Should I blow the whistle on safety violations?

Your Life
Jim Berlucchi
May, 2016

My workplace has several machines where safety guards have been removed, plus a few other things I am pretty sure are OSHA violations. My boss told me to just ignore them and do my work, but I’m afraid someone is going to get hurt. I’m also afraid I’ll be fired if I blow the whistle. What do I do?

For starters, I’m assuming from your question that your company doesn’t have a stated policy or protocols for dealing with safety matters, or recourse to an ombudsman or human resources department.

That being said, you have two legitimate fears – one for the common good (safety), and one for your personal good (job preservation). How can you protect others without jeopardizing your livelihood? This is a classic dilemma, and not easy.

The relevant principle is as follows: primary responsibility for the common good is vested in the authority. You’ve already done the right and smart thing by talking to your boss. No safety hound, this man. The fact that he neither gave an explanation about the removal of guards nor any assurance is a real bad sign. But at least you’ve fulfilled your basic duty.

Double duty? You could see if a co-worker has the same concern. If so, would he or she be willing to independently (and kind of informally) raise it with the boss? The response probably won’t be different. Plus there’s a hazard. The boss might sniff you out as the source. And speaking of sniffing, aggravating a boss is like picking up a passing dog by the ears. (Prov 26:17) You get the point. You might get bitten.

Triple duty? You and your co-worker, and maybe others, could raise the issue to your boss in writing. Don’t copy a third party on this first pass. If nothing else, this might scare him into action. While it probably won’t enhance your job security, it might not directly threaten it.

If that doesn’t work, and you want to press on, your last and laudable option is to “blow the whistle.” A whistle has a jarring impact, so try to make it melodic, with tact and respect. For instance, a few of you can write a polite note to the next higher up, not as a demand, but as an inquiry.