The 'OSHA Scarecrow': Using OSHA as a threat

Winter is always an interesting time in the construction industry, specifically with precast concrete. Even the greatest companies with the most incredible resources still continue to get hung up in the winter time with things to do. One of the tasks that our employees try to do is to conduct safety audits in this downtime. We go through our current safety protocols and we ask ourselves, “what can we do better?” We comb through various OSHA tips to better ourselves for the coming year. This can be as simple as reassessing and improving our emergency plans, to adding safety signs and cleaning various areas of the plant. So we add our signs up, improve our practices, and get ready for another successful year.

It’s always interesting to me that when the spring comes, and our customers emerge from their winter dens, they take one look at our signs and they go “wow, what’s with the signs? What happened? Did you guys have OSHA come in?” I always find myself chuckling at this knee-jerk reaction to our decisions. I will admit that yes, for many companies, the safety compliance almost always comes after an accident has occurred, or OSHA has conducted an investigation into a company. I can see why one would make the assumption that the signs we post were a result of someone saying something, or something happening at our plant. However, this isn’t why we do it. To me, safety is an ongoing concern, one that is at the forefront of my mind. Yes, accidents happen, so why wouldn’t you want to try and prevent them as much as possible? 

The argument against this is always “safety equipment costs too much money”. They’re right - safety equipment does cost a lot of money. But I would much rather pay $50 every few months or so for earplugs than have to worry about any of our employees going deaf years down the road.

Back to our exchange with our customers. After their initial inquiry, I kindly reply with “we’ve been working on improving our safety a bit around here for everyone. It’s just routine improvements, that’s all.” Once again, I’m met with a look of sheer confusion. Most don’t understand why we would take the time to hang up our signs and wear our hard hats around the entire property. The truth of the matter is that the more you push yourself and your employees to comply with safety, the more that it will become second nature to everyone. Once everyone is thinking safety all the time, it drastically reduces the number of accidents and near-misses you have. Most presenters and speakers aren’t joking when they say that safety is a culture. It is absolutely a 24-hour mindset that can take a while to really catch on, but when it does, it becomes second nature. When I started here years ago, there was little to no focus on safety. This wasn't the owner's fault though: over the years, those employees who were here when I started became complacent with safety and quality. It was only after I began attending NPCA seminars and classes, participating in the Master Precaster program, and went on plenty of plant tours that I saw we needed to adapt a culture of safety around our own plant, not just because its the law, but because I wanted to make sure that every employee of ours went home at the end of the work day safe and sound to their family.