Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

Extra: Live From The National Safety Council (Courtesy of LSS Lab Safety Supply)


A great big thank you to all who attended my presentation today at the National Safety Council in Philadelphia.  What struck me the most (no pun intended) was the spirited discussion that grew out of the topic.  The session was well attended and the group seemed genuinely engaged in increasing near miss reporting.  I have articles in ISHN, Fabricating & Metalworking, and Facilities Safety Management magazine (all exhibitors at  the show—so if you are in the neighborhood, drop by and pick up a copy) that will soon be linked here.

The show seems to have less attendees this year, and far less participants from overseas, but it seems like there are far more decision makers here than ever before.  

If you are at the show, stop by Facility Safety Management’s booth and say hi.  They are your best bet for tracking me down.

—-Phil

p.s. special thanks to Lab Safety Supply for the web access that allows me to update the blog.

Filed under: Safety

A Brief Note


There’s a lot going on in worker safety and for me personally. As I write this I take a break from reviewing my speech that I will deliver (sadly not in costume) at the National Safety Council tomorrow in Philadelphia,PA (though I am staying in Alantic City New Jersey; it’s a long story.) in addition to speaking I will be covering the conference for Facility Safety Management magazine meeting readers at the FSM booth, facing smug whiny cry babies whose feelings I hurt in the October issue of ISHN, and meeting with the editor of Fabricating & Metalworking magazine Phil La Duke’s The Safe Side October edition finally available on line http://www.fabricatingandmetalworking.com/2011/10/approaching-safety-holistically/ oh, and I was interviewed by H&S magazine.
I will be tweeting on the show via philladuke and. RockfordgreeneI. (isn’t it time you followed them?)
In the meantime if you need a fix of my wild ranting check out one of my four published articles this month or http://www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com

Oh and for those of you looking to confirm my name on ISHN’s list of the 101 most influential people in safety (a preliminary list was leaked several weeks ago) look for the list in January. And I have received unofficial word that I word that I will in fact be on the list. Thanks to all of you who have read, recommended, and reposted my posts and those of Rockford Greene International.

Filed under: Safety, , , , , , , , ,

The State Of Safety 40 Years After OSHA


On December 29, 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 into law, forever changing the relationship between business and safety and ushering in the age of safety. It’s been 41 years since safety became a profession and now it stands at a crossroads.  To some the future of safety holds great promise, with jobs being created faster than colleges can graduate qualified professionals.  But others see storm clouds on the horizon and point to increasingly hostile political rhetoric that equate safety with job losses and an inability to compete globally. Time will tell which side is ultimately correct, but it’s all but certain that it will be some combination of the two.  To paraphrase Dickens, “it will be the best of times, it will be the worst of times”.

I make no claim to psychic powers (those of you who do probably knew I was going to say that) and no one has a crystal ball or a perfect view of the future but there are certain trends that are highly likely to continue in the next decade or two.

A Demand For ROI

Few business functions are immune to the pressure to contribute to the bottom line and to provide a quantifiable Return On Investment (ROI).  Some resist it and try to shift the focus to Return on Expectation, but that is being seen by most business leaders for what it is: weaseling.  If a function is to survive it needs to contribute more value to the organization than the resources it consumes; period.  Nowhere is this likely to be more of a shift in thinking than in Safety.  Many safety professionals cling to the idea that their jobs are sacred, safe, decreed by divine right. These professionals will find it increasingly difficult to find and keep a job.

Greater Specialty Within The Profession

Industrial Hygienists, Ergonomists, Safety Trainers, Process Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Risk Managers, Loss Control…forty years has seen an explosion not only in the number, but in the type of safety professionals.  Look for this to continue in the comoing decade, but don’t look for every fabrication shop to hire a pantheon of safety professionals; instead, look for an increased use of consultants and third party safety firms that business hire to provide tightly controlled business deliverables.

Consolidation of Safety With Other Functions

This may seem to contradict the point above, but look for these two trends to work in tandem.  Companies can’t afford redundant functions that send mix messages to the organizations.  Quality, Safety, Lean, Environmental, and Continuous Improvement all must sing from the same hymnal. In fact, look for a considerable consolidation of these functions.  If it doesn’t make sense to pursue any of the SQDCME in a vacuum, how can in make sense to continue to silo these teams.  Given the choice between maintaining a Safety department and a Continuous Improvement or Lean team, most business owners would dump the safety department. The choice isn’t as capricious as it might appear to safety professionals. Lean and/or Continuous Improvement teams provide a return on investment—they earn their keep—where safety has not, at least not in any quantifiable way.

A Resurgence In Unions

If there is a class war brewing, the workplace will be ground zero and the rallying cry will be safety. Irrespective of one feels about organized labor it’s tough to argue with the union organizers when they use safety as a plank in their platforms. As society grows increasingly confrontational with corporation and governments look for organized labor to fill the vacuum and capitalize on resurgence of radicalism to swell their ranks to unprecedented levels.  Today’s unions have their roots in the Great Depression at time when banks were despised; governments were seen as protecting companies at the worker’s expense; and radicalism was rising.  It’s impossible to predict whether today’s unions will be the same unions of the future but it’s fair to say unions of the future will look very different than they do today. What does this mean from a safety prospective is that companies that disregard the safety of its workforce should expect to be targets of aggressive—and largely successful—union drives.

A Galvanizing Catastrophic Event

The wild card in this mix is the mega-disaster that changes everyone’s view of the world.  The world looked different after the Triangle Shirt fire.  The world looked different September 12, 2001. A singular event changed the world in a profound way. The conditions are ripe for a singular event that in its horrific magnitude will change safety forever. People are tired of picking up the tab for corporate depraved indifference and the immediacy of unvetted information—bloggers, tweets, Facebook posts, and who knows what technology will exist a decade or two from now—can and will continue to add an emotional element to already incendiary situations.  We sit on the precipice of another catastrophe.  This isn’t just a factor of time, although probability suggest we are due, nor is it solely a factor of outside agitation. Safety as an industry is a victim of its own success.  A generation of workers have come to age in workplaces where fatalities are exceedingly rare (relative to the workplaces of 50 years or more ago). The backlash against safety caused by global success of safety efforts has made it easy for greedy industrials and opportunistic politicians to brand safety as over protective, costly, and the mother of all bugaboos, “job killing”.  There is a prevailing belief that business will universally protect workers without regulation.  There is also the increasing view that safety is a right, and that a reasonable person can put in a days work without being maimed. Couple these two factors with a rise in public sentiment that values liberty above life and the proverbial recipe for disaster is complete.  Many of today’s workers view safety as a nuisance and the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle seem very remote indeed. And public opinion tends to support the view that the cost of precaution is too high and the need for such measures are unwarranted, unwelcome, and unnecessary.  Conditions are ripe for a truly historic and horrific workplace disaster that forever changes the view of workforce safety.

But how this will manifest is anyone’s guess.  Will it galvanize the great unwashed in favor of safety? Or will the media blame unaccountable workers for their own demise?

So as the ancient Chinese blessing/curse adjoins, we will most certainly live in interesting times; interesting and dangerous.  Ultimately Safety as a profession owns its success and likewise, if it doesn’t take care its failure.

Filed under: Loss Prevention, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , ,

The State Of Safety


On December 29, 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 into law, forever changing the relationship between business and safety and ushering in the age of safety. It’s been 41 years since safety became a profession and now it stands at a crossroads.  To some the future of safety holds great promise, with jobs being created faster than colleges can graduate qualified professionals.  But others see storm clouds on the horizon and point to increasingly hostile political rhetoric that equate safety with job losses and an inability to compete globally. Time will tell which side is ultimately correct, but it’s all but certain that it will be some combination of the two.  To paraphrase Dickens, “it will be the best of times, it will be the worst of times”.

I make no claim to psychic powers (those of you who do probably knew I was going to say that) and no one has a crystal ball or a perfect view of the future but there are certain trends that are highly likely to continue in the next decade or two.

A Demand For ROI

Few business functions are immune to the pressure to contribute to the bottom line and to provide a quantifiable Return On Investment (ROI).  Some resist it and try to shift the focus to Return on Expectation, but that is being seen by most business leaders for what it is: weaseling.  If a function is to survive it needs to contribute more value to the organization than the resources it consumes; period.  Nowhere is this likely to be more of a shift in thinking than in Safety.  Many safety professionals cling to the idea that their jobs are sacred, safe, decreed by divine right. These professionals will find it increasingly difficult to find and keep a job.

Greater Specialty Within The Profession

Industrial Hygienists, Ergonomists, Safety Trainers, Process Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Risk Managers, Loss Control…forty years has seen an explosion not only in the number, but in the type of safety professionals.  Look for this to continue in the comoing decade, but don’t look for every fabrication shop to hire a pantheon of safety professionals; instead, look for an increased use of consultants and third party safety firms that business hire to provide tightly controlled business deliverables.

Consolidation of Safety With Other Functions

This may seem to contradict the point above, but look for these two trends to work in tandem.  Companies can’t afford redundant functions that send mix messages to the organizations.  Quality, Safety, Lean, Environmental, and Continuous Improvement all must sing from the same hymnal. In fact, look for a considerable consolidation of these functions.  If it doesn’t make sense to pursue any of the SQDCME in a vacuum, how can in make sense to continue to silo these teams.  Given the choice between maintaining a Safety department and a Continuous Improvement or Lean team, most business owners would dump the safety department. The choice isn’t as capricious as it might appear to safety professionals. Lean and/or Continuous Improvement teams provide a return on investment—they earn their keep—where safety has not, at least not in any quantifiable way.

A Resurgence In Unions

If there is a class war brewing, the workplace will be ground zero and the rallying cry will be safety. Irrespective of one feels about organized labor it’s tough to argue with the union organizers when they use safety as a plank in their platforms. As society grows increasingly confrontational with corporation and governments look for organized labor to fill the vacuum and capitalize on resurgence of radicalism to swell their ranks to unprecedented levels.  Today’s unions have their roots in the Great Depression at time when banks were despised; governments were seen as protecting companies at the worker’s expense; and radicalism was rising.  It’s impossible to predict whether today’s unions will be the same unions of the future but it’s fair to say unions of the future will look very different than they do today. What does this mean from a safety prospective is that companies that disregard the safety of its workforce should expect to be targets of aggressive—and largely successful—union drives.

A Galvanizing Catastrophic Event

The wild card in this mix is the mega-disaster that changes everyone’s view of the world.  The world looked different after the Triangle shirt fire.  The world looked different September 12, 2001. A singular event changed the world in a profound way. The conditions are ripe for a singular event that in its horrific magnitude will change safety forever. People are tired of picking up the tab for corporate depraved indifference and the immediacy of unvetted information—bloggers, tweets, Facebook posts, and who knows what technology will exist a decade or two from now—can and will continue to add an emotional element to already incendiary situations.  We sit on the precipice of another catastrophe.  This isn’t just a factor of time, although probability suggest we are due, nor is it solely a factor of outside agitation. Safety as an industry is a victim of its own success.  A generation of workers have come to age in workplaces where fatalities are exceedingly rare (relative to the workplaces of 50 years or more ago). The backlash against safety caused by global success of safety efforts has made it easy for greedy industrials and opportunistic politicians to brand safety as over protective, costly, and the mother of all bugaboos, “job killing”.  There is a prevailing belief that business will universally protect workers without regulation.  There is also the increasing view that safety is a right, and that a reasonable person can put in a days work without being maimed. Couple these two factors with a rise in public sentiment that values liberty above life and the proverbial recipe for disaster is complete.  Many of today’s workers view safety as a nuisance and the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle seem very remote indeed. And public opinion tends to support the view that the cost of precaution is too high and the need for such measures are unwarranted, unwelcome, and unnecessary.  Conditions are ripe for a truly historic and horrific workplace disaster that forever changes the view of workforce safety.

But how this will manifest is anyone’s guess.  Will it galvanize the great unwashed in favor of safety? Or will the media blame unaccountable workers for their own demise?

So as the ancient Chinese blessing/curse adjoins, we will most certainly live in interesting times; interesting and dangerous.  Ultimately Safety as a profession owns its success and likewise, if it doesn’t take care its failure.

Filed under: Loss Prevention, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pulling it all Together (Approaching Safety Holistically Part 2)


All safety systems have their strengths and weaknesses and no individual methodology has a monopoly on answers. The right approach to worker safety will depend to some extent on an organization’s industry, maturity, and size. But even with the considerable business variability one thing remains universally true: organizations must develop a philosophy and processes flexible and robust enough to quickly adapt to a rapidly changing business environment. It is said that the most dangerous thing an organism can do is misread its environment; that is as in business as it is true in biology. Organizations who wish to nimbly respond to changes in the environment will need to adopt a blended training solution. Deciding the specific mix of safety tools, techniques, and process that an organization needs to deploy isn’t easy; in many ways it’s like trying to hit a moving target but it can be done with a little hard work and perseverance. As organizations move to a holistic approach they should make some basic changes in their views of their industries, their workforce and their values. 1) Blur the lines. Proponents of one school of thoughts about safety are generally zealots who are completely intolerant of other competing and seemingly contrary viewpoints. When one sells hammers one tends to see the whole world as a nail. Organizations need to blur the lines between these approaches and cherry pick the things of value to its specific needs as an organization. 2) Focus on the decisions people make and not on the outcomes of these decisions. In general industry tends to see safety in terms of intent and outcomes. The problem with such an approach is that it leads to (in the former case) excuse making and institutionalization of blame in the latter. As a boy I used to repeatedly try to excuse my reckless or careless behavior by telling my late father that I hadn’t done it on purpose. “If I thought you did it on purpose I would kick your ass” he would answer irritated. In the case of intent and blame, organizations can get so wrapped up in playing “who shot John” that they have little time for anything more meaningful. Blame is only useful for firing someone and replacing them equally likely to make the same mistakes because organizations in the business of blame seldom fix the system flaw that is the root cause. Blame tends to answer question, who did this? And the conversation ends there. Blame obviate any need for conducting root cause analysis and in many cases encourages an environment mistakes are driven underground and mistakes + shame = criminality. Successful organizations will make “fix the problem, not the blame” their mantras. we  can bridge the gap between hazards created by poor processes and those created by unsafe behaviors and draw together a system focused on reducing risk. 3) Understand and Embrace the Great Truths of Safety: a. Everyone makes mistakes. It is a biological imperative. b. Nobody wants, or expects, to get hurt. c. Risk endemic to life. d. No one deserves to die because of a mistake or a bad decision. 4) Safety is not a value; it’s a criterion for success. As long as organizations view safety as a value it can hide behind value conflicts, shifting priorities, and a forced hierarchy of values. Safety is the price of admission without it, nothing else matters. 5) Fear of lawsuits does not give organizations license to avoid doing the right thing. Far too often companies resist doing the smart business decision because it’s difficult. The business leaders, Human Resources, and lawyers in particular, frequently raise the specter of lawsuits and potential civil liability to freighted away those who would bring them more work. Not everything a lawyer says is stupid, but so too not everything a lawyer says is sterling. Creating a worker safety process that makes sense, protects workers and treats those who make mistakes justly should take precedence over averting the remote chance of a lawsuit. 6) An Engaged Workforce Is a Safety Workforce. In his seminal work, Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT, Dr. Paul Marcino, outlines a process for truly engaging your workers instead of trying to motivate them. Read this book and embrace it as the guiding principle for your safety processes and philosophy. When I first read this book over a year ago I described it as the most important book on safety of the 21st century and I stand by that opinion now. Marcino’s model will help organizations to transform their workforce and improve a host of workforce issues. This book was not intended to be applied to safety, but it serves on levels no “safety book” has yet to begin to explore. 7) Invest in Training. The single greatest investment focused on improving worker safety is in the construction of a instructionally sound and focused job-specific training program. Years ago a published study found that companies tended to see a 35:1 return on investment when they committed resources to improving the skills of their workers. While safety training is important, the real pay off for investing in training comes from monies spent on imparting the most basic skills workers will need to do their jobs. If you are a welding operation teach welding skills, but when you do embed the safety information workers need to stay safe while doing there jobs. The safety industry has grown to such an extent that it’s easy for business owners to see it as an insurmountable effort that is overkill. But safety need not be a waste of a company’s time and money. If properly managed, strategically planned, and artfully executed by engaged professionals safety efforts can improve employee morale, boost productivity, and increase profits. But ultimately, safety isn’t about not getting hurt; it’s about lowering our risk of injury to miniscule levels while at the same time recognizing that the risk of injury will never be zero and a perfect safety record is always realized to some extent by luck.

Filed under: Loss Prevention, Phil La Duke, Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When Safety Dies, It Won’t Be An Accident


Last Friday ISHN released its list of the Power 101, people who “moves and shakes the safety world”. I’m honored to be among so notable a collection of professionals, but I won’t spend time writing about people writing about me writing. Not that I am above shameless self-promotion, or that I am in any way hesitant to pander to the media. It’s an ego feed to be on the list and I am all about ego. But what struck me about the list is the subtext. Buried in the footnotes are some real gems and I thought I would devote some digital ink to exploring things a bit further, because while the list reads like a who’s who of safety (you had to know I would describe myself as such) what is most significant is who’s NOT on the list. “You’ll notice missing from this list is OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. This is because Washington at this bitterly partisan point and time can accomplish nothing… For the same reason, no U.S. Senator or Congressman is on the list. If not for some associations and consultancies based in DC, plus Dr. John Howard and a few bloggers, Washington would be wiped off this list. It is a power and decision-making black hole.” To be fair there are some very influential OSHA professionals on the list, but the point ISHN makes is an important one and one that isn’t isolated to the U.S. When it comes to worker safety the government is fiddling while Rome burns. In the U.K, politicians decry safety as costing jobs and making it impossible to do business. In the U.S. any attempt to reign in business, business who by act or omission are recklessly putting workers at risk, is categorized as killing jobs. In Mexico enforcement is so lax that even if a company kills a worker they aren’t likely to be fined, never mind jailed. And in China …well to be fair I don’t have a duke of an idea where the Chinese government stands on worker safety but I’ll wager a guess that they have a Doritoesque approach that allows business to crunch all you want, there’s plenty more where they came from. Worker protections under the law have simultaneously elevated and recessed. On one hand safety regulations have increased globally but on the other, incidences of non-compliance in the name of jobs have become far more common. I am expecting the day will soon come where industry will describe workplace fatalities as job openings. Instead of being thrown into a black hole with the pederasts, thieves, and killers they will be hailed as job creators. To a large extent years of BBS BS have reinforced the mindset that workers who get hurt deserve it.  Some misguided social Darwinism that holds that the one thing all injured workers share is their need to be more careful. It’s shameful quackery that has harmed us all collectively

Truth be told I don’t think that more government meddling is the answer. OSHA is so out of touch with modern business practices that it won’t allow most safety training to be delivered via the web, without a proctor, perpetuating the checklist mentality (Note: I just mistyped “checklist” as “checklost” which I have to say is probably a better description of OSHA—and its European, Asian, British, and Aussie equivalents—approach to worker safety training.) We have to end the reliance on compliance but in this environment rolling back government regulations and more importantly enforcement will give business a literal license to kill, and kill they will. At what point do we say enough’s enough? At what point do we rightfully say that business can no longer treat workers as an expendable and inexhaustible commodity? The day is coming, and coming soon, where some horrific workplace catastrophe will so shock the world community that the outcry will be universal and profound; an incident where people will no longer be able to categorize safety as an overprotective nuisance pushed by the soft to shield the careless and the lazy. It’s a shame that we need such a consequence to jar us into action, but I fear we do.

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

Stress and Worker Safety


We’ve all heard for years that stress will kill us, but is it possible that this will be in a workplace accident? Stress is a by-product of the triggering of our fight-flight response. Our bodies sense danger (typically from nonverbal, subconscious information) flood our bodies with more than 30 toxins, most notably adrenaline and before you know it a 90 lb woman is lifting a car off her child. But most often this dynamic is less dramatic. Instead, our subconscious senses a possible threat and drips the toxins instead of flooding our body. These toxins act on our bodies in low doses in much the same way as they would at high doses, but instead of lifting cars, we develop stomach problems. Instead of running at super human speeds, we develop heart disease. The biggest potential danger we are likely to face is change. Biologically speaking, change is stupid, dangerous, and reckless. Consider the animal kingdom. If you are a tern with ideal nesting grounds, an abundant food supply, few predators, and terrific mating prospects then any change you make could transition you from thriving to early extinction. Change is bad for people too; in general if something is working for you and you are successful, changing your situation exposes you to risks that might ruin you. Our bodies are wired to resist change and this resistance takes manifests in stress. Unfortunately we live and work in a dynamic world and change, often as not, is constant. So we are caught in a sucker’s choice, change and face possible extinction or hold the course and almost certainly failing. Fortunately our bodies have a solution: mistakes. Research has found that the average person makes five mistakes an hour (under ordinary circumstances). These mistakes are our subconscious testing the safety of making changes. When we are under stress the urgency of change is profoundly increased and our brain, therefore, needs to increase the number of mistakes it makes so that it is prepared to move quickly and adapt. In a high stress workplace mistakes are rife and human error leads the cause of injuries. But simply reminding people to work safely isn’t enough. Companies need to reduce the stress of the workers if they want to lower the mistakes they are working, and that is far more difficult than it might seem. I recently spoke with the global director of a Fortune 250 company who told me that the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) had noticed a major shift in the nature of the calls that it received. Prior to the economic downturn must complaints involved problems at work, but now calls about personal problems outside of work are about 3:1 to workplace stressors. There are limits to the influence a company can have on the stressors affecting their workforce. People are struggling to keep their homes, pay their children’s student loans. Safety managers must be cognizant of this dynamic and need to intervene in new and creative ways; reminding people to keep their heads in the game will ultimately yield nothing of value. Companies need to shift away from recognition and reward programs and toward stress reduction activities. There’s a real need for caution in selecting the appropriate stress reduction in the workplace, because so many of the stress reduction programs are, metaphorically speaking, big steam heaps of horse crap. So what can an organization do to reduce worker stress? 1. Improve EAP efforts. Your company may not be able create a worker’s paradise outside the workplace, but they can improve the way in which they help workers to work through issues. But organizations need to do a better job of advertising and promoting EAP. 2. Reinstate Benefits and Pay. When the recession hit, companies were quick to ask the workers to share the pain. Many companies acted in good faith, and many used the threat but companies who have been asking workers to share the pain of the economic downturn. It’s time for the “jobs creators” to start paying the workers back, if not in the interest of fair play, then in the interest of self preservation. I fully acknowledge that we are far from the good times of old, but companies need to invest in their organizations, and part of that investment needs to be an investment in the workers themselves. 3. Put Off Big Change Initiatives. Change, as I’ve said, freaks people out. And too many companies are trying to change everything at once. If companies want to reduce stress related injuries they need to slow the pace of change and postpone any change that is not absolutely essential. To a large extent, there is little a company can do to mitigate the stress workers experience because of problems outside of work. Companies can, however, mitigate the severity of the injury. The awareness that stressed workers will make more mistakes should trigger initiatives based at reducing the severity of injuries of the tasks most likely to have injuries caused by human error.

Filed under: Loss Prevention, Phil La Duke, Safety, , , , , , , , , ,

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