Beware the Weakest Link

Chain with a weak string link

Workplace safety could be regarded as the greatest team sport there is. Now, those are pretty bold words, especially coming from a sports fan. But there are undeniable parallels and since the stakes are so much higher than with any sport we really should learn from them.

We are always telling our kids that sports can be a treasure trove of lifelong lessons. Playing a team sport can teach young people so many qualities that will become important in their careers no matter the industry. Understanding how to be a great winner and a better loser, learning the value of teamwork and sacrifice for a common goal, and knowing that everyone has to be responsible and accountable for their actions are all valuable bits of knowledge. In many ways, these are the same elements required for a successful safety program. Learning from playing sports can pay off in your injury reduction effort, but we can also continue to learn from those who continue to play sports, even at the professional level.

Bear with me on this one… Imagine you are a football fan, and perhaps even a Green Bay Packer fan. This is a hypothetical situation mind you. Anyway, your team reaches the playoffs, has a first-round bye, and you are all set to buy your Super Bowl tickets. After all, you have one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game! The defense is stout, you are playing in Green Bay, the weather is wintery- what could possibly go wrong?

Enter the weakest link. The part of the game that is often overlooked, at least by most fans. Yes, the special teams. Kicking the darn football… how difficult is that? We fully understand the need for an accurate field goal kicker. That’s a given and we’ve spent millions to be sure we have that ace in the hole. But what about the fundamentals of the kicking game aside from the actual kicker? Basic blocking is what I’m talking about. Protecting the punter to prevent blocked kicks. Protecting that million-dollar place kicker to prevent blocked field goals. So extremely basic, so fundamental, and yet so important. If you watched the game, you know how this story ends. A blocked field goal attempt, a blocked punt, 10 points for the 49ers, and the Packers lose by 3.

Similar stories can be found in all sports, at all levels. So, you might ask, what does this have to do with workplace safety? Well, the mature safety program is, at its core, a team sport. We are all trying to win this game by preventing injuries. The effort requires contributions from all the players. It also needs strong leadership, attention to detail, training, and dedication to excellence. By everyone working together, your department, your company, your team can be successful, and everyone goes home each day healthy and happy.

Unfortunately, the team is only as strong as its weakest link. You may have a good handle on your largest exposures. Maybe you use a lot of hazardous materials, have significant machine guarding requirements, or move massive loads with cranes or forklifts. You may have those programs all managed. But how about your office ergonomics program? What about a parking lot slip/trip/fall prevention program? How about the custodial staff and their repetitive motion and manual lifting challenges? The list goes on and on- safety hazards that are not necessarily attention getters but certainly are common causes of injury.

If you played sports in your younger years, or still do, learn from your experience, and apply the same team approach to your safety program. If you are a sports fan, learn from the mistakes made by professionals and leave no safety program element ignored, underappreciated, or underfunded. If you have no sporting background and not a fan, you can still adopt the same principles to your organization this very minute. Engage with every team member, coach them up, hold them all accountable, and do all you can to work towards the Super Bowl of the safety world- no workplace injuries. Don’t be this year’s Green Bay Packers and overlook an important fundamental. Oh, by the way, there is no off-season for any safety program!

To learn more about safety management, MEMIC policyholders can access all of our resources at