The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves


It sort of makes me wonder when I see the full page ads in the paper and billboards promoting Caterpillars “vision”. Why the Public Relations blitz? After all, if you were such a good corporate citizen, you shouldn’t have to tell everyone, they would already know.  


You can call me gullible, but do I believe Jim Owens is sincere in his commitment to Health and Safety. It’s too bad some of the people in positions of responsibility who work for him are not on board with those efforts. Historically, Caterpillar has pretty well had its way here as far as health and safety is concerned—their record proved that. Glen Barton came to realize this when he discovered that CAT was at or near the bottom in every health and safety statistical category when compared to our peers and customers. He started the ball rolling by demanding improvements in our Safety stats.


The problem with relying on figures is that they can be manipulated. Recordable Injury Frequency (RIF) was one category to be focused upon. So were Lost Time Case Frequency and Lost Time Case Frequency Severity.


A Recordable injury is one that meets specific OSHA criteria and has to be recorded on the employers Injury and Illness Log (OSHA 300 Log) they are required to keep. The 300 Logs are used to track injuries to help spot trends and prevent recurrence. A Lost Time Injury is pretty well self-explanatory. The Lost Time Case Severity is based on the number of days away from work a worker is off of the job as a result of the injury.


There are many ways to improve these statistics. One way is to reduce the number of people going to First-Aid. How could this be accomplished? How about giving  disciplinary action to injured workers? Would that discourage you from going to First-Aid? What about having extensive interviews with upper management in order to find out what your problem was? How about prizes or contests, similar to the ones reported in the company paper, for people to win as long as there were no injuries reported? If there were an injury reported, everybody has to start over on their bingo card or maybe even lose their pork chop dinner—would that make you think twice about going to First-Aid?


To reduce the number of Lost Time Cases or Severity, what would happen if any and every restriction were to be accommodated? The OSHA 300 logs indicate a sharp rise in restricted work days since 2002 (coincidentally the same year the new safety goals were announced). If workers were injured, but returned to work with restrictions and without days away from work, the numbers could theoretically go down. I personally know of a case where a worker had a five-pound weight restriction for one hand and a zero-pound restriction on the other, yet he was forced to return to work. Just putting on his coat to go to work exceeded his restrictions!


The best way to improve safety performance is to fully engage a joint union/company safety process similar to the one negotiated in the 2005 agreement. Provisions like these are very successful in other workplaces such as the automobile industry or even Deere (a company CAT benchmarks). Those employers actively seek out the union representatives to help assure the health and safety of the workers by identifying and controlling exposure to hazards, does that happen where you work?


Sadly, only a couple of business units in our local are going down this path although one or two are showing promise. Some appoint their own hourly “safety experts” and subvert the process agreed to in negotiations—at our expense. Most would like you to believe safety is totally your responsibility, but it is exposure to hazards not just employee behavior that causes injuries and illnesses.


If you have a safety or health problem at work, notify your supervisor (the best way is in writing). If the problem isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, ask to see your UNION safety representative and accept no substitutes. They are to be brought to you as soon as possible, but no later than the end of your next scheduled shift. As the business units that are truly making changes in the workplace which translate into truly safer and healthier places to work, maybe the others will see the light—for our sake, I hope so.




Steve Mitchell