According to Alberta OH&S and WCB statistics we can expect many more lives ruined or destroyed this year. In 2013 there were 188 deaths in the workplace. These deaths are labeled occupational fatalities. There were also 53,080 disabling injury claims in the same period! The folks at OH&S and WCB Alberta don’t tell us how disabling those injuries were to the individual or how devastating to the individual’s families.

We won’t have the data for 2014 until June of 2014 but we can conclude that there will be more needless and preventable deaths and injuries occurring in Alberta workplaces this year without some serious changes. So we must ask ourselves: If government and industry can’t or won’t stop the carnage, who can? The answer to this is simple, we the workers can.

We can begin by understanding that there two mindsets or workplace cultures that exist today. We need to understand the difference between the two. In industry today there is what I refer to as an “injury tolerant” culture. This culture has existed for a long time and is alive and well in the minds of the majority. The other mindset is what I refer to as “injury-free”. This idea or mindset is starting to gain momentum in the minds of people and is slowly gaining recognition and understanding by the minority.

“Injury tolerant” culture or mindset exists when the majority of people in the group or organization believe that injuries are simply a by-product of activities required to get work or tasks done. Proponents of this way of thinking also believe that injury causing incidents are both inevitable and unpreventable. In this culture we can expect to hear the phrase “S*%T HAPPENS” often in this environment.

“Injury-free” culture or mindset exists when the majority of people in the group or organization believe that all injury causing incidents are both unacceptable and preventable. All people understand and accept personal responsibility and management mandates education that empowers and supports the right and duty of the individuals to obey the law. (Refusing unsafe work)

The law as stated in the OH&S Act and Regulations (all Provinces and Territories are the same) in Alberta the law (Chapter 4 Actions for workers) states:

“If you think that your work may put you or another worker in imminent danger, you MUST refuse to do it.” (OH&S Act and Regulations. Chapter 4: Actions for workers)

In an “injury tolerant” culture the majority of individuals have not been educated to understand this right and believe that they are likely to be disciplined, laid-off or terminated if they refuse a job or a task. In an “injury-free” culture the individual is educated, empowered and supported by management to exercise this fundamental right.

Moving forward we must ask ourselves: “What culture exists in my workplace?” To answer this we have to understand the difference. We must also ask: “What can I do to change the culture at my work place?” The answer to facilitate this change is simply by educating the individual and therefore acquiring the ability to understand the rights, obligations and duties of the employer and the worker. We can do this by simply starting this safety conversation with a co-worker and your supervisor. If that does not demonstrate a willingness to change, you may need to seek employment elsewhere with an organization that can prove to you that they are committed to supporting your fundamental rights as a worker or individual.

The majority of organizations/companies that have jumped on the “injury-free” bandwagon declare that they support the idea that killing and hurting people is bad and that they are implementing new strategy to prevent injury. In today’s industry organizations need to talk the talk in order to secure contracts. The question is do they walk the walk?

Taking personal responsibility for the safety of yourself, your co-worker and ultimately the security of your family is a good thing! If we decide to not accept this personal responsibility and not take action we have to accept that the next person that is seriously injured or killed may be someone you know. All you have to do is look in a mirror because it may be YOU!