Addressing workplace safety problems

I think Sam Wilson’s newspaper article about the state’s poor safety record captured the problem well. It expressed a negative bent and offered few solutions. I’ve had a different experience in addressing a very poor accident and injury record among 300 employees working in western Montana. When I met the crews, I laid out my plan.

“I know you are busy, hard working employees who are distressed by a poor safety record. I also know that each of you could better use my salary to improve your own programs. So, here’s the deal, I propose we all work to eliminate my job.”

There were guffaws, but right then their outlook changed to one that was hopeful. And that’s key. Each was struggling with low morale due to a problem with no apparent solution. Their safety record couldn’t improve until each believed it was possible and acted accordingly.

I used many standard safety techniques and innovatively addressed unique safety issues — like surviving an encounter with a bear.

Injuries were particularly challenging. I put bulletin boards in each break room. Across the top it said, “WORK SAFELY.” Along the bottom: “DO IT FOR THOSE YOU LOVE.” Employees posted photos of children, significant others, and pets. The idea was to give them a positive message that they would look at often.

Year three — the employees had no vehicle accidents and only two injuries. So, I resigned and the position was not refilled. The employees continued with an excellent safety record because they were confident they could.

— Carole Mackin, Helena

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