The $17,000 Rubber Band

February 14, 2012 2 Comments

By Allen F. Weitzel

There are times when a small item or incident can have a giant impact on people, whether at work or at home. I am always looking for lessons learned from such events. Here is one incident example for all of us to consider.

Worker’s Comp

A Worker’s Comp insurance representative told me of this incident, and the strange set of events that unfolded because of it. I understand that the operation in question was a very successful attraction, and had a very high volume of cash from their customer base. Their cash-handling department was well organized, and they were so busy during their peak season that they operated 24/7.

They had an employee (who we will call Josh) that appeared to be accident-prone. There was no proof of deceit, but Josh’s safety record was being observed, as he would sustain small to moderate injuries for little or no reason. Josh had been an employee for many years.

The Incident

One day the security department that responded to all incidents received a call that an employee had fallen in the cash room. The facts were that the employee involved was Josh, who had the on-going accident history, and the report showed that Josh had fallen while performing normal work duties. When the dust settled, Josh reported that he had slipped on a loose rubber band on the floor of the cash room.

To be fair, we must understand that workers can slip and fall without an obstacle in sight. They try to rush, they misstep, they could be wearing improper or worn shoes, or they could merely lose their footing. It could be understandable that an employee could slip on a rubber band that is on a slick floor surface and fall. Josh’s fellow workers were starting to form their own opinions regarding the validity of the injuries sustained by their fellow worker. In addition, they vocalized that even if every incident was legitimate, Josh was becoming unreliable, and other workers had to pick up the slack both on the schedule and with the duties that needed to be performed in a timely manner.

The Backlash, or Was It?

Josh received a Worker’s Comp settlement in the amount of $17,000 for injuries and disabilities sustained in the “rubber band” fall. Josh made the mistake of telling a few close friends about the settlement, and the entire story began to spread throughout the organization.

About this time, a safety phenomenon began. Company employees started commenting about any rubber bands that had fallen on the floor. Each time they would see a rubber band, they would make some comment about it being the famous “$17,000 rubber band,” and then pick it up. Rubber bands, as a hazard, even became a check-off item on departmental safety inspection sheets.

Shortly after returning to work, Josh told his friends that he bought a car and a big screen TV with his Worker’s Comp settlement. Now, no one has the right to criticize what another person spends their money on, but the employees, who picked up some of Josh’s daily operational chores after his fall, were not too pleased to hear about “new cars” and “big screen TVs.” This incident was to be the last for Josh, for shortly after the rubber band accident, he left the company and moved out of the area.

The Message

From the date of that incident, the rubber bands in that company assumed a different meaning, and the attitudes of workers and some safety procedures took on a new slant, and safety awareness increased.

As managers, during our daily functions, we need to spot those incidents that can provide positive impressions throughout our own organizations. No one wants any injury to occur, but the rubber band episode provided a message. Every operation needs a lightning rod; a game-changing event. If handled properly, lessons can be learned from mishaps, and those lessons shared to provide constructive change.

What is your $17,000 Rubber Band?

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2 Comments to “The $17,000 Rubber Band”
  1. J. Douglas says:

    Nice, informative article, Allen. Even the small things can really matter, and increased safety awareness is a good thing even if motivated by someone like Josh. I, for one, don’t believe him!

    • Dear J,
      Thanks for sending in your comment. I’ve had several people, who knew of the story or our blog, tell me that whenever they see a rogue rubber band, now, they pick it up and put it safely away. You are absolutely right that small things can make a big difference. “Josh” was an interesting study in worker behavior. Thanks again for following our blog. Best, Allen

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