Clients often contact our team for practical advice on how to avoid catastrophic workplace injuries and fatalities. This call unfortunately typically comes AFTER THE BAD THING HAS HAPPENED. At that point, the client is desperately seeking guidance on how to deal with grieving family members and co-employees, press inquiries, medical examiners, law enforcement officers, and OSHA inspectors. And all of these people have difficult questions that are focused on the loss of life or a catastrophic injury and require immediate answers.
But other times, clients call and ask us a critical, forward-thinking question: "HOW CAN WE BE SAFER?" This provides a welcome opportunity to speak to the client’s workforce about maintaining a safe workplace. We quickly spring into action to prepare a presentation that addresses the relevant standards, regulations, and hazards so that all in attendance are properly educated.
But sometimes we find that the more impactful discussions don’t even involve mentioning these items. Imagine, instead, an "all hands on deck" company meeting where we speak to the entire workforce on a Saturday morning. The room is filled with hard-working, devoted fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters who work for an organization that not only makes excellent products for its customers, but also cares about its employees.
The speakers typically drone on about "the numbers," speaking of production, quality, control, shipping and receiving, customer service, and employee benefits. These topics all focus on the math, the statistics, and the metrics, all of which had been measured, evaluated, sliced, and diced. Enlightened by the mathematically focused presentation, this is where we fold up our prepared remarks, ditch our presentation, and go "off the cuff."
In the linear, numeric business world, "minus one" typically equals "minus one." But that’s not the case when it comes to workplace safety and health. Sharing with employees the sorrow that we have observed numerous times in our careers underscores this point: "minus one" is not "minus one" when an employee is seriously injured or killed.
Minus one equals minus infinity when an injury or fatality occurs because the impact affects not only the worker, but also every person that worker loves and cares for and every person who cares for and loves that worker. Consider the obituaries of employees who are killed in catastrophic workplace situations. Those obituaries did not write themselves. The employees' loved ones instead were forced to sit down together to recount the lives of people they had loved and lost because of workplace dangers.
As we enter into a new year, everyone should stop and consider the true, infinite impact of "minus one." Perhaps the first and best step we can take in preventing workplace injuries and fatalities is to be informed. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you to proactively assess potential hazards and issues, so your workforce remains safe, productive, and enjoys a prosperous 2019.
If you have questions about workplace safety and health issues or would like us to visit your facility, please contact Mike Mallen, Justin Furrow, or a member of our Labor and Employment Section.