Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

You Say You Want a Revolution


“If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you aint gonna make it with anyone anyhow”—John Lennon

There are a lot of people in the safety world that are calling for change.  Typically this call for change is articulated in fairly gentle and vague terms. “We need leadership commitment” or “communication is key” leads the parade of platitudes.  This is harmless but it doesn’t accomplish much beyond making the safety professional feel and, to a lesser extent, sound engaged.  All these calls are likely to change precisely squat.

Changing from a culture where safety is for wimps, safety is too expensive and disruptive, or that safety is in any other way undesirable can not be an iterative process; in short this kind of change takes revolution, not evolution. When Deming first promoted his 14 points for Quality, he was far from universally accepted

Revolutions sound scary—the word conjures up images of guillotines and firing squads. But the business world has seen the quality revolution, the Lean Revolution, and the information revolution all brought exciting possibilities with them.  But even these weren’t bloodless coups.  As a new philosophy takes hold the business axioms they replace fight like wounded badgers for survival.

“All Change Comes From the Barrel of A Gun”—Mao Tse Tung

While the Utopian view of safety that many safety thought-leaders espouse sounds nice, few in the workforce see a compelling reason to change how they conduct themselves relative safety and without a compelling reason there can be no lasting change. As a former colleague used to put it, change comes when the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing. Or as noted culture expert, Edgar Shein, put it in his first fundamental law of change, “Principle 1: survival anxiety or guilt must be greater than learning anxiety” So in other words, nothing is going to change as long as people are either satisfied with the way things are or are too scared of what the future holds. A few worried safety professionals hunched over computers arguing over the finer points doesn’t foment the necessary discontent with the status quo to change a $10 bill let alone a culture.

Shein’s formula for organization can be loosely stated as:

D+V+N>R

where D=discontent, V=Vision for the Ideal State, and N=next steps and R=Resistance

Fomenting Discontent

Fomenting discontent in the organization means walking a line between being an agent for change and being a discontented and uncooperative turd who is unable to play well with others.  Additionally, organizations like organisms tend to have built in systems for defending themselves.  Changing a culture requires fortitude; it doesn’t take many missteps for the organization to turn on the fomenter of discontent.

Cast the Vision

Fomenting discontent without articulating a clear and compelling vision of how things could be, but are not. Casting a vision of a future state requires leadership, creativity and courage.  Unless one can question one’s most cherished beliefs, one’s most deeply held values, one can never hope to change a culture.  One has to look into the very eyes of God and call him fraud before one can honestly craft a vision of any real validity.  Casting the vision takes guts, in questioning the status quo one risks making blood enemies, because it’s one thing to question one’s own beliefs and values, but quite another to question someone else’s.

Articulate the Next Steps

A vision for what must happen and a healthy level of discontent alone can not lead the population to the Promised Land.  A leader must communicate a clear and reasonable roadmap for moving from the current state to the desired state.  Unless a leader can do so, the population will judge the change too risky and decide against adopting it.

Changing a culture is relatively easy to the far more daunting task of building an infrastructure for sustaining it. The safety snake oils are often able to fob off a climate change with a culture change.  Unlike a culture change, which the population typically defend a climate change will only last as long as the antecedent remains present. (Think of a climate change as exemplified by the speed trap.  Traffic slows because drivers know a policeman is laying in wait, but once the policeman is no longer present, the drivers resume speeding.) Culture change consultants love climate change because if the parasitic relationship between consultant ends so too does the change; it’s as if the consultant is able to repossess the services rendered.

The ability to sustain a culture change—without adding a complicated and expensive infrastructure or dramatically adding headcount—is what separates a good culture change initiative from a sham, climate change, smoke and mirrors.  Millions are spent on shoddy, junk science solutions that merely mask the problems in an organization and create climate change.

One must be prepared to topple the regime to effect change, but regime change isn’t the same as culture change. And a failed coup usually ends in the termination of those who attempted it.  Safety professionals who attempt to change the culture (even if they are successful) seldom survive the change.  Who needs revolutionaries after the revolution has succeeded?  While people will eventually accept change, they seldom forgive the person responsible for it.

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

Safety Aint Pretty


Note: I am publishing about 5 hours earlier, so this is it for the week

Phil La Duke without his make up

I worked for a while as a security guard at a nuclear facility.  We were expected to work safe.  Let me be clear on this, we weren’t threatened with discipline if we didn’t work safe, nor were we given a pizza party at the end of the month if we didn’t kill anyone.  We were expected to work safe because just getting the job required the completion of rigorous screening, background checks,  and excruciating testing. Sure we faced disciplinary consequences for not following the safety protocols, but the people conducting my safety training tended to focus on the consequences for following the safety protocols: I wouldn’t get hurt or suffer a horrific death from becoming irradiated.

Now, if you don’t get hurt you get to play safety BINGO, and if you don’t kill someone you get to have a pizza party, or a Target gift card, or even a bonus.  And for those of us who might forget to work safe we have posters made by our cherubic little love ones reminding us not to die at work.

Safety professionals don’t give people much credit.  Unlike the professionals responsible for my safety training at the nuclear plant (interestingly enough they were security officers, managers, and first responders NOT safety professionals) who respected me enough to believe that I would do all in my power to ensure my safety and the safety of others simply out of my sense of integrity, not because I was looking for some trinket or game piece. These wonderful managers and supervisors assumed I would do what was right, but provided the training, because as they put it, “we can’t think of everything and neither can you, so we are going to teach you some things that can help you better protect yourself.  There were no scare tactics, no you better not let me catch you without your PPE; just a frank conversation and an admission that sometimes the system might break down and they were looking for us to help identify ways in which they could help us to be safe.

Frankly this cutesy crap is insulting to the hard working and responsible workers who log millions of hours doing their best to achieve safety perfection in an imperfect world.  Expectations can be powerful and they are difficult to fake,  You can tell me what a professional I am all you want, but if you patronize me with your ham-fisted attempts to manipulate me into working safety with a bunch of trinkets and crap that I probably will throw away before I get to my car I will know where you really stand.

Expectations can work against you too. When you implement a condescending Behavior Based Safety system you are telling me that you believe that left to my own designs you expect that I will act like a drug crazed baboon recklessly endangering myself and others.  You tell me, through these programs, that you believe that I am all id, and that I am naturally inclined to disregard regulations, work unsafely, and generally act like a spoiled, willful child.

And when exactly did the safety professional get so superior to the rest of operations? I’ve heard safety professionals call injured workers “wimps” “cry babies” and “frequent fliers”.  I’ve heard safety professionals deride “a good portion” of injured workers as milking fraudulent claims.  Safety professionals openly criticize managers and lazy do nothings and border-line criminals. Of course leadership are unenlightened dolts and Neanderthals who can’t be expected to care about safety.

Safety professionals have set themselves apart from too long and the day is coming where the rest of the workforce will ask safety professionals are you with it or against it? So here is what needs to happen.  Safety professionals grow up; the things you think are cute, fun, and innovative are viewed by the workers as condescending, simple-minded, unprofessional, and insulting.  Stop embarrassing yourself (and those of us in the safety professional who do expect professionalism and integrity from the workers) and stop insulting people.  Your job isn’t to protect the workers, your job is to help the workers to protect themselves.  And reminding me not to die isn’t the same as saving my life.

Filed under: Safety

Mind Your Own Business: The Far From the Last Word On Building A “Safety Culture”


photo of the Diego Rivera Mall at the Detroit Institute of Arts taken by Phil La Duke

There is a nearly ubiquitous conversation ragging in the safety forums: how can one create a “safety culture” within my organization. This debate is troubling from a couple of perspectives.  First, there really isn’t any such thing as a “safety culture” the fact that people blather on about this topic shows a very deep ignorance of organizational culture.  Every organization of more than five people has a culture. In simplest terms, a culture is the codified collection of the norms, shared values, and rules of an organization. Cultures evolve to protect the organization’s interests and to determine what is acceptable behavior. In so doing, corporate culture makes it possible to govern the organization.

In some organization’s the corporate culture is so strong that changing from within is almost impossible, in fact, it is far more likely that a new hire will adopt the corporate culture rather than change it, no matter how strong the desire or ardently the new employee works for change.

I’ve studied corporate cultures and worked in OD for years.  I won’t bore you with a lot of pedantic excrement filled with a lot of jargon and theory, but if you want that, believe me there are plenty of people out there to fill your head with it.

Cultures are made up of shared values—kind of shared opinions of how important something is relative to the other elements of an organization.  Organizations tend to have a value of safety, that is, the organization places some value on safety relative to the other activities on which it can expend its resources.  Some cultures view safety as unimportant while others view it as of paramount importance, but all cultures place some priority on worker safety, and therefore, all organizations have a “safety culture” albeit some have a strong safety culture while others have a weak safety culture.

Even if a safety culture could be achieved (at some point it becomes a purely semantic argument) such a culture would neither be advisable or desirable.  A safety culture would mean that safety would be prioritized above all other business elements. Customer satisfaction, productivity, profitability, quality, and profitability all would take a secondary role over worker safety.  It sounds great, but in practical terms,  it doesn’t exist, nor should it.  No company exists primarily to ensure the safety of its workers.  In fact, most companies exist to make money.  This isn’t a bad thing; the safest companies in the world are the ones who went out of business because they didn’t make any money. Pursuit of a safety culture is a mish mash of Polly Anna idealism, cheap sales talk, and excuse making. (“I’ve done all I can; the culture is broken”).

As for the larger issue of a culture change, that may be necessary but that isn’t the job of the safety professional.  There are people with degrees in Organizational Behavior, Industrial Psychology, Organizational Development (OD), or other advanced degrees that qualify them to create culture change interventions. These people have years of Organizational Development experience before they are able to lead such a change; they aren’t safety professionals who have read a couple of books or attended a couple of speeches at a safety conference.   It’s been suggested that the skills of the safety professional and the organizational psychology field aren’t mutually exclusive; perhaps not. But just because someone read a couple of books about airplanes and has a flight simulator on his PC doesn’t make him a pilot. And frankly I would prefer a cardiac surgeon perform my coronary by-pass surgeon to a butcher, but effectively they share as many skills as a self-important puffed up safety huckster who believes—however earnestly—that he has the same skills as a professional skilled and experienced in OD.

So let’s shut up about creating a safety culture; it makes us seem even more out of touch than we already do.  We should however, foster an environment where safety is valued, but that isn’t a culture change, it’s a change in values.

Changing the values of an organization doesn’t take a whole lot of special skills.  A tenacious and conscientious safety professional can immediately start creating a heightened sense of value for safety within his or her organization.

Engage Leadership

I have written and spoken extensively on ways to engage leadership so I will just quickly summarize the key points here. In organizations that place a low value on safety professionals tend to have little or know credibility with the senior leadership in an organization.  Building credibility begins by speaking the same language and relating safety to the things that senior leadership find most compelling.  If the organization values sales above everything else, the safety professional should express the cost of injuries in terms of the amount of additional revenue it will take to replace the money spent on worker injuries.

Run the Safety Function Like a Business

Every safety function that is run like a business (i.e. the primary purpose of the function is to provide some service that is of quantifiable value) is much more likely to survive and thrive than those that are manage like overhead.  When the safety function sees itself as a for hire service provider it is far more likely to instill the kind of confidence required to build demand for safety.

Position Safety As a Partner In Improvements

For far too long, the safety profession has seen itself as serving a greater good that the rest of the organization, while the other departments busied themselves making money or improving quality, or making materials flow more efficiently, Safety saved lives. And while that is beyond important, it positioned safety as a parent and a policeman, but never a partner.  Safety became the smug outsider in the organization and then wondered why nobody trusted it.

But it doesn’t have to be like that, the Safety function plays an important role in bolstering operating efficiency (worker injuries interrupt production and make the operation less efficient), increasing profitability (worker injuries cost money), and creating a lean workplace (injuries are  waste).

Lead

Day after day I interact with safety professionals who deride leadership of their organization as indifferent or even hostile to safety.  These sad sacks talk in “us versus them” distinctions that make me wonder why they have jobs at all.  If safety professionals want to effect real change in how much value and priorities they have to be credible leaders not whiny crybabies who feel powerless to effect change.

People listen to those who have something to say, they learn from those who have something to teach them, and they follow people who are going to take them someplace better.  If you can’t these things for others there’s probably still important role you can play in worker safety, but shut up about culture; you don’t know what you are talking about.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Performance Improvement, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , , , , , , , ,

In Harm’s Way: How Safety Professionals Brought Down the Safety Profession


Image courtesy of TheGuardian.com

“My pledge to you this year is to kill off for good the excessive culture of safety and health that is dragging down business like a heavy wooden yoke.”— David Cameron, United Kingdom Prime Minister.

In a recent article in ISHN magazine editor, Dave Johnson does an excellent job of covering comments that David Cameron, UK Prime Minister recently made about the onus that safety puts on businesses and of his party’s intention to “crush” the culture of safety. http://www.ishn.com/blogs/16-random-sampling/post/politicians-just-dont-get-safety At this point most of you are expecting me to launch into another one of my pithy rants about how safety is being attached on all fronts and people of good faith should rise up in righteous indignation. You will be disappointed. I have been writing and blogging about safety for over 5 years, speaking on the subject for close to ten, and working in the field consulting and providing safety training for nearly thirty years. I have plenty to say on this subject and most of you aren’t going to like it.

Most recently I have pumped out some pretty aggressive messages that puts the blame for the decline in respect for the safety profession squarely on the shoulders of the safety professionals. I have been fairly clear in my message: Safety professionals have to reposition themselves as key resources for making the workplace more efficient, more cost effective, and more productive. Instead we continue to propagate the image of the safety professional as a bleeding heart social worker that wants to coddle workers and impeded progress. I have said, in no uncertain terms, that if Safety is going to regain a position of respect it will have to stop doing such stupid things.

“safety cultures (are) a too often farcical, marginal monster that must be crushed and killed.”— David Cameron, United Kingdom Prime Minister

When “Protect Your Dignity” was published in ISHN a couple of months back, I got a visceral response from a bunch of old-school safety half-wits who squawked and bawled because I asked what kind of sociopath introduces the possibility of a parent dying at work to eight-year olds in the guise of a children’s safety poster contest.

When I wrote an article that criticized the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) for sponsoring an expensive boondoggle to Brazil in the worst economy in a lifetime, no fewer than three safety publications refused to run it. And when I publicly criticized the organization for their actions—well…let’s just say if you are wondering why I am no longer speaking at their conference you have your answer.

When I made blog posts decrying Behaviour Based Safety as amateurishly shilled snake oil, one greasy, bloated, pig-eyed brute rallied the fanatics and the zealots who sent me a steady stream of venom, and made clear their intention to protect and preserve the Behavior Based Safety Bureaucracies at all costs. I’ve been called every thing but a child of God, simply for calling into question the status quo.

Well guess what? It turns out WE ARE under attack, and not by some third world despot or human trafficker but by the leaders of the free world.

‘Cameron, meanwhile, says, “I am hereby declaring war… on the safety and health monster.’ .”— David Cameron, United Kingdom Prime Minister. ”(ISHN)

As Dave Johnson points out, politicians don’t get safety, but politicians do “get” what messages people want to hear, as people the average politician is a thick-witted brute without basic skills to pour piss out of a boot when the instructions are written on the bottom. Except on extremely rarified occasions, politicians aren’t all that extraordinary, there are no heroes here and few villains either. The politicos are, like every other organism designed to survive and politicians can only do this by sensing public sentiment and regurgitating it back to voters.

The story here isn’t that David Cameron, the leader of one of the most industrialized and powerful countries in the world thinks its okay to kill workers, rather the story is that David Cameron thinks that voters will be sympathetic to those sentiments. What matters here is not that a single politician believes workers should be seen as expendables, and chattel to be used up and thrown away.

“Safety culture is nothing more than a straitjacket on personal initiative and responsibility. We must crush these cultures before any more damage is done.”— David Cameron, United Kingdom Prime Minister.

This Is a War That We Are Losing.

Public sentiment is turning against worker safety. Politicians equate safe workplaces with job loss and hyper-sensitivity for paper cuts and bruises. Less and less people are taking us seriously and human life hangs in the balance. “safety cultures (are) a too often farcical, marginal monster that must be crushed and killed.”— David Cameron, United Kingdom Prime Minister Is safety farcical, marginal monster (“farcical” means “absurd” or “ridiculous” for those of you who have been directed to this page by one of my many detractors who are reading this for the sole purpose of getting pissed off)? Well when you hear things like the case a friend of mine shared with me it makes it pretty tough to see safety as anything but the rightful object of ridicule. In this case, my friend’s safety manager slipped and fell but did not report the incident and instead sought treatment from her personal doctor so that she would not “ruin” the safety BINGO. When the writers of The Simpsons wanted give the hapless, drunken, and perpetual screw up main character Homer a job, they ultimately chose head of safety as the most ludicrous job (Homer has had jobs ranging from body guard to astronaut, but he always comes back to safety). And when you see some of the safety bureaucracies that try to manipulate people’s behaviours like so many lab rats the “monster” appellation seems pretty spot-on.

Where is This Coming From?

Lord knows I’m full of answers, but this one has got me stumped. Where is the big, unifying event that convinced the public that we have taken worker safety too far? As far as I can recall there has been no major fines lobbed at corporations for infractions that a reasonable person would see as frivolous. There have been no high profile cases of companies forced out of business because protecting the workers became to onerous. Why then, has the public turned on us? Fighting Back What can we do to turn this around? Because let’s face it, we have got to stop fiddling as Rome burns, and we aren’t going to win this fight without first winning the hearts and minds of greater society. • Advertise the cost of Injuries. In the world of corporate Learning we like to say, that “if you think Learning is expensive, try stupidity”. We have to make the average person understand how much productivity and efficiency is lost when a worker is injured, even when that injury was minor. And when we talk to people about worker safety we have got to stop filling the air with jargon that we think makes us sound smarter but in actuality makes us sound like pretentious dung heaps. • Seek Out and Eliminate Safety Gimmicks. End safety BINGO, scrap the gift card programs for doing something a reasonable person would do without being asked. If it’s cute give it the boot. Incentive programs MUST return a quantifiable return on investment and must DIRECTLY link to safety improvements. • Proactively Seek Out Ways to Lower Costs. Find ways to lower the operating cost of the safety function BEFORE Operations suggests it. If you are able to demonstrate a willingness to share in the responsibility for process improvement and waste reductions Operations leadership will begin to see you as a partner instead of a policeman. • Talk Dollars, Make Sense. Express the costs and savings in ways that make sense to Operations; if products sold is a hot button talk about the increase in sales that the company will have to make to pay for the injuries incurred. Or better yet, talk about how much more efficient the Operation is because of a decrease in injuries. We have to run the safety function like a business and we have to speak the same business language as Operations. • Lay Off the Platitudes. “Safety is everyone’s job” —oh yeah? Then why do we need you? “Safety is our number one priority”—no, making money and staying in business is our number one priority, and if you don’t believe that go somewhere else to work, safety supports this, but let’s not be stupid. “Safety Is the Right Thing To Do”—So is making money, so is being globally competitive, so is producing high quality, so is…there are a lot of “right things to do”. • Vote. Get out and make your voice known. Talk to your neighbors about this dangerous trend and how it should affect the way they vote. Refute the misconceptions about worker safety. Tell war stories, but most of all vote and make sure the candidates know that their positions on worker safety matter to you. A Parting Shot I have worked with companies that spend more money keeping worker’s safe from cuts and bruises than they will ever recoup in savings and I am often asked when I consult with new clients if I am going to turn their company into one of those paranoid companies that have 7 safety people watching a guy loading a truck. I always respond to those concerns the same way. The safest companies on Earth are those whose doors are shuddered because they went out of business. The job of safety is to keep companies in business by eliminating waste and boosting productivity.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Loss Prevention, Phil La Duke, Regulations, Safety, Safety Culture, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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