How did safety get unsafe?


WELL, IT FINALLY HAPPENED. Not to me, but my son-in-law’s brother, who has been an expert stone- and solid-surface tile and countertop installer for nearly 20 years. The stone saw slipped, he grabbed and came up with the hurty bits. It happens.

Typically in these situations there is an investigation to discover what happened, and those investigations have a tendency to search for fault, but sometimes there simply isn’t any.

We have all witnessed safety investigations along the way, and some of us are puzzled how the public’s demand for safety has morphed into things that are not even recognizable. For one example, a prominent British Columbia labour union some years back posted an action item on its website that all union members should endeavour to force the installation of a “safety committee” in their respective places of employment. This sounds reasonable, but the stated objective was not safety. The stated objective was that union members could seize control of company functions from management under the guise of “safety.” If you own a shop that is unionized, you are not necessarily safer.

That horse left the barn long ago, and safety committees and their attendant headaches for management are facts of life. I still recall the exasperated manager in Hamilton, Ont., that saw his “safety committee” members defeat an installed guard on a woodworking machine, then report the modification to OHSA. Over time, OHSA has given the impression that its sanctions against management and union members follow different protocols.

Once the safety committees were well established, the so-called gender-equality movement ante-ed up, demanding more access to more penalties for more offences, seemingly by the day.

Coverings’ sister magazine, Wood Industry, reported years ago that the secretive, seemingly unaligned Wood Manufacturing Council (WMC) had created a study on sexual harassment in the kitchen-cabinet and architectural millwork sector showing systemic harassment of females in the workplace. Since we have been working closely with manufacturers in that industry for over 20 years, and since we have seen NOTHING but respect for women in the workplace, and since we watch things for a living, we doubted it and conducted our own investigation.

What we discovered was that the “study” had been commissioned by the WMC at taxpayer expense, and had been conducted by the WMC director’s wife. Suspicious of motives and methodologies, as is our job, we inquired, and have had zero response and our Access to Information Act requests have been refused and all the relevant ministries disavow any knowledge of to whom the WMC is accountable. As of presstime, the WMC has not responded to renewed efforts to establish contact.

It’s a crazy world, eh? So this one got even crazier, when a known human-resource consultant in Ontario reported in a seminar that of all the sexual-harassment complaints received over the past years of practice, well over 80 percent of those complaints were by males against females.

In that case, efforts to contact the consultant by phone were cut off, leaving the impression that the consultant had been on the receiving end of the activist social media mob as the result of going off-script. Full disclosure: the editor and publisher of Coverings was once also the editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine, so we actually know the script.

By now, the word “safety” has morphed into approximately any meaning anybody wants to assign to it. Have you ever been told by a utility or vendor that your call is being recorded for your safety? I have, but I always correct them. That’s what comes from being an English teacher. I always say, “No. It’s not for my safety. It’s for yours and your lawyers, but go ahead. I’m recording too.”

The hand in question.

That’s not always true, but I like to keep them on their toes, and it’s fair enough to tell a liar a fib. Honesty is the absence of any intent to deceive, and I have no such intent of my own. I just want to poke a hole in theirs.

Of course, not all safety is physical. In our view, we are facing one of the biggest threats to security and safety in all history at the hands of this uncontrolled “social media” phantasm. But what do you expect when any disgruntled ex-whatever can go on social media and practice libel and slander from behind a veil of anonymity? After all, the classical laws and penalties against defamation existed in the first place because defamation works. It destroys its target when properly applied.

The newest iteration of defamation, as we have reported before, will be in the form of “deep-faking” video evidence of business owners and managers being portrayed doing acts they never committed in places they never attended. You can review this yourself by doing a search for deep-fake.

We get the sense that people don’t fully understand the dangers of identity theft, and that is becoming old news. We all know we can buy protection from companies that create hackers to outthink hackers, but consider the basics.

The world runs on paper, from your passport and driver’s licence to your loans, cars, heat and shopping accounts. Acquisition of each of those things requires a form. Here is a tip from a former investigator (me): every valid form has a form number. Sounds silly, right? But the converse is that if it has a form number, it’s a valid form, and agencies receiving a valid form have to act on it, and usually they have a timeline or they get a negative (“not timely”) review from their supervisors.

Each of these forms starts out with what they call “static information.” This is your name, address, phone, e-mail, SIN or whatever things the form requires to determine your presence and your viability as an applicant.

At the moment, the financial institutions tend to ignore financial theft by identity theft because they can pay for it and it is valuable for them to have us conduct business by data. My wife a few years ago in Honduras had her information stolen from a cash machine at the airport. We caught it by accident by noticing an almost immediate transaction at a Texas music store and stopped it. The cost to us was nothing, other than the feeling that “something ain’t right.” And it’s not. The bank replaced the loss, but not the feeling of safety. THREATS AND FEARS The list of real and imagined safety threats we are facing today goes on, maybe to infinity. However, each of these infractions costs individuals, companies, the governments and society at large time and resources to monitor, to review, to consider and to act. And all of those resources have to be pulled from a big pot of cash called safety.

Our experience shows that people involved in safety education seem to fear going public with their experiences, which seems to imply that safety as a topic is not as concerned with individual humans as we would hope.

It is likely no additional amount of review would have prevented the cut on the stone-cutter’s finger, but it also seems it’s time to redefine safety down to the human level and cut off some of the politics.

In closing, let me quote the YouTube sensation that everybody knows only by his hands, his language and his handle, AvE: “Remember, you are the softest thing in the shop.”

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