Safety When No One is Looking-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Safety When No One is Looking

Have you ever been speeding down the interstate and spotted a State Trooper on the side of the road?  If you were going over the speed limit you immediately slowed down. As you pass the car and watch as it slowly disappears from your rear view mirror, you speed up again.  Whew!  You didn't get caught.  Even those people who are not speeding, they slow down at the sight of that marked car.

What just happened here?  Do we obey the traffic laws only when there is police enforcement around?  

So as Director of Safety, my questions are these; when do we comply with the rules and who is responsible for safety?

The first response might be the Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) Department.  However, we are not the cops in the rear view mirror.  Our job is to help you go home as healthy as you came to work.  But we can't do it alone.  If you only wear your safety glasses when someone else is watching you, are you like the motorist I referred to above?  This is what I call pathological compliance. This mindset includes thoughts like, the rules are slowing me down.  Most at Carnegie Mellon don't feel this way, but there are a few outliers.
How does one learn safety habits and procedures?  You might have had a safety class from EH&S but that was very general.  You may have learned the proper safety procedures from a peer.   I call this inbred training. There is a third leg of the stool necessary for stability.

In California a faculty member is facing 4.5 years in prison for not properly training a staff member who ended up dying from her injury.  The reality of our world is that faculty is responsible for students and staff under their supervision to fully understand dangerous process.

With faculty, staff, students and EH&S working together and having an open dialogue, we can incorporate safety into research which is the key to an even better safety culture.

By: Madelyn Miller,, 412-268-1377