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Workplace Safety: The Price of a Mistake

June 26, 2013

I love manufacturing. I love that it is coming back to the United States. I support it in my social media posts, and have a great deal of admiration for those who work in occupations that “build America” every day.

My dad also works in construction. Nearing retirement as a foreman, he and I have had a number of conversations about the men and women he supervises in his crew. One story that always seems to come up is the story of one of his guys, who I’ll call Jason. Jason entered his crew as a 21-year-old and had all the enthusiasm in the world. He was the first guy to volunteer for every assignment, even if the assignment was hard labor. For all his enthusiasm though, Jason’s tenure on my dad’s crew was cut short less than one year in, when he slipped off a four-story scaffold. Jason fell down and landed on his leg, breaking every bone in his leg, and fracturing his pelvis. Although he survived, and has since “recovered,” the doctors said he’d likely be on heavy pain medication for the rest of his life and never be able to perform any type of labor again.

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For better or worse, I had to ask – Did my dad see this injury coming? I’m not sure if I was shocked to hear him say “Yes.” As it turns out, Jason was extremely well-intentioned, but other workers wanted to avoid working with him. With all of his enthusiasm came a reckless abandon that brought my dad’s crew some dangerous near misses on a few other occasions. He just wasn’t cautious. One time it was a dropped hammer from 3 stories, another it was a slip on a rung of a ladder (luckily Jason was caught by a co-worker). He had a great work ethic, but time after time, his low level of caution and his willingness to take risks to get the job done eventually caught up with him.

It breaks my heart. Life expectancy for men in the U.S. is hovering around 72. Jason has 50 years of chronic pain and suffering ahead of him. As someone in his late 20s who is already starting to feel the tolls of a high school football career resulting in two badly torn ligaments, I cannot even fathom what he wakes up to every day. What is the price you’d put on this kind of pain and suffering? I can’t say, because nothing would be worth it to me.

When we as organizations try to quantify the impact of safety, I can readily spout off OSHA numbers like $48,000 per Worker’s Compensation claim or $200,000 in indirect costs per injury. However, it really hits home to me when I think of these individuals that are hurt, especially the young ones. Safety is a very personal topic, and we owe it to our employees to not only set up environments that maximize safety, but also help insulate our employees from putting themselves at risk.


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Adam Hilliard