by Phil La Duke
“Who takes all the glory and none of the shame”—Elvis Costello
As safety professionals all over the civilized world continued to congratulate themselves on the swell job they’re all doing, someone had to piss on the picnic and blow up a fertilizer plant. Thankfully, it didn’t get much news coverage what with the Boston Marathon, and who can blame the media? There won’t be a cherubic face on the Texas blast, and the glamorous backdrop of the Boston Marathon, and if there are stories of selflessness and heroism, we won’t hear them. As for far as most people are concerned it’s just a bunch of dead, working class Texans, and what are 40 dead Texans more or less?
The bombings at the Boston Marathon had a lot to get us excited about, at an estimated 500,000 people involved in the event, it’s New England’s most watched sporting event, and it’s undeniably a big deal. And this event had all the pageantry of an Ian Fleming novel before a parade of increasingly bad Bond film turned his work into cerebral pabulum. A big sports event is attached by rogue former USSR denizens, a small boy dies, a massive man hunt, gun fights, throw in a contrived love story, and Matt Damon and you have it all. As I type this, I imagine there are numerous celebrities championing the victims of the Boston Marathon, collections will be taken, kudos heaped on the brave. Memes posted on Facebook from political whack jobs from both extremes blaming Obama for not doing enough or extolling him for doing so much better than Romney would have done. ”Repost this if…” as if anyone gave two tenths of a crap what anyone reposted on Facebook. I’m not denigrating the gravity of the situation, or of the heroics of those who ran to help when good sense should have sent them scurrying. I know that at least a score of you mouth breathers are already so outraged that you struggle to read through furrowed brows and the labored breathing of the deeply offended.
Save it, yet again I am unimpressed and unswayed. It’s been more than a week since the explosion in Texas and they still don’t seem to know exactly the death toll (up to 15 dead? When did news (I refuse to call the excrement that the modern hackneyed purveyors of “newsertainment” produce “journalism”) get so sloppy? We expect and accept fatalities in the workplace. Sure the West, Texas explosion shook and alarmed business owners a bit, but things have already settled down, like mud sinking to the bottom of a sullied stream, clearing the waters of collective consciousness. Since the Texas explosion there have been industrial explosions at on barge at a dock in Mobile, Alabama and at an Oil Refinery in Detroit, MI.
We’ve learned to expect and accept workplace fatalities as a cost of doing business. It sickens me that we chip away at worker safety in the name of case management—exactly what percentage of disability claims are in entirety fraudulent? And yet we treat all as if the are liars and cheats. Politicians boldly decry the over protection of workers? When was the last time a politician died doing his or her job save for the assassin’s bullet, a bad liver, or the hyper excitement of a woman’s ministrations?
We sit and congratulate ourselves because injuries fall—we take all of the credit, we cheer and high-five, we proudly proclaim ourselves the saviors of the workingman. Yet when things go wrong we deflect any blame or accountability—“If the idiots would only follow the rules” “operations leadership doesn’t support me”.
We can’t have it both ways; these are two diametrically opposed standpoints. Either we save lives and butcher workers, or there is no relationship between what we do and whether or not people go home safe. To paraphrase Yoda, (I won’t mimic the goofy Muppet syntax that Frank Oz compulsively adds to all characters making them sound like Fozzy Bear after he suffered a stroke) either you do it or you don’t, there’s no “try”. As my sainted, departed father used to tell me (after I defended a half-assed attempt with “I did my best”) “I can get a damned baboon in here to try hard, you get no points for being stupid.” That may seem harsh, but losing a loved one in an industrial explosion is also harsh.
Should we be more concerned about terrorism than we are about industrial explosions, the release of lethal gas into our communities, or wildfires that erupt from lumber yards? Well, certainly it’s not a contest, but WAKE UP people, the thing that will kill you is far less likely to be a mad bomber at a crowded public event than it is to be the chemical plant, grain elevator, refinery, or barge that explodes in your neighborhood. These are workplace accidents that aren’t just killing workers, they are killing first responders, and our neighbors, and people blissfully unaware of the dangers until it’s too late.
This isn’t an indictment of any particular industry. While it’s true that the closer an industry is to harvesting raw materials the dirtier and more dangerous it tends to be
So safety professionals either step up or shut up. If you aren’t going to take responsible for these catastrophic breakdowns than shut your gaping pie hole about saving my life. If you did your best and this still happened than do us ALL a favor and get the hell out of the business. And for those of you, who are sitting there thinking that it can’t happen to you, know that those who suffered these disasters likely felt the same way.