How Employers Can Learn Good EHS Practice from SpongeBob SquarePants

One of the joys of having two young children is that you watch a lot of kids' television – some good, some bad. The good ones are the shows which adults can relate to, be it with a knowing wink to the audience or via the situation the characters find themselves in. This happened as we watched an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants called ‘Accidents Will Happen’…

As we know, accidents do happen: over 317 million happen in the workplace worldwide each year. In this episode, the long-suffering employee of the Krusty Krab restaurant Squidward twists his ankle after a shelf collapses on him. His miserly boss Mr Krabs panics as he knows he now has to pay a fine to the cartoon equivalent of OSHA or HSE and risk an investigation. There follows the usual cartoon hijinks of the injured party milking the situation as his panicking boss fluffs his pillows and brings tea in an attempt to avoid him being reported. However, colleague SpongeBob, ever the enforcer of good health and safety practice, calls in OSHA to undertake an investigation.

There is no doubt that the employer does some things correctly in terms of good practice – at one the company health and safety policy which is posted on the wall, and SpongeBob names himself as a qualified first aider.  However, Mr Krabs also shirks his responsibility as an employer by not having sufficient processes in place and actively ignoring the fact his employee was injured. This is of course a no-go area and is a wilful health and safety breach, which OSHA/HSE will come down on most heavily. In the end, due to CCTV footage, Squidward was in fact found out the one in the wrong as he was sleeping on the job and the shelf collapsed with him on top of it – a classic cartoon deus ex machina.

My daughter found the image of Squidward with a shelf falling on his head to be hilarious, and all’s well that ends well in the cartoon world of course, but for you as an employer it might not be the case. By not having sufficient processes in place to mitigate risk, it does leave you open to investigations, substantial fines and even prosecution.

Mr Krabs was lucky, his fine was just one undersea dollar – you would definitely end up paying much more.