About the Jump in Safety Violations

The Plant Manager (PM) was not a happy man.

Occupying the space in front of his desk, and looking quite uncomfortable were his Safety Coordinator (SC), his Operations Manager (OM), and three shift supervisors.

“I thought you were going to improve our safety record,” said the Plant Manager, looking at the Safety Coordinator. “Instead, safety violations have multiplied! Things are getting worse!”

“We haven’t had any more injuries on the job over the last six months,” said the OM.

“But look at the risk! Look at the way safety violations have increased! How do you explain it?” He was look at the SC again.

“Well, I created a new safety code,” said the SC.

“Is it a better safety code?” asked the PM, “Or is it creating all these errors?”

“It’s better. We’re recognizing errors that we weren’t noticing before,” said the SC.

“But a new safety code should make us safer!” The PM’s look said that he thought the SC might be mentally impaired, or perhaps intoxicated.

“I beg your pardon,” said a voice, a bit timidly. It was one of the supervisors.

“What?” snapped the PM as the OM and SC looked on in shock. Why on earth would a mere supervisor invite attention in a meeting like this.

“I don’t think a new safety code, however good, will make people safer. It just identified issues. In fact, many of the workers don’t really know what’s in it. Some of them don’t care that much.”

“What do you mean they don’t care? They have to care! It’s the work rules. If they don’t really care, fire them!”

“Well,” said the supervisor, a bit more confidently. If she was about to be fired, she might as well fully earn it! “There’s no incentive to work more safely. There has been no time taken to train people to work more safely. We’re already short on manpower, so people don’t worry as much about getting fired, because they know we don’t have a drawer full of applications to take their places. They also don’t understand just how the safety code is going to make them safer.”

“You just haven’t told them frequently enough that they need to follow the safety code,” said the PM.

“I tell them every day. They aren’t motivated. They don’t understand it. They don’t see how it applies to them. Some of them look at it and figure it’s just too hard to follow and not worth it.” She was thinking that the sense of already being fired, suggested by the looks on all the manager’s faces, and the fact that her fellow supervisors had moved to distance themselves from her, made it easy to be courageous.

The PM thought he would fire the supervisor, but he wasn’t going to do it in this meeting. Instead, he looked at the SC. “I want a better safety code, well-written, precise. One that the workers will follow. I want posters put up on every wall, reminding people of the safety code. This plant will, by God, have an excellent safety record.”

“But …” started the supervisor.

“Shut up!” said the PM.

(Now read Romans 7. Are you, as a parent, as a teacher, as a church leader behaving like the PM? The SC? What is it that actually changes people’s behavior?)

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any character to anyone in real life is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2020, Henry E. Neufeld.

It Was Only One Little Thing

“I’ve heard there was a time when this village was a nice, quiet, and safe place to live.” The man’s voice was distant, as though he was trying to remember something.

The group of villagers in the small pub all looked his way. Though he had spoken quite softly, everyone heard. It was that quiet in the room.

The silence returned for a few moments. Then it was interrupted by a cackling laugh.

Everyone looked at the old woman in the corner. Everybody knew her so well that actually nobody knew her at all. She was just there, as she had been as long as anyone could remember. They were pretty sure she was a widow, though nobody could remember a time when she had a husband. Now she seemed to be chuckling. In appearance, she could have illustrated the word “crone” in the dictionary.

“You’ve heard there was a time,” said the old woman. “Indeed, there was a time.” She paused for a moment, and spat on the ground. “Most of you were alive then. You just don’t remember.”

The folks in the room looked back at her. Nobody asked her anything and she didn’t volunteer anything more. Finally, the first man broke the silence. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“If you tried,” she said, “you could remember that time yourself. But you don’t want to. All of you, and many of your parents, were responsible for bringing it to an end.”

“Tell us about it,” said the man.

“Well,” said the old woman after a few moments, “I doubt it will do you any good, but I’ll tell you. It sure didn’t do you any good the first time.”

“You see, back even longer ago, there was a horrible time in this village. Our baron was a cruel man who would order people killed for any reason or no reason at all. He taxed all our crops at a rate of better than 50%. He charged incredible tariffs on goods brought into town. Nobody other than a few of his cronies lived in even moderate comfort.”

“So what’s different?” muttered someone. Nobody was sure who.

“Well, nothing’s different now. But for a short period of time, things were completely different. Amazingly different.

“A traveling soldier/adventurer came into town one day. The baron decided that he wanted all that the soldier owned for his own. Unfortunately for the baron, however, the soldier was not that easy of a target and he refused to be robbed. In fact, he refused to pay the taxes the baron demanded. He sat right here in this pub, and he told the baron’s tax collector to go get stuffed.

“When the baron’s guards attacked him, he disarmed them. He left them bruised but otherwise undamaged. The baron decided that his best option was to simply ignore the soldier until he chose to move on. It certainly wouldn’t do to have his guards cleverly disarmed. Better if they were killed! As it was people were laughing.” The old woman laughed again, this time until she started choking. Then she got control of herself again.

“The problem with ignoring the soldier,” she continued, “was that people started to wonder if there wasn’t a way that they could live as free of the baron’s interference as the soldier did. So they asked him.

“The soldier told them that it was quite simple. ‘Unity,’ he said. ‘Unity is what you need.’ So the people asked him what he meant by that. He explained that the baron wasn’t really personally all that powerful of a man. His guards weren’t that good. Yes, they were armed, unlike the other villagers, but they really weren’t better.

“‘The baron isn’t better either, just because he was born a baron. So there’s not reason he actually has to get his way,’ the soldier said. This made sense to everyone. There was lots of argument, but the soldier explained to them that unity was the one requirement. If the villagers would act in unity to keep their freedom, nothing else would matter. If they allowed themselves to be divided, they’d lose again.

“It all made so much sense when the soldier said it, so the villagers decided to go along. He explained that as long as the villagers required that the baron get their agreement to everything, and they were reasonable about it, they could live in freedom and they could prosper.

“So the villagers began to require that they agree to anyone who was to be punished. Wrongdoers were brought into the village square and the entire town had to agree to their punishment. Taxes were divided evenly according to people’s ability to pay and were agreed on by everyone. Tariffs were set as everyone desired, so generally goods that were needed were allowed in at reasonable rates. There was a certain amount of protecting local craftsmen, but the protections were applied evenly.

“All this lasted for a few years. Every time anyone complained or tried to lead us off track, we’d shut them down. Unity was the one key, the only thing that would keep us free. If we gave that up, we’d quickly lose everything else as well.

“Then came the day when one farmer was more prosperous than others. His farm was producing better and he was making more money. So a couple of his neighbors made an agreement with the baron. They charged him with an infraction. They came before the whole town. They explained that he had been caught robbing his neighbors red-handed, and there was no need for proof as was normally required.

“That established a new principle. The baron could now punish an wrongdoer who was caught in the act. Everybody thought it was a minor concession and quite reasonable. Like you folks, they had forgotten the past. They thought they could give up a little bit and keep what they wanted. Besides, the prosperous farmer had awakened envy in everyone.

“Thus unity died. It seemed a minor thing. Nobody admitted to themselves that they didn’t really know if the farmer was guilty of all the acts he was accused of. They didn’t want to know. It didn’t seem important.

“When another villager was taken by the baron’s men without a trial before the village, everyone hesitated. Was this a proper exception to the rule or not? Was it not possible that the charges were made up? The second person accused was more popular than the first, but still stood enough apart from the rest that people hesitated. And while they hesitated, the baron took action. Once the baron had acted, it required organization to take action, and it was hard to get people organized.

“Before long there was no more unity in the village.”

“But after all,” said the man, “it was just one person. Surely the death of one person couldn’t end the prosperity of the entire village.”

“Ah, but it did,” said the old woman. “I remember it clearly. Once the unity was broken, there was no going back. But the temptation was so strong, that people fell for it.” She paused, while everyone fell silent again.

“I remember it so clearly, the day the village betrayed my husband.”

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org. This story is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2017, Henry E. Neufeld.)

Jury Nullification and My New Book

Having just announced the release of my new book, Stories of the Way, I was interested to find a story about jury nullification, or more precisely advocacy of jury nullification today (HT: The Agitator).

One of the two new stories I wrote for this book (an additional 23 stories are from this blog), is The Juror’s Oath, and is intended to stimulate thinking on two topics: 1) When, if ever, is it OK to violate an oath, and 2) How can you be sure of what you think you know? (Coincidentally, I published an essay by Edward W. H. Vick about certainty over at Energion.net a few days ago.) The story does not involve jury nullification, but does involve violation of jury instructions.

I would note regarding the news story that I would be strongly opposed to any judgment that suggested that Mr. Heicklen could not advocate his activity. Furthermore, I would suggest that any time a law forces you to behave immorally, it is a law that should be ignored. I don’t, however, think that one should ignore a law for convenience, because one doesn’t like it, or even because one is vehemently opposed to it. I would advocate violating the law only when its direction would force one to act immorally. And yes, I do think the law can and does cause that to happen from time to time.

Now back to the fun and fiction and away from the more serious commentary.