Please note that the last names have been omitted to protect the identity of the families.
Michael recalls that when he was an hourly employee on the production floor, his supervisor was a “real stickler” about safety who insisted employees wear their PPE anytime they were out in the production areas.
“We really hated wearing the hard hats, especially in the areas away from the actual production lines where there were no obvious overhead hazards,” says Michael.
When the supervisor moved to another department, Michael took over his position. “Now I was the one responsible for enforcing the same safety rules I used to complain about,” he says. “Predictably, the guys didn’t like it and really gave me a hard time about it.”
The workers under Michael continued to grumble about wearing their hardhats. “Eventually, I gave in and agreed to let them skip the hardhats when traveling through the production areas and only enforced the rule when they were actually working on the line,” he concedes.
“I guess I was trying to be their friend instead of their supervisor and the one responsible for their safety,” continues Michael.
He adds that he now knows that was a bad idea. “Safety has to be a habit and by selectively enforcing the safety rules I let my workers, my friends, fall out of the habit of wearing their hardhats.”
One day, the plant’s shipping manager approached Michael’s employees to tell them she had a big order that had to be shipped out that day. She says it’s the material from their production line that is holding up the order.
Michael’s friend Jeff and the rest of the crew then rushed around to get material moving into the line. They didn’t take the time to put their hardhats on. “There’s just too much stuff moving around out there to work without a hardhat,” says Michael.
“That would have never happened before,” he adds. “Before I became supervisor, they never would have had them off in the first place.”
While Jeff was working down the line to make sure everything was running smoothly, a distracted forklift operator turned his lift truck toward a crane carrying a steel I-beam.
Michael says he was across the aisle when he heard shouting. He looked up to see what was going on just as the forklift struck the I-beam.
When the forklift hit the I-beam, it spun directly into Jeff’s head, killing him, “It was a real bad scene, but then it got even worse, because Jeff’s wife also works here and she ran over to see what had happened and saw him lying there like that,” says Michael.
“It was awful. Even now, years later, every time I see her I still have a hard time looking her in the eye. I could have saved a life that day, but I chose to look the other way,” Michael concludes.