Safety a matter of education
Our cover profile this month is on Tim Ranson of Cat Rentals in Edmonton, who is taking over as president of the national Canadian Rental Association at the general meeting in Atlanta in February. Ranson says the slogan for his presidency will be safety; he’s committed to improving safety on rental yards across the country and turning the association into a resource members can use to prevent injuries and damage in their work environments.
Laudable goals for sure. We have all seen or heard of rental store employees killed or injured on the job, and we know of the devastating impact such incidents have on their families, co-workers and companies. Often, business owners are portrayed as heartless tyrants with little regard for their employees beyond the work they can get out of them. Anyone who has spoken to a rental store owner who has lost someone on the job will quickly learn the lie in that myth. The people we work with every day become family, and while we might sometimes be hard on our family, the loss of one of them changes us forever. I firmly believe that no rental store owner in this country would knowingly put an employee in harm’s way.
That said, unsafe practices still abound in this industry. Some of them have even appeared in photos in this magazine, which the vigilant Mr. Ranson has been wont to point out. Since no one wants anyone to get hurt, why would anyone ever drive an AWP without a harness on, or work underneath an upraised loader bucket?
The answer, of course, is that there is a tension between working fast and working safe. Sometimes workers take it upon themselves to take certain risks in order to expedite a task. It can be difficult to see how to completely eradicate this behaviour without placing onerous restrictions on a worker’s ability to do his job. The worker does not want to be hurt, but he also feels he can evaluate a risk and decide if it is worth taking.
Safety experts tell us we must crush this attitude in the workplace. Employees must be told through continuous training and the creation of a “culture” that they must not, under pain of dismissal, take any shortcuts on safety protocols. If there are ramifications for the bottom line, so be it. As a wise person once said, “If you think safety is expensive, try an accident.”
The logic is impeccable. But even good ideas can be taken too far. I have often felt that, in this society, we have become so concerned with avoiding any perceived risk that we take on risk of another kind: paralysis. It seems that any time someone can imagine a risk to life and limb from some source, a lineup forms to create rules, regulations, training regimes, fines, laws, enforcement agencies, documentation and procedures designed to protect us from that risk. Individually, the regulations usually make sense. But over time the regulations can agglomerate into a quagmire, and we start to wonder where our freedom to take risks for the sake of greater achievement has gone. Lately we have been given new rules to protect us from distracted driving, second-hand smoke and email spam. While I can’t argue against any of them, I am tempted to wonder whether automobiles, if they were invented today, would be judged safe enough for public use.
I’ll always prefer a circumstance where people are made aware of potential risks and encouraged to make their own decisions as to how to avoid them, or whether it is worth it to even try. That means training, especially of new workers, should take centre stage in any attempt to improve safety.
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