Supervillains--without them, there would be no superheroes.

Over the years, Marvel and DC Comics have left us with a swarm of merry miscreants — villainous counterparts to the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman.

Some villains are born, but others are created. Freak accidents are one of the most common supervillain origin tropes, but probably one of the most avoidable. If only the imaginary corporations of our favorite comic book worlds had been able to mitigate those workplace safety hazards...

Of course, we know that doing so would make for a much blander story. Still, when we stop to examine the origin stories of some of the most infamous comic book villains of all time, we find some great workplace safety lessons and reminders.

Electro: Electrical Safety Should Not Be Overlooked

Depending on your preferred adaption, Max Dillon either gained the ability to control electricity after being struck by lightning or by fixing a power line in a lab and falling into a tank full of electric eels.

In the Hollywood adaptation of Electro’s origin story, we cringe when we see the underappreciated protagonist take an electrical glitch into his own hands while alone in the lab after-hours. Sparks are flying as Max begrudgingly climbs the railing in his office attire, teetering as he reaches up with his bare hands to join two lines before getting electrocuted and falling several stories into a vat of electric eels.

The real-world lesson? Max’s untimely accident and subsequent transformation serves as a reminder that electrical safety in the workplace should not be overlooked. Proper electrical safety protocol and training can not only prevent unfortunate accidents, but also costly fines. In fact, some of the most frequently cited OSHA violations involve compliance issues with general electrical or wiring requirements.

Slip, Trip, & Fall Protections Should Not Be Taken Lightly

Most iterations of the Joker’s origins have him accidentally falling into a giant tank of acid. The resulting disfigurement — bleached skin, green hair, and bright, red lips — drives him insane. This sequence of events, and perhaps one of the most iconic rivalries in all of comics, could have been avoided if Ace Chemicals complied with even the most basic workplace health and safety standards.

The real-world lesson? If you’re an EHS professional who works in an industry like healthcare, manufacturing, or construction, you know slips, trips, and falls can cause a loss in productivity and an uptick in unplanned costs. Take this as an opportunity to reassess your workplace hazard risk points and remind yourself of some of the top best practices such as:

  • Keeping floors clean and dry
  • Storing extra cleaning supplies and keeping them on hand
  • Wearing slip-resistant shoes
  • Using the proper tool for the job
  • Improving lighting

Repetitive Work in an Unsuitable Environment Can Take Its Toll

Working in any psychiatric hospital requires a lot of energy and emotional stability no matter who you are. However, Harleen Quinzel (Harley Quinn) is just one in a long line of staff members to end up a resident of Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Whether you loved it or hated it, “The Suicide Squad” pretty much nails the backdrop for Dr. Quinzel’s “meet-cute” with the Joker: a grimey, dilapidated, dimly-lit, prison-like environment. An atmosphere that no doubt contributed to Harley Quinn’s manic and diabolical behavior.

The real-world lesson? Safe and healthy work environments allow your employees to do their best work — as well as increase their desire to stay. Studies show that comfortable, well-lit, safe workplaces increase productivity by as much as 16%, and job satisfaction by 24%.

From our perspective, ergonomics is often underutilized to improve workplace safety and employee satisfaction. One of the primary goals of ergonomics is to optimize how people work. This is accomplished by designing a workplace that not only makes tasks safer to perform, but also easier and more efficient.

If Arkham Asylum contracted our help to conduct an ergonomic assessment, we’d recommend:

  • Renovating and re-decorating the facility’s interior
  • Hiring a team to implement and support EHS programs
  • Developing people-first safety policies to protect their employees

Workplace Incidents Can Have Unanticipated Consequences

Poison Ivy, once a promising botanist by the name of Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley, is transformed into a deadly and seductive half-woman, half-plant in a botched murder attempt by her teacher and former lover. Dr. Isley’s murder and consequent transformation are a PR nightmare in the making since all of this happens in the professor’s lab over university-funded research.

The real-world lesson? Unfortunately, it only takes one high-visibility incident to damage a brand’s reputation, especially in highly competitive sectors. But the good news is there are steps EHS leaders can take to build and bolster their brand’s EHS reputation.

  • Allow key stakeholders across the organization to shape and share the brand’s story
  • Implement EHS initiatives that enhance the workplace and protect the environment
  • Market EHS as part of company culture
  • Monitor social media and address both positive and negative feedback
  • Draft an emergency action plan for marketing and public relations departments in worst-case scenarios

Defeat Villainous EHS Practices

You certainly don’t want your workplace to be the backdrop for Hollywood’s next villainous origin story. So, take the time to remind yourself of the workplace safety hazards that exist and take steps to ensure your employees have the proper training and cultural support to avoid villainous incidents.

If your team of EHS superheroes needs another with a critical power, send up a bat signal and we’ll answer the call. With more than three decades of experience and a global network of consultants on hand, we’re dedicated to helping you audit, develop, implement, and bolster your EHS programs. Mask and cape not included.

Learn how an EHS audit and risk assessment from our EHS consulting team can help evaluate and mitigate organizational, programmatic, and operational vulnerabilities. 

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