Question: Would you approve of someone doing something that improves quality and productivity but puts employees at increased risk for health and safety problems? Obviously not. Then why would you expect people who are in charge of productivity and quality to support you when you suggest something that improves safety but interferes with productivity and quality?

It is not unusual for some safety people in this situation to feel justified in their position because moral and civil law are on their side. To be certain, nothing that exposes people to health and safety risks can be justified in today's business. But business must go on.

All in this together

Many an employee has put his/her supervisor or manager in a quandary by asking the question, "What do you want quality or productivity?" The answer should be of course, "Both." However, the question should be expanded to, "What do you want, quality, productivity or safety?" The answer should be, of course, "All three." Any output of an organization where all three elements are not satisfied puts the organization at risk. The dilemma seems to be that improvements in one of these areas often causes problems in one of the others. However, if you solve your problems by causing a problem for someone else, you can bet you won't have their support.

The only way the safety initiative will truly reach its potential is for everyone in the organization to benefit from everyone else's activity. The challenge is to create an organization where safety success increases the success of others. Unfortunately, in most organizations, even those where talk of teamwork is high, you find that people, shifts, departments and initiatives are not linked for success.

Example: When we started working in an automobile assembly plant back in 1988, I noticed that at one point on the line, employees were wearing what looked like bed pillows bradded onto a belt around their buttocks. I asked my escort why and he said that because the assemblers had to lean in the window of the car to install something in the roof, their butts would get sore and they had those made to reduce the pain. Later on the line I saw employees wearing a home made leather cup on the outside of their preferred hand. It seems that, because of the poor quality of incoming parts, they didn't fit together easily and the only way they could get many of them seated properly was to bang them into place with their fist. Obviously both of these situations put employees at risk for serious injury.

Why didn't the engineers -- think about these things when designing the car? Why did procurement not demand better quality of incoming parts? The answer can be found in the contingencies of reinforcement that existed in the plant. There were no consequences for the engineers and purchasing agents related to injury, absenteeism or reduced productivity due to discomfort.

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