Even if the Job Hazard Analysis says it is safe, even if we have done the task 1,000 times, even if there is a schedule that must be kept and even if the work must be done, if you feel unsafe, then it is unsafe.
But speaking up is hard. We are influenced by our environment and the people around us. Not speaking up does not mean we are inferior or weak, but it does mean we have not learned how to speak up yet, or the environment prevents us from speaking up. The influence of our environment and the people around us impacts the way we think, feel and act.
Some of you are thinking, “Are you kidding me? If you cannot speak up when something is unsafe, then you should be disciplined or let go.”
Let us think through a situation and then re-evaluate our thoughts.
Picture yourself in a large crowd walking down the street. You see a man sitting on a bench and he looks inebriated. You look around and do not see anyone stopping, so you assume the person has had too much to drink and you keep walking. Now picture the same situation except this time you are alone. In this scenario you walk up to the person to see if he is all right.
Why in one situation do you keep walking and in another you stop to see if the person is okay? The influence of our environment dictates how we react. What if I told you in both situations the person was having a stroke and not inebriated? Could you tell the difference? Stopping for two seconds could save a life.
How does this apply to our job sites? Have you ever been in a situation where you did not feel 100% but kept working? Have you ever seen something that looked unsafe but did not speak up? Have you ever felt pressure to keep working even if you knew the situation was not safe? Our environment sometimes has more control over us than we realize, and we need to learn how to break through the environment and to speak up.
I challenge each of you to discuss this topic. Consider role playing in scenarios you might face on the job that can illustrate where you might speak up even if it means that you could be wrong. Even if you are wrong you are right because you could have saved a life. We owe it to ourselves, our families and those around us to return home safe each day.
In addition to being 2022–2023 president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, Travis Vap is CEO of South Valley Drywall, Inc. in Littleton, Colo.