Monday, February 4, 2013

# 39 The Safety Dance

    So, I'm standing in my classroom, the boss walks, tells me that I can't use the power bar connecting the computer and printer to the wall anymore. I ask him "Why?" and he says it's for my "safety". This is when I start to think the conversation has become a little awkward. I know he is lying about the request being for my "safety". I mean, the power supply has been hooked up for ten years in the same configuration, and there has never been a safety incident. Call me a cynic, but I know this request is about liability concerns, not my safety. The awkward part is that he doesn't seem to know, that I know, he is lying.

    It has become a major movement in our board, obsessing over safety issues. It seems like a caring management practice, but lets be honest about the real initiative. The movement is a result of a high profile accident which happened in another school, on the other side of the city. Now, every little safety detail must be addressed. I get it, and I don't have an issue with the concern.  However, just tell me that you are scared about insurance claims and possible libel cases; don't tell me it's about my safety. I call this blanket movement the safety dance. Management falsely claims that they are concerned for my safety when they are really concerned for their own political welfare.

    Here is another example: I was the victim of my own human error when I had my little accident.  I'm running up the concrete stairs in an effort to arrive at my next class on time and it happens. My timing is off for split second, and my right foot catches on the nosing of the second step. Down I go, onto my right knee.  I drop my textbook, my hand reaches up for the railing and the pain starts. It hurts, but I get up and keep going with only a slightly distorted face as indication that I have hurt myself.

    I'm so intent on reaching my destination, that I avoid acknowledging the pain as I drop off some attendance folders at the office. Then, I mention the fall to the head secretary, she asks, if I am alright, and says, "Did you fill out an accident report?", "No.", I reply, "I'll be alright." She hands me the accident report anyway, and I leave for my next class.

   Within a half hour the knee is getting sore to the touch, and stiff.  By the end of the class, it's throbbing and I resolve to go home and rest it. So, I go back to the office, to alert the administration that I am going home. As I leave the office, I hear a page to come back. I'm instructed to see the V.P. before I go. He tells me I can't leave until I do some paperwork on the accident for him. I say, "Well I don't feel well enough now, it will have to wait." He says, "No, you need to do it now." I say, "What if I had cut off my leg, would you ask me to do it now? No, you would expect it later, right?" So, he relents and gives me a website to visit. As a compromise, I agree to do the paper work and leave his office. 

    So, I drive home, rest the knee, and as I'm reading the accident report, I realize, it isn't my job to do. It says right on page one, it's the supervisor's job. This guy is downloading his job on to me! Anyway, to make a long story short, I end up doing a couple of pages and prepare a fax for the board office. When I return to work, I tell the administrator that the paperwork is their job, not mine.  Then I discover that I have been docked a half days pay because of my accident. I have to go back to my supervisor and tell him to correct the reporting error.

    I tell you this story because as result of me acting on this minor accident I have had: four or five conversations with the safety people at the board, three calls from Workman's Compensation in Toronto, fourteen emails and a visit to my doctor, who examined my knee before filling out more reports. Each conversation and every email opening with an expression of their deepest concern for my well being and regrets for the accident. Of course I know that their concern (yes, I know - I'm cynical) is for potential liability claims and who will pay for the worker's time off. I can't even guesstimate how much my little accident cost taxpayers. I should have just shut up and not reported it.

   The thing about lying is that while a person can express the lie, their physical behaviour never hides the truth - the body never lies. My employer claims to be so concerned about the health and safety of its employees, but while they pay lip service to voicing concern, their behaviour speaks another truth.

    For example, in winter, the parking lots are sheets of ice, salt is too expensive, so they use gravel, which disappears under the ice.  When snow storms or freezing rain hit the city, all school buses are taken off the roads for your children's safety, but it's really to save on insurance costs. I am sure if safety really is the heartfelt concern, teachers would not be expected to arrive at work, on time, during a severe weather hazard. One winter, like many other citizens, some teachers became snowed in, and couldn't make it in to the school that day, the board threatened to dock all of them a days pay.

   I taught in a shop where a safety inspection was done every year for fifteen years. Each year they would tell me that the working conditions were in fact unsafe and needed to be upgraded  A formal report was filed which documented the need for new electrical outlets because of the potential safety hazards. I worked in that shop all those years and finally, after all of those reports, they corrected the problem.

    So, last June we are into one of those early summer heat waves. Now most of the older schools do not have air conditioning and so the stagnant air in the classroom can get into the mid 30s. Each day of the heat wave, we are informed over the public address system that it's really hot and to drink lots of water and be safe. My students and I just look at the P.A. speaker with a curled lip and carry on with our business.

   Finally, after four days of this bullshit, I leave my room at the end of class, and walk up to the office. There, behind closed doors are all the brains of the building walking around in air conditioned comfort. Suddenly, I feel like a Victorian factory worker at the mercy of the petite bourgeoisie. So, I walk in and ask one of the managers, "What's up with all the announcements about the heat, we are dying out there."  He says, "We have to do it Dave, the board is concerned about everybody's safety."