Friday, 12. December 2014

“Saying - What Is!” Especially in Safety

If you have the opportunity to visit the office complex of the famous German political magazine “Der Spiegel”, you will find in the Lobby its motto: “Saying – What Is!” (Sagen, was ist!). A motto, so simple, yet so powerful. Certainly very appropriate for a political magazine with its journalists and editors.

Unfortunately, it’s a motto often forgotten or not being followed in today’s business world with its tendency of political correctness at any price, the fear to ruffle somebody’s feathers, or the unwillingness to face a conflict. In Sales and Marketing it might be perceived as acceptable to follow these tendencies. In Environmental Protection, Health and Safety (EHS), however, such perception can result in severe, even very severe consequences. Some examples:

Tired to Repeat
For the 10th time this week, the Safety Officer observes the lack of required Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). The given 9 reminders and warnings were so far not followed by the contractor. It is Friday, and everybody wants to go home. The Safety Officers turns a blind eye. The 10th reminder remains unspoken. 

·         The Boss Has Said…
Don’t make such a fuss, let it go, it’s not that important, nothing will happen, …. A choice of remarks not completely unheard of to convince staff to break rules and to work in an unsafe way - “of course, only temporary”!

·         No One Will Notice
The COD value (Chemical Oxygen Demand) in the waste water is slightly above the maximum. The authorities have just taken and tested water samples and approved the process. Not to discharge the waste water will result in additional costs and cause delays in production. The chance to get away is high.

·         No Budget
The safety device has been in place since the beginning of the production. Now it is broken. The costs for a replacement are not budgeted. Staff is informed to “pay extra attention” until a solution (budget) has been approved in a couple of months’ time.

·         Losing Follow-on Contract
The deviation is not very severe. The Production Manager has indirectly indicated to become ‘very upset’ if this subject is included in the final report. The external consultant faces the threat of losing follow-on work.

Almost everyone working in EHS has faced such situations. Not everybody can say that they did the right thing. The answer to the question of ‘what is right?’ is still out there. For the staff it is often a dilemma, difficult to overcome. Only a company with an embedded EHS culture, with management promoting safety and not deviations and a lived solidarity with open communication will avoid such dilemmas.  This, of course, will be a company that encourages ‘Saying - What Is’!


Thomas Gerlach