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When It Comes To Safety, Forget Saving Lives And Focus On Making Every Dollar Count

We are in the business of saving lives right? No.  Much as the platitude spewing, self congratulating yahoos that have so much to say about safety may preach, we are not in fact, doing God’s work.  Those of us who go on and on about how pure our vocation is are full of excrement. I am so tired of safety professionals feeling superior simply by nature of their jobs.  Safety is a business and we have a choice we can either contribute to the business’ bottom line or we can attend conferences, and sponsor safety bingos, and argue about safety theory in LinkedIn group forums.  We have no choice but to consume valuable resources but we do have a choice as to whether or not we contribute to the bottom line.

It’s time for a reality check for safety professionals.  Times are tough and the days where any function in the organization can continue to consume resources without producing tangible value has no hope of surviving. And while the economy is likely to continue to improve the days where the safety function can consume resource and produce platitudes, excuses, and schlock-programs are extinct.  I use the word extinct deliberately. I don’t mean it as a euphemism for “over”.  I mean it is as extinct as the moa.  It’s gone and it’s never coming back.

I’ve been accused by some of those of more delicate temperament of being too negative; that I am long on criticism and short on solutions, so here goes:

 

Solution One: Stop spending money without calculating a return on investment. B
A business case is simple—calculate the cost of the conference and weigh it against the tangible monetary returns on the investment.  What will you do with the information you receive at the conference? How will this newly acquired knowledge change your job? Is there a cheaper way to get it without jeopardizing quality? If you can’t quantify a return on investment you probably shouldn’t attend. That is not to say all conferences are boon-doggles—I attend conferences with several goals in mind and I work to ensure that I meet these goals while there. One goal is to get ideas for new initiatives. Another is to meet vendors who may be able to provide me with solutions that will make a measurable difference for my clients.  But perhaps because I run my own company (and the conference isn’t on the corporate dime) I am far more judicious in the conferences I attend.  When you return from your conference jot down the value you derived from it.  If you would be embarrassed to show your boss because he wouldn’t let you attend next year, you had ought rethink conferences.

Solution Two: Simplify

Every couple of years some new half-wit comes up with a new way to milk the safety cow.  We go to conferences and here snake oil salesmen pitching quack remedies and hurry home to build our perpetual motion machines.  We get taken in by the next big thing and can’t wait to implement it.  Meanwhile confused Operations leaders snigger behind our backs at our simple-minded projects.  When we fail to get funding we pout and bitch about a lack of support from leadership.  We mistake a lack of support for foolishness with a lack of support for safety.  We do safety a great disservice by creating complex processes based on academic models.  Do they work? Sometimes.  But when they do they often get us the same results that rolling up our sleeves and getting to work would a lot sooner. We don’t need Safety BINGO to lower injury rates we need hard work.

Whenever the safety professional proposes a solution that is over complex Operations leadership begins to worry that it isn’t making a good decision.  When you make things hard to understand it makes it hard for leadership to commit to the proposal.

Solution Three: Focus on Results Not Activities

Often, frustrated safety professionals will point to all the things they are doing as justification for their jobs, but truth be told, Operations doesn’t care one wit how hard we are trying (we can get a chimp in here to try hard) it cares what we have achieved in real terms.

Too often safety professionals are uncomfortable with measurements of safety. But a simple blend of lagging and leading indicators can help embed safety activities into the overall operational strategy. By understanding what the data is telling you about where you are likely to end up if you do nothing and combining it with data that tells you where you actually end up after a safety initiative you can clearly articulate what you have accomplished and, by extension, the value you bring to the organization.

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

What does “corporations are people too” tell us about Mitt Romney’s view of safety?


Sorry for the delay, owing to several technical glitches my weekly post was delayed for almost two days.  All I can say is if you subscribed to the blog you would get a notice when there is an update.  Anyway, sorry to all those who came to the site expecting new witticisms from me and were disappointed.  It will probably happen again in the near future—-Phil

In August, presidential candidate Mitt Romney made the statement that “Corporations are people too” and I wasn’t sure that what to make about the statement until I eventually came around to “yeah, so what’s your point?”  The statement has been used to tar Mitt as an indifferent intellectual who is indifferent to the suffering of normal folks. The eyes and ears  of safety professionals around the world should turn focus on this (and similar statements from presidential hopefuls and world leaders from around the world).

While I’m sure that Mitt meant something  by the statement “corporations are people too, my friend”; it  just sounds dumb to me.  I’m not going to make this a political monolog, or use my bully pulpit to wax political— I’ll leave the political rhetoric to other blogger.  Okay, Mitt let’s say for the sake of discussion that Corporations ARE people too, so what?  The Nazis were people too (Before anyone gets themselves all in a lather, I’m not equating corporations with the Nazis) but does that excuse the evil done by the individuals?  Would we ever say that while you might have had some bad eggs in the Nazi party you can’t condemn the entire party simply because of them? On the other hand I have a 401K portfolio that holds stock in many different funds that in turn owns stock in many individual companies.  Should I be held accountable for the malfeasance of one of the many corporations in which I own stock? By not knowing exactly what companies in which I indirectly own stock should I be charged with the sin of omission?

Osama Bin Laden defended his cowardly attacks on civilian Americans by claiming that because we Democratically elected our leaders all Americans were culpable for the actions taken on their behalves;  a specious argument at best.

But in all these cases it is fair to say that the more insulated one is from the crime the less accountable one feels. But what has that to do with safety? What inferences relative to safety policy can be appropriately made from the statement that Corporations are people too.  Will President Romney allow criminals to hide behind a corporate shield? or will he hold corporations who negligently injure workers or engage in recklessness so wanton that workers are killed to the same criminal standard that he would ordinarily reserve for an individual?

It’s easy to see both sides of this argument. While a CEO may never knowingly lie, cheat, pollute, or subvert safety regulations for his or her own sake, said CEO is far more likely to justify these actions when reporting to a board.  To a large extent its easy for an executive, worker, or share holder to see him/herself innocent of any wrong doing; far fewer bear witness to a workplace disaster that kills 30 people and say, “I did that, it was I who killed those people”.  Does anyone believe that a single BP share holder watched the Gulf of Mexico disaster and shed a tear for their culpability in the disaster?

“We the People” carries with it onerous responsibility, both in country and incorporation.  It’s a damnable dichotomy: we can’t realistically keep diligent eye on the day-to-day activities of the companies in which we have an interest—not really—and we can’t in good conscious blame a nameless corporation for all the world’s evil.

Again, what does this all have to do with safety? Well I think individuals may take pains to keep themselves and others safe, I think it’s easy to see corporations as evil empires; cold and indifferent to the suffering of workers.  It’s easy (and I’m not saying necessarily wrong) to see corporations as quick to put profits before worker well being.  The argument that they were willfully blind is probably accurate.  Individuals working on a corporation’s behalf wants to believe that he or she is doing everything he or she can to protect workers and tend to ignore life’s unpleasantness. We don’t see it, because we don’t want to see it.

Organizations aren’t that much different than organisms—their primary goal is survival and they will fight like a cornered rat to protect what is theirs and to stay alive.  They will ignore facts that don’t support their world view.  They will lash out against anyone who threatens the status quo.  And in this case they will excuse the truly wicked for the sake of the greater good.  As in the case of corporate behavior, we cannot turn away from unpleasantness in hopes that someone else will step forward and address the evil among us.  It’s tough for corporations and organizations to do the right thing when the smart or profitable thing to do is to turn a blind eye to the situation.  And it’s tough for a person to do the right thing when doing so means jeopardizing one’s life, one’s livelihood, one’s station, or one’s standing.  In these fires of adversity heroes are forged.  So Mitt, maybe corporations are people, but they will never be heroes, or role models, or friends.  So Mitt, (may I call you Mitt?) when forced to choose between corporate conscious and good old fashion human nature,  I will put my faith in people and hope others do likewise.

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

Weekly Post Delayed


What can I say? This weeks post will be up tonight around 9:00 o’clock EST. I am editing video of my National Safety Council speech and hope to have some clips for you to view.  Sincerest apologies,

Phil

Filed under: Safety

Do We Have A Duty To Save A Life?


As I wrote this weeks post for the Rockford Greene International blog, “Everyone is an idiot but me” www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com I got to wondering about the duty of a safety professional to intervene when he or she sees a threat to safety.  The idea of duty is a cornerstone of Just Culture and of the legal code of most industrialized nations.  “Everyone is an idiot…” centers on the hypocrisy of safety professionals who say they want to create a safety culture but then do things that impede the development of a safety culture.

I thought I would devote this space to an exploration of duty; specifically, what duty does a safety professional have when he or she is “off-the-clock”? Does a safety professional have a responsibility to intervene when he or she sees a life-threatening situation? If so, why? and if not, why not?

The laws of most nations are pretty clear: while people have may have a legal responsibility to avoid deliberately causing harm, injuring another, or even accidentally injuring someone because of negligence.  There are even Good Samaritan clauses in the laws of many nations that protect those who act in good faith to help an injured person from lawsuits. But is there a deeper responsibility by virtue of our profession? Do we, because we call ourselves a safety professional, have a professional responsibility to get involved in situations where we believe harm is impending?

I got thinking about this quandary as I selected whacky photos of unsafe acts that safety professionals find so precious.  I guess I wanted to rub the self-righteous noses of the safety belligerents who send me hate mail (“You don’t offer any positive suggestions, you just criticize our practices”) in another one of their cherished traditions. (Yes, I am a petty, petty man.) As I sifted through the photos it suddenly hit me. Someone callously took these photos; someone who could have gotten involved but chose instead to snap a couple of quick photos.  In an instant a person chose to photograph the situation instead of acting to save a life.  If these same photographers were to take pictures of people dying in these circumstances we might judge them differently. It’s on the same continuum but somehow the consequences shape our view of the responsibility.

I don’t think anyone would condemn a person for not getting involved in hazardous circumstances if in so doing the person subjects him/herself (or others) to danger.  No one can judge the safety professional for not sacrificing him/herself to save another.  Doing so might make the safety professional a hero, but nobody has a duty to be heroic.  In fact, doing something out of duty obviates heroism.  Unlike some professionals, safety professionals don’t take an oath to save the lives of others.

Essential to this dilemma is the question is “safety professional” a job, a calling, or who we are? If safety professional is a job then clearly there is no responsibility for us to do our job in situations where we won’t be compensated.  While we may have a moral responsibility to protect a stranger there is no enforceable law that says we must take action.

If safety professional is our calling or who we are as our quintessential selves than we must take action.  Ignoring a situation that places a stranger in impending danger puts at odds with our nature.  Call it sin, bad karma, powerful ju-ju, or whatever, but we are drawn at a very basic level to act.

So where does that leave us? Indifferent slob or safety crusader? Are these are only choices? And if we are bound to intervene to what extent and in what circumstances? It’s a cipher—do we spend our days with a mop and bucket mopping up spills?

If we agree (and I doubt we do) that safety professionals have an intrinsic responsibility to intervene where is the line? Should I be yanking away driver’s licenses of the mouth-breathing brutes that weave through traffic on the expressway? Should I bat away the cell phones of those who text while driving? Hazards are everywhere; at what point does the duty to intervene kick in? To answer that question we have to look at probability and severity.  If the probability that a situation will end in injury is highly likely AND the severity is likely to be high (death or dismemberment) then it is clearly appropriate to intercede.  But if the chances of catastrophe are small (improbable with low severity) any action would likely be seen as meddling and an unwelcome intrusion.

Ultimately the answer is situational, we’ve sworn no oath to save lives but our career choices have led us to a profession that most people would see as requiring, or at very least encouraging, us to bring our skills to bear on hazards that endanger society.  We walk a ill-defined line between our duty to intervene and our duty to butt the hell out and mind our business. It’s a no-win proposition, intervene and be seen as an insufferable worrier and do-gooder or walk away and be branded a coward or sociopath.

For a related post go to http://www.rockfordgreeneinternational.wordpress.com

Filed under: Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , ,

Preparing For An Uncertain Future: What Should Tomorrow’s Safety Professional Should Be Studying Today?


Note:  I am publishing this post a few hours ahead of schedule as I will be traveling tomorrow.  I hope you enjoy this week’s offering.

The job that safety professional will be doing in 2020 probably doesn’t even exist today. This creates a difficult situation for educators and employers alike. The field of safety has systematically drifted away from policing and enforcement in interesting, exiting and creative ways. How can students prepare for the job of the future? By studying some disciplines that may not be part of their core curricula. Statistics: At the heart of six sigma, lean, and Quality Operating System (QOS) lies statistics and certainly a working knowledge of statistics is an important foundation oon which these methodologies are built. But a deep understanding of statistics is crucial to the safety professional. Statistics are the language of safety. In the U.S. safety is described in terms of statistics calculations and safety professionals that don’t understand statistics are incapable of understanding what these figures tell them about their organizations performance. And a keen understanding of statistics can also help safety professionals to identify areas where the organization is at greatest risk of injury, the most dangerous jobs, the most dangerous activities and even the demographics most at risk. Armed with such knowledge, safety professionals can recommend substantial changes to how the operation functions and significantly improve workplace safety. If safety is an expression of the probability of an individual being injured than a mastery level knowledge of probability and by association, statistics is paramount. Planning A critical skill that is seldom taught in collegiate settings but that is nearly universally expected by employers is project planning. Solid planning is essential in safety. Profje planning can help safety professionals to reduce waste and free up valuable time and resources from scoping a project to resource leveling safety professionals need complete understanding of planning skills. Trigonometry And Calculus Linear progressions can be used to predict how a company will perform (relative to worker safety) without intervention and logarithmic progression can be used to predict how a company will perform after an intervention has been deployed. By comparing the two progressions a safety professional can demonstrate the value of an intervention and the contribution of the safety professional. While this sounds complicated, Microsoft Excel can do both progressions. If software can complete this work, why then study higher mathematics? Without understanding the underpinnings of the progression the safety professional is unable to judge if the graphing is accurate. Furthermore, one who allows software to do his or her thinking has no business in the safety profession. Organizational Behavior One should never mistake organizational behavior and behavior-based safety. Organization behavior deals with the psychology of groups within an organization; it’s the study of how populations think and act, and is crucial for the safety professional to understand. Meeting Skills Another seldom taught but oft-expected safety skill is the ability to plan and execute effective meetings. Probably the biggest drain on the safety professional’s day is the astronomically huge amount of time wasted in unproductive meetings. In addition to studying the traditional skills associated with effective meetings, students should learn how to determine when a meeting is required. Business Writing/Journalism The ability to accurately communicate a coherent thought is a core skill that every college graduate should possess and yet business is full of functional illiterates and while engineer with the writing skills of a not so bright baboon might be acceptable, a similarly endowed safety professional is unacceptable. Journalism courses teach important skills that safety professionals use every day—skills like conducting an investigation, interviewing, and constructing a concise report respite with in-depth analysis. Journalism also teaches investigative techniques and whether writing a memo or presenting the findings of an incident the journalistic method teaches writers to answer the questions “who? what? where? when? why? and how?” of any situation. Another benefit of the journalistic method is the emphasis on clear communication at a relatively low reading level. Far too many professionals (safety and otherwise) try to emulate lawyers and write in legalese in their communications in an attempt to sound more professional. Unfortunately, legalese is inappropriate for most correspondence because the primary purpose of legalese is to confound the issue. If contracts were written clearly and were free of vagaries one would not need a lawyer to interpret them. This is not jaded thinking, Legalese is designed to deliberately confuse key points because when one is agreeing to be contractually obligated to fulfill a commitment one typically desires a bit of wiggle room on the criteria for successfully delivering on these promises. In other words we pay layers to use language that is open to interpretation and that allows us to weasel out of our commitments if need be. Journalistic style of writing seeks to accurately and efficiently communicate the facts and that is the only acceptable way for a safety professional to communicate. Spanish This may seem like North Americanocentric thinking, but Spanish is one of the fastest growing languages and particularly in the U.S. more and more workers are Spanish speaking. For those in other countries students should be studying the language of tomorrow’s work force because one who is charged with the safety of another should at a minimum speak their language. Anthropology, sociology, and psychology A long time ago, someone (I’m too lazy to look it up) proffered the notion that 90% of all injuries are caused by unsafe behaviors and cottage industry was born. Certainly behaviorism is an important part of worker safety, but attempts to commericalize this fact have been misguided and largely have fallen flat. And as much digital ink that I have devoted to this topic, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. While attempting to use behavior modification to “trick people” into working safely, is simple minded an understanding of how negative reinforcement can dissuade people from participating in safety improvement efforts and even reporting injuries. An organization can easily unknowingly reduced desired behaviors in a population simply because it has created a negative response. Take for instance the case of someone who is painfully shy that is publicly praised and rewarded for making a safety suggestion; what is the likelihood that the similarly inclined will suggest improvements? The safety professional of the future will need a general appreciation of sociological and anthropological concepts. In very real terms, the workplace is a society and is governed by the same basic tenets as society at large. Another important benefit of a fluency in the behavioral sciences is an understanding of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how it manifests in worker safety. While there are other courses that safety students should complete—ethics, management, and labor law spring to mind—the field of study outlined here should be sufficient to create a foundation on which a solid curricula viratae can be built.

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

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