Is Safety A Right Or A Responsibility?

Is Safety a Right Or a Responsibility? Is safety a right? Do I as an individual have the right to an injury free workplace, or do I have a responsibility to work safely and avoid injuring myself and others? This seemingly simple question is at the cornerstone of every safety process, debate and theory. Let’s explore these concepts independently at first. Safety is a right .If human beings have any rights at all it would seem that the right to make a living without dying, suffering debilitating injury, or crippling chronic conditions because of the work they do. Today, experts estimate that there are 27 million slaves. Experts differ on the definition of exactly what constitutes a slave and with variations in definitions comes larger estimates of the size, but in general we can agree that there are a LOT of people who are enslaved. Interestingly, this number (and definition) of slaves does not include the working poor who feel that they have no options. If safety is a right, then there should be legal and civil penalties for impinging on this right. The U.S. Chamber of commerce and other business lobbyists have actively engaged in a campaign to significantly curtail the rights of individuals in the U.S. to sue companies for products that are unsafe. But this is just the final battleground worldwide. Laws globally have made it harder for individuals to hold companies responsible for the safety of their products. And it’s not just product safety. Workers’ compensation laws disallow workers form suing their employers for a workplace injury (such cases are governed by worker’s compensation payouts instead of individual lawsuits.) Similar efforts worldwide reflect a growing legal opinion that the primary cause of worker injuries is stupid, clumsy, or reckless workers. As for criminal penalties for injuring another, such consequences are largely nonexistent unless a company actually kills an individual, does so quickly, and does show while showing criminal recklessness and depraved indifference. If you are a company and you kill a worker by slowing poisoning him or her over say 30 years your board or exec team will not see a day of prison time (remember Union Carbide and India?) So while it sure makes sense that safety would be a right the legal opinion seems to view safety as for sale—break a rule pay a fine, maim a worker and risk a lawsuit with restricted remedies. As long as you are prepared to write a check you can pretty much injury workers with impunity. If safety ever was a right it has long since ceased being one. Safety is a Responsibility If safety is a responsibility, who is responsible? Everyone? Workers? Corporations? Is it a moral responsibility or legal one? Is safety a personal responsibility or a collective one? More and more companies are looking to hold workers responsible for the safety of the workplace. In some business environs, safety is a condition of employment. In others, elaborate and expensive behavior modification programs are implemented to manipulate the worker’s behaviors so that they work more safely. Given that injuries are accidental (not assaults) it’s hard to hold an individual responsible for an unforeseen outcome of an unintended action. So who is responsible? An organization bears the responsibility for keeping the workplace safe by implementing 5S workplace organizations, applying safety controls, training workers, designing robust processes, and ensuring that equipment is in good working order. But clearly workers bear some responsibility to follow procedures designed to keep themselves and others safe while working. So while no single individual is responsible for the collective safety, everyone is responsible for some part of safety and should at a minimum hold themselves accountable for their contribution or lack there of to safety. Both and Neither And so it goes that safety is both a right and a responsibility, and neither a right nor a responsibility. Safety is probability, and probability is generally a balancing act. By making safety an abstract (right, responsibility) we obviate the need to think of our safety as a continuous condition, the probability that we will not be harmed by the hazards with which we interact. We can either reduce the number of hazards with which we interact, reduce the time with which we interact, or reduce the severity of the consequences when, despite our best efforts, we are injured anyway.


About workersafetynet
Phil La Duke is a top thought leader in worker safety, He was named by ISHN magazine to both it's Up & Comers in Safety Thought Leadership and to it's Power 100 list of the most influential people in worker safety world-wide. His aggressive plain-English, practical approach to worker safety makes him a popular and sometimes controversial speaker. In addition to writing this blog, LaDuke is a featured blogger for ISHN, a guest blogger to, a guest blogger to, a monthly columnist for Fabricating and Metalworking magazine, and an occasional contributor to Facilities Safety Management Magazine, ISHN, and SQDCME magazine.

One Response to Is Safety A Right Or A Responsibility?

  1. Phil La Duke says:

    Reblogged this on Phil La Duke's Blog and commented:
    Digging into the archives of my original blog.

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