The Memorial Day weekend has come around again. It usually marks the beginning of the summer season with many planning vacations and other activities. Traditionally, the holiday is meant to honor fallen heroes as well as families and friends who also have passed.
This year, though, the effects of the coronavirus have changed things. Those favorite summer time plans may not materialize this year and, unfortunately, those we honor will also include many who have been deemed essential workers. These were people who did all kinds of jobs.
On the AFL-CIO website, they have added a memorial page for those workers who have died from the coronavirus. Of course, not all essential workers are union workers. Some are non-union and some are members of management. All lives lost is a tragedy. In fact, the AFL-CIO page mentioned something else that is extremely important especially as we go forward. It says we must ALL work together to prevent any further tragedy from occurring and that says the need for health and safety committees.
This last week the AFL-CIO sued OSHA(Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for not protecting workers. They are asking the court system to order OSHA to come up with a temporary standard for all workplaces to develop plans against coronavirus and other airborne illnesses. While a lawsuit may be necessary to encourage health and safety committees, it is a little more of an adversarial approach of getting workplace safety committees established instead of the approach of “let’s work together.”
On the other hand, the lawsuit could be a response to the complaints employees have had about the inaction of some employers not protecting them from coronavirus issues and other unsafe working conditions like at Amazon. The establishment of health and safety committees at each Amazon facility would cost far less than the amount of money Amazon executives have spent on their poor safety pattern, public relations and smear campaigns against their workers. Not only that, had those committees actually been established and used to decrease accidents and injuries it might have created a more positive public relations image for Amazon instead of the negative one. It also would have reduced or eliminated both direct and indirect costs of accidents, injuries and deaths. Amazon executives have accused at least one employee of being less than intelligent but when the costs of public relations plus the direct and indirect costs associated with accidents, illnesses and injuries are considered versus the inexpensive approach of listening and getting new ideas on how to deal with coronavirus and other safety issues, it’s hard to understand why executives are accusing an employee of being the one with low intelligence.
The coronavirus pandemic is an issue every health and safety committees needs to work on but there are plenty of other issues committees need to address. The goal of any health and safety committee is to be proactive and prevent accidents and injuries from occurring. Yes, there will be times committees respond reactively but a good health and safety committee creates a safe workplace. When we have done workplace safety assessments following the establishment of committees, the results always show employees view the workplace as being much safer after the committee was formed.
We normally say safety is an issue most people can agree to work together on because nobody wants to see people hurt. When it comes to some workplaces, like Amazon, it can take a lot longer to bring people together. Those with their own adversarial approach have to work through relationships issues first and then major safety improvements can happen. This is why many have difficulty working on a collaborative approach. It doesn’t happen overnight and it requires patience. For some people that can be extremely hard. They see the process as a waste of time especially as it will take work to make improvements not just on safety but relationships first. Some people also don’t understand the need to improve work relationships but to have a successful process, there needs to be some trust. Sometimes people consider improving relationships to be a lot of unnecessary “fluff.” But when it involves saving lives, that “fluff” is extremely important. One time we did some training in a traditional environment and one of the employees coming into the training said, “it’s time to go to charm school.” It is those kind of attitudes that may require a push like a lawsuit.
There’s a lot of finger-pointing and accusations going on right now. Those adversarial behaviors do nothing to make workplace problems that could be associated with the coronavirus go away. They waste time. It’s not one side’s decision as to what happens. It’s about both sides identifying the issues and coming up with solutions that work for everybody. It shouldn’t take a lawsuit and it shouldn’t be about combating negative images. The coronavirus is a serious issue. It spreads quickly. We don’t have time to work against each other. It requires all of us to work together NOW to overcome it.