By Susen Trail | 11/24/2020
We’ve all heard of Civil Disobedience, a passive and visible means of making a political point. Occupational Disobedience is a slowly encroaching behavior of disregard for the safety rules and policies in their workplace. It occurs when safety rules are unequally applied, or no one seems to notice if you comply or not. Occupational Disobedience is the visible rust as the metal structure of your Safety Culture erodes away.
Examples of Occupational Disobedience:
- Incorrectly or unlabeled secondary containers, messy workstations, cluttered walkways
- Ineffective training by the Safety Manager
- Failure to enforce safety rules by Supervisor
- Failure to understand why the rule exists or failure to respect the rule
- Safety signage for conditions no longer present. For example, a room used to be used for developing pictures, but the room was repurposed. However, the safety signs were not taken down.
- Safety Manager neglect
- Failure by Supervisors and management to notice
- Multiple types of gloves for chemical hazards but, when asked, employees cannot tell you when they should be worn
- Ineffective training
- Failure to notice employee confusion
- Failure to create a simple system to support employee compliance
When the "low hanging fruit" is allowed to rot employee disobedience branches out into risky behavior. I conducted a fatality investigation where the employee responsible for writing the Lock Out procedures for a machine ‘skipped the procedures’ when he crawled inside for a quick fix and was crushed. The Safety Manager had to tell his wife and she had to tell me why this had happened. She could not explain it, but I could.
The signs of Occupational Disobedience were everywhere. The Safety Manager had been assigned two other jobs the year before and the neglect was visible everywhere, including the movement of good employees out of the workplace to safer companies.
Recently I spoke with a construction Supervisor about trying Simple Safety Coach. He’d been talking about how the job of Safety Manager was a "hot potato" no one wanted. He thought Simple Safety Coach would provide the structure and processes to get everyone moving in one direction, create momentum and the ability to quantify and verify safety actions and their impact.
The Supervisor said he'd set up a meeting with his boss, the owner of the company, and get back to me. Then COVID-19 hit, and we agreed to touch base in another three months. In that time the Supervisor realized that, because of the Occupational Disobedience, he had to constantly nag his crew to wear their PPE, perform ladder inspections, and other safety procedures. This meant that, not only was his crew working in an unsafe environment, but he was also constantly exposed to safety hazards himself.
I've known this man for several years and he always puts forth his best effort. He puts his family first, he's the best employee you could want - experienced, reliable, intelligent, and trustworthy. Those same stellar qualities that made him a valuable employee motivated his decision to find a safer place to work. He took a pay cut over remaining in an unsafe workplace.