If you have ever been a cigarette smoker, you know the visceral attraction that is addiction. It runs deep and is overcome only with a significant effort and determination. It is a change that takes absolute dedication, and one you will not achieve unless you believe the goal is of value. For most of us ex-smokers, we underwent the physical and psychological pain of withdrawal for many reasons, ranging from the financial cost, both direct in the ever increasing costs at the store, to the indirect, such as the additional cost for insurance policies, to the physical cost in health, the inconvenience cost of having to step away to the smoking area, to the pain of withdrawal on long flights or social situations that did not permit the fulfillment.
And so it is with your safety program.
That first cigarette provided a buzz and a thrill, a feeling of both rebellion and togetherness with the dark side. Nothing bad came of it, beyond a few hacks of discomfort. And the first time that safety is ignored in the search for a financial jolt to the bottom line, the same thrill from additional revenue at no apparent cost looks like an acceptable risk, especially for those whose willingness to accept risk leans towards the higher end of the spectrum. Exactly the personality type that would rise to be a successful entrepreneur or managerial candidate. Weigh the risk on a transaction by transaction basis – look at the immediate versus a possible outcome.
That first week of smoking, daily consumption is limited to a few a day, and a pack lasts three, maybe four days. But after a while, the body needs more to sustain itself. The hunger demands ever more frequent intakes.
And so it is with the opportunity to increase financial returns based on skirting the rules. And over time the structure of the organisation becomes dependent upon the returns realized through the intake of opportunities that should be avoided – both morally and legally.
Some people have managed to smoke for years, even decades, and due to a combination of lucky genetic makeup and some form of unknown divine intervention avoid the horrible outcomes that cigarettes can produce – from cancer to COPD to emphysema. But those folks are a statistically insignificant percentage of the smoker community. It isn’t the first one that gets you, it’s the cumulative effect of all those nicotine hits bringing the cancer causing chemicals into your body, and one of them finding the opening into a single cell’s genetic make-up. It grows silently, unobserved and provides no obvious clues. And then the doctor is telling you have lung cancer; that it is incurable and it’s time to make your plans and say good bye to all that is you.
A few companies can operate for decades dancing on the edges of compliance, even fewer while outright subverting the regulations. The perverse rules of probability permitting avoidance of that which will brush the vast majority. But they are the few. And their employees the unlucky to be subject to such management. For most of those who live by the addiction, the fatal diagnosis happens as suddenly as the doctor’s statement. A disabling injury; a fatal accident, a regulatory audit; followed swiftly by the media attention; the legal investigation, the reputation destruction. As the courts seek to identify what actions it was that lead to this outcome, each of those decisions to break the rules becomes a cancerous, burning coal of liability, and when at the end, the pile of cancerous coals is seen to be spread across all the departments and layered thick in the decision making practices, the diagnosis will be fatal, consequential and permanent.
Those who say safety is an expense, understand neither the short term nor the long term implication of a successful safety program. A quality safety program drives down insurance costs, legal fees and improves operational efficiencies. It contributes to higher employee morale, lower staff turnover, lower management of undesirable conditions and greater productively. It is marketable commodity when approaching potential clients.
Those who seek to operate at the expense of a safety program inhale deeply of the slow death that will one day cross the threshold. They risk the health and potentially livelihood of the very resources upon which they depend to generate income. They communicate to their people that they are disposable and of inconsequential value. They drive up their own insurance and regulatory costs as surely as the cigarette smoker’s life and medical insurance cost multiples of the non-smoker. They have higher turnover, lower employee morale and as a result lesser productivity. And one day, the doctor will come to their door and bring a phalanx of surgeons charged with cutting out the cancer, even if it means the patient’s chance of survival is slim – for the alternative is to allow the cancer to grow – and that cannot be permitted.