lumberjack chopping wood; in this post, a man nicknamed the lumberjack fakes injuries to abuse injury benefits

The ‘Lumberjack’

By Eric Michrowski

We’ve all seen it or heard the stories. Someone claims to have been injured and seeks benefits. Or someone that is always off with “injuries”. I’ve heard all of them over the years including a worker that was injured over 35 times in a 20-year career! Injury-prone or are these signs of something more?

What keeps me up at night isn’t the abuse. It’s when Executives get jaded by these stories and distracted from their focus on improving Safety. Safety is a real issue – and for senior leadership, owning up to our safety commitments is a moral obligation.

For me, the day I decided I would not practice law and instead dedicated myself to creating better and safer workplaces was when I had to create a defense for someone that clearly had abused the system. He had been off for many years and apparently could not do any alternate work because of a back injury that prevented him from moving. However, one day, Private Investigators caught him cutting down maple trees and throwing the logs above his head into a pickup truck. To this day, I have nicknamed him ‘The lumberjack’.

In the legal context, I struggled with the ethics of defending what was clearly an abuse of the system – I could never feel right trying to craft a story that miraculously, he was cured that morning because of the lack of prior evidence. Or that the tree wasn’t actually a maple tree. I was raised with better values than that! I struggled with the ethical dilemma that many lawyers choose to ignore. So instead, that day, I chose to make a real difference in business.

I easily could have been jaded by this case. Instead, I focused on improving safety knowing the impact that incidents have every year. I experienced first-hand, people whose lives were forever changed and who likely would never be able to live the life that they had hoped for. The families that got impacted. The dreams, hopes, and wishes that may never happen because of workplace injuries or fatalities.

As senior leaders, we create an environment that allows this to happen. We need to stop blaming the team member but look in the mirror. Deming reminded leaders that we create the system and therefore we need to fix the system instead of blaming the individual.

Yes. We know abuse happens. Not all humans choose to live ethically; some try to abuse the system. But we need to remind ourselves that this is the exception. And this small minority will diminish as the overall Safety Culture matures. Why? Because as cultures mature, the accepted norm within a team recognizes safe choices. As you can imagine, it’s hard to be ‘The Lumberjack’ when such cultural norms are in place!

Our Executive focus shouldn’t be on Loss Prevention or ROI. It should be on improving our safety system, our Safe Production Culture.

For me, safety isn’t a business. It isn’t about ROI. It is about creating a work environment that allows people to thrive, to grow, to be the best version of themselves that they can be. A work environment that triggers the discretionary effort of team members. While also being successful in business.

There are many ways to drive profits. I sign-up for those that come from Hero leaders that chose to be profitable the right way.

When you see abuse, I encourage you to remember ‘The Lumberjack’ and drive harder to improve your safety outcomes.

That’s one of my (many) why’s for safety. What is yours?


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