Workplace Safety Advice to My Former Self

Like most people, I am not working for the same company that hired me straight out of college. I’m not even working in the same industry. But oddly enough, I spend a lot of time relating my current job to that first job. Which is a little strange, because that first job was a labor-intensive, high-stress, multi-national corporation. That’s not the sort of company I work for now.

I’ll tell you why I spend a lot of time thinking about that job.  In a high-stress environment, unfortunately the reality is that sometimes processes and safety rules are ignored to increase productivity.  Even management overlooked processes and safety rules to meet productivity numbers.  I was guilty of working unsafely from time to time, and guilty of looking the other way when I later became a manager in the same company.  I spent a lot of time bandaging cuts and scrapes. I’m lucky I didn’t get seriously injured, or that I didn’t have my own employees get seriously injured. In retrospect, it was dumb of me to fall into unsafe habits and to ignore processes. If I could tell my former self something, it would be that slightly increased productivity is not worth risking serious injury or even death.

The problem is that my former self was not asking that question. The culture of the organization made me think it was not only worth it, but that it was necessary. Now that's not to insinuate it was the Wild West there. Of course there was training on processes and workplace safety, as well as annual refresher courses and audits. But as soon as the safety group and  auditors walked away, management was back to yelling to work faster.

Again, if only I could tell my former self that it isn’t worth it!

I'm almost positive that training could've been done differently to ensure new employees have a grasp on best practices and safest procedures. But more importantly, training for frontline managers could have been better. And maybe MOST importantly, upper management and executives needed training to actually buy into the safe practices.

Unfortunately, reality sets in for all management when a serious injury or a death does occur. However, that’s not the type of refresher training that we recommend. It’s too late by then. It’s one thing to fall in line when OSHA walks through the warehouse, but it’s a totally different environment when everyone makes safety a priority. Next time, have the training courses ready to go for you and the entire team. If you need to create custom elearning segments around certain areas that are more hazardous then others, then by all means, do it. Just ensure you've covered all the bases.

But I have a clear head about that now. Now that I'm able to help organizations achieve better training solutions, I'm always asking, "What can be done differently?" Like I said, it involves organizational buy-in; a top-down solution. There’s really no need to spend so much time quizzing and auditing frontline workers if upper management doesn’t reinforce the training.  A straight-out-of-college employee, who is desperate for a weekly paycheck, is going to listen to the manager screaming at them and ignore everything else they learned during their week of training.  It's time they realize that being careless for the sake of a few minutes of productivity isn't worth the risk of injury.

And that's just one of a few things I'd go back and tell my former self at my first job. There are plenty of other reminders to comb through, but if you had to go back and give advice to your former self at your first job, what would it be?

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