Why is safety so hard?

A hot topic that people talk about is how government over regulates industry which then hurts business by increasing operating costs to be compliant with those regulations.  The argument is industry should be set free to innovate and expand without being held back by regulations while they insist their own industry watchdog associations will hold them accountable. I would love to believe that companies are capable of self regulating themselves, let alone be accountable.  Unfortunately I believe there are things that the state and/or government need to regulate, watch dog groups or not.  Why?

Look what recently happened on August 6, 2012, at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle of August 15th article by J. Van Denbeken and D. Bulwa, “Surveillance video showed a dense vapor cloud fueled by the leak expanded to more than 200 feet wide and 200 feet high…..that later was ignited causing the explosion.”  That’s right, an 8″ pipe that carries super heated hydrocarbons had a crack in it, enough so that it leaked hydrocarbons and was identified by the engineers in 2009 as a potential disaster but continued to operate.  Don’t you find it amazing that in 2012 with OSHA, Cal OSHA and all the talk about making safer working conditions, that a company would still put it’s employees in harms way.  What I find even scarier is that someone actually thought the profits from continued production, was enough to cover the costs of a few injured or even dead employees and still keep the stock holders happy.  What other deduction can you make from this action.  That safety is serious when it suits us.  Add to all this, this fact to help make the point.  In the August 17th San Francisco Chronicle article by J. Van Denbeken, in 2010 they fought a pending California regulation to install automatic shutoff in diesel engines with the comment, “That it’s a solution in search of a problem.”  How do you like that take on safety.  The ironic thing is that shutoff that was in the lost firetruck probably saved the workers lives that were engulfed in the plasma since it delayed it in finding another ignition source and giving them the time to get out of the way.

There were also 9,000 innocent residents who were just living their lives and had their day ruined when they had to go to the ER because they couldn’t breath. Sadly the outcry of how we raise and slaughter animals for our food chain has been louder than about what’s going on at Chevron.  I’m sure that’s due to the daily news not being filled with images of dead workers funerals,  faces of their loved ones or a family holding vigil outside the hospital.  It appears the only casualty here, the company’s fire truck is not that news worthy.

People in a position of authority,  knowing there are potential hazards, and still deliberately put employees into that situation and someone is injured are supposed to go to jail in California.  One example is an energy company that was convicted of six felony counts in connection to a 2004 gasoline pipeline explosion in Walnut Creek, California that killed 5 construction workers and injured 4 others.  They also paid 10 million dollars in fines.  Will it happen in this case, who knows?  What you can bet on is they will now run a spiffy, uplifting ad campaign telling the public how serious they take safety.  it’ll probably be similar to the one PG&E currently runs who somehow avoided charges even though it’s alleged the money they took in earmarked for the pipelines upgrade was channeled elsewhere. But hey, we’ve changed that corporate culture overnight.

Remember you can’t be fired for refusing to work in an unsafe situation.  So you wonder why didn’t the employees refuse work or even complain to OSHA.  The fear is they don’t want to be the one who gets the plant closed down and everyone put out of work.  I was told that by an employee at a company I worked at when I was trying to find out why the apathy towards safety by workers at the plant.  I had asked her if you believe safety here is that bad why don’t you call OSHA.  She as well as several others actually worry about OSHA coming in and discovering more safety issues and shutting down the plant.

If they complain to management, well it’s just an exercise in passing the buck there.  The supervisory reports it to the manager who reports it to the department head who reports it to  the plant manager who defers it to committee for estimate in labor and material costs who refer their findings to the bean counter for funding who looks at future orders and cash flow.  That just the way some companies process things, but as a manager and safety advocate you can help change that and get safety issues dealt with immediately.  The ugly truth is a worker who complains too much about safety or hesitates and dares to express safety concerns is singled out as not a team player.  They find ways to subtlety bully you into realizing how things are done here.  Then you have to decide on how you want to deal with this; either be a whistle blower, shut up and  go with the program and hope you come home that evening or find a job somewhere else. Meanwhile the company continues playing roulette with the employees lives hoping to squeeze out just a few more days of production for their bonus.

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