A towel falls off the rack. A door that should be closed isn't, little pieces of paper are lying on the street next to the rubbish bin. In all these cases, the question arises: would it be better to put things right or simply pretend not to have noticed? It is similar with the safety culture in companies. It shows up exactly when no one is looking. All of us, at least as youngsters, have committed one or another unsafe or even borderline legal act when we thought no one would see it. Often because it was quicker or more convenient, but sometimes also with a certain thrill of the illicit that such an act evokes. It was stupid, however, if we were caught at that very moment. The excuses we then came up with were usually pretty thin - and that hasn't changed much in the working world today either.

Creative justifications

In occupational safety, we hear curious excuses again and again when it comes to justifying one's own misconduct. An absolute classic, for example, is: "The safety goggles damage my eyes! I already notice that my eyes are getting worse and worse." This is a common opinion, but de facto nonsense. Maybe the goggles are scratched or wear badly, but they have no negative effect on the eyesight itself - in contrast to contaminants or dangerous substances when they get into our unprotected eyes. 

Also popular are stories in which a person prevented something worse from happening by not complying with a requirement. Sometimes someone was only able to save himself from a falling aerial work platform because he had not fastened his seat belt, sometimes the escape from a burning car was only possible because the driver was not wearing a seat belt. There may indeed have been such cases, but they are out of all proportion to the countless situations in which wearing a seat belt has saved lives - whether in a car or on a working platform. 

We all know that such statements basically only serve to justify one's own comfort, not only to others but also to oneself. After all, this means that our actions are the result of careful consideration and not of carelessness. But normally, a lot of people have given a lot of thought before putting it into safety guidelines. So a little more trust in the work of the experts certainly can't hurt.

Use common sense and still follow rules

However, the same people who creatively reinterpret existing safety guidelines are very restrictive when it comes to simply applying common sense to an unsafe situation. It goes without saying that wedges should not be wedged under fire doors to keep them open or that bulky objects should not be stored in the middle of traffic areas because they will be needed again in a moment. Again and again we hear the question: "Where does it say that?" And as long as no directive prescribes it, colleagues refuse to implement it. The consequence would be even more regulations and risk assessments - but who wants that? We should therefore not even have to discuss sensible measures. In return, by the way, anyone who discovers unsafe actions or conditions should address them consistently. Because an open error culture is an elementary component if an organisation wants to develop towards safe behaviour. In the end, everyone should work safely even when no one is looking.