I Was Never Trained!

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.



A landscaper from California called me the other day to report a very serious employee injury. Apparently, a Mow Crew Laborer was performing his normal job functions with his 21” Toro mower, until he ran over an object that lodged itself in the underside of the mower, preventing the blade from turning.

“Yes.” You know exactly where this story is going to take us.

With the mower locked in the “On” position, the employee tilted the device on its side and stuck his right hand in the undercarriage to dislodge the object that held the blade stationary. He dislodged the object, which allowed the blade to predictably return to its spinning motion. A very fast spinning motion…

The blade spun so fast the employee lost parts of three fingers.

I thought I had already met the stupidest man in the world. Now I really know the gold medalist recipient in the annual Darwin Award tournament.

After he was released from the hospital, as part of the company’s standard workers’ compensation injury reporting procedure, guess what the employee said?

“I was never trained!”

You heard me correctly. He, and his newly-contracted attorney, immediately alleged employer negligence, taking the form of purposely failing to provide adequate lawn mower equipment safety training to this earnest, hard-working employee who now, would be forced to live out the rest of his life permanently maimed, due solely to the employer’s utter disregard for adequate employee safety.

As the landscaper and I discussed our formal response to the subpoena, I informed him of the three initial training documents typically requested of, though seldom provided by landscapers, necessary to exonerate culpability.

  1. The company’s annual tailgate safety calendar, capturing every weekly training session offered for the entire calendar year. This document represents the factual commitment by the company to value, present, and sustain a deliberate safety culture, as contrasted to less mature organizations which may only conduct safety training on an intermittent ad-hoc basis.
  2. A copy of the Mower Safety Tailgate session, replete with the actual training content shared with all the trainees who were in attendance for that event. Naturally, I was quite relieved to see the bold-faced bulleted item that read: “NEVER put your hand under a lawn mower when the lawn mower is ‘on.’”
  3. And most importantly, the actual Sign-In Sheet from the day the lawn mower training was provided, containing the injured employee’s printed name, signature, and employee number, thereby refuting his initial claim that he had never been trained on proper lawn mower safety procedures.

Naturally, I was pleasantly surprised (okay, I was “extremely” surprised) with the company’s conscientious level of record keeping accuracy, well-organized administrative documentation, and verifiable operational accountability, emblematic of a professionally-inspired safety culture. The owner, management team, and employees are to be forthrightly commended for collaboratively contributing to their safety culture, focused capitalistically on legal compliance, cost containment, and most importantly, employee health and safety.

While you may cavalierly choose to dismiss this specific scenario as being so inherently rare that it could never be replicated by any of your earnest, hard-working employees, the actual key takeaway is that it did happen, and the company’s prescient approach to safety reinforced its overall organizational culture which saved a lot of money in medical costs, legal fees, and increased workers’ compensation premiums.

Now that you have read this posting, you won’t be able to say you were never trained.

That point being said, failing to replicate this type of safety culture at your company, may enroll you in the next annual Darwin Award tournament.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.