Without a doubt, Eric Giguere's "The Buried Truth Uncovered" presentation at the 2012 National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expo was one of the most engaging sessions I attended. With courage and honesty, Eric shared his experiences of being buried alive in a trench and his miraculous – but harrowing – recovery. (To read about his tale in detail, see "How 10 Minutes in the Bottom of a Trench Changed Eric Giguere's Life" on EHSToday.com.)
Today, Eric shares his tragic story to encourage others to work safely. He builds his presentation around the fact that prior to the trench collapse, he never believed a major workplace accident could happen to him – and he wants to stop others from making that same mistake.
"I had a terrible attitude toward safety," he said. "My attitude toward safety stunk. If I had been man enough to speak up [about safety concerns] that day, none of this would have happened."
While it's admirable that Eric takes responsibility for his apathetic approach to safety and, in the process, encourages others to take their own safety more seriously, I also think he's a bit too hard on himself. Because, you see, the company he worked for didn't take safety seriously, either.
Eric's worksite lacked important trench safety equipment. The site supervisor was lax about safety and didn't require his crew to take vital safety precautions. Furthermore, despite six previous OSHA citations, the company still didn't take the necessary steps to ensure its workers were fully protected. And to add insult to injury, after Eric was pulled from the trench and sent to the hospital, the supervisor rushed to ship a trench box to the site so it would appear, to inspectors, that this important piece of safety equipment had been available.
I don't know about you, but this makes me furious.
While Eric didn't let his employer off the hook entirely, he was quick to shoulder the responsibility. "I don't completely blame my company for what happened to me that day," he said. "The truth is this: Every day we go to work and make adult decisions. I made a choice to do it, and I take responsibility for what happened."
Eric is brave to admit his failings when it came to safety, and to expose his own mistakes to urge others to stay safe on the job. But I also think the employer was grossly negligent and should have made damn sure not only that the worksite was supplied with all the necessary safety equipment, but that workers actually used that equipment. The company should have provided better training, worked to develop a stronger safety culture, and certainly never should have permitted a supervisor who exhibited such disregard for his crew's safety to oversee dangerous trenching operations.
If you ask me, this company failed to protect its workers, plain and simple. Ultimately, it failed to prevent Eric from being buried alive in that trench.
As an editor of this magazine, I have had the privilege of meeting company leaders who foster safety cultures that would never leave an employee dying at the bottom of a ditch. Even if workers have rotten attitudes toward safety, like Eric admits he did, it's the employer's job to not accept that type of thinking. Through training, observations and more, it's the employer's job to protect employees, especially if they demonstrate carelessness or apathy when it comes to safety.
By speaking about his experience and stressing why workers should respect their own safety, Eric is doing a great thing. Even so, I don't believe what happened in that trench was his fault. Maybe his attitude toward safety really did stink – but his employer had a duty to protect him anyway.