Silence can injure

Renée Gendron
Lucy knew that George didn’t have the right training to perform the tasks he was assigned but she said nothing. A combination of luck and the gradual improvement of his skill meant that his injuries to his hands and face weren’t severe. On another day with another person, the injuries would have been catastrophic.

What’s worse: That Lucy knew and said nothing or that George was injured?

It was Ryan’s first day on the job and he noticed some serious issues with how chemicals were being stored. He was so pleased to have found work that he said nothing. Ryan’s silence exposed his colleagues as well as himself to fumes whose long-term health effects aren’t entirely known.

What’s worse: That Ryan didn’t have the confidence to speak up or that the company exposed its workers to potentially harmful long-term health issues?

When she was putting in the orders for safety equipment, Claire noticed that supplies being purchased wouldn’t provide enough protection to workers. Her years of experience in purchasing safety equipment told her that these items were not standard for the specific jobs. She had raised safety concerns previously only to be told that the budget didn’t allow for buying the right equipment. She placed the order anyways.

What’s worse: That Claire had knowledge she didn’t put into action or that the company didn’t allocate enough budget to ensure employees had the right safety equipment for their jobs?

The morale of Ghislane’s team was in the tank. There was a lot of snipping and snapping between colleagues. Most days were spent in a type of workplace warfare with cliques vying for dominance. At first, Ghislane had tried to have her colleagues get along but the longer the conflicts dragged on, the longer the core issues unaddressed, the more vicious the conversations became. Then one day because of poor communication and lack of teamwork, an employee was severely injured. The worker should have been partnered with someone but none of the opposing workplace factions wanted to work with her. As a result she was forced to break procedure and do a job alone.

What’s worse: That Ghislane’s co-worker was injured from lack of support from her colleagues or that management of the organisation didn’t step up to improve morale, reduce conflict and restore effective communication?

In the examples above, all parties are equally responsible for ensuring a safe workplace. The answer to the question “What’s worse?” is that none of the parties seemed to understand their role and responsibility in the accident.

All of these scenarios are examples of harmful silence. When information and insights are left unsaid and no action is taken, the risk of workplace accidents increases.

Breaking the habit of staying silent requires that leaders become comfortable with dissenting opinions, put into direct action the safety concerns raised by colleagues and address the deep issues that prevent effective teamwork.