Your Safety Initiative? Ha! Theory vs. Reality

Heard a crazy story from a old schoolmate (I’ll call him Z) I caught up with a few weeks ago.
He works in a manufacturing job and is part of a union.
He changed careers a couple of years ago, and still getting the hang of it. Here’s how he got branded as a troublemaker when he believed the Corporate Safety Training. He told me NOT to mention company or industry, as it could only get him into more trouble. Lost all faith in fairness or ‘doing the right thing’ on the job.

See if this could happen in your company!

New job – full day training on safety where everyone was told:

1. It’s OK, if you have a safety concern, you can report it without fear of reprisal.

2. We care about you, about safety – it’s the most important thing.

3. If in doubt, go the safety route.

4. Then they went through safety procedures.

The Incident:

Z is working, boss comes over, says Z, help me move this steel pipe (rigged up). Z says, that’s over 100lbs, are you rigging certified, because I’m not, and yesterday they told us that’s a safety violation.   Boss says no, he’s not certified, but to do it anyway. Z says no, this is exactly what they told us not to do yesterday, and wonders if his boss was there. Boss gets angry, tells Z where to go, finds someone else to help him move the pipe.


Soon after, Z is working and over his head comes rigging with a massive steel pipe – it’s his boss, moving this pipe even though he can certainly see Z working underneath. Z stops work and gets out of the path. Boss tells him to keep working! Z refuses (not going to be crushed by a steel pipe for anyone). Boss says, you think you’re better than me? You after my job? You the big man? and more trash talk.  Z reports his boss. 

The Sad End

When he talks to the supervisor later, finds out his boss responded by badmouthing Z of course. Boss also reported Z for SLEEPING on the JOB, which is outrageous and not true. Supervisor agrees with Z, but doesn’t do anything about it.

Boss and Z have more words, Boss makes it clear he will will win and will make Z’s life hell if Z continues. Boss is Latino – all Latino workmates stop talking to XXX (who isn’t).  Things are tense, Z thankfully moves to a different crew soon after that.


Z = branded as a troublemaker within union/by line managers.
Z = no longer believes corporate BS about safety.
Z = learns you’re not SUPPOSED to think or take initiative and will be punished if you do.
Z = stops his errant behavior, toes party line, takes up no more causes.

Boss = not individually incented to care about safety.
Boss = gets in trouble if safety problems; doesn’t want them brought up or reported.
Boss = protects himself and his job from newbies.

Safety Initiative = good luck getting that reduction in safety-related incidents

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