Picture this: You are a manager of a medium-size manufacturing company. The company is big enough to be considered a significant employer but small enough for you to have personal connections with all employees and some of their families.
It is 4:30 pm which is almost quitting time for the afternoon shift. You have just been called out to the shipping and receiving area. It is chaos. A large shelving unit has collapsed and it is clear there is a worker trapped beneath it who will not survive. It is traumatic for everyone to watch.
Once the initial first medical response has been implemented the ministry of labour arrives on site to do an inspection of the accident. Everything else is in limbo and the night shift workers have been called to cancel their shift.
Here is where it gets really difficult.
As you walk back to your office you ask the HR department to get the employee’s home phone number. The employee’s file is given to you. Everything moves in slow motion, you can smell the dust coming off the file, you take the file and immediately feel a sharp stinging, you are not sure if it is your hand or your heart. It is like a message is being sent to you, this moment, this call, will change your life forever.
As the direct supervisor you have been given the task of making the call to inform the employee’s spouse that her husband will not be coming home tonight or ever again. You pick up the phone and dial the number. A small voice answers, it is the employee’s daughter who has just been picked up from kindergarten. You ask to speak to her mother.
You know that little girl’s life has been changed forever! She may never even remember the sound of her father’s voice, the touch of his hand. Your eyes well up as you take a deep breath. You have no idea what you are going to say next,
“Stephanie, there has been an accident ….,” nothing more has to be said.
Stephanie knows that the last time she saw her husband was over their morning coffee together, the ritual which they have had since they were married.
Recently, Canadian Electrocoating Ltd. pleaded guilty to a violation of the Ontario Health and Safety Act and was fined $175,000. This fine in no way represents the true cost of an employee fatality at work. Emotions, sadness and despair: these are the true costs of a workplace fatality. Nothing will ever be the same to anyone who knew or worked with the employee who was killed in the workplace.
Every occupational health and safety act in Canada outlines the duties and responsibilities of employers, supervisors and workers. All of these acts are clear that the employer is responsible and must be diligent in ensuring worker safety. Unfortunately, all stake holders fail in their duties and responsibilities at least 1000 times per year in Canada, resulting in these tragic workplace fatalities.
If you are a planning on becoming a Human Resources, Health and Safety professional or a supervisor, you must ask yourself, do I know my duties and responsibilities?
Most importantly, you must ask yourself, what do I have to do to ensure a safe workplace so I never have to make that call?
- You have been hired in a manufacturing company that has a poorly developed safety program. You have asked to meet with the stakeholders: management, supervisors and union members to discuss the current obstacles to health and safety improvements in the plant.
- What types of obstacles do you anticipate from each of the stakeholders?
- What kind of support do you need from each stakeholder in order to change the safety program?