How to protect yourself – physically and politically
In your early working life, it may not be obvious sometimes that corners are being cut around you. And if you are aware of problems, never just ignore them and hope it’ll be okay!
If you’re lucky, you’ll be introduced properly to your new work environment by responsible senior people who care.
If not… well…
Either way, it’s a very good test of whether a workplace is suitable for you to stay for any length of time.
No matter what policies are in place, your ultimate human protector… is yourself. NOBODY will look out for you as well as you will!
Frankly, in unkind workplaces, there’s often a hidden tendency to suppress two groups of people: young workers, and workers whose first language is foreign. Both groups are less likely to stand up for themselves.
And these same places are often tempted to cut corners to save money. Ask yourself: do you want to work for people who value money more than human life and safety?
So look out!
These are probably not the kinds of places in which you’d want to stay, anyway. If they won’t listen, and fix physical safety risks, then start making plans to find a new job. No matter what financial pressures you may be facing, your health and life are not negotiable!
There are several avenues by which you can protect yourself physically:
- Safety rules (e.g. Occupational Health & Safety Act, or OHSA) are usually required, by law, in most modern jurisdictions, to be available to workers, or to be posted visibly.
- Proper safety training is also generally required, by law, before you are exposed to potentially dangerous materials, such as chemical agents. The “smell test” may be a good guide… literally! 🙂
Basically, learn the relevant laws and know your rights. Most large companies will have a human resources (HR) department; ask them questions, politely!
But in the end, the most important safety mechanism is the one between your ears. Think about “obvious” tools that most people don’t bother with: safety glasses, earplugs, safety harnesses, etc. And don’t wait before you take action. Just do it!
In the extreme case, it is your civic duty to report unaddressed risks to the authorities. If you think it necessary to do so anonymously (to protect yourself politically!), it is generally possible, depending on local laws. But please do so, to protect your colleagues, as well as yourself. Look up the office of the ombudsman, or the local department/ministry of labour.
Protect yourself, physically and politically: take notes and photos discreetly, so you have hard evidence to back up your position – and to protect yourself from accusations of lying. This is where the younger generation will be adept: everyone has a smartphone camera, right?
A good employer provides a safe workplace, and a happy employee has no need to complain. I know… I’ve been both. (I’ve also worked for not-so-nice bosses, and didn’t like it…)
Please remember, always, that your life is every bit as valuable as everyone else’s. I’ve treated enough traumatic injuries in my previous career, and I never want to see more of it happening to others.
Dr Paul 🙂