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July 28, 2014

Risky Business

Have these people lost their minds?

At Chevron Corp, any worker at the company's San Ramon, Calif., headquarters can halt an activity he or she deems dangerous by whipping out a small white "stop work" card. Workers take the authority seriously; filming for a safety training video stopped when an employee noticed props scattered on the ground and invoked that power.

At the U.S. arm of food and beverage company Nestlé SA, NESN.VX -0.51% employees begin meetings by checking for hazards, like computer cords that can cause tripping, and reviewing emergency exit protocol. Workers are also expected to spot two safety incidents each month—such as someone holding elevator doors open.

At a company event held at a hotel, an assembled crowd of Nestlé workers audibly gasped when a hotel employee jumped up onto the stage instead of using an adjacent staircase.

"Everyone went 'Whoa,' " said Joanne Crawford, a marketing director in the company's Glendale, Calif., office. The chief executive of Nestlé USA made the worker leave the stage and ascend the correct way.

Safety-minded employees of Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM -1.05% recently camped out near two stairways in the firm's Irving, Texas, headquarters to observe who held the handrails while going up and down, who carried too many items or ones too large, who was using their mobile phones and who was in a rush. The workers, members of a company safety and wellness committee, mostly just recorded the incidents, for fear they might startle someone and cause an injury.

"We will intervene if we can do so safely," said Glenn Murray, who coordinates the company's safety programs.

Question for the ages: has anyone documented the possible hazards of startling a co-worker with a white, "stop work" card?

Posted by Cassandra at July 28, 2014 06:48 AM

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At my wife's former job, the company held to the theory that "every accident is preventable." Which sounds laudable, until you realize the scope and implications of this seemingly innocuous phrase. What the company actually meant was, "if you have an accident at work, someone [not the company] is to blame." If an accident happened and there was a company policy that would have prevented it, then the employee was to blame for not following policy. If an accident occurred and there wasn't a policy in place that would have prevented it, then a new policy would be drafted to prevent it.

So when an employee sat down on a rolling chair, and one of the casters gave way causing the employee to fall to the floor, a new policy was crafted requiring all employees to manually turn over their rolling chairs each and every time before sitting in it and manually testing each caster to ensure it was firmly in place and not going to break. Now, imagine that in context of your day. Every time you go to sit down on a chair with casters, you must first flip it over and manually inspect each wheel. Failure to do so means that if the chair breaks and you fall, it is your fault for failing to follow procedure. After all... every accident is preventable. Oh, and you must still keep the same levels of productivity you had before this requirement was levied.

Posted by: MikeD at July 28, 2014 10:24 AM

In Iraq, the chairs we had were so bad and close to collapse that I finally just lashed mine together with 550 cord. Others used duct tape. It's amazing we survived. Someone should have stopped the war until we got safer equipment.

Posted by: Grim at July 28, 2014 10:40 AM

...imagine that in context of your day. Every time you go to sit down on a chair with casters, you must first flip it over and manually inspect each wheel.

Sounds like a recipe for back injuries.

Someone should have stopped the war until we got safer equipment.

Exactly. After diversity, safety is now the military's top priority :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 28, 2014 10:48 AM

"After diversity, safety is now the military's top priority :p"

Wait, wasn't that what the red and yellow cards were for?

Posted by: DL Sly at July 28, 2014 12:19 PM

My husband's old Lockheed office had an accident in which a 3-hole punch broke and cut an employee's hand. Someone went through the office and removed all punches of that type, then left another type (approved in the sense of never yet having broken) with a note on it saying "safe to use."

People blame this kind of thing on PI lawyers, who certainly bear some of the responsibility, but I'm afraid there are legions all across the country who are only too willing to buy into the mindset. So, oddly enough, if you plagiarize your thesis, it's not really your fault, because no one is in control of his own actions if he's sad or troubled. But you can completely control your environment so that no accidents happen, ever. If don't, everything is your fault.

It all has me ruminating lately on primitive notions of responsibility, cause, and effect.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 28, 2014 01:10 PM