Taking chances to keep a job

Monday's tragic accident on 21st and Walnut Street where a worker on a lift fell to his death from 125 feet got me thinking about safety and pressures on the job. When people get hurt on the job, it's easy to try to focus the blame -- either on the worker or on the company. And truly, there are really rotten companies who don't take the precautions they should, showing complete disregard for the health and safety of their workers. But I think the situation can be more complex, especially in tough times.

When your job is in jeopardy, as almost all jobs are now, you may push yourself a little harder to stay employed. I see it at our place where people are working longer and longer hours. If you are working in a factory or on a construction site, you may take a little risk, not shut off a machine to grab something or you make a careless move. Why would anyone do that? Because lots of times, you can get away with it. You assess the risk -- maybe not much, compared with alternative, losing a job or being the first guy cut if there's a layoff and you might say, OK, this won't be a problem. You might say that knowing all the company rules and policies and guidelines -- all those things that are correct on paper, but somehow don't always make it to the real world when jobs are at stake.

One person I interviewed for my story in today's Inquirer made the point that when there's an accident, it often happens because two or three things went wrong at the same time. 

In the case of the lift, it's still not clear whether James Wilson, the man who died, moved the lift. If he did, he knew better, because, by all reports, he was highly trained and would have known not to move the vehicle with the lift extended. But, you can just picture being up 125 feet and thinking, I just want to slide over a foot or so to the left. No big deal. I'll take a chance. Who would imagine that just below was a utility panel that would collapse under the weight? What kind of cruel coincidence was that? Who could even see that panel from 125 feet up?  So now we're up to three things wrong -- a move (if that happened), the panel and the sheer bad luck of driving (if there is a move) there instead of a foot to the right or left.If the lift had been low, maybe the machine would have been stable enough to stay upright despite the broken  panel, or maybe the consequences wouldn't have been as severe. Or maybe the machine was sitting on the panel for awhile and the weight of it strained and broke it. 

Then there's the another thing. The company had a man on the ground, which is a standard good safety practice, but he had to watch two machines, which were not in eyesight of one another. He had gone around the corner to check on the other side when the accident occurred. Maybe the economy dictated having one man in that post instead of two? And maybe everyone would have known more about the terrain if they had gotten the proper permits.

Even assuming the best of intentions on everyone's part, we now have multiple contributing factors, with the economy underneath it adding its subtle and perhaps deadly influence.

Please everyone, be careful at work.