Category Archives: Political Correctness

Safety – Call It What It Is

Almost any company these days has a safety department, committee, branch, or division. Sometimes entire armies of inspectors and supervisors travel to sites waving the banner of “Safety First”, “Zero Lost Time Incidents”, “Safely Home”, “Journey to Zero”, and many other such slogans. Carrying clipboards and making sure all the workers are wearing the appropriate personal protection equipment and performing job tasks correctly, they also will almost certainly ask to see your hazard assessment documentation. Managing safety has become an industry unto itself. My current employer retains two full time staff tasked exclusively with safety matters, in addition to a safety committee of a dozen or so “volunteers” at each physical plant site.

At one of my previous employments I myself was tasked with being the Safety Manager for the facility of some 200 workers, responsible for making sure the workplace was as safe as was reasonably possible.

I am always suspicious whenever someone’s paid job is to look out for my best interest; those two motivations are in polar contradiction with each other. Generally speaking, no company is going to pay out cash to look after the best interests of an employee, unless those best interests are first serving the company’s best interests. So let’s look at Safety through this lens and call it what it really is: Liability Reduction Management.

If you get hurt on the job, you must file a claim with the Worker’s Compensation Board, who themselves launch an investigation into the incident that lead up to your injury. If they find that your employer did not take reasonable steps to ensure that your workplace and the activity you are expected to do as part of your line of work was safe, they can be held liable to cover the medical expenses of your recovery and in some cases, compensation for any losses pertaining to the nature of the injury. Safety staff are your company’s answer to this situation, tasked not with making sure that you are safe, but with ensuring that the company cannot get sued or fined should anyone on their payroll get injured on the job. It’s as simple as that.

So why the title of Safety? It’s a facade – a sugarcoating to make the situation more palatable to those being harassed by employees who are extensions of the company’s legal department with the power to send you home or even terminate you for lack of compliance with their liability mitigating strategies, aka “Safety Policies”.

Safety = Scapegoat.

The entire safety movement revolves around the idea of making the employee liable for their own actions. Make no mistake – I am not against this concept – I believe that every person ought to stand or fall by the decisions they make, but sometimes those decisions can affect other people. Just call it what it is.

Say two employees are working together on something inside a ceiling in an office building. They have a ladder, are wearing steel toed boots and safety glasses. The fellow at the bottom of the ladder even holds the ladder steady and ensures that no one collides into the base of it so that the fellow in the ceiling can concentrate on the tasks he is to perform. Now let’s say that while the employee is working on top of the ladder, a tool falls out of his hand and lands on the employee’s head who is holding the ladder below.

Enter: An Incident.

The safety officer for the company attends the site, interviews both employees and surveys the area in which the incident took place. He concludes that although they had taken some steps towards working safely given the environment, he notes that their hazard assessment did not include “things falling from above” and also that the employee below was not wearing a hard hat (even though this is an office building where hats are considered rude) and therefore – did not follow the company’s safety policy and therefore … drumroll … the company is not liable with the Worker’s Compensation Board because, to put it bluntly, it was his own damn fault.

It is all about liability mitigation; passing the buck from the employer to the employee. And I’m fine with that, but please – call it what it is.

Alleged Victim – Trivializing Trauma

I read a story in a newspaper a few months ago that really bothered me. The story was disturbing enough on it’s own merit, it involved a brutal sexual assault that spanned multiple hours and multiple locations. It is incomprehensible on so many levels, but what bothered me more than the content of the story itself was the journalistic slant that was taken in the article.

In our country, every person has the right under law to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Even being “caught red-handed” does not necessarily constitute being proven guilty, and so due process is allowed to run its course. When reporting activities of a criminal nature, many media sources have taken up the practice of referring to these people, presumed innocent until proven guilty, as the “alleged perpetrator” of a crime. You have undoubtedly read or heard sentences like “The alleged shooter is due to appear in court this morning…” or “police have one suspect in custody who allegedly robbed the bank.” What these statements amount to is that the person they refer to has been accused of committing an act, but that accusation has not yet been proven; the person accused may or may not have committed that act.

What disturbed me in this article I was reading was that this approach had also been extended to the victim. The author referred to the girl as the “alleged victim”, implying that somehow there was now onus on her to prove that she had in fact been assaulted. Now I get the “cry wolf” argument here, that sometimes people do in fact manufacture allegations of a crime committed against them for any number of reasons – attention, revenge, bitterness, amusement, etc. In this case though, if what was alleged to have happened did in fact happen to this person, she has a long road ahead of her towards healing and recovery, and probably doesn’t need local media trivializing her trauma by saying “She says she was assaulted but we don’t actually believe her. We’ll see what the courts say before we’ll extend her the benefit of the doubt.”