When supervisors join the Unsafe Team, trouble follows

by on February 16, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Hard to prove employee misconduct when the employee is a boss.

“Darn it, Stan, you were supposed to be keeping an eye out to make sure Mickey didn’t get too close to the edge of the roof,” Safety Director Nate Boyd told supervisor Stan Krulewicz. “You weren’t supposed to be 50 feet away, with your back turned, working on something else.”

“I guess I got tired of standing around doing nothing,” Stan said. “Safety monitor is a really boring job.”

“Maybe, but I’d rather have you bored than have an OSHA inspector on my neck,” Nate said. “The inspector caught you not paying attention to Mickey like you should have.”

Just a small job
“Look, this was a small job,” Stan said. “I figured if I helped Mickey we could finish in two hours or so. We had more important fish to fry that day – like getting to that big job over on Harper Street.”

“Makes no difference,” Nate replied. “Mickey was working 14 feet off the ground, leaning over the edge of the roof at times. He could have been badly hurt if he’d fallen. You know that if your people don’t tie off, you’re supposed to do nothing but monitor them – not get involved in the work yourself.”

“It’s not like I didn’t ever look at what Mickey was doing,” Stan complained. “I just had to nail down a few shingles and then I was gonna go back to monitoring him.”

Bad timing
“Well, it’s unfortunate for us that the inspector drove by just at that time,” Nate said. “Now we’ll probably get cited and fined – and it’s your fault.”

Sure enough, OSHA did cite the company for violating the safety monitor regs in the fall protection standard. The company appealed on grounds of unpreventable employee misconduct by Stan. Did it win?

No. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) said the company couldn’t claim Stan’s misconduct was unpreventable.

As a supervisor, Stan had greater responsibility than other employees to obey the company’s safety rules, and the fact that he didn’t do so reflected badly on the company.

“A supervisor’s participation in a violation is strong evidence that an employer’s safety program is lax,” is how the Commission put it. The Commission affirmed the citation and the $825 fine OSHA proposed.

Typically, supervisors feel great responsibility to get work done efficiently and on time. After all, supervisors must answer to higher managers for their team’s performance, and their compensation may depend on it, at least in part.

So it’s especially important that Safety Directors emphasize the safety responsibility that supervisors also have. Supervisors should not only know the applicable safety rules and OSHA regs, but also should set a good safety example.

Let supervisors know that if performance pressure is pushing them to cut corners, they can come to you and you’ll work with their operational superiors to come up with solutions.

Cite: Sec’y of Labor v. SRS Roofing & Sheet Metal, 09-0055, OSHRC.

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