Hazards Do Not Discriminate – Nor Should We

Hazards do not discriminate – nor should we. We do not necessarily have to like each other to work safely, but we do have to maintain professional working relationships based on mutual appreciation, caring, respect and trust.

Picture this: It’s January 25, 2021. At 9:15 a.m., Curtis, who is working his second day on the job, expresses concern that the outriggers on a crane are not properly cribbed. Carla, the site supervisor, tells Rich, the certified operator, to exit the crane and join her, Curtis and Becky, a signalwoman, for a discussion about the concern. At 9:20 a.m., the crane overturns, and the boom lands where Carla and Becky had been standing just moments before. The crane is a total loss, and there’s no chance of the job being profitable or completed on time.

Hazards Do Not Discriminate
Let’s focus on the upside of this fictional incident – that no one was hurt – rather than the property damage or the impact on the job’s budget and schedule. Let’s use this dramatized but all-too-possible event as a case study to discuss the role of culture in safety, specifically focusing on the need for TEAM (Together Everyone Accomplishes More) work. While reading the remainder of this article, I encourage you to focus on the safety of you and your team and not on any us-versus-them mentalities that create division and discourage teamwork. Are we fighting against each other or are we fighting against hazards?

Beyond what could have happened in the fictional incident above, here are some other questions I want you to consider:

  • Who gets cut worse if a rotating chainsaw strikes their unprotected leg – a highly experienced chainsaw operator or someone using a chainsaw for the first time?
  • Who gets electrocuted first when touching an energized power line and a ground without rubber gloves – a union or a non-union lineworker?
  • Who hits the ground first after a fall from the same elevation – a senior vice president or an entry-level apprentice?

I could go on with an exhaustive list of hazards and demographic differences, but instead I will state with absolute certainty that hazards do not care about experience, age, race, gender, socioeconomics, popularity, political affiliation or any other differences among people.

Nor Should We
Our ability to work safely depends on our ability to work together to identify and control hazards. We can either foster an environment that encourages teamwork, reporting, questioning attitudes, stopping when unsure and effective communication, or we wind up fostering an environment that doesn’t discourage discrimination, hazing, isolation, low morale and ineffective communication. Because of individual risk tolerances, perceptions and filters, it takes a team to accurately identify hazards with full situational awareness and apply the hierarchy of controls to effectively mitigate those hazards. It’s also worth pointing out that if we are focused on our differences, we may never know what we have in common.

Practical Application
Given the information above, here are some things to keep in mind as you strive to foster a positive, teamwork-focused environment. 

Individual behavior is influenced by organizational processes and values. You may recognize that as the third principle of human performance, and we can simplify it by saying that culture matters. It boils down to this: Do you have an aligned team or a group of individuals working in close physical proximity but otherwise alone?

The example you set matters. As a leader and safety champion, you have positional authority and personal influence. Your team is a reflection of you. They will follow the example you set whether it is good or bad.

People are equal but never the same. We cannot expect everyone to think and act just like us, nor can we interpret words like “consistency” and “fairness” to mean that we must treat everyone and every situation the same. Treat people based on what they need, have earned and deserve.

Diversity is a good thing. People have different filters, ideas and perspectives that can make tasks safer and more efficient. We also have individual strengths and weaknesses. Collectively, a team can enhance strengths and overcome weaknesses.

You cannot change or control other people. You can force compliance and may need to do so where safety concerns exist, but it cannot be your overall goal to force change or control other people. Focus on growing influence.

Some things need to clock out when you clock in. Biased attitudes toward individuals or groups, favoritism and bullying are detrimental to teamwork. In the same way, unsafe heroic, fatalistic and Pollyanna attitudes can harm your team’s ability to work together safely.

Care about your team. Caring is visible by doing two things. First, protect your team from harm. Second, be committed to the development and success of your team and everyone on it. Be sure you understand the difference between caring about someone and liking them, with an intense focus on caring about them.

Us versus them or just us? Me or we? Are we standing shoulder to shoulder or nose to nose? Would you rather have someone to blame or complain about or someone to work with? Do we debate or do we argue? Are we adversaries or do we have a partnership?

I don’t know if you’ve watched the TV show “Game of Thrones,” but someone once pointed out to me that it is a good example of infighting among groups and teams that became so severe, they lost sight of their real enemy. Don’t let that be true with your team and hazards. Stay safe and be well.

About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (https://ip-institute.com). He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators.

About Frontline Fundamentals: Frontline Fundamentals topics are derived from the Incident Prevention Institute’s popular Frontline training program (https://frontlineutilityleader.com). Frontline covers critical knowledge, skills and abilities for utility leaders and aligns with the Certified Utility Safety Professional exam blueprint.


Webinar: Hazards Do Not Discriminate
March 10, 2021, at 1 p.m. Eastern
Visit https://frontlineutilityleader.com for more information.

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David McPeak, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM, CUSP, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (www.ip-institute.com). His experience includes operations management, safety and training roles. McPeak holds multiple safety and training certifications and has received numerous awards. He also has served as chairman of Task Team One of the OSHA ET&D Partnership, as a member of Incident Prevention’s editorial advisory board and as a member of the North Carolina Apprenticeship Council. Reach him at david@utilitybusinessmedia.com.

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