An Insane Focus on Safety, Including The Hazard of “Eating Bread”

Suzanne idabedsedz
Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She blogs as the Evil H.R. Lady, and in this post notes how an overblown sense of risk drifts into the workplace.  This is the same thing we are seeing in the worlds of school, play and parenting. She was commenting on this Wall Street Journal article by Rachel Feintzeig and Alexandra Berzon:

Safety Cops Patrol the Office For High Heels


Kyle Bennett and his colleagues recently filled out cards issued by their employer describing the safety risks of a certain regular midday activity. “Walk across the street, enter restaurant, sit down, eat meal,” one wrote, breaking down the task at hand.

So it goes for employees at mining giant Rio Tinto’s Northern Utah operations—where all workers, including those like Mr. Bennett who works in a suburban office park outside Salt Lake City—must fill out cards analyzing the safety of their daily routines.

Safety awareness is serious business at workplaces such as construction sites, food manufacturing plants, mines and oil rigs, where equipment failures or other lapses can result in tragic accidents. For an employee in Rio Tinto’s Utah copper mine, the mandate to document safety concerns might mean jotting down the least dangerous way of moving 1,700-ton electric shovels.

But now field-inspired safety protocols are migrating to the office, where hazards include dripping umbrellas, the height of high heels and hot cups of coffee.

Here is Susan Lucas’ commentary:


“Mr. Bennett says he sometimes tracks his lunch treks, noting on his safety card how he will control for every possible threat on the way, from flights of stairs to the busy intersection outside the office.” Is this due to a diagnosed disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, or an anxiety disorder? No. He’s simply following safety protocol as spokesman for Rio Tinto Kennecott Mine, according to the Wall Street Journal.

I’ve visited Kennecott Mine, and it is a fascinating and dangerous place with an intense need for safety protocols. But, when people who work across town, in an office building, have to document daily “safety hazards” such as eating bread, it becomes ridiculous.

And, that is the problem, right there. Safety is extremely important, but when we we do not differentiate between real safety hazards (being run over by a mining machine, handling dangerous chemicals) and normal life (eating bread, crossing a street) what happens is we stop taking the real safety hazards as seriously. It’s not that choking isn’t a true danger. It is. But, the chances of an adult employee choking are very, very small. Most choking deaths happen to small children and the elderly. It’s doubtful that safety conscious companies employee many 3 year olds or many 86 year olds (although, they may employ some of the latter).

So, what’s wrong with having your employees write down that they took small bites and avoided bread as a way to show how safety conscious they are? Well, not only does it distract them from actual work that needs to be accomplished, it makes usstart to believe safe things (eating lunch) is more dangerous than it is and truly dangerous things (operating mining equipment) is less danger than it truly is. If we have to document both activities the same way, we start to think they are equal. They are not. And it should be absolutely critical to remind employees that they are not equal.

I understand why companies do this. They want to be able to document, should an employee be injured at work, that they’ve done everything in their power to prevent such accidents. Got it. They want to lower workman’s compensation claims. They want a safe work place environment. But, at what cost?

Lenore here: That is the same question I ask every day about childhood. Yes, we could try to eliminate every single risk, including ones like crossing the street, but at what cost? Read the rest here!

Kindly make a report of your chewing activities so Human Resources can gauge the safety of your mastication/absorption activity.

Kindly make a report of your chewing activities so Human Resources can gauge the safety of your mastication/absorption activity.

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49 Responses to An Insane Focus on Safety, Including The Hazard of “Eating Bread”

  1. BL August 5, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Are they writing this down with a pen? What if they poke themselves in the eye with the pen? Or swallow the ink?

  2. J- August 5, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    There is one word that makes safety engineers wince then they run into stuff like that: complacency.

    When you make employees to risk assessments for non-risky things, they don’t take the non-risky things seriously. The when they do run into risky things, they take the same non-serious attitude to those as well and get hurt.

    The phrase “when everyone is special, than nobody is” carries over “when everything is risky, than nothing is.” Employees will be just as casual/careless with a stump grinder or a 10 ton continuous miner as they are a stapler, if you ask them to fill out the same forms for using a stapler as for using a stump grinder or continuous miner.

  3. TRS August 5, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    I am a Mental Health RN. I wish my job would take injuries more seriously. Co-workers getting hit, punched, kicked…. with injuries ranging from facial contusions to broken bones. We do fill out injury reports but due to lack of consequences to the patients it continues to happen over and over. I would not mind a little more safety obsessiveness.

  4. Gary August 5, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    I do EHS for a living and have been in the chemical industry for over twenty years. I want to set myself on fire and extinguish it with a fork after reading this.

  5. Warren August 5, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Safety rules, protocols and regulations are just like the laws we hate. They are made as a kneejerk reaction to an incident. Or the actual risks in a workplace have been addressed and the Health and Safety Manager needs to justify their paycheck.

    The best Health and Safety Manager I ever came across would always leave the area when we told him, “You really do not want to be here, right now.”

    He also never argue with us on incident reports, when cause of incident was filled out “Shit happens”.

  6. Thea August 5, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    They can pry my high heels from my cold, dead…toes.

  7. Jill August 5, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Bread-chewing safety reminds me of the late, great Horace Fletcher (1849-1919.) He was known as “The Great Masticator.” (Seriously kids, you can’t make this stuff up.)

    Fletcher was a health food enthusiast who firmly believed that chewing each bite of food thirty-two times (about one minute per bite) was the key to health and longevity.

    He even had a nifty little saying that went: “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate.”

    If I ever have to work outside the home again (a prospect I dread deeply) I wouldn’t mind being a bread-safety officer. It’s just so bizarre.

  8. Jill August 5, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    I’m eating a sandwich right now because I’m a daredevil who likes living on the edge. It’s turkey, brie, apple and romaine lettuce on a freshly baked croissant. YOLO!

  9. Jen (P.) August 5, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    I hope you’ve cut that apple into small bite-sized pieces, Jill. And brie? That’s a soft cheese. There’s probably all kinds of bacteria in that. You are a wild woman!

  10. Jill August 5, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    @Jen P: That’s me, baby, wild as they come!
    Playing in the dump as a child (in New Jersey, where there was toxic waste buried everywhere) and eating carrots straight out of my mother’s garden without washing them off first made my immune system a force to be reckoned with. When everyone around me is falling sick from the flu or the black plague or whatever else happens to be going around, I sail merrily on, healthy as a horse.

  11. pentamom August 5, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    “Employees will be just as casual/careless with a stump grinder or a 10 ton continuous miner as they are a stapler, if you ask them to fill out the same forms for using a stapler as for using a stump grinder or continuous miner.”


  12. MichaelF August 5, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    It’s just more theatre. With a little CYA thrown in so that if the inevitable law suit happens the company can say they are covered because their process has gone over everything! So it’s not as if they are not trying…

    To me it’s all risk mitigation. The rick of a stump grinder, or 10 ton shovel is way higher than a stapler. I can also just pick up a stapler and use it, I would NOT be doing the same with a stump grinder or a 10 ton shovel.

  13. K August 5, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    You need to get together with Mike Rowe on this…

    You are both barking up similary (if not the same) trees on this one.

    Mike Rowe and Lenore Skenazy together? Wow – so much common sense and personal responsibility in one place – the universe may implode.

  14. lollipoplover August 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    At first glance, I thought this post was going to be about death carbs in bread or the dangers of gluten.
    I just couldn’t take it while eating my freshly toasted jalapeno cheddar bagel smothered in butter so I didn’t read it until now. I injured myself cutting the bagels this morning (kids sleepover last night, lack of coffee, multiple toastings going on) and now have a band-aid on my middle finger. I lift it in honor of this ridiculous post about safety.

  15. Havva August 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    I was seriously inclined to think this was just a training exercise taken out of context. From a training perspective it makes a little sense to have someone think out something they are familiar with in daily life to practice filling out the form. But of course the risk index on it would be so low that by the color coding system I’ve worked with it should be filed in the shredder.

    Reading the quotes from the WSJ article however leave me dismayed. “Corporate safety consultants and executives point out that strict rules for office safety can … make employees more aware of the dangers their colleagues in the field are facing and promote teamwork.”

    I’m sorry no. You want to know what your coworkers in the field are facing. Go watch their safety video, don your hard hat, gloves, jeans, and steel toe boots, maybe a respirator, and HAZMAT suit and get out in the field.

    I have been there when the whole works shook from an acetylene tank explosion. I have watched a dude jump from one piece of high reach equipment to another without tethering his safety harness, because he hates safety harnesses and the ladder for the equipment he needed was poorly located. I have climbed on a rusting ladder because that was the only way to inspect the damage and determine if it was safe for the guy weighing twice as much as me who needed to get on it to fix it and adjacent piping. I have handled removing parts from sewage tanks. And the everyday in the field hazards of handling burners, grinders, and welding. And of course getting out in the field with the workmen (and occasional women) I have heard the stories of how various guys got maimed or killed in the field.

    It is one thing to practice the thought process once or twice with familiar things to learn the process. It is another entirely to pretend that such a paperwork exercise can familiarize you with the risks of your colleagues in the field.

  16. Matthew August 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    While filling out a card or form is over the top, paying attention to some of the things mentioned shouldn’t be dismissed. There are real consequences to carpal tunnel and other ergonomic issues.

    Where I work, the minor things mentioned are considered, but where welding in an area around chemicals requires permitting and a fire watch, the office gets a walkthough about once every 6 months to look at safety gear storage, monitor heights (looking down can cause neck problems), and other minor things that won’t kill or maim someone, but could require treatment or reduce quality of life. The company mentioned in the article seems to go to far, but it is possible to go to far the other way as well. Here we consider the minor stuff but keep it in perspective. Mitigation appropriate for the risk level.

  17. BL August 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    “Co-workers getting hit, punched, kicked”

    That’s not obsessing over rare accidents. Those aren’t accidents, those are on-purposes.

  18. Emily August 5, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    I work at a large chain gym, as a yoga instructor. Now, because of the “large chain gym” aspect, we had to watch a safety video a few months ago. This video included such gems as, “Spilled water on the floor is dangerous. If you see water on the floor, please either clean it up, or tell a maintenance person, so they can clean it up.” It also outlined such hazards as vacuum-cleaner cords (tripping hazard), ladders (get someone to hold it steady for you if you’re going to climb), walking around corners (you might bump into someone), desk drawers (if you’re on your hands and knees looking for something under a desk, and someone opens the drawer and you don’t see, you could bump your head when you get up), and stairs (our gym is one storey, but some gyms in our chain have stairs). So, the video was a little bit “duh,” but afterwards, you know what happened? Life at our gym went on exactly as it had before. People came to exercise, my colleagues and I taught our classes as usual, and yes, people still got injured, but it was always treated as “life happens,” and not as a tragedy. So, we weren’t saddled with a whole rash of new rules and procedures following the video, and I’m glad, because too many rules ruin things like that.

    I also used to teach chair yoga to older people in a retirement home, and there were SO MANY RULES it was insane–I had to wear running shoes, and teach the exact same routine each week, and never twist, or bend down too far, and I think I was technically supposed to provide immunization records (I didn’t), and a police check (I did, but I got fussed at because it took a few weeks to be ready), and agree to be on probation for something like three years. We also weren’t allowed to leave the written routine behind for the residents to do on their own, for “insurance reasons.” The result of this uber-safe yoga program was that attendance started dropping, because people were bored, so the entire program got scrapped. So, I echo what other people have said already–too much safety is not a good thing.

  19. Harrow August 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    @Havva “of course the risk index on it would be so low that by the color coding system I’ve worked with it should be filed in the shredder.”

    I’m sorry but you are not allowed to file anything in the shredder until you have watched the mandatory 90-minute training video Horrible Shredder Deaths That Could Happen Maybe.

  20. Warren August 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Companies that have their offices on the same property as the production, mining or whatever do have valid safety concerns when it comes to the dress code of their office employees. If the offices are not on the same property then those concerns go out the window.

    The companies are not to blame, the employees are not to blame, for this over the top safety era we are in. The courts are to blame, and are accompanied by the insurance companies, in that blame.

    Lawsuits, fines and sanctions placed on companies for accidents and injuries that are in fact the fault of the employee are the problem. Very few if any employee is going to admit they caused their own injury, they will lie everytime.

  21. Steve August 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    I ran into stupid irrational thinking gone wild at our city dump.

    Back in the days of common sense and sanity, you could just drive in and dump your trash or debris.

    Not any more.

    I drove in and stopped on a scale while talking to the person in the window. She directed me to an elevated concrete platform where I was supposed to drive my trailer of concrete chunks and dirt. When I saw it, I noticed a thick concrete wall at least 4 feet tall. I asked the woman about this wall. She said just throw your stuff “over” it. Now, I was somewhat lucky in not having much to get rid of, so I drove my trailer over and began lifting chunks of broken sidewalk out of my trailer and throwing them over the wall. But when it came time to do something with all the dirt, I went back to ask if there wasn’t an easier way than to shovel the dirt laboriously over the wall.

    Luckily, I talked to a different person this time, and he smiled and said, “Just push the dirt out of your trailer and we’ll scoop it up. We make exceptions for some people who don’t have large trucks that can just dump their stuff over the wall.”

    We then had a friendly discussion about how insane safety regulations had changed practices at the city dump. He said the 4 foot wall was fairly recent and was supposedly for public safety. He said some of the safety regulations for their employees actually put them at greater risk.

    It appears that nobody in our society is using statistics in a rational way to assess risk. Worst first thinking rules.

  22. Emily August 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    I just read the article about “Safety Third,” and I found it interesting; however, as I’ve said before, I think people have gotten the meaning of “Safety First” confused. When I was a kid going to summer camp, our first day of camp (or the second day, if it was raining on the first) included a swimming test–about 75 metres, any style, no time limit. Non-swimmers were given red bracelets, weak swimmers were given yellow bracelets, and good swimmers (which comprised most of the camp) were theoretically supposed to get green bracelets, but since we were so many, we didn’t have to wear anything. The rules were standard–people with green bands had to be lifeguarded and swim with a buddy, but could use the deep end, tower, and boats at will, people with yellow bands had to be watched a bit more closely (not sure of the specifics, because hardly anyone ever got yellow), and people with red bands needed to swim/boat with a counsellor, and wear life jackets in the deep end. Nobody was restricted from any activity altogether, and the swimming test could be retaken at any point. Likewise, at the gym where I teach yoga now, I was told the safety rules at the beginning (no headstand, shoulder stand, or plow, no hands-on spotting, no props), and then left to my own devices. So, that version of “Safety First” is something I can get behind, because it’s just “Safety First” in the temporal sense–as in, “Safety first, and now that that’s covered, let’s all enjoy the waterfront/let’s all do some yoga/whatever the activity is.” The aquatic facilities that say, “Everyone who doesn’t pass the band test has to be in a life jacket, in the shallow end, practically tethered to an adult,” and the workplaces that require the same forms to be filled out whether you want to use a stapler or a jackhammer, aren’t “Safety First”; they’re “Safety Only.” Safety First is a sensible mentality, but Safety Only is crippling. Bureaucrats just don’t call it Safety Only, because if they did, then people would (rightfully) challenge it.

  23. Emily August 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    P.S., I like Harrow’s (tongue-in-cheek) idea for the safety video called “Horrible Shredder Deaths That Could Happen Maybe.” I think it’d be fun to make a spoof “slasher movie” (in the same style as “Scary Movie,” but without all the sexual innuendo and bathroom humour) about all the “horrors” that exist in daily life. There could be one character who chokes to death eating bread (or grapes, or hot dogs), a child who dies from getting their hoodie string tangled on a playground swing (not thinking to remove said hoodie), and so on, and so forth. Of course, it’d have to be blatantly obvious that this movie is a JOKE, because otherwise, people might take it seriously.

  24. Andrew_M_Garland August 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Lawyer: Is it not true that Rio Tinto documents and warns about every safety hazard at the mine?
    RT: Yes.
    Lawyer: But, you fail to do this at your offices, which I note have 80% female employees.
    RT: Well .. yes.
    Lawyer: This lack of care and gross discrimination is a big contribution to my client hitting her head on the filing cabinet, yes? (objection) Question withdrawn.

    Jury: $30,000 to the plaintif for medical care and suffering, and $500,000 in punitive damages arising from uncaring discrimination against women.

    We live in a stupid society where people are supposed to be warned against everything. Microwave manufacturers have to warn people not to dry their pets in the microwave. They were sued and lost.

    The safety protocols are certainly wastful and expensive, but they only reflect the stupidity, waste, and vengeance of juries and the legal system.

  25. Tsu Dho Nimh August 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm #


    I have worked in semiconductor manufacturing – where the chemicals used to make the chips are explosive, toxic or both. The equipment is insanely high-voltage and high temperature.

    I have worked in hospital labs – with hepatitis, HIV, MERSA, concentrated acids, explosive liquids. And sick people!

    We were specifically trained in working safely in those areas.

    Pushing that level of safety awareness and documentation into a normal office environment trivializes the real hazards by making no difference between the hazards of handling cyanide and a club sandwich.

  26. Phil August 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    When I worked in nuclear power, FAR more people were injured in the offices (broken legs, crush injuries from toppling file cabinets, burns, etc.) than in the power block, where we had radiation, high voltage, high pressure, steam, toxic chemicals, etc. The difference, as far as I can tell, is that safety was always a focus of the work in the power block, but rarely so in the office building. I disagree with you on this one, Lenore.

  27. Kris C August 5, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    If employers really took “Safety First” all the way, they wouldn’t have employees. If you truly put safety first, you wouldn’t be allowed to drive into work in case of a car accident, which is far more likely to happen than choking on your lunch. Or spilling hot coffee. What about the paper cuts? “Be Safe” makes more sense in this case. Yes, some jobs are inherently more dangerous than others and safety should be on the mind. But someone sitting behind a desk and computer all day runs fewer risks. I am so over this mentality. We are becoming afraid of our own shadows.

  28. derfel cadarn August 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    It is never about safety, ever, it is always about money.

  29. gap.runner August 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    At my work I recently had to fill out a safety survey. It included such gems as: does your office chair have wheels, does it have 5 legs, and does it have arms that can be adjusted from side to side. I never realized that a simple office chair could have so many potential hazards associated with it, at least judging from the number of questions about them on the form. There was even a question about co-workers requiring special assistance with tasks. I was very tempted to fill it out sarcastically and say that I would be ready for special on-the-job psychiatric services after being required to fill out the form. I can understand filling out a safety survey if I were a maintenance person or someone who worked with dangerous machinery or hazardous chemicals. But I work at a desk where the most dangerous things around are pens, paper clips, and staplers. I think that I have a higher chance of being hurt in a car accident driving to work than by an office chair with arms that are not adjustable. But the people who came up with this survey are government employees who have to justify their jobs by requiring everyone to fill it out.

  30. Beth August 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    But really Phil (“The difference, as far as I can tell, is that safety was always a focus of the work in the power block, but rarely so in the office building”), adults avoiding bread and having to write up their plan for crossing the street? Insulting.

  31. jimc5499 August 5, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    Funny thing is that you can do everything right and still get sued. i used to design machinery for the plastics industry. One of our machines was involved in an incident where an operator had all four fingers of his left hand amputated (re-attachment surgery was successful). An investigation showed that he removed three safety guards and disabled two safety switches, any one of which would have prevented the incident. The insurance company that paid for the surgery sued the employer (who went bankrupt and closed) and the company that I worked for. We were asked if we did a safety evaluation when we designed the machine. When we said that we did, we were asked why we hadn’t made the machine safer? Apparently five safety features were not enough. Our company’s insurance company settled out of court for a large amount. One thing that happened as a result was that we STOPPED doing safety evaluations on new products. Our liability was lessened by stopping the evaluations.

    The company I work for now has a “safety thought for the day” from the company and at least two employees have to give one each day. They have rapidly become a joke, with everybody rolling their eyes every time.

  32. Papilio August 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

    August Fool’s joke? Pleaeaeaeaease?

  33. Mark August 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    Considering the number of adults I see whose plan for crossing the street is “step out and hope the cars stop”, requiring people to actually write their plan down might reduce the wear and tear on my brakes.

    (Kids, amazingly, usually look both ways before crossing)

  34. Papilio August 5, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    Actually this reminds me of the Final Destination films. How long before they’ll want to prevent all *those* accidents?

  35. Beth August 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    But Mark, part of that is the culture, for lack of a better word, in a particular area. In my large metropolitan city, if a pedestrian is even walking up to the area of a crosswalk not controlled by lights, all motorists are supposed to slam on their brakes and wait for the pedestrians to cross. It used to be ‘in the crosswalk’, then ‘waiting to cross’, now it’s ‘approaching the crosswalk’. There’s no such thing here as ‘sudden pedestrian movement’ any more, and drivers are cited often (by cops pretending to be pedestrians, mostly) for not being aware of everyone on a sidewalk who might someday want to cross.

    So, it’s no surprise that people have learned that stepping out and assuming cars will stop. I, for one, would still NOT want to be hit by a car even if I was in the right.

  36. Montreal Dad August 5, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

    Here’s the thing. You help lead a large organization. You have 1,000 employees. You know 2% of them are utter idiots, but you don’t know which ones! 20 total friggin’ idiots without a modicum of common sense equals 20 potentially business-ending-lawsuits if you can’t show in court, down the road, that you took steps to prevent them doing the kind of harm to themselves total friggin’ idiots constantly do to themselves.

    Caution demands you take steps that will inconvenience (and, yes, potentially endanger) the 980 non-total-friggin-idiots for the sake of protecting the viability of the business. The people pressing this agenda aren’t dumb. They’re just working within a dumb system driven by an insane court system producing overwhelming incentives to waste everyone’s time.

  37. Dave August 5, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    I just wondered if, when the writer mentioned that not many mining companies employed three year olds, she had seen the video you had the other day with the highlift operator…

    Seriously, when people cease to think for themselves, bureaucrats will dictate rules for everyone ‘to be fair’ rather than letting commonsense prevail. Keep up the discussion. “Diggin’ it here!”


  38. Red August 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    Thanks for the reminder that I need to schedule to take the training course on highway construction site safety that my employer requires of all employees.

    I will never be on a highway construction site. Well, except for driving through one that has no connection to my employer.

    I do non-construction related software development.

  39. Hyrax Ootopolis August 5, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    My workplace has an unhealthy obsession with safety, so much so they built an automated system with only two real functions:

    Submit “Hazard Detection Forms”, a tangle of paperwork where you list a threat to life and limb you witnessed and how to make sure it never happens again.

    Submit our timesheets. We’re contract and outsource types, so it’s all about billable hours. No timesheet submitted, no money for the company, no paycheck for you.

    There was always an unofficial quota of 2 HDFs per month. Everyone thought it was a pain, but most of us office drones ignored it. It was more for the field guys, you know? Guys who spend their days in the guts of chemical or power plants, or driving out to God-knows-where to muck about with nonfunctional gas lines. They could make two a month easy: Hell, see one bear and one car accident by the side of the road during the 4 hour commute and you’re set. Hell, if you find an improperly tagged valve you can do your job AND fill out an HDF all at the same time. But us? Not really. 40 of us crammed into a tiny office on the border of suburbia and urbia? The biggest danger was knocking someone when you moved your chair back to get up. Any threat to life and limb would be spotted and fixed before you knew it.

    We were berated in every one of the fortnightly safety meetings for not “pulling our weight”, getting ranted at by the company Napoleon about how the office is the deadliest environment in the world, more so than an ice-slick catwalk in January. (No, really, he said that.) Apparently in an office, complacency is the Great Satan. When you’re within spitting distance of a phosgene line you’re damn well careful, but in an office you won’t see the danger until it gets you: Spilled water on the floor, asbestos in the walls, a mountain lion popping up in the server room…. Offices are killers! You must always be alert!

    A few months back, Napoleon went on the offensive: Now, you HAVE to submit two HDFs a month or get locked out of the automated system. Get locked out, can’t submit timesheet, don’t get paid for your work until you fill out the safety paperwork and are allowed back in. Our paychecks are essentially being held hostage once a month until we prostrate ourselves on the altar of Safety. So, of course there’s now a metric ton of BS flying as 40 people try to find threats of mayhem over the same quarter of a city block. If you went by reports you’d assume this quiet little building and parking lot is home to half the city’s spilled beverages, dropped nails, diseased rodent sightings, lamps and heating elements by curtains, near-miss car crashes/hit-and-runs, dropped extension cords, leaky gas and oil tanks, violent homeless guys, etc. It’d be safer in Kandahar than this horrible place that our HDFs have built.

  40. BL August 5, 2014 at 10:05 pm #

    @Hyrax Ootopolis
    “Now, you HAVE to submit two HDFs a month or get locked out of the automated system”

    I don’t suppose listing the company Napoleon as a potentially homicidal lunatic at large would count as an HDF, would it?


  41. Hyrax Ootopolis August 5, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    @BL: “I don’t suppose listing the company Napoleon as a potentially homicidal lunatic at large would count as an HDF, would it?”

    🙂 It is sorely tempting, let me tell you. Napoleon’s the reason I’m looking for a new job on the side. He’s a bridge it takes effort not to burn.

  42. Emily August 5, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

    @Hydrax Ootopolis–I found a loophole to the “two HDF’s per month” rule. What if you and your co-workers planted dangers around the office to document? One of you could “accidentally” spill something, another person could “accidentally” drop a some thumbtacks or staples on the floor, and so on, and so forth. Then, you’d document the “hazard” quickly, before getting rid of it. Once those hazards get boring, you could do more creative ones, like marbles, Lego bricks, banana peels, etc., and eventually progress to a Rube Goldberg machine/trap, like you’d see in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. After a few “creative” hazards, Napoleon might finally see that the whole thing is stupid.

  43. Jenny Islander August 6, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    @Hydrax Ootopolis: Emily speaks truth. Start with a tack and slowly, steadily escalate. Also, if there is a way to accidentally CC Napoleon’s boss . . .

  44. Hyrax Ootopolis August 6, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    @Emily: “Then, you’d document the “hazard” quickly, before getting rid of it.”

    The basic idea of what I’ve been doing, and I’m sure others. The exception is I moved right to to the stage where stopping myself from doing them is equivalent to doing and then undoing them, except even safer, so I just think ’em up and say I fixed them.

    “marbles, Lego bricks, banana peels, etc., and eventually progress to a Rube Goldberg machine/trap, like you’d see in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.”

    Though that angle had not occurred to me. I like the way you think.:)

  45. Andrea of Go Diaper Free August 6, 2014 at 2:58 am #

    This is really thought-provoking! That making safe things seem unsafe actually makes unsafe things seem less important. Like equally dangerous things, but not. Wow you have my brain fiddling with this idea. Makes total sense and also reminds me of the saying, “pick your battles.” Especially with toddlers and explaining safety.

  46. Lauren August 6, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    When I moved offices at a previous job, I had a power cord that ran across the room by my desk. I stepped over it every day without a problem. Then the safety person noticed it and I had to put a plastic cord-container thing across it to try and flatten it out. At which point I began tripping every day on the safety equipment. I think I even sprained my ankle at one point.

  47. Warren August 6, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Just had a debate with someone that proves people have no idea how to apply safety regulations.

    They insisted that gov’t agencies, and insurance companies can dictate what people are allowed where on my business property.
    They can all make recomendations, but they cannot dictate.
    This person then said “you can’t have random people in your shop.”. I explained that there is a difference between random and invited/approved. And that as the owner, I can invite and approve anyone I want. My delegates in my absence have the same authority.

    Those signs you see in shops about insurance being the reason why customers are not allowed beyond certain points are all BS. They are there to keep uninvited people from distracting and bothering the technicians at work. I routinely bring customers back to show them something they should see, be it an allignment issue, brakes or whatever.

  48. Papilio August 7, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    @Hyrax, Emily & Jenny: That reminds me of Harry Potter’s third year, in which Harry and Ron (felt they) had to make up predictions for the whole next month, which then became more and more extreme and idiotic…

    But making up insane safety risks of utterly mundane office things with idiotic ways to prevent those in the future actually sounds quite fun… 😀
    (Would they know if 1 person wrote the report and then copied it for the rest of the office workers?)

  49. ***Dave August 12, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    As someone who works for an engineering company, I think there’s nothing wrong with a periodic “What are you doing that you could be doing more safely” for office workers. Trip hazards, slip hazards, cuts, lifting injuries — all of these can lead to injury in an office setting.

    And, yes, I think it would be a good occasional exercise to look at the things you’re doing every day for what risks you may running that you’ve never even thought about. You cross the street for lunch — are you actually crossing at a crosswalk, with the signal? You eat lunch at the restaurant over there — do you know where the fire exits are? You sit out on the patio — how much sun exposure are you getting?

    Sure, obsessing over that stuff all the time deadens worthwhile risk assessment and leads people to treat serious safety threats as a joke. And, yes, that is a serious process problem (when everything is a safety threat, nothing is a safety threat). But assuming that the office is a safe place and that the things we do every day are safe because we do them every day is, yeah, a formula for being really surprised when you do get hurt.