Judgment Call: Is Safety Too Discretionary?

Many things in life are discretionary or considered simple judgment calls. In fact, most of the time people use their discretion without even really realizing it. For instance, many people choose to put on their seat-belts while riding in a car to stay safe. Furthermore, people also try to make healthy food choices in order to keep their bodies healthy. Discretion is often associated with making decisions based on what we believe is right or prudent depending upon the situation. However, discretion is very personal and not everyone shares the same levels of discretion. This means that an acceptable choice to one person may not be considered acceptable to another; and this is often the case with safety.

Safety Discretion in the Workplace

There are many different safety practices and procedures in place to help safeguard the health and well-being of employees while they are at work. Many of the safety guidelines and standards stem from OHSA since it is OSHA’s primary goal to keep employees safe while at work. However, where do the other safety guidelines come from? An obvious answer is from the business itself. All operational businesses employ some sort of rules, safety guidelines, and/or specific safety protocols depending upon the business type and processes taking place. But what about those grey areas? The grey areas are those areas where safety is not entirely or clearly defined by either OSHA or the business? Plain and simple, the truth is that some safety practices are up to the discretion of the employee. A business will not tell you to remember to breathe while operating a machine just like you probably won’t see a sign reminding you to wear short sleeves as the heat and humidity level is high out on the factory floor. These are just simple things that are discretionary choices based upon a person’s own innate judgment. However, these discretionary choices can also be very hazardous if not handled properly.

Be Proactive!

Having good discretion has a lot to do with being proactive. This means that instead of reacting to a specific accident or situation after it happens, one should seek out ways to stop the possibility of the accident from happening in the first place. Take this workplace scenario into consideration. An employee of a manufacturing company heads into work a bit late. He is dressed for the job but neglects to tie his shoes before heading out onto the floor. He thinks “No big deal” and quickly arrives at his specified work zone and begins work. However, 20 minutes into his day a machine jams up and he needs to press the stop button on the machine. He gets up quickly and trips on his untied shoelaces, and knocks someone else down on his way down to the floor. Now two employees are injured because of the safety discretion exercised by one employee.

Most employees understand that doing or not doing certain things poses potential safety risks, however, they sometimes neglect to act upon them as needed and necessary. In order to stay safe in the workplace, mandatory safety guidelines should be followed along with adequate discretionary safety practices.

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