The “Blame Game” Stops Learning

It’s true.  No one wants injuries or loss producing incidents to happen.  Not corporate executives, managers, contractors, hourly workers, their families and friends; none of them.  Whatsmore, it is rare that they take personal risks or put others at significant risk of injury on purpose, without precautions they feel are adequate.   At least that’s my experience.

However, when something goes wrong it’s common to hear, “I didn’t think a thing like that could happen.”, “Can you believer she did that?”, “How could he be so stupid”, or “I told her 100 times to look out for that.”

I was talking with a risk manager about “how stupid his people are!”  An employee slipped on a piece of apple that was on the floor and broke her wrist.  The risk manager was incredulous that this employee didn’t see the piece of apple and avoid it.  “How stupid!”

How many times have we talked with supervisors and managers about injury incidents and they react the same way?  There’s a natural tendency to be defensive and deflect blame to others.  Often times, blaming the injured person for their “carelessness.”  As SH&E professionals it’s our job to combat this thinking.

Back to the employee who slipped on the apple.  What happened that resulted in the piece of apple being on the floor in the first place?  When it was dropped why didn’t the person who dropped it pick it up?  Was it noticed by anyone else? Should they have cleaned it up?  Is this a walkway where people regularly carry food?  Should it be?  If so, have you discussed the potential for spills, the need to clean them up right away, the potential for slipping regardless, etc.?

Okay.  This isn’t about apple on the floor, or the “5 Whys” of root cause analysis.  It’s about accountability.  We’re all accountable, so let’s stop pointing fingers and consider our own responsibility. 

In most cases, managers set the rules and establish how things are to be done.   Then it’s up to everybody else to follow the rules and work within the norms of the operation.  However, here’s where reality comes into play.  The way things get done often are different than how management says they should be.   Ah, that culture thing!

Even with rules and norms, the culture of the organization drives safety.  In particular, safety rules seldom cover every situation or hazard, so it is important that everyone becomesaware and empowered to report situations like a spill on the floor.  More important is that they are empowered to take action to make sure no one slips and falls.  This responsibility should be shared by all.  Does the culture make this acceptable and is it encouraged?  More important, is the culture one that values learning from mistakes and shares that learning?

I’ve got an idea.  Let’s all drop our defenses and work together.  There’s no “I” in “Safety”!  It’s a “TEAM” game. I’ll bet that in the area where the employee slipped on the apple others have slipped before.  Maybe no one was injured, but it probably happened before and didn’t get noticed.  We need to share information, let others know, work together to prevent spills and clean them up when noticed, all without pointing a finger at someone else and playing the “Blame Game.”

The risk manager was upset because of the cost of the injury claim.  It was easy to lash out at the “stupid” employee.  I’ll bet the employee was upset having to go to the emergency room, enduring the pain of the broken bone, and being subjected to the inconvenience related to the subsequent recovery.   She may have even asked herself, “How could I have been so stupid!”

Step One:  Quit trying to find fault and place blame.  Admit the problem, find causes and cures, and involve everyone in the solution with sound education and empowerment.

Step Two:  Create and  foster a culture of  shared responsibility, open communication and learning, and personal accountability.

Become “Team Safety” in the game of protecting each other.