Put a stop to shortcuts – before the excuses multiply

by on July 10, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

One of the difficulties in safety leadership is that a lot of excuses for non-compliance actually aren’t that unreasonable – when seen in isolation.

Problem is, these excuses add up, become habits, and send the wrong message to everyone else.

Questions: In the following scenario, do you half-buy the excuses offered, and if so, would you care to guess how many similar violations were found?

An OSHA inspector found a worker using a rotary hammer to chip concrete off a roof canopy.

The hammer was attached to an extension cord, which was plugged into a four-way gang box, which in turn was connected to an extension cord that ran to an electrical outlet inside the building.

Per manufacturer’s instructions, the gang box was for permanent installation only.

Questioned about this set up, the crew supervisor explained it was a temporary solution. He offered the following excuses (we’re paraphrasing these quotes):

  1. “Yes, I know that you’re not supposed to use an uninstalled gang box as temporary wiring. I never would have allowed it if we had to use the rotary hammer for a whole shift. But it was for an hour or two at most.”
  2. “Yes, I know there are live wires in the gang box, and yes, I know that one of the knockouts is knocked out, but who’s going to stick their finger in that hole?”
  3. “I know that the gang box is not approved for outdoor use, but it’s all right for the limited time we needed it.” As you can imagine, the OSHA inspector didn’t buy the excuses and issued a serious citation. Cost: $200.

Other violations, excuses and costs
How many more similar citations were issued?

    1. Not training operators in industrial trucks. Supervisors excuse: “He had an expired certification from another state and it was clear he knew how to drive the forklift. I watch him. I trust him. He’s safe.” Cost: $300.
    2. Not requiring employees to wear safety-toe footwear, hard hats, eye and face PPE. Excuse: “It’s too hot to wear a hard hat today. And I’m watching them closely.” $800.
    3. Not providing required access for a scaffold (ladder, etc.), so that workers had to climb up the scaffold. Excuse: “They were only going up once or twice.” Cost: $200.
    4. Not having a competent person supervise erection of a scaffold and failure to train in scaffold safety. Excuse: “Everyone is competent to erect a scaffold.” Cost: $1,000.

Justifications become habits
These examples show how easily people can take shortcuts, and how easily a supervisor can justify not stepping in: “It’s not really unsafe, it’s just for an hour, no one would do that.”

Problem is, these kinds of unsafe behaviors and justifications become habits. And not just with one worker – everyone sees what’s going on to determine what’s acceptable. That’s why these citations are never found alone.

Bottom line: As a supervisor, don’t allow excuse making, even if the excuses sound half-reasonable. Step in and make it clear that being on the job site requires meeting certain standards, such as PPE, no exceptions. If you have a “no excuses” policy, workers will stop making them.

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