Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

More Deming on Safety: Adopt the New Philosophy


Deming’s second point is “Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.” In writing this point Deming could well be describing safety.  For years Japanese companies have viewed the worker as a resource, as the best source of ideas for improvement, but also long-term partners in business; certainly a wise organization would do everything in its power to preserve and nurture something so vital to its success.

Adopting the new philosophy in safety manifests itself in several important ways.

  1. Injuries are waste and need to be managed as such.  Far too many safety pundits are still preaching that “safety is the right thing to do”, they continue to preach about moral imperatives for companies to protect worker at all costs.  Whether or not companies have any compunction to protect workers is between them and the workers.  That having been said, organizations need to protect their competitiveness, their profits, and their efficiency and all this begins with a relentless pursuit of waste reductions.
  2. Stop worrying about changing the culture and start worrying about changing your processes.  Too often safety professionals stick with what they know and don’t venture too far beyond it. Unfortunately, safety professionals typically don’t know all that much about organizational development, transformational change, or organizational psychology.  Even so, that doesn’t seem to be sufficient to stop safety vendors from shilling half-baked culture change solutions to organizations. Nor does it stop internal safety professionals from championing initiatives of which their sole qualifications are limited to reading an article in the odd safety magazine or attending a session at a safety conference.
    That some organizational cultures inappropriately undervalue safety is indisputable, but making the leap that the Safety function is capable of changing that on some grand, enterprise-wide scale is laughable. On the other hand few safety professionals understand process mapping, value stream analysis, and the other tools and methods necessary for process improvement.
  3. Integrate the Safety Into Other Business Functions. The days where Safety is a separate business function are rapidly coming to a close.  Maintaining a safety infrastructure with Safety professionals must end.  Just as the Quality function evolved into a vehicle for process improvement so too must safety.  As long as Safety professionals see themselves as discrete from the overall operations and somehow able to operate in isolation from production it will always be at risk of being dropped from the corporate team.
  4. Leadership Must Advocate for Change. Leaders are often maligned by safety professionals. Too many times safety professionals blame their own failures on a lack of leadership commitment. In this case Safety professionals are right:  Leaders SHOULD be visible and outspoken advocates for safety and organizational change that supports it.  That’s not to say that safety professionals shouldn’t play a role in this initiative.  Safety professionals should provide expertise and guidance to leaders, many of whom, don’t know how to begin to advocate change.
    If safety professionals are going to be trusted counselors to the leaders there is much work they need to do:
    1. Quit pretending to know more than they do. Safety is an area of expertise that requires practitioners to have a deep understanding of a diverse range of disciplines, but there are limits to even the most learned safety professionals’ curricula verities.  There is a natural tendency (bordering on compulsion) for safety professionals to advise far beyond their knowledge base and once labeled a vacuous windbag it’s hard to been seen as having any opinion of value to offer.
    2. Research and Analysis. Perhaps the most useful service a safety professional can offer is comprehensive research coupled with razor-sharp analysis on the best way to leverage the things uncovered by the research.
    3. Offer Guidance, Not Advice or Opinions. One of the most important thing that I recently learned is that offering guidance is tough. Frequently, what we see as guidance is opinion or just plain butting in. Guidance is marked more by listening than by advising someone as to what they had ought to do.  Guidance is invited; advice or opinions are not.  Safety professionals need to transition to trusted counselors than pouting eunuchs that huff and sigh when they don’t get their ways.  But offering guidance requires trust, and trust takes time to build.
  5. Recognize the Realities and Challenges Endemic to the New Global Economy.  Deming developed his 14 points over 50 years ago, yet even then he was able to recognize that even then we were in a new economic reality.  Even as safety comes under increasing government scrutiny the scarcity of resources available for workplace safety continues to plague safety professionals.  The stark reality is that while the number of demands placed on safety increase, the resources are shrinking or trending flat.    
  6.  Improve the quality of safety training and ensure its efficacy. My background is in organizational development and training and I will say unequivocally that the most safety training is wholly inadequate for anything except for checking the compliance box.  The biggest opportunity to transform the safety of the workplace lies in the improvements that can be made in training.  The better a worker is prepared in the tasks associated with his or her job the safer that worker will be.  I wrote an article on how safety training could be improved, What’s Wrong With Safety Training and How to Fix It so I won’t revisit it here.

Deming’s work remains the quintessential guide to quality, but the lessons one can glean and apply to safety are timeless and substantial. In studying Deming’s thoughts on quality we can transform safety and in so doing our industries.

Footnote: Phil La Duke will be speaking at 1:30 p.m at the National Safety Council on October 31, 2011

About Phil La Duke.  Phil La Duke is a contributing editor and safety columnist for Fabricating and Metal Working magazine, an editorial advisor and contributor to  Facility Safety Management magazine, and a contributor to ISHN magazine.  La Duke is a highly sought after international speaker and author whose brash style and often controversial take on emerging issue is a favorite of the international safety community.

Filed under: Loss Prevention, Near Miss Reporting, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Safety As A Rip-off


Safety as an industry continues to struggle, but safety as a grift and a con is thriving. Every day there is another hustle, another slick huckster with a new way to make money with a convoluted scheme that will be the safety panacea. I hoped that the downturn would weed out some of the worst offenders, but such is not the case. There are two types of safety rip-offs—the “Music Man” and “Pusher”. In both cases the perpetrators may believe that their solution is good for the customer, even when though they are making far more money than the customer would ever see as a return. A Music Man safety rip-off is an convoluted and system that keeps promising payoffs that never come to fruition. Many Music Man rip-offs span years before leadership changes or the organization comes to its senses and dumps the process (and generally the safety leadership along with it.) Of course, the providers of the Music Man rip-offs work hard to keep the organization believing that the band uniforms will come any day. A lot of Behavior Based Safety (BBS) are essentially Music Man rip-offs. The Pusher rip-offs are essentially low-grade safety processes where the provider makes their money continuing sales of materials. So a mediocre training course turns into a (ideally from the vendor’s standpoint) never ending stream of material sales. Neither of these schemes are particularly nefarious, but if you are desperate, fearful, or overly earnest someone will ultimately prey on you. This is as true for organizations as it is for individuals. And when it comes to safety, prey is plentiful, and where you find plentiful prey you find rapacious brutes lying in wait.

Filed under: Safety

Post Delayed this week


I was doing volunteer work all weekend and did not update this blog.  I will update it tonight.

Filed under: Safety

People Don’t Respect You Because You Act Like An Idiot


Somewhere, right now, in a LinkedIn discussion group someone is posting the 245th  opinion on “Should a Company considering itself world class have the right to fire employees for their private unsafe behaviors? For example, if employees are seen during lunchtime jaywalking, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet (where legal), using stairs without handrail, etc. How about during the weekend at a non-mandatory Company picnic? Do you think a “world class” company should be protected from lawsuits when letting go these employees? Or, is the Company going too far?” As simple-minded as this topic is, it has generated a mob-mentality thread where people seem to shout out opinions without reading the other posts.

At the risk of offending my esteemed colleagues this thread is what is wrong with safety these days.  As governments chip away at safety regulations in the name of saving jobs, as businesses actively order shortcuts that undermine workplace safety, and as 50 years of progress in worker safety is threatened to be rolled back, THIS is how safety professionals choose to spend their time. THIS is the problem that they decide to commit time and energy.  I’m stunned. For the first time in history, safety professionals from all over the world can virtually gather and discuss the most compelling issues in worker safety.  We can share ideas and debate the best methods for solving lingering problems.  Manufacturing can talk to Oil and Gas, Energy and Utilities can share the wealth of experience with Logistics and Aerospace and yet time after time we see threads like this.

Earlier in this blog I used the term “simple-minded” to describe the thread.  That was unkind; true, but unkind none-the-less. Before any of you wet yourselves allow me to break it down and tell you exactly WHY this debate is so stupid.  Let’s start with the first bit, “Should a Company considering itself world class have the right to fire employees for their private unsafe behaviors?” I’m going to ignore the capricious capitalization of the word “Company” (it is not a proper noun so it should not be capitalized), the lack of a hyphen in the word “world-class”, not because I think it’s acceptable, but because I routinely butcher the English language not out of ignorance, but from sheer laziness, arrogance, and indifference. Let’s focus on the fact that the asker doesn’t tell us for what the company considers itself “world-class”.  If the company in question considers itself an overly controlling corporate douche bag, then I would have to agree. But if it considers itself a world-class safety organization, I would have to say that they are perhaps a bit misguided. Without knowing exactly what context in which the company is considering itself world-class, no one can proffer an intelligent response (which by the way, didn’t stop me from posting not once but multiple times).  And what precisely, does considering oneself world-class at anything have to do with whether or not one should be protected from lawsuits?

The next part of the question is an attempt to clarify the asker’s point: “For example, if employees are seen during lunchtime jaywalking, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet (where legal), using stairs without handrail, etc.” The asker really doesn’t get into substantive examples here.  What company would ever consider firing someone solely for lunchtime jaywalking? Sure they may use this as an excuse but show me a company who fires workers for something this petty and I will show you a company about to unionize.  As for riding a motor cycle without a helmet? Well I guess if I was the Human Resource director and some half-baked safety manager came to me with this, I would be questioning the competency of the safety manager, not the motorcycle rider.  And not using the handrail? Please. I used to work in construction and I was told by people who design and build structures that hand rails are not in place so people can hold on to them every time they walk up or down stairs, they serve to protect people by giving them something they can grab to break their fall.  To even suggest that someone would fire an employee for not using a handrail, and while on their own time and off company premises is beyond stupid.  When I read this topic heading I was embarrassed to ever to have been called a safety professional.

The author goes on to ask “How about during the weekend at a non-mandatory Company picnic?” the more he asks the dumber the question becomes.  A non-mandatory company picnic? Okay, so apparently there are now companies out there somewhere who are mandating picnics—but then I digress.  Finally, the author asks,  “Do you think a “world class” company should be protected from lawsuits when letting go these employees? Or, is the Company going too far?”  On what legal basis would there be any expectation of protection from the company? How could any rational person believe that the company is doing anything but going too far?

What is more troubling than the simple-minded question is that it elicited nearly 250 responses so far and the count is still rising.  To paraphrase the Social Network they did this instead of doing what? The fact that so many safety professionals felt compelled to weigh in on this topic is bone chilling (made even more upsetting were the numerous safety professionals who thought the company had every right to behave this way.) When I asked, on several occasions, exactly what company had the resources to engage in off-work  surveillance of its workers, I was ignored; why let logic torpedo a good conversation? I also asked how many of the respondents knew of any company that had the safety of its workplace so completely under control that it thought the only way to improve was to meddle in the personal lives of its workers.  Again, the silence was deafening.

But the issue here isn’t about worker privacy rights.  The larger and more disconcerting issue is that hundreds of safety workers think that this is something that is worth discussing (some of which I think we can safely assume were doing so during work hours).  I hear safety professionals bemoan their lack of stature in their organizations, that Operations leadership doesn’t take them seriously, and that in general, no one listens to them.  Well if this is the kind of dreck that you find worthy of your time and the kind of dreck that you want to talk to leadership about, well… no wonder people think you are a fool; you most probably are a fool.

Filed under: Phil La Duke, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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