From the Family Room to the Board Room: A Lesson in Workplace Safety

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

Workplace safety professionals have a tough job. In a marketplace driven by bottom-line results, how do we convince management that training, personal protective equipment and other components of a solid safety program deserve a place in the budget?

Granted, safety sells itself in some industries. Every day, we hear about fatal accidents on construction and oil and gas sites. Show managers the devastating consequences of sacrificing safety in the name of production, and most will buy in. But what about office environments?

White-collar workers like me don’t spend our days constructing high-rise office buildings or handling volatile chemicals. How is a safety pro supposed to get our attention? Humor is one way.

I’m talking about those old, black-and-white office safety videos. One of the best I’ve seen is from the 1950s. The narrator opens with this rhetorical question.

“This morning when you came to work, did you think you would have an accident just because someone picked up a pencil, looked over some books and had a hot cup of coffee?”

From there, a hilarious series of mishaps unfolds, starting with a man opening a door into a woman who is picking up a pencil. The woman bumps into a co-worker who is carrying a stack of books. The books scatter and hit another worker who is carrying a cup of coffee. That worker predictably throws the coffee into the first employee’s face.

The rest of the video is entertaining, if not impactful. Actors dramatically trip over extension cords, wildly flip over open filing cabinets and open doors into each other. Under the action is a whimsical soundtrack that detracts from the urgency of the message. In fact, the narrator admits that “like all advice, office safety isn’t taken too seriously.”

I don’t know if the video does much to change viewers’ attitudes, but it’s good for a laugh. That is, until something similar happens to your toddler.

My wife and I keep a small dresser in our family room. We use it to store envelopes, stationary and, most important for this story, the television remote. Every time I go in there, I leave the drawer open. And every time, my wife reminds me to close it.

Given my recent career transition into safety, I feel like a hypocrite admitting her warnings have historically fallen on deaf ears. After all, I’ve been leaving that drawer open for years without consequences.

That changed last week, when my four-year-old came tearing through the room, her younger sister in hot pursuit. In the unlikely event you don’t see where this is going, she ran her shins straight into the open drawer.

Fortunately, the injury was minor. A few crocodile tears and a bowl of ice cream later, and we were back to chaos as usual. Still, I felt horrible. More importantly, I learned from the mistake, and so you can.

I don’t need to convince you that workplace hazards exist everywhere, even in the relatively safe confines of an office. My point is bigger than that.

Research shows that human behavior drives most workplace accidents. Regardless of the hazards you face, you have the power to protect yourself by changing your behavior. I think our office safety video says it best.

“Injuries happen when someone doesn’t realize their action, or lack of action, can cause an accident. Let’s assume someone dropped a pencil and didn’t pick it up. Later, a co-worker came along and slipped on it. It seems so trivial, but that’s what accidents are made of – trivial things. With just a little bit of extra effort, accidents could be prevented.”

So the next time you see a wet spot on the floor, wipe it up. Don’t use chairs as ladders. If you have to leave extension cords in walkways, tape them down to minimize the risk of someone tripping on them. Simply put, don’t practice unsafe behaviors that jeopardize your safety or your co-workers’ safety.

And lastly, if your spouse advises you to close the dresser drawer, do it, even if he or she is not a safety professional.

This video from the 1950s uses humor to show how unsafe behaviors can lead to workplace accidents.

About the author
David Wylie is the senior technical writer at Texas Mutual Insurance Company. He works closely with Texas Mutual’s safety professionals to teach employers and their employees how to prevent workplace accidents and their associated costs. David holds the OSHA 10-hour general safety certification and a degree in journalism from Southwest Texas State University.



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