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I've been struggling with a recurring problem with my immediate supervisor at work for the last year or so. He tends to take a very lax attitude when it comes to safety policies, procedures, and maintaining safety equipment.

This attitude has repeatedly put customers and staff in very real danger of serious bodily injury.

Everytime I have to question him about a particular decision he responds with something like:

It's not that big a deal, don't worry about it.

Or

It's only a few people, they'll be fine.

We've already had a few major incidents where things went really wrong and another co-worker and I had to go out on rescue missions to help customers who got jammed up by his poor judgment. Only to find that our equipment didn't work properly and none of it was set up ahead of time.

The general attitude of the rest of the staff is:

If you can't do it safely, you just don't do it.

Meaning that if we don't have enough people working that day, or the equipment isn't in perfect working order, or the conditions don't look good, you don't take the risk, full stop.

I've approached my supervisor's boss already, and the response was to roll out stricter policies, but unfortunately my supervisor still doesn't seem to be taking the situation seriously. How can I get through to him and stress that these things are really non-negotiable before something worse happens?

To clarify without giving out too much identifiable information some, but not all, of these situations have to do with boating safety.


I asked this question here because I was looking for an interpersonal solution. Some of the typical work related solutions have already been tried and some would be ill advised because I would be running the risk of losing my job.

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    Have you re-escalated to your supervisor's boss already? This sounds like a workplace problem that should be dealt with by them, and it sounds like they do take it seriously. – Erik Oct 29 '17 at 6:48
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    Document a few major omissions, talk to him about it, and if he still doesn't change his attitude, escalate up the chain of authority. – G. Bach Oct 29 '17 at 13:38
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it sounds like you've spoken to him about it a few times already, at which point it's no longer a Interpersonal Skills issue (of how to discuss it with him), but rather a The Workplace and/or legal one (of what options or obligations you and he have). – NotThatGuy Oct 29 '17 at 14:34
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    @apaul I'm not saying it is slightly more on topic on another site, I'm saying it's not an IPS question (because it's a workplace question, not because it belongs on the workplace site). I realise you're asking "how can I get through to him", but your answer suggests bringing up possible business / legal consequences - you first have to establish what the consequences might be, which is beyond the scope of this site. There may be other workplace options or factors about protecting yourself that we also can't really address here (they could very well say "consult a lawyer" though). – NotThatGuy Oct 29 '17 at 19:50
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    I would argue that this is not a matter of interpersonal skill. Workplace rules are in place regardless of how you feel about them. Your supervisor's opinion means nothing in regards to justifying him bending or breaking the rules. This isn't a matter of kindly communicating, this is a matter of pointing out the sword of Damocles, i.e. the consequences from failing to follow the rule. – Flater Oct 30 '17 at 15:37
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I've been digging around online and I think I may I have found an answer to my own question...

Given that the supervisor doesn't seem to take the fact that he's rolling the dice with people's lives seriously enough, I'm thinking that explaining the possible legal consequences may be helpful. Basically, it seems that the simple fact that people could get hurt isn't enough of a deterrent for him, so perhaps fully understanding that people could get hurt and he could be directly charged in criminal court and sued in civil court may wake him up.

In US law we have something called "criminal negligence" and from my admittedly limited understanding, it looks like what's going on here may rise to that level.

Basically it looks like if someone does something that a "reasonable person" would find stupidly dangerous and someone gets hurt, said person could be charged criminally for their bad judgement. Sometimes even a simple mistake, by someone who should know better, can cross this line. Obviously once someone has been found guilty criminally it's pretty easy to go after them in civil court.


Perhaps a:

You could go to prison and be sued into perpetual poverty upon release for this.

Might have more impact than a simple warning about safety.

  • 4
    You could find a similar legal case that already happened and went to court, then quote it "you know about that guy who went to jail because he did... (exactly what your boss is doing)?" that should have more impact than a "you could get into trouble"... A quick google search about "boat criminal negligence" yielded some gruesome stuff, you shouldnt have too much trouble finding an "educational" example... – peufeu Oct 29 '17 at 9:30
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    In addition (I worked on cruise ships decades ago to travel for "free"): we had inspections from US Customs + USPH every week and US Coast Guards (safety issues) each month. They conducted boat drills and if we didn't meet their standards, the company would have had 1. A huge fine 2. Lose their licence . So you have 3 parts that can impact apart from what you already mentioned. Plus: nowadays, social media. If it reaches any of them that you have safety issues, company is in big trouble. – OldPadawan Oct 29 '17 at 11:30
  • 2/2: that can be close to your case as we were boarding twice a week in Port Canaveral FL. – OldPadawan Oct 29 '17 at 11:32
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    It is a stretch to have an individual charged. He was acting on behalf of the company. The fact you don' t have a way to report safety violations is a company problem – paparazzo Oct 29 '17 at 11:58
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    @Paparazzi In Canada (at least some parts, IDK if it's Federal or Provincial), the responsibility is shared by all those in the chain who should have acted. If you're the direct manager and you allow employees to work in unsafe conditions, you can be fined/charged. Their bosses can be fined/charged if they were negligent as well; and the employee who violated the safety rules can be fined/charged. It doesn't matter if you act on behalf of the company; some places have changed the rules to make workplace safety everyone's responsibility. – JMac Oct 30 '17 at 19:04
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Having read your answer about criminal negligence, I am reminded of one of my recurrent concerns when I was working in public administration a few years ago: if some serious accident occurs due to your supervisor's negligence, are you sure that by the laws of your jurisdiction it will be your supevisor's responsibility, @apaul, and not yours or one of your co-workers'?

That requires discussion with corporate and legal experts, which is what I would advise as an immediate step before you confront your supervisor 'armed with the knowledge' collected from your earlier discussions.

In addition, if the experts you discuss this matter with should make you realize that employees like you shall be responsible for any dire outcome of your supervisor's carefree attitude to safety, then it is time for a group of employees to take up the matter not with your supervisor but with official representatives of the senior management.

Go to the very top of the company if you need to.

Because as you rightly said,

safety is non-negotiable.


Post scriptum: when I came to understand that I as a middle manager in public administration would be held legally responsible for any serious consequences arising from negligent actions of my nearly 1000 subordinate staff members, I considered it time to leave that employment.

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    Edited and expanded my answer @apaul as follows: In addition, if the experts make you realize that employees like you shall be responsible for any dire outcome of your supervisor's carefree attitude to safety, then it is time for a group of employees to take up the matter not with your supervisor but with official representatives of the senior management. Go to the very top of the company if you need to. Because as you rightly said, safety is non-negotiable. – English Student Oct 31 '17 at 13:02
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Safety is a culture, the tenor with which everyone interacts.

It is not buyable, and the government or whistleblowers can't impose it. It's not about gear; having the correct kit in the emergency bag, is helpful but it doesn't cure the core problem of culture. That kit will simply get neglected, scavenged or used up again, and there'll be one poor sot constantly laboring to fix it, like Sisyphus.

If you doubt that, look at companies which are extraordinary in safety. The Oroville Dam spillway failure necessitated that a half billion dollar rebuild happen inside 5 months, and mistakes were made that pushed it back to closer to 4. Big rush. 500 people working 2 shifts (the heat of the day was too hot for the concrete), millions of cubic yards of material, roller compacted concrete 100 feet deep, 700,000 man-hours logged. Delivered on-time and 0 injuries. This size of project typically has a body count.

How does that even happen? It certainly wasn't legislated as part of the contract. It wasn't intense OSHA or DWR inspections. Heck, Kiewit was the low bidder. This is just what Kiewit does. This is their thing. It's culture.

A big factor in safety culture is Crew Resource Management, which is people working effectively together -- and what they don't mention so much about CRM is that it's largely about what you don't do: sustain interpersonal tiffs and feuds, workplace politics, pranks, passive aggression -- when your mind is on that, it's not on the subtle stuff, like an employee's face momentarily darkened by the shadow of a crane boom swinging unexpectedly. When you're eavesdropping on gossip that you're worried will affect you, you're not inventorying emergency gear.

Another safety-culture problem is "I need a paycheck". Sorry. That's reality. Paycheck's no good if you're dead. Unfortunately that means you're starting off on the wrong foot if you're trying to evangelize safety here.

And that's really what it is: evangelism.

That is the most basic measure of safety: the crew is behind it. If they're not, either sell it, or get outta there because you can't fix it.

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    I think you kind of nailed the problem here. A lot of the reason he was ignoring the procedures and issues was a workplace culture problem. While he's the direct supervisor he's also the new hire, so he was approaching the issue with a sort of "who do you think you are, telling me what to do" attitude. It seems that between digging in on the issue and taking it up the chain of command he's finally seen sense. – apaul Nov 10 '17 at 22:15
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I'm sure you can find videos online of people dying because of poor safety. I know a couple of them, where you can see people lose limbs or even their lives, because they were careless. Show those videos, and say that this can happen to anyone playing with their safety. Don't spare them the gore videos. Show those too. They need to see the reality of poor safety at work.

Then give them some real talk. Ask them if it is worth it to leave their wife widowed, and their kids fatherless, because "safety is not such a big deal".

That would be my advice. Take it if it's of any benefit.

  • you can by the way, also show statistics on how many times accidents happen in a workplace – The Stranger Nov 7 '17 at 18:15

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