be more careful next time”. Who assigned the task? Did they look at the job to assess the likelihood of the need for a crane? How in the world is 50 lbs. an acceptable lifting limit when according to CAT’s Corporate Ergonomic SIP, all jobs with lifts over 18 lbs. are supposed to be evaluated? Were the required evaluations completed? Why not? How could the workers be blamed if management cannot even follow their own requirements? “Be careful next time”, is not a corrective action, it is a way to shift blame.

Another individual suffered a serious head injury while working in a very confined location below the floor inside the cab of a piece of equipment. While working in this cramped space, the worker raised up out of the space and struck his head on the bottom of the pedals, which by design are located right above this space. Once again, the SafeStart principals were used to blame the worker in the investigation. True to form, eyes not on task, being in the line of fire and mind not on the job were the root causes of the injury rather than the space where work was to be performed or the design that placed the pedals directly over anyone working in the space. The corrective actions involved the possible application of padding (something the worker would have to remember to do), PPE, possibly in the form of a hard hat or bump cap, complete with chin strap, and of course blaming the worker for the injury and imploring that they be more careful next time. When asked if the pedals could be moved out of the way, the answer was, “yes, but that would take nearly a half an hour”. There you have it. Instead of requiring workers take the time to remove hazards or designing the hazard out of the job, it is more expedient to have them use PPE ,PPE, some silly pad, or be told to be careful.

What is any different with the scenarios mentioned above than if you were asked to walk barefoot across the floor of a room littered with broken glass? As long as you keep your mind on your task, your eyes on task path and you are constantly aware of your body position while keeping out of the line of fire, you should be okay, right? Now, once you make it all the way across the room, turn around and walk back across the room, only this time in addition to walking across the room, you simultaneously have to alsocomplete the same task only this time while juggling perform one of your regular daily tasks. Does this sound like a good ideait will work? Do you think you might end up with cuts on your feet? Is this a good idea?Supposedly, if you f Following the SafeStart principals, it should workreally, trust me..


As I have said many times, injuries happen because workers are exposed to hazards. This is not just me speaking. OSHA, NIOSH, the National Safety Council and anyone else serious about health and safety promote removing the hazards. You can not get hurt or sick if there is no exposure to a hazard, it’s impossible. According to OSHA, our employer is legally responsible for providing a workplace free of recognized hazards. To believe that workers can be exposed to hazards and the “new improved protection” from the hazards is to be told to “be careful” would be hilarious if it were not so irresponsible.  If you get hurt or sick because of your job, it is because your employer did not protect you from exposure to hazards—period, end of story. See, we have nothing to hide!


Steve Mitchell