Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

Insights on Culture

By Phil LaDuke

On Friday I went to the neighborhood bar as I am wont to do from time to time. While there I saw a regular who works with my brother in an open die forge. I passed the pleasantries with him and asked him how he was. He said he was doing a lot better and was healing. I didn’t know what he was talking about so I asked him. He explained that he was burned badly at work; second-degree burns over most of his lower leg. He quickly produced a cellphone and proudly displayed a gruesome photo of a badly burned leg. As I looked at the sickening display he recounted the details. He prefaced his story with a quick, “It was my own fault, I was so (expletive) stupid”, and told his tale of his not paying attention to a hot piece and having his pants catch on fire. Instead of using sand to put out the flames he panicked and ran. There were some jokes made in poor taste about the old Bill Cosby “Stop, Drop, and Roll” television ads, and I asked him how much time he missed. “Not a day. I took it like a man.” Took it like a man; his comment made me think about culture.

Culture is all the rage in safety these days. Circa 1972 James Reason made the observation that before an organization can create a “Just Culture” it must first create a “Safety Culture”. Reason wasn’t talking about worker safety, at least not in the way we tend to think of it. Unfortunately, the snake oil salesmen have glommed onto the term like lampreys on a fish’s soft white underbelly and subvert it more and more each day.

My acquaintance’s story tells us a lot about culture and the relationship between safety and culture. It occurred to me that there are levels within culture and if we are hoping to change the culture of our organizations we need to examine the nuances of culture. Each level of safety culture is characterized by a perception of a reaction of some sort; each one is driven by a fear of some sort.

Fear of Discipline

The other day I was late for a doctor’s appointment and I was tempted to speed; I didn’t. My first thought was, “I don’t need a ticket”. The idea of spending money on a ticket and the time it would take up just didn’t seem to favorably balance against the time I might save. As many times as my doctor made me wait (ultimately I had to wait in the doctor’s office anyway) I figured I was owed some slack. In the moment of decision, I placed more value on compliance than I did on the potential value.

Fear of Loss of Reputation

As I reflected on my decision I thought about culture. What, I asked myself, would I have done if my speeding had been through a school zone. What influence would the opinions of my friends and neighbors have on my decision. I think it would be fair to say that for many the risk of damaging our public image (coupled with the fear of discipline) would put more pressure on me to conform to a norm and to adhere to the values of the community. My desire to preserve my reputation was stronger than my desire to get to the doctor’s on time.

Fear of Culpability

Of course there also was my concern for public safety. I’d like to think that most of us want to behave safely when the lives of innocent school children are at stake. But even when the situation isn’t about endangering school children there is on some level a desire to be a good person and good member of the population; a good citizen, if you will. In our heart of hearts we all want to conform to the shared values of the culture. We go along to get along.

Putting It Into Practice

If these fears are the drivers of culture then what are we to do with this information. Well think back to the guy in the bar who set fire to his leg. Clearly the culture of his company valued guys who “man up” when it comes to injury. Here is a guy who is working while heavily medicated; doped up on pain medication. This is a culture that values a lower DART rate than it does the safety of the remaining employees (how do you think the performance of a heavily medicated employee will be effected?). This is a culture that encourages workers to “man up” and work while injured. This is a culture that doesn’t seem to value worker safety much. I realize this is harsh criticism and that I can’t really make judgments on the company simply because of an account from an injured worker. I think it’s important to note that the worker in question likes his employers and generally has good things to say about his company. The net sum total is this worker’s willingness to go to work rather than to stay home and recuperate he didn’t do it out of fear of repercussions he did it out of fear for his reputation and to conform to the shared values of the population.

The takeaway here is to change your culture you first have to understand the coercive pressures you put on people every day. You need to ask yourself three basic questions:

  • What value does the organization place on discipline? Are people hailed as heroes for “manning up” or dismissed as wimps because they report injuries or seek appropriate medical attention.
  • How are people who value safety viewed? Are they seen as solid professionals
  • How is risk viewed? Are people with a low risk tolerance seen as top performers or as “worry warts”?

The point I’m trying to make is that you may be fostering a culture that actually promotes the things that you are trying to change.


Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Hazard Management, Just Culture, Safety, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Six Simple Ways to Change Your Life

by Phil La Duke

Years ago I worked in talent development for one of the largest faith-based healthcare systems in the United States. I left it to pursue other career goals but it never left me, at least not completely. The system was founded when two religious orders merged after discovering that the youngest among the two orders was 78 years old. They came together to preserve a way of life that had existed over 500 years. Sure it ran hospitals, but more important was the spiritual community that it had created. Faced with extinction it set about an elaborate plan for turning over its legacy to the laity. I always took that very seriously. For me it wasn’t about organizational development or training, although these were certainly a big part of my job, rather it was about preserving a way of life.
Some time ago I shared the podium at the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers with an anthropologist and National Geographic photographer who talked about cultural extinction (which interestingly enough, he attributed to the growth of the written word). According to him, cultures are going extinct at a far faster rate than animals; it’s scary really, thousands of years of knowledge lost as cultures die daily. I was determined that I would do everything in my power to save this one culture to which I had been entrusted.
I wasn’t the only one so entrusted; there were scores of professionals whose primary jobs were to preserve the mission, culture, and vision of the consolidated order. One of the tools they had for preserving the culture was the Guiding Behaviors (note to the grammar vigilantes: I know this sounds like number disagreement but the Guiding Behaviors is considered one tool). As I reflected this morning, as I do every morning, on these behaviors it occurred to me that these would serve the safety professionals as much as anyone else. I have changed the wording of some of these to make them less specific to healthcare, but I doubt the surviving members of the orders will mind too much.

“We support each other in service”
The first of the behaviors is “we support each other in service” what better way for a safety professional to sum up his or her job? We don’t really save lives—not the way doctors or nurses do anyway—but we can always support people in making better decisions and while not directly saving lives influencing people to save their own lives or the lives of a coworker.

“We communicate openly and honestly, respectfully, and directly”
I’ve written volumes about the importance of open and honest communication. I still believe that the only path for safety professionals to get respect is by truly respecting the people and organizations they serve. It’s disappointing how many safety professionals disparage the people they are charged with protecting. People who feel respected tend to respond respectfully. We must always strive, not only to be truthful, but truly honest and not just with the people we serve but with ourselves as well. And let us never confuse hurtful speech with honesty. Before speaking we should ask ourselves, “is what I want to say true? Is it helpful? Is it intended to help someone or merely to make ourselves feel better? And finally, is it necessary?” if all of these things aren’t true then maybe we should just keep it to ourselves.

“We are fully present”
Perhaps the behavior I struggle with the most is “we are fully present”. Being fully present means that you keep your mind on the job—no multitasking, no distractions, no dreaming about the weekend. While it’s easy to see how staying fully present on the job would greatly benefit most workers—distraction on the job can be deadly—we also need to be fully present as safety professionals. This means really participating in meetings and really listening (not just waiting to talk) and working with others to accomplish things. Keeping your head in the game every minute of every day is really tough and if you try to do it you will come home exhausted.
“We are all accountable”
“We are all accountable” means more than holding others accountable, although that is certainly a part of it. We also must strive to hold ourselves accountable. Each day we must ask ourselves if we earned our pay. Did we make a positive impact in people’s lives, not just in the context of safety, but did we make the workplace (and the world) a more pleasant place? Did we really bring our “A” game or did we merely phone it in? We must also remember that we have a duty to be just in holding others accountable. We do not stand in judgment above those we serve, but we owe it to the organization and to the entire population to hold people answerable—both positively and negatively,
“We trust and assume goodness in intentions”
People screw with our work, our day, and our heads on a daily basis. But trusting and assuming goodness in intentions has taught me one of the most powerful lessons of my life: we screw with our own work, our own day, and our own heads far more often than anyone else ever could. They say that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves and it begins by never taking slight in the first place. Instead of assuming that the Operations leadership is throwing us under the bus we should ask the person some questions. Most often we will find that because we assume that the person meant us no harm and was probably completely unaware of the issues he or she was creating for us. Assuming goodness in intentions brings a person real peace and strengthens relationships. There is a saying that if you keep meeting jerks all day long the jerk is you. I say that if you assume goodness of intention in all you meet you will live in a world like you could never imagine. Send out good stimuli and you receive good responses.
“We are continuous learners”
Too often we strive to teach. We are, after all, the experts in safety and what good is that expertise unless we share it with the organization? We get sad and frustrated when people don’t want to listen to what we have to say. But when we are continuous learners, when we focus not on what we can teach others, but what we can learn from them, we find that we end up teaching other so much more of value than if we were to just spout facts at them. Continuous learning involves a lot of introspection—we have to examine our mistakes and try hard to understand why things went wrong and what we can do to fix things them.
The World Loves a Hypocrite
While I try to live by these simple six statements I don’t always succeed; in fact I fail a lot. But the beauty of these guiding behaviors is that they are things to which I aspire. So now I charge you to share these aspirations with me. Try doing these six things for a week. You may fail, but remember in some cases success comes, not in the outcome, but in the attempt.

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

The Swindle Continues

snake-oil (1)

By Phil La Duke

Last week I made my eighth speech at the National Safety Council’s Annual Congress and Expo. In consideration of my speaking at the event I am given a full conference admission, which affords me access to the exhibit hall and sessions.  I usually help cover the show for Facility Safety Management by posting a story or two; this involves me attending technical sessions that I might ordinarily avoid like a diuretic rat.  This year was no exception and no surprise.  What WAS surprising however, is the shear volume of snake oil salesmen who have seemingly dropped the Behavior Based Safety in favor of “Transformational Safety”.

All the familiar faces were there each spouting “it’s all about culture” and “it’s about leadership commitment” where once they hailed behavior as the single largest cause of injuries.   They’re right of course, the key to safety does lie in culture change, but do any of these companies that until now shouted down anyone who dared question there sacred belief of behavior as the holy grail of safety and behavior modification as the magic bullet that would magically deliver companies from the injury bogey man?

Before we get into this troubling development, let’s set a couple of things straight.  Behavior is in fact the largest cause of injuries.  People make human errors, take chances (informed and uninformed) that result injuries, people are careless, reckless and make poor choices.  That has never been in dispute.  In fact, if you trace any injury back far enough you will absolutely find some behavioral cause.  No, what I (and others far smarter than I) have always criticized about BBS is the junk science and misapplied psychology that concluded that it would be easy and would provide a quick fix.  Manipulating an entire population such that it no longer makes human errors, takes chances (informed and uninformed) that result injuries, and behave carelessly, recklessly and stop making poor choices is patently absurd.

Now so many of the old BBS providers are suddenly abandoning their old party line and pushing culture change, or transformations.

As for “management commitment” being the key to a safe workplace well that falls into the “so obvious as to be insulting”.  What corporate initiative has any chance of success if management—at any level—doesn’t support it.  The concept that management can remain on the sideline and the change will somehow take hold is so stupid that it doesn’t bear mentioning.  Except the sessions that I attended the speakers mentioned management commitment in the same hushed whispers and reverential tones that they once reserved for BBS.

Culture Transformation approaches to safety are sound and effective approaches to increasing the overall effectiveness of an organization—not just in safety, but in quality, delivery, material control, productivity, environmental, and management systems.  In fact, Lean Manufacturing, World-Class Management, Six Sigma, Kaisen, are all culture transformations to one extent or another.  But the question is this: can the people who were selling snake oil a year ago be trusted to know anything about culture transformations? I don’t think so, and neither should you.

The question is not whether the culture needs to change, rather, do the people who until recently were hawking BBS snake oil qualified to deliver a viable methodology for achieving a sustainable culture change?

For my part I am deeply skeptical of the snake oil salesmen’s newfound religion.  I believe that this is just a shell game; that the methodologies currently being hawked by the neo-culturalists is simply a rebranding of the same old crap. (I attended one session on culture where the speaker said so many incorrect things about culture, the origins of the concept of “safety culture”[1] that I walked out in less than five minutes; that was all I could stand.  I don’t blame these companies for trying to survive and spokespeople from both the National Safety Council and American Society of Safety Engineers told me (after I asked them what type of presentation abstracts they wanted to see) “any thing but BBS—people are sick of it.  Now if you’re livelihood was threatened how would you respond? Might you not be tempted to rebrand your products to fit what the buyers want?  Of course it would be far more ethical to actually LEARN about the new methodology instead of just slapping a new label on the same old schlocky crap, but different strokes for different folks. These people are playing with people’s lives, limbs, and livelihoods—it’s a disgraceful place to experiment.

I’ve confronted the safety sentimentalists—openly scoffing at their sanctimonious “I save lives” and their sophomoric  “we love you go home safe” sentimentality—so at the risk of sounding like one of the very people I have so often condemned as making all us safety professionals look like simpering goofballs I so often attack, let me ask you this, don’t we have a higher calling? We aren’t selling candy bars, we aren’t trading sock, or doing tours, or performing any service that —while important and valuable—have such important consequences.  We have a responsibility to confront the snake oil salesmen who talk a good game but at the end of the day produce nothing lasting, nothing of meaningful value.

There are good providers of culture change interventions and maybe even some of the people who spoke at the congress, but it can be difficult for executives to know the difference between the snake oil salesmen and the providers of sound transformational services. I certainly am not in a position to tar all of these people as liars, cheats and thieves, but if we don’t expose the frauds in our field who will?  We need a healthy dose of skepticism when dealing with this herd of crap-merchants rushing tired retreads to market. We need to do something and do it quick. As long as we continue to let charlatans sell us crap we put people at risk, and putting people at risk is the very opposite of our jobs, and our vocations and should not be the legacy that we leave.

[1] James Reason coined the term in  1990.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Just Culture, Safety, , ,

If You Want to Change the Culture Focus on “Must Do” Behaviors Not “Don’t Do” Behaviors


By Phil La Duke

Perhaps the best thing about working in Organizational Development is that I don’t hang around any one industry for protracted periods of time; I basically am called into solve a problem, that, once solved, eliminates the need for my services. (It plays hell with repeat business, but then I don’t hang around like some smarmy parasite that convinces the client of needs that are questionable at one end of the spectrum and out-and-out fraud at the other end.) Not that I don’t enjoy repeat business where there is truly a need, but moving from organization to organization working on unique problems that provide me with deep insights in to the nature of safety and often great ideas that I can apply in other industries and in other ways. In a way, it’s like getting paid to benchmark. Often I learn things of which the companies are so proud they would love to share their ideas with the entire world. In other cases I learn from the mistakes that companies make. I can than, after carefully considering what I would do differently were I to make those decisions. In short, my trans industrial knowledge and experience is part and parcel why companies hire and pay me for my services.
Perhaps the most valuable experience I’ve gained is relative to behavior vis-à-vis injuries. I’ve all but given up trying to sway people away from traditional Behavior-Based-Safety (BBS). In some cases arguing with a BBS fanatic is like doing card tricks for a dog: no matter how slowly and carefully you explain it or how many times you do it they just don’t get it. In other cases, it’s like arguing with the person who is trying get you to eat fricasseed squirrel anus. First you say, “no thank you. I’ve tried fricasseed squirrel anus and I don’t care for it” but they insist, arguing that the fricasseed squirrel anus you had wasn’t properly cooked, or that you really don’t understand what fricasseed squirrel anus is, or you haven’t had it cooked the way THEY cook it: It’s not even made with squirrel, there is no anus in it, and in fact it’s baked!!!” In either case, it just gets tiresome and I don’t think it’s worth the time and aggravation arguing logic with someone who is emotional about an issue.
So while this won’t be one of my notorious anti-BBS rants, I have learned a lot about behaviors and how they are viewed within organizations.
The most successful organizations don’t focus on UNSAFE behaviors, rather they focus on guiding behaviors—those expectations of behavior that govern the way people interact, and these behaviors are a) positive and b) transcend any one industry. In broad strokes, the most successful (and by that I mean those organizations with a demonstrable commitment to worker safety; I’ve found that the companies who legitimately care about worker safety also tend to be the most successful according to other criteria for success (financial, sustainability, etc.).
• We Respect Each Other. A functional and successful organization insists that everyone respects one another; this is difficult to fake although far too many organizations try. Dr. Paul Marciano is one of the foremost experts on worker engagement and he would be the first to tell you that an engaged workforce is one where workers are respected have no doubt of it. I’m puzzled by the difficulty supervisors and managers struggle with genuinely respecting the workers. In general the workforce is no less intelligent, less sophisticated, or in anyway inferior to those with “titled” positions, but to hear some supervisors and managers (the lack of the use of the word “leader” is deliberate) tell it you would quickly surmise that they seem to believe that the people who work for them are little more than sub-simian drones without the proverbial sense God gave geese. Workers want the same thing management wants, to make a living with as little hassle as possible. This desire for an easy go of it—occupationally speaking—isn’t borne out of laziness, rather, it’s origins lie in the simple practicality, that comes from spending the bulk of our waking hours in the workplace. It makes sense that people would want as peaceful and stress-free, and dare I say, safe environment as possible. Treating people with respect—as equals that have the same value to the organization’s success as we do—is the cornerstone of a robust culture that values safety.
• We Believe That there is No Job Is Worth Dying For. When people do things that place them in the greatest jeopardy it’s often in the misguided attempt to be a hero. People sometimes do very dangerous things to try to keep the operations running; they don’t do it for the screaming adulations of the organization’s leaders; they do it to contribute to the company’s success, to be a part of the common good, to help preserve everyone’s livelihood. Okay, maybe it’s not so “God and Country” but in a good many cases people get hurt trying to save time, not just “butt time” but an earnest attempt to help out. And it’s not always the individual’s fault, a lot of times the organization rewards dangerous behavior as “can do attitude” and those who take unreasonable risks as “guys who can get things done”. Organization’s that truly value safety don’t see people who put themselves in the line of fire as heroes. Successful companies realize that there’s nothing heroic in keeping the plant, mill, mine, or depot running. Successful companies value the health and safety of it’s workers above production.
• We Trust People’s Intentions. When someone gets hurt doing something that could have been easily predicted and avoided, it’s tempting to see them as being lazy, stupid, careless, reckless, or otherwise up to no good. While that is certainly a probability, it’s seldom a probability. There is something of a defense mechanism in our belief that faced with a similar choice we would somehow be smarter, wiser, and more rational. Ascribing less than laudable motivations to people who get hurt is common. Too often people investigate incidents filled with preconceived notions about the motivations of the injured. But organizations that demand that people trust in the good intentions of each other seek first to understand and never rush to judgment.
• We Take Pride in The Jobs We Do. High-functioning organizations expect everyone to do their jobs correctly because it’s the right thing to do. These organizations take pains to recruit and retain people who are intrinsically motivated to do their jobs most efficiently and that understand that safety and efficiently are one and the same. These organizations believe that there is always time to do the job right, not just at the individual level but at the organizational level.
• We Communicate Openly and Honestly. Organizations with the best safety performance aren’t afraid to confront unsafe conditions and behaviors; on the contrary they expect everyone in the organization to do so. Confronting unsafe conditions means suspending judgment and assertively calling people out; its not about blame, it’s about accountability and honesty. It’s about more than owning hazards, it’s also about standing up and speaking up; it’s about doing the right thing.
• We support each other in service. A behavior that many organizations try to foment but few succeed in doing so is the “brother’s keeper” mentality. Truly successful companies take this one step further and expect all members of the organization to support each other in service. This means that workers at all levels genuinely seek to help their fellow workers to succeed, not just in the safe execution of their jobs, but in all aspects of success. This behavior is about more than keeping each other safe, it’s about providing a level of support so profound that the success of one’s co-worker is as least as important as one’s own success, and in some cases—depending on the context—it’s far more important.
In effect, identifying behaviors that are undesirable, unsafe and inappropriate can only tell workers when they have disappointed you; it’s reactive and punitive. But a code of behavior, a list of institutional expectations, a communication of the ideals of an organization manifested in an expression of the expected norms of behaviors leads the entire organization to an aspiration of a better workplace. In the final estimation the most successful companies worry less about what they accomplish and more about the means by which they accomplish it. These organizations value how people behave as much if not more than the end result.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Safety, , , ,

What Would Doris Do?



By Phil La Duke

Hazard analysis is key to appropriately protecting workers from dangers in the workplace, but too often we do a mediocre job.  Protecting workers from the hazards they are likely to encounter can’t be a half measure and most workplaces would benefit from better and more accurate hazard analysis and risk management. Like Goldilocks, Hazard Analysis needs to be just right—not overly protective, but also not overly reliant on common sense, probability, or good luck.

Addressing Behaviors

People conducting Hazard Analysis often tend to focus too greatly on the physical hazards endemic to so many workplaces; it makes sense, physical hazards are easy to spot and the hazards associated with them are easy to predict.  Unfortunately it is the hazards most likely to result in serious injury—or fatalities—in the greatest source of variation: human behavior.  This is the point where I typically launch into one of my tiresome rants about the evils about Behavior Based Safety, but not today. The reality is that hazard analysis must consider human behavior because it is so unpredictable and potentially lethal.

Human Error

Studies have shown that the average person makes between five and eight errors an hour.  (Suck on that all you armchair editors!) Most of these mistakes are benign that have no real consequences.  Human errors seem to be our sub consciousness mind experimenting with the safety of our surroundings; a means of testing the safety of rapid adaptation. Sometimes the result is serendipitous discovery and in other cases the result is injury.  Many people who conduct hazard analysis create work plans and Job Safety Analysis (JSAs) plan for a perfect world. Even though we know for certain that people will make mistakes and there is nothing shy of rewiring the human brain that can do to prevent mistakes, but we can prevent people from being harmed from these mistakes if we accurately predict the mistakes we can generally implement countermeasures to prevent the associated injuries.

Risky Business

Risk is part of life and created a hazard analysis that doesn’t predict and address the very likely probability that people will take risks—from shortcuts to bad habits—isn’t worth very much, at least in terms of protecting workers. Hazard analysis should clearly identify the areas where workers are most likely going to take risks.  In terms of risks, the likelihood of risk-taking, and the level of risk taking is directly proportionate to the risk-to-reward ratio.  The greater the disparity between the perceived rewards to the probability of failure the more likely one is to take the risk.


Whenever I talk about the need for a comprehensive hazard analysis invariably I get people pushing back in the name of common sense.  “Can’t we give people for a little ‘common sense’?”  The answer is “no” because there is very little common sense in the world.  Common sense is the product of a shared understanding of a situation by members of a population.  As anyone who is from a small town can attest to, common sense decreases as the population size increases.  In a small population, it’s easy to create solid mores, values, and taboos—these all grow out of decades of shared experience, the fabled “tribal knowledge” that corporate big wigs are always so desperate to capture.  Unfortunately, as the population grows common sense/common knowledge shrinks inversely.  So when people ask if they can count on people having “common sense” they are effectively counting on luck to protect people.

What Would Doris Do?

People can be damned stupid and reckless and the “perfect world” hazard analysis seldom captures the outlandish and reckless risks that an admittedly small portion of the population, may take on the job site.  Unless we acknowledge that there is a chance, albeit a small chance, that workers will take outrageous and reckless chances we can’t adequately protect workers from this recklessness.

Recently I encountered a situation that exemplifies this tendency for some workers to take outrageous risks.  I was outside a car rental office a couple of weeks ago when a United States Postal Service truck turned right onto a side walk and proceeded to drive approximately 40 feet down a public sidewalk.  When I confronted her by asking, “did you really just drive down the sidewalk?” she snarled in defiance, “yes!”. “Don’t you have any regard for safety?” I asked and the only response I got from her was a hissing sound that sounded like something between a viper and air escaping a punctured tire.  Finally I asked her if what she did was legal, to which she smirked and said “yes” in the tone of voice of a petulant child.  I phoned the local postal office and reported her behavior and was asked if the door was open (it was) and if she was wearing seatbelts (she wasn’t).  The person to whom I spoke told me that this woman had been recently disciplined for driving with the door of her vehicle open and for not wearing seat belts.

For those of you who don’t know, the USPS workers (at least those who drive company vehicles) jobs rely on the workers having a valid driver’s license and a good driving record.  I’ve dubbed this woman Doris (although I have no way of knowing her real name) and I have adapted the popular, “What would Jesus Do?” slogan to hazard analysis.  I encourage people to ask “What Would Doris Do?” when conducting hazard analysis.  By asking what this addle-headed woman would do in a given work situation those who are conducting hazard analysis can understand that sometimes reasonableness and appropriate, rational responses to a situation.

If we continue to pretend that the workplace is perfect and the workers will not make mistakes, take risks, and behave as if they are whacked out of their heads on LSD we can never truly anticipate hazards in any sort of realistic context.  When we recognize that we live—and more importantly work—in an imperfect world we can finally make appropriate decisions with respect to safety.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Hazard Management, , ,

Working In the Line of Fire


By Phil La Duke

When someone dies in the workforce through no fault of his or her own it’s undeniably a tragedy.  But in many people’s minds, line of fire injuries—those injuries that result when a worker places his or her body in the direct path of  a serious hazard—the injured worker must bear at least some culpability for his or her injury. It’s especially easy to dismiss a line of fire injury as the worker’s “own damned fault”, but is it?

Before I continue I should disclose something about myself that could bias me on this topic: my grandfather died on the job from a line of fire injury.  In the case of my grandfather, he was driving a tractor (he was a farmer in the 1950’s having left a lucrative career installing conveyor belts—a job that required extensive travel—so that he could spend more time at home with his family.  He was struck by a speeding locomotive (witnesses said the train was going upward of 80 mph) at a poorly marked crossing.  His view was at least partially obscured by overgrown bushes near the tracks and he was either legally deaf or close to it.  He left behind a widow and four daughters (one of whom was developmentally disabled) who would eke out a hardscrabble living, financially and emotionally crippled by his death; a family laid waste by a single moment.

While there were many things that factored into my grandfather’s untimely demise, the fact remains that in the last moments of his life he made a decision to place himself in the line of fire.  My grandfather isn’t alone; the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 17% of workplace fatalities (in the U.S.) are the result of line-of-fire injuries.

As you might expect, I spent a lot of time thinking about the circumstances of my grandfather’s death, I don’t attribute it to shaping my view of worker safety, but I suppose that’s inevitable.  Sufficed to say line-of-fire injuries raise a lot of questions; questions, sadly, to which we will most likely never get satisfactory answers.

What were they thinking?

I have always believed in two simple truths about worker injuries: 1) nobody wants to get hurt and 2) the process isn’t designed to hurt them. If these things really are true then why would anybody ever knowingly put themselves in the line of fire? Simple:

  • They don’t believe they are placing themselves in real danger.  No one in his or her right mind (let’s face it: the primary role of our central nervous system is to keep us alive, and as long as that is functioning properly we generally aren’t looking to kill ourselves) expects to be killed when they place themselves in the line of fire. Too often workers who place themselves in the line of fire are making a decision based on imperfect information—they either assume that something is true when it is not, or they assume something is not true when it is.  Take the case of my grandfather, we can only speculate, of course, but for the sake of argument let’s say that he knowingly and deliberately put himself in the line of fire and crossed the railroad tracks without looking or stopping long enough.  Since there is no evidence that he was suicidal—by all accounts he was good-natured, popular, and happy in life—we can infer that he didn’t deliberately place himself in the line of fire thinking that he would most likely be killed—we can speculate that he believed that the likelihood that a train would approach unseen, in fact, undetected were infinitesimally small.  Had he believed that there was a strong possibility that a train would strike him he never would have taken the chance.
  • They believe the time of exposure is small enough to protect them.  How many line of fire injuries are the result of  “I’m only going to be in there for a second” thinking? It’s a big temptation to risk it when you believe that your probability of injury is directly proportionate to the length of exposure to the hazard.  Unfortunately, probability doesn’t work that way and too few workers truly comprehend the dangers that some line of fire hazards pose irrespective of the length of exposure. If a worker makes contact with a piece of energized equipment of sufficient power he or she will be electrocuted even if he or she touches the equipment just for a second.
  • Familiarity breeds content. For most of us, the longer we work around a hazard (or in this case the more we place ourselves in the line of fire) and suffer no negative consequences the less we respect a hazard’s ability to harm us.  We teach ourselves that an activity is safer than it is; as we become more comfortable working around a hazard we convince ourselves that we will not get hurt “as long as we’re careful” when in fact, we are not.
  • The job is too difficult to get done without placing workers in the line of fire. Much as we would love to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the injured worker, some jobs are so poorly designed or safety procedures are so onerous that no reasonable worker will work within process.  In fact, I know of many companies that continue to have standard operating procedures that place the workers in the line of fire.  These cases are the most troubling because in general workers believe that if they follow the standard operating procedures they will not be injured, even though some processes are grossly unprotected.
  • They aren’t thinking. Research has shown that the average worker makes 8 mistakes an hour (this number falls to around 5 for workers in “high consequence industries—healthcare, aviation, oil & gas, energy, etc.). These are human errors; unintended foul-ups.  Five mistakes an hour, eight hours a shift, five shifts a week amounts to mistakes in the neighborhood of 10,400 mistakes in the course of a work year. Obviously this number is much higher for workers who work longer shifts, six- or seven-day workweeks or any number of a host of other factors that would extend the worker’s work year from the traditional 2,080 hours in a typical year.  Inevitably, some of these mistakes will place the worker in the line of fire.
    The incidence of human error increases when a person is sleep deprived, under stress, using drugs or alcohol or is otherwise preoccupied.  Something as simple as bright lights can dramatically increase a person’s tendency to take risks.

Line of fire injuries may always remain an enigma and as one safety veteran once told me (after learning of the death of veteran worker caused by several line of fire violations). “I don’t know how to save worker’s from themselves.”  I don’t know either, and in truth nobody really does.  We try engineering controls and people remove guards and by-pass interlocks. We put administrative controls in place and workers ignore them, and we require PPE only to have worker’s grouse about wearing it. But one thing is certain, if workers continue to put themselves into the line of fire they will continue dying on the job.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, line of fire, ,

The Folly Of Safety Reminders


Don't forget

by Phil La Duke

It’s been awhile since I blogged about the role of behavior in worker safety.  Truth be told, despite the tonnage of digital ink I have devoted to criticizing Behavior Based Safety, I am a firm believer in an organization’s need to address worker behaviors that cause injuries, but I differ with many BBS devotees on the best way to do so.

Variation in human behavior represents the biggest challenge to maintaining a robust and reliable process; whether you are seeking to prevent quality defects, reduce cost, or eliminate injuries you have to consider the effects of human behavior on your process.  That having been said, if we are going to address behavioral causes of Injuries, shouldn’t we concentrate on behaviors we can do something about?

Human Error

Human error is as much a part of being human as anything else; it’s practically encoded in our DNA.  Researchers estimate that the average person makes five mistakes an hour.[1] There seems to be a biological imperative that compels us to make mistakes.  Some believe that mistakes are our subconscious’ way of testing the safety of rapidly adapting to our surroundings.  Irrespective of why we make mistakes, it’s certain that people will make mistakes no matter how hard we try.  Not that we should give up.  While we can’t completely eradicate mistakes we can reduce the probability that human error will result in serious injury or death. Mistake-proofing equipment and processes is an integral part of any safety management process.  We should think of mistake proofing as making our process more forgiving, more tolerant of mistakes.

Of course, we can’t bubble-wrap the world, and any control has limits.  We may not be able to prevent mistakes or protect people from their mistakes, but we can work on ensuring that factors that make mistakes more common are controlled.  There are many things that can make mistakes more likely—from fatigue, drug- or alcohol abuse, to lack of training or stress.  Organizations should redouble their efforts to help workers to manage the things in life that make mistakes more common and potentially, more deadly.

Flawed Decision Making

While human error is inevitable, flawed decision-making need not be.  Workers often make decisions that result in injurious consequences.  Organizations wishing to reduce behavior-related injuries should seriously consider training workers in decision analysis and decision making techniques.

Not all bad decisions are the product of a lack of decision making skills, however, and if an organization discovers a pattern of poor decision making it should take a hard, diagnostic look at its communication.  Often decisions that end in injury are poorly made because someone believed something was true when it wasn’t or didn’t believe it was true when it was.  A lack of communication, or poor communication channels can seriously disrupt the decision making process.

Risk Taking

Every action carries some element of risk with it.  Risk is neither good nor bad, and often we are called on to take risks as part of our daily jobs.  The key is not to have workers become risk averse, instead, we should develop the skills so that workers can take educated, controlled, and planned risks.  When teaching workers how to manage the risks they take, it’s important that organizations train the workers in core skills. Unless workers understand the limits endemic to their processes the risks they take will be more gambles than controlled and planned risk.  While you can coach workers on the inappropriateness of the risks they have taken, it’s far better to educate workers before they are faced with the decision than reactively.


Sometimes workers are so derelict in their duties that we describe their behavior as carelessness.  While some argue that carelessness doesn’t truly exist—that the behavior is really poorly managed performance impediments or recklessness—there are times when a worker is so distracted, manages his or her performance impeding factors, or simply cares so little about the quality of his or her performance that one could accurately characterize the behavior as carelessness.  Carelessness is likely a disciplinary issue; it is unlikely that training, coaching, or mistake proofing will have any meaningful effect.


Sometimes workers will—out of frustration, belligerence, or maliciousness—act in a way so fraught with danger that it can only be categorized as recklessness.  Recklessness is not the act of a mature, responsible professional and it should be addressed surely and immediately.  If the reckless behavior continues the worker should be fired; as drastic as that sounds it may be the only way to protect the organization from the extreme dangers associated with reckless behavior.

Incenting Safe Behaviors

What all these behaviors share is that there is little use in trying to use antiquated behavior modification techniques to change the behaviors.  Traditional incentive and awards is not likely to change subconscious behavior, and attempts to do so can be costly and destructive.  In fact, there is very little we can do externally to change behaviors that aren’t deliberate or that are the product of poor decision making or inappropriate risk taking.


Just because behavior modification and incentives are of limited value and effectiveness doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything to reduce the variability in human behavior that causes injuries.  The first and most important step is observations.  There is a pervasive belief that the only effective way to do safety observations is peer-to-peer; I don’t believe this, but I will leave those criticisms for another day.  We can’t address unsafe behaviors unless we know when and why they occur.  A safety observation can be as simple as a supervisor walking his or her work area talking to workers and watching them as they worker work.  Supervisors can coach workers on managing performance impediments, risk taking, and decision making while being alert for carelessness or recklessness.



[1] I’ve cited this research many times.  I saw a speaker on patient safety at a medical conference.  I took detailed notes as to the research that concluded this, but sadly lost it in a flood (along with many other irreplaceables).  If anyone knows the study, the researcher, or a parallel source of the findings I would sure appreciate hearing from them.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Hazard Management, Just Culture, Mistake proofing, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, , , , , , , , , , ,

The Rise of The Safety Extremist

By Phil La Duke

 Stop extremsim

“’Isms’ in my opinion are not good”
—Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 

fa·nat·ic (fuh-nat-ik) noun

  1. a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.

ex·trem·ist (ik-stree-mist) noun

  1. a person who goes to extremes, especially in political matters.
  2. a supporter or advocate of extreme doctrines or practices.

I write provocative material.  I deliberately try to elicit a visceral response and take people to a place where they can explore their deepest held beliefs and question basic ideologies of safety. The latest in neuroscience suggests that our decisions or made and our ability to change reside deep in our subconscious beneath our defenses. When something strikes a nerve at that level it can be difficult to  have a rational conversation, but in general, if one can at least reconsider one’s belief set maybe its worth it.

Why is it important to reexamine our deepest held beliefs? Because the world is a dynamic place and if our beliefs are static we become increasingly out of touch.  If we cling blindly to our beliefs and lash out to anyone who threatens our worldview then we run the risk of becoming completely and dangerously out of touch with the realities of your profession and become a useless relic.  That should be career suicide, but sadly even the most out of touch hacks can usually find work based on their years and years of experience.  But what good is 40.2 years of experience if that experience consists chiefly of self-congratulatory affirmations and retreads of theories that are a century old.

Not that every new idea is a good one.  There is as much crap spewed by the idea d’jour pundits today as there ever has been. And just because an idea or theory is new doesn’t make it any better than conventional wisdom, but it’s important that any professional consider new ideas and emerging thought with an open mind.

That’s getting tougher and tougher to do in safety, owing to the rise in extremist thought in safety. The merest suggestion that we discard a safety truism is likely to to create nothing short of a public out rage.  Take for instance the response to Heinrich’s Pyramid.  A recent thread on the social networking site LinkedIn elicited 3,186 comments ranging from the intellectually bantering to the crackpot personal attacks. The thread quoted a recent assertion by EHS Today:

“Heinrich’s assertion that 88% of accidents are the result of unsafe acts has been dismissed as something he just made up. There was no research behind it whatsoever. “ and asked the simple question “What’s your opinion? And why?”

According to a recent article by Ashley Johnson in H+S Magazine a poll the magazine conducted found that 86% of respondents believed either completely or somewhat in Heinrich’s theories, while another 10% reporting that they weren’t familiar with Heinrich’s theories.  The article is a scathing indictment of Heinrich’s theories from experts who question his methods, his conclusions, and generally speaking nearly everything had to say.  The article was balanced by a half-hearted defense that the numbers were never meant to be statistical predictors (the were, by the way) and that Heinrich never blamed the workers (he did. In fact Heinrich was a devotee of eugenics and believed that one’s race and ethnicity played a factor in the likelihood that a worker would be injured or cause an injury to other.)

The What does this all have to do with extremism? Plenty.  This demonstrates that  despite a growing body of evidence that deeply held belief will hold sway.  This in itself is not extremism, but it does create an environment where extremists thrive.  Why do people cling to beliefs that are refuted (there are still people who deeply believe in fake photos and film footage of the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot, even though the perpetrators of these hoaxes[1])? People tend to want to believe in what they’re doing and when people chip away at the foundation.

Its not just the Heinrich supporters who will lash out against any suggestion that doesn’t support their world view.  If you don’t believe me just publish something critical about Behavior Based Safety.  Within hours extremists and fanatics will marshal their forces and begin attacking you.  The problem has grown to such an extent that several editors of leading safety magazines actively avoid the debate more out of a desire to avoid arguing with fanatics than out of fear or intimidation.  But intimidation of the press is a goal of extremists everywhere —from Al Quida to the Ku Klux Klan to the Neo Nazis to the safety extremists—is to discredit, attack, intimidate, and generally silence the media which, if it is truly unbiased—will never buy there bill of goods.

Extremism Is Rooted In Fear

Let’s suppose you have 40.2 years of experience in safety where you served with distinction, and someone comes along and asserts something contrary to the foundation on which your entire experience is predicated.  What happens to your credentials and accomplishments and very identity as a safety professional when all on which it is built crumbles? People will protect their beliefs with a wildness typically reserved for mother grizzlies defending their cubs; they will make ugly personal attacks and seek to gather together like-minded souls close to them.

Extremism Loves Company

Social networking sites make it easy to reach out to a world of people. Some credit social networking with ushering in Arab Spring, but it also has a darker side.  Social Networking affords us the opportunity for the fanatics to get their ideas out to a sympathetic ear. Unfortunately, when it comes to safety, people are dying in the workplace while crackpots are postulating theories that are given equal weight with responsible theorists in safety.  I will leave the readers to decide which slide of the equation on which I fall.

[1] I’m speaking of the most famous loch ness monster photo and the actual film footage of a reputed big foot. The very people who first produced them convincingly disproved both of these.  If you want to believe in the Loch Ness monster or Big Foot God bless you, but what was the most compelling evidence has been disproven. And don’t even get me started on crop circles.

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

Fraidy Cats: Is Fear Jeopardizing Worker Safety?

by Phil La Duke

fraidy cat

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”—Franklin D. Roosevelt

FDR famously said, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”.  That was easy for him to say, as president during the Great Depression and World War II he was probably the most heavily guarded man in the western hemisphere. Even so, I think he might have been on to something.

Now we have the Great Recession, and the malingering global economy has created, in many workplaces, a pervasive climate of fear. Now we’re afraid of Cyprus for crying out loud,  Honestly, until about a month ago, I wasn’t completely sure Cyprus was still around, I mean, when exactly did Turkey and Greece stop fighting over it? Finding out that the fate of Cyprian banks could break up the European Union is a bit like waking up tomorrow to find that Malta has obtained nuclear weapons and has decided to become a rogue nation state.  Possible? Sure. Something to be afraid of? Not really.  But one thing we can all agree on is that the economic uncertainty has created a lot of fear in the workplace, and fear can undermine worker safety in many ways. So unless we understand the nature and origins of this fear, we can never implement effective countermeasures.

Fear of Being Injured

Certainly a big fear in the workplace today, especially among older workers, is the fear that one will suffer a career ending injury.  Many people believe that getting injured will not only jeopardize their existing job, but also make it more difficult to find a new job should they become unemployed.  For other workers, there is a real fear that if they raise an issue about safety the employer is likely to move the operations overseas in search of a more relaxed safety standard and a government more sympathetic to companies. These workers are far less likely to balk when asked to do something that is unreasonable risky.

Recently a large manufacturing operation had a hypothesis: layoffs would increase injury claims (mostly fraudulent) as workers preferred to go on disability rather than on unemployment. They did a small study and were surprised by the results. Instances of injury claims (and most notably fraud) decreased. But under recording of injuries skyrocketed. The reason? Workers feared that an injury on their record would make them more likely to be laid off, and what’s more, a medical leave would make it far more difficult to find employment elsewhere if they did lose their jobs. Of course this is only a single example, and one study does not a trend make, but it convinced me, and it convinced my customer.

Fear of Reporting Injuries

Speaking of manufacturers, I was recently on a plane with a supervisor at a very large steel manufacturer.  The manufacturer has been under the gun to reduce its injuries owing, in part, to several fatalities and severe injuries.  The solution? Anyone who gets injured gets a five-day suspension until they can determine whether or not the worker was at fault.  This had the not surprising result of significantly lowering reported injuries.  Workers can’t afford to lose five days pay so they go to their own physicians.  All the while, some block-headed regional safety director takes credit for making the work place safer. When they kill someone, and they WILL kill someone, I hope they put him in a hole so deep even the other convicts will avoid it.  This mouth breather has found a way to make himself look good, improve his record, and impress the executives, but scaring the beejeezus out of the workers.  Yes, there are still these neanderthals working in safety and yes, there are still executives who praise them for not taking any shit from these “so-called, injured workers”/

There are other cases where the fear of reporting injuries can manifest in unexpected ways. In some environments, where a single injury can spoil the safety BINGO or even cost coworkers a quarterly bonus, not only is the fear present its palpable and reasonable. Its unwise to mess with someone’s paycheck in the best economic time, but in a recession it can be downright dangerous.

Fear of Uncertainty

I’m no economist, nor do I play one on television (although I do occasionally lie to women in bars about being one) but I believe the single biggest influencer in lack of consumer confidence was the “share the pain” craze of the last five years. Time was where when their was a downturn the company laid of 10% of the workforce, and the walking wounded who were left behind licked their proverbial wounds and then got back to work. We mourned our dear departed and then went back to our daily routine. But the practice of forced furloughs, unpaid shut downs and other economic chicanery left everyone wondering when the axe would fall. Faced with a feeling of impending doom workers everywhere stopped spending in anticipation of a layoff that would never come. Reductions in staff hurt, but the pain quickly fades. This constant state of fear and worry creates stress and stress, worry, and fear increases our mistakes. The next time someone at your company suggests we “share the pain” you should suggest extinguishing a cigarette in their left eye; if that isn’t painful enough, do both eyes.

Fear As A Performance Influencer

In the Just Culture philosophy they talk about the inevitability of human error. Everyone makes mistakes to err is human, blah blah blah. Even while we can’t prevent people from making mistakes, we CAN increase the likelihood of making mistakes and bad decisions. The things that make things worse—harder to focus, more difficult to think, and make it easier to make mistakes—are fairly easy to identify. Fatigue, stress, worry, distraction, and yes, fear. In these cases the frightened worker is markedly more likely to omit a key step, take a dangerous shortcut, or otherwise increase his or her likelihood of injuring him/herself or others.

An automobile manufacturer with whom I worked saw a strong correlation between employee assistance line calls and injuries. Judging from their data, the safety leadership inferred a strong relationship between people who were worked up about something and injuries and near misses. They may be guilty of causefusion (attributing cause and effect to situations where only a correlation exists) but they believed that they were seeing these performance influencers inaction. As the economic slowdown turned into The Great Recession, both the calls to the hotline AND injury levels stayed flat, but the nature of the calls changed. Instead of calling with job related issues, more and more of the workers called about problems outside the workplace. Problems with coworkers or supervisors were replaced by worries of foreclosures and other financial concerns.

Fear of Loss of Livelihood

Fear of job loss and the subsequent financial consequences can increase the likelihood of workplace violence, as well. Studies in the causes of the postal shootings found a correlation between fear of job loss and the outbreak of the shooting. Postal workers were constantly threatened with the loss of their jobs while at the same time reminded that their limited education and background made it highly unlikely that they would ever have it as good as they had it at the post office. Whether or not these statements were true, workers believed them and when faced with nothing else to lose a handful of mentally ill workers reacted violently.

When fear is replaced by a feeling of fatefulness bad things are going to happen. Companies can only push workers (from the executive suite to the rank and file) so far before the system breaks down and bad things start to happen.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Injury reporting, Just Culture, Phil La Duke, , , ,

When It Comes To Unsafe Behaviors There’s Plenty Of Blame to Go Around

By Phil La Duke

scissors 2

If you’ve made even the most cursory read of my articles and blogs you probably already know that I don’t hold much stock in Behavior Based Safety (BBS).  I believe that except for the odd statistical outlier nut-job, nobody WANTS to get hurt and unless they were designed my the Marquis De Sade you processes aren’t intended to hurt people.  If those two things are true no amount of behavior modification—whether it be incentive programs or telling people to be more careful—is going to change much of anything.  But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe unsafe behavior is the single largest cause of injuries, and if so, we have to manage those behaviors.

Before we can manage unsafe behaviors we have to understand the context in which the behaviors occur.  We can’t take effective action unless we understand precisely why people behaved in an unsafe manner.  A couple of days ago an acquaintance told me about how he had been injured on the job during the third week of February on two consecutive years (he was nervously praying for the first of March to come so he could relax a bit).  “It was my own fault,” he explained, “I was rushing to get things done because my boss was standing over my shoulder saying ‘we gotta get this order out’”.  Unsafe behavior? sure;  the fault of the worker? I don’t think so. Most traditional BBS programs focus on the unsafe behaviors of workers. Productivity is sapped as millions of hours are wasted insisting that supervisors watch people work and coach them on their unsafe behaviors.  Don’t the people whose unsafe decisions and insistence and encouragement of unsafe behaviors bear any culpability in worker injuries? I think they should.

Here are some incredibly unsafe behaviors (attitudes + action) up-stream in the process that organizations need to address:

  • “I Don’t Care How; Just Get It Done.” Whether it’s manufacturing, or construction, or mining or oil and gas there are supervisors, and site managers, and even executives who reward the people who ignore safety protocols and procedure to “get things done”.  This sends a strong message to the workers: you will get rewarded for violating the rules.  Ask these leaders about this behavior and you will likely get a sermon on how they will never tolerate unsafe work and a worker has a right to go home in the same condition…blah, blah, blah.  But when the rubber hits the road and they are faced with falling behind schedule and giving a nod-and-wink “work safe” while telling the workers that the job must get done by Thursday at all costs.  Workers aren’t stupid; they know that they can take risks and nine times out of ten nothing bad will happen.  They understand that probability favors them not getting hurt and if they “get the job done” they will be seen—and more importantly treated—like heroes.  It’s the guys who get things done who get promoted, get the plum assignments, and get fat raises.  They will take unnecessary risks because they are rewarded for doing so, while the people who work safely are punished.  A pizza party at the end of the month for zero loss time injuries can’t compete with the raises, opportunities, and job security afford to those who “get things done”.
  • “I Don’t Care If the Safety Rule Makes It Impossible to Do the Job You Must Follow The Rule.” This behavior is most prevalent among the “command and control” safety professionals who neither know, nor care to know how the work is done.  It’s an ignorance borne out of laziness.  Workers are told they can’t do the job in the most expeditious and efficient manner because doing so is unsafe, are given an unworkable solution, and an expectation to perform to standard. Faced with this choice they take unjustifiable risks, and why wouldn’t they? We can cluck our tongues at the violations of the workers but really whose unsafe behavior is truly to blame for the hazardous situation?
  • “What Can I DO? I Can’t Make Them Work Safely.” In the grand scheme of things there is no such thing as working completely safely.  Sure we can work in ways in which we minimize our risk but even the best set of rules can only protect us from hazards that have been anticipated. It’s tough to anticipate every conceivable hazard in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment.  Too many safety professionals act like institutional eunuchs, trumpeting their emasculation to anyone they think might listen.  The lack of a safe behavior can be the same as an unsafe one.  When safety professionals or supervisors turn a blind eye toward hazards—behavioral or physical—the effect is every bit as dangerous as the unsafe act itself.
  • “I Don’t Have Time”. The lack of time has become the rallying cry for every aspiring martyr. Where the quality of a person’s work was once the measure of his or her performance now, in many organizations, bellyaching about how little time you have has become the new hallmark of an employee’s contribution.  I have heard so many safety professionals, supervisors, and operations managers whine about their lack of time to get everything done that I involuntarily roll my eyes when I hear it.  What am I supposed to do with that information? Praise you for doing a half-assed job? Sympathize because you can’t manage up? Studies have shown that people tend to do work in the following order: tasks they enjoy, tasks that are easy, tasks that are fun, and then everything else.  If you don’t have time for safety—from the maintenance managers who can’t find the time to maintain equipment or repair facility issues to the safety person who can’t find the time to do a proper incident investigation to the materials manager who doesn’t have time to get stock out of the aisle ways, to the site manager who padlocks emergency exits because he doesn’t have time to discipline the people who are using it inappropriately, to the supervisor who doesn’t have time to inspect the work area to ensure it is free of hazards—you need to either reprioritize your work or get out before someone get’s killed.
  • “They Wouldn’t Get Hurt If they would Be More Careful.” Blaming the injured is a staple of many Safety Management systems. I have heard safety professionals describe workers who have suffered repeat injuries “frequent flyers” and plant managers insist that workers are hurt “primarily because they take short cuts to get more ass time”.  I have heard that safety is everyone’s job so many times that I want to vomit.  If safety truly is everyone’s job then where is the culpability for those of us who make decisions who jeopardize the safety of others?

So maybe behavior is a key component in worker safety, and maybe we bear some responsibility for our own behavior.  If safety truly is everyone’s job than there is blood on our hands every time someone gets injured on our watch.  We bear as much of the responsibility for the gore and carnage as anyone. Maybe it’s time we take a hard look at OUR behavior before we start pointing fingers of shame at the injured worker.  Maybe it’s time for us to ask ourselves what did we do TODAY to help worker’s make safe decisions? Maybe it’s time to turn the lens of judgment on ourselves and ask what we could have done to prevent the injury that took the life of a coworker, and how we will change our OWN behavior to help workers make better, safer choices from now on.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Phil La Duke, Risk, , , , , , ,



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