Whenever I need to service my car I always take it to an independently owned auto shop in my area. I was recently there for an oil change when something caught my eye that I had never noticed before. Among the various safety signs hanging around the shop was the sign in this picture. Although the sign is clearly a joke, it made me wonder how common it is in reality that people have this attitude about their jobs, and how this affects their exposure to risk at work. Employees who are not open to instruction or constructive criticism are often not open to new and potentially safer ways of performing their jobs. Even worse, because they believe that their way of doing things is the best way, they are more likely to be low on the ‘Follows Rules’ factor of the SAFE model of SafetyDNA, putting them at greater risk of injury.
So I did an Internet search on the phrase I saw in the auto shop, “Don’t tell me how to do my job.” To my surprise, the first few pages of results did not include any relevant news stories or research articles, but rather dozens of online stores in which you can purchase stickers, shirts, and other items with the same image as the sign on the shop wall. Apparently this is a much bigger joke than I had realized, though this only made me further question the prevalence of this attitude. Doing some more digging, my suspicions were confirmed when I began to come across a number of stories about employees who were injured because they wanted to do things their way.
Recently, a 39-year old forklift operator in Washington State was killed on the job. As reported by the State Department of Labor and Industries safety inspector assigned to this incident, the worker was moving large concrete blocks used to build a wall. Due to the size of the blocks, he attached metal extensions to the forks without the required approval of the forklift manufacturer. In addition, each block weighed 3,340 pounds, much heavier than the 2,825 pound capacity of the forklift, which was clearly displayed in the tip-over warning signs on the operating controls of the console. While attempting to lift a block onto the top of the wall, the weight caused the forklift to tip over. Tragically, the top of the forklift cage hit the man on the head, killing him instantly. The investigation also revealed that at the time of the incident, he was not wearing his seatbelt, which is required during operation.
This fatality could have been avoided if the safety precautions in place were utilized. Particularly for experienced workers, it is important not to fall into the trap of resting on one’s judgment rather than the safety protocols mandated by the organization. The safest and highest performing employees are typically those who are always looking for new ways to improve their exposure to risk and still effectively perform the job. Also, employers must enforce safety policies and not assume that employees will do so on their own.
Our Guest Blogger this week is Craig White, a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University.
His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has six years of research experience at Tier-One universities (Texas A&M University, University of Houston, Rice University), and has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX. He is also a contract safety services consultant for Select International.