4Dangerous Silence

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

—Sydney Harris1

More than just business failure is at stake when psychological safety is low. In many workplaces, people see something physically unsafe or wrong and fear reporting it. Or they feel bullied and intimidated by someone but don't mention it to supervisors or counselors. This reticence unfortunately can lead to widespread frustration, anxiety, depression, and even physical harm. In short, we live and work in communities, cultures, and organizations in which not speaking up can be hazardous to human health.

This chapter explores how silence at work leads to harm that could have been prevented. You will read stories that come predominantly, but not exclusively, from high-risk industries. In these cases, employees find themselves unable to speak up; the ensuing silence then creates conditions for physical and emotional harm. Although never easy, in some workplaces, as we will see in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, people do feel both safe and compelled to speak up. This gives everyone the chance to develop constructive solutions and avoid harmful outcomes.

We'll start with stories of silence that gave rise to major accidents in high-risk settings where risk and routine often exist in an uneasy balance. The first two accidents take place in the air. From there, we'll move to a hospital bed, tsunami waves, and finally the volatile setting ...

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