Of all my duties as a supervisor, attending funerals of workers who were killed on the job, was the most difficult.
It was even more difficult when the death had been the result of misused equipment, drug and alcohol problems, or safety corners that had been cut. Even if I wasn't the immediate supervisor, I was the supervisor's supervisor, and I felt as though I had somehow failed to see that person through.
Some supervisors and managers tend to look away or drag their feet when it comes to enforcing safety rules. They rationalize that the person is the sole support of their family and needs a job, or they had been working to help this person correct his shortcomings.
However, if the worker is responsible for driving a refuse truck, bulldozer or performing a job that can endanger others, how much is a supervisor helping if he does little or nothing?
I'm an advocate for remedial drug and alcohol programs. I also am for helping anyone shake the grip these substances exert. But I'm not in favor of risking the lives of family, friends and co-workers.
The proper operation of any solid waste operation requires using complicated equipment that demands sharp minds and quick reflexes. Hazy thinking and slow responses are considered defective equipment. No supervisor should tolerate such behavior.
If supervisors truly care for their employees, they will ensure that disciplinary action is taken. Such actions can include forcing an employee to get help or get another job.
Most perplexing is the supervisor who deliberately, or through ignorance, tolerates an employee who is using equipment incorrectly. For example, once, a driver of a right-hand, stand-up drive, one-man side loader didn't use the safety chain to keep him from falling out of the vehicle. As he made a sharp turn down the opposite side of the street, he slipped and was pinned between the tire and the curb. Although still alive, he then was killed when a resident, trying to help, accidently drove the vehicle over his chest. The man was rushing home to a newborn child.
Although the worker's actions were against the rules, the supervisor allowed him to continue because he valued the man's excellent productivity more so than his life. However, the rules were designed to prevent such accidents.
Even good employees need supervision. Managers sometimes are tempted to give better-performing workers larger assignments, leaving them to finish their tasks without supervision, and allowing them to cut corners in exchange for completing a job without overtime.
But supervisors, regardless of where they are in the chain of command, owe it to themselves and the excellent people they employ to ensure that rules are obeyed. If they don't, then they are failing to be good managers. Supervisors that care for employees on a personal and professional level, yet allow harmful behaviors, are not showing it.
If you truly admire someone, don't allow them to put themselves in situations that could hurt their own or someone else's well-being - even if it means you have to reprimand or fire them.