A short time ago I was visiting a mining plant in southern Utah. On that very day there was a fatality. It was shocking and saddening. Later I returned to speak to that same company, and I referred back to the death of their co-worker.
The group was somber and quiet. The principles of safety and personal choice hit home as I spoke. As the large crowd of employees filed out of the auditorium, three of the men approached me to share some staggering information. All three men had been working that day with this young man. All three had seen what he was doing. All three knew the risk involved. They shared with me their thinking as the fatal accident occurred.
Number One: While they knew this young man was not following protocol, they did not want to offend him by telling him what to do. They didn’t want to come across arrogant or condescending, so, they didn’t say anything. They opted to be silent, rather than to be safe, and their silence now haunted them. They had seen a fellow worker lose his life and they knew better.
Number Two: Each one of these men admitted that they had also, at one time or another, done exactly what this young man had done. And, these they admitted based on their personal experience, had often worked for them.
Again, your past experience, just like mine on the night of my accident, can be your worst enemy. These men learned that just because an incorrect procedure worked once, you can never believe that it will always work. And, at that moment when it doesn’t work . . . can you handle the worst case scenario?
While it may not be popular, we need to be our brother’s keeper. When we see things going on that would compromise the life of our fellow employees, let’s take the opportunity to say, “Man, I know you want to go home tonight! Wear your hard hat buddy.” Or “Hey, take hold of the rail ok? It’s important. It’s your life!”
And when others remind us to follow a code or they encourage us to do our pre-ops, let’s thank them for watching our backs. It’s keeping everyone alive.
Robert Cooper, author of The Other 90%, says “Whatever we believe we can’t affect, we generally take little or no responsibility for, and we tend to downplay or minimize our lack of involvement.” We have a choice. We can downplay the risks that people take around us, or we can take responsibility and say something.
The greater risk is to say nothing at all and watch a fallen comrade, knowing you could have stopped a tragedy with just one word.