BBS Is the Safety Equivalent of Chiropractics

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By Phil La Duke

A reader asked me to write yet another blog about how I feel about Behavior Based Safety (BBS). I was reluctant at first—my writings about BBS traditionally bring out the lunatics, but you can’t do what I do the way I do it without expecting flack from the crazies, the snake oil salesmen, or the fanatics—in my answer I got into such a froth that I decided to devote one more post.  So how do I feel about BBS? Well, I feel just about the same way I do about chiropractic”medicine” which is to say that while it may (and I’m not sure it is) be appropriate in some very narrow applications in some very rare circumstances it is not only not a panacea it’s barely a solution. Furthermore, I think there are cheaper, better, more effective, and more sustainable ways to address workplace safety.  In fact, I felt so strongly about it that I devoted TWO chapters of my book on the subject (My Problem With Pyramids, and This Kool-Aid Tastes Funny: My Ongoing Battle Against Behavior Based Safety (BBS)).

My opposition to BBS is well documented and fairly well known. My opposition to chiropractors is less so.  If I have a sore back I might (after seeing my traditional physician and acting on his advice) consult a chiropractor, I might.  You see like BBS I have seen too many people who worship both BBS and chiropractic treatments as nothing short of miraculous, but you chiropractor won’t cure your cancer and BBS won’t fix your safety.  Just as your chiropractor will tell you that you have one leg longer than the other or that your chakra is misaligned and that you will require weekly treatments unless you want to die a twisted lump of flesh that makes the Elephant Man look like a Kenyan Olympic runner, BBS will tell you that you must adopt a bureaucratic clown car that you must always keep running or people will die.

BBS proponents are like a terrier with a rat in its mouth—it’s dead, drop it. Bear in mind that DuPont the inventor of one of the most popular BBS system has come under close scrutiny for its poor safety record, BST sold out to DEKRA but not before softening its rhetoric on BBS and moving toward leadership involvement as the key to safety, and even OSHA is now questioning the value of a system that could actively discourage the reporting of injuries.

So why is BBS still so popular? Simple, because it’s easy to implement, forces responsibility on to the front line workers, and well…reported injuries go down.  So if you are a middle manager and your performance KPIs include safety you do your best to make sure that the injuries don’t get reported. If your BBS program includes safety incentives (rewards for a good safety record) people face ostracization if they get injured. I have stood in workplaces where an injured worker is taunted by other workers who tell them “you better not screw up our bonus” or the more subtle “you’ll get better care if you go to your own doctor.” Executives like BBS because many of them don’t know any better.

The best proof I can provide that BBS is just BS is that while the number of recordable injuries is steadily decreasing, the number of fatalities have been trending flat for eight years or so.  This means one of two things are true, either people are less likely to report injuries and/or case managers are overzealously changing the status of recordable injuries to non-recordable injuries OR BBS works on minor injuries but does not prevent fatalities.  Again this is like going to the chiropractor and have him tell you that while your chakra is starting to get in alignment you are going to die in a month because despite his insistence on a being called a doctor he doesn’t have a doctorate, or a license to practice medicine and you have cancer and will be deader than Darwin’s dog in a manner of weeks, oh and he’s gonna need his fee up front.

According to Brian Stenson in his post on  the blog Process Map, for a BBS program to work, “A successful BBS program requires the following pieces working in unison:

Dedicated involvement from every employee (even the CEO); including contractors and sub-contractors makes the program even stronger

  • A method for collecting and evaluating the data
  • Mechanisms for instituting change to policies, procedures, and systems
  • Leadership’s willingness to admit that there’s a better way and to start over.”

So let’s take these one at a time, shall we?

“Dedicated involvement from every employee (even the CEO); including contractors and sub-contractors makes the program even stronger” how exactly do you get such a ferocious and universal commitment to a program? And let’s remember here, this isn’t a bunch of people all pumped up after an inspiring speech from the CEO. No, this is everyday all day long. In my experience, the last time that happened was during Pol Pot’s reign of the Khmer Rouge.  Pol Pot was successful by killing anyone who disagreed with him (about 25% of his country’s population). Sure you can get people to fake dedicated involvement if you put them in constant fear of losing their jobs, but that flies in the face of Deming’s point to “drive fear out of the organization”. Color me skeptical but unless the organization has less than 10 employees I just don’t see this cult-like dedication to a safety program—any safety program.

“A method for collecting and analyzing data”.  There’s nothing new here. EVERY management system has to have a method for collecting and analyzing data, and BBS is no different.  It’s not in collecting data that I take issue, it’s in HOW data is collected. In BBS this is typically done by having one worker observe another working and offering advice to the worker on how he or she might do a job that they know 100 times betters how they might complete that job more safely.  And while some workers take this advice to heart, the “Rat Squad” is usually reviled and hated. They are seen in the same way as the kid who reminds the teacher that he or she forgot to assign homework. If there were playgrounds at these workplaces the “Rat Squad” would be getting the snot knocked out of them on a regular basis.  As the reader who suggested this blog said, “there is no training for observers when the worker tells him or her to @#$% off! but I guess that’s why we need cult-like devotion to BBS.

“Leadership’s willingness to admit that there’s a better way and to start over.” Again, a swell suggestion, but how many times are leaders willing to end a program in which they have spent a decade investing millions of dollars? In fact, this resistance to change is why BBS has such a stranglehold over some organizations.  “We can’t start over we got too much invested in BBS.” It’s an absurd mindset, but its out there and it’s a LOT more prevalent that people want to believe and it’s working to defend BBS more than it is to attack it.

Stenson provides a truly beautiful infographic of BBS:

  1. Observe behavior.  This is a part of every BBS program and the problem is that it presupposes that “85% of all injuries are caused by behaviors”.  No shit? That’s one of those quasi-profound statements like “85% rain is wet” All injuries are caused by behavior if you go up the food chain far enough, and let’s face it no one gets hurt unless they are doing something.  Why don’t we just say, “100% of worker injuries are caused by workers going to work?” BBS is full of witless, insipid, psychobabble which devotees gobble up like coyotes on a freshly killed cat. What’s dangerous is that at no time do most organization allow the observer to exercise stop work authority and in some shops, this kind of behavior constitutes “double supervision” (the practice that holds that a worker has one and only one boss) if you work in a Union shop you probably know this, and if you don’t I wouldn’t worry, it’s these kinds of behaviors that Union organizers dream about.
  2. Analyze the behavior. How many people in the workplace do you honestly expect to be able to analyze the behavior without arriving at the most facile conclusions?  The easiest conclusion is that the worker was working unsafely and thus got hurt. Again this is an absurd statement that takes circular logic to new and bold heights. The behavior was absolutely unsafe because someone was injured. Few companies have a truly powerful and effective root cause analysis system that would get to the root of the behavior, and even those that do tend to ignore the fact that much (if not most) of our behavior is not the product of a conscious decision. And since there is nothing about containing the hazards associated with the behavior if someone dies, the company has documented evidence that it knew about the risk and if someone dies the CEO could well find him or herself in prison, hopefully with a convict whose mother died on the job as a cellmate.
  3. Generate a solution.  The most common solution in BBS is likely to drive the behavior underground, which is great for improving your safety KPIs but does nothing (well accept increase it) for risk.
  4. Change behavior.  How exactly? If we had a viable system for changing behavior on a large scale we would have no crime, no poverty, and no wars.  Have the BBS drones figured out a solution and are just hoarding it to themselves? I think not. To be sure there are scads of snake oil salesmen who will convince you that you can do it with a series of incentives or by using their whiz-bang model of behavioral change, but there are too many variables in human behavior for any of them to work sustainably and with a population of more than three people.
  5. Evaluate to determine if the change is effective. The question here is is the change not only effective but is it TRULY effective or is it temporarily effective. It’s also worth asking whether or not the change is transferable, but seldom does anyone ask this.

So if BBS is so dim-witted why is it still around? Simple, many giant corporations spell out in their eligibility for a company to work as a vendor to them that they have to have a BBS program in place.  Nobody asks if it’s effective, or if it’s even in use, and as long as this is in place you will have companies with the worst kind of ineffectual drivel in place that they call BBS, and the snake oil salesmen will continue to cash checks.  So if you are a leader in your company you have to ask yourself if you want to stop killing your workers by building a viable and effective safety management system or do you want to get that fat contract and big bonus on the broken backs and corpses of employees. That’s what it comes down to.

Now let the wild yowling of the zealous jackals begin.



It’s Time for Safety to Grow Up

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By Phil La Duke

There’s an issue that’s been bugging me for a while, and it bubbled up again this week. My uncle, who was my dad’s older brother and last surviving sibling died. Since he was 94 and was my dad’s older brother there is every reason to believe that had it not been from unscrupulous asbestos manufacturers who hid the dangers of their product, my father might have lived another 20 years. As I sat in the church during the funeral and saw all the grandkids and great-grandkids and even a great-great grandkid I thought of all of the great grandkids my dad would never know.

Safety practitioners have been trumpeting their successes in lowering workplace injuries and yet they remained stymied by the fact that for the past eight years or so (and I am approximating; it’s 90° out and mysteriously my office is the only room in the house seemingly impervious to my air conditioning so if you want the actual statistics to niggle overlook it up yourself.) worker injury rates continue to decline. It’s a stone “who done it?” in safety circles, but need it be?

I had been struggling with how to tackle this issue and so I put this question to my romantic vis-a-vis, a very bright woman who makes hot air balloons for a living who has no background in worker safety”: “If I told you that worldwide injury rates were trending down year after year at a steady rate, but that workplace fatalities remained trending effectively flat over that same period, what would you conclude?” She thought for a minute before, responding. “So let me just paraphrase what you told me so that I make sure I have this straight…you’re handing out fewer band-aids but more wreaths?” I told her that this was precisely the case, to which she, without missing beat, said, “I would say that most likely injuries are being under-reported; I mean you can’t NOT report a fatality, right?” I explained to her that in Mexico a worker isn’t considered a workplace fatality if he or she dies in an ambulance or some other vehicle used to convey the doomed party to the hospital, and that in China injured workers are routinely fired so—and I don’t know this for sure—if you fired an injured worker who subsequently died his or her death wouldn’t count.

Now granted I am biased, I happen to think that my romantic entanglement is more intuitive and smarter than average, but there is no reason that someone completely removed from the field of safety (except for the osmosis of being around someone so obsessed with safety that he has been driven to the verge of madness, (like Odysseus bound to the mast of his ship so he could hear the siren’s song) and most particularly fatalities, should so quickly conclude that the numbers are hinky, while grizzled veterans of the trade still ponder this mystery like it was an unfinished Agatha Christie novel.)
There is no way to know for sure whether or not the books are cooked (and I am not, at least not yet, accusing anyone of any nefarious act) but it stands to reason that if we were truly successful in making the workplace safer we would see a decrease in recordable workplace injuries that corresponds to a similar decrease in worker fatalities. But we’re not seeing that. What we are seeing is an opportunity to run to our bosses and tell them what a great job we’re doing in safety. “Okay boss, ignore the fatalities for a second and look at what a great job we’re doing in lowering injuries! How about that raise?” It reminds me of the cover of the 50th issue of National Lampoon magazine where a crowd of stricken people are gathered around Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed, and a reporter is sitting with Mary Todd Lincoln and the caption reads, “apart from all this Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the show?”
That’s what we seem to be doing, focusing on the play (Our American Cousin for you trivia buffs) and ignoring the assassination.
This all can be reduced to a discussion about risk. The risk of injury exists and we are so focused on the bottom of the hierarchy of controls because it’s easy that we are ignoring the top of the hierarchy because it’s hard and a lot of engineers are far more interested in designing equipment that meets the customer’s specs than in making something that is safe. I’m not blaming engineers, oh who am I kidding screw the engineers, they don’t read this and I’ve eaten enough shit from pompous engineers over the years to say that I am yet to meet one that put the safety of his or her design over the sheer technological brilliance endemic to their creation; engineers designing for engineers.

I am indeed biased (what with having lost two grandfathers, a brother-in-law, and a father to workplace controls that failed to prevent them from being killed) but I come by it honestly. We need to do a better job not just in how we protect workers but in how we MEASURE how we protect workers. The way we approach safety feels too much like we’re feeling around in the dark for a light switch instead of a scientific method for identifying our risks, lowering them, and mitigating the results of the injuries that result from those risks. And there are plenty of ways of doing this, but we have to admit that what we’re doing now isn’t working; it isn’t adequate. The safety function is in essentially the same place that the quality function was in the 1970’s and yet even though a better way has been demonstrated to us we still persist in focusing on the behavioral aspects of safety instead of the many process and system issues. Instead of attacking safety the way it should be—calculating the Cost of Safety in much the way Quality calculates the Cost of Quality, for example—we treat it emotionally, getting all gooey and wiping a tear from our eye as we say “we don’t need to know the cost of injuries, it’s just the right thing to do”. Protecting workers is the right thing to do, but so is protecting the environment, ensuring sustainable practices, producing goods and services, protecting stockholder interests by controlling our costs and increasing efficiency, and being a good corporate citizen. Yet we don’t feel like cold, callous creeps because we measure these costs, now do we? We have to mature as a function and manage safety like a business because killing workers is bad for business.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my up-coming book which can be preordered here  Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you  are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top..




Acknowledging the Contributions to my Book

By Phil La Duke

The acknowledgement section of my book is typical Phil snarkiness and sarcasm, so I wanted to take just a moment to thank all of you who suggested blog posts that are among your favorites and magazine articles.  I also would like to thank the magazine publishers who graciously agreed to allow me to reprint those articles in the book.  And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the people who wrote blurbs for the back cover. There are too many people who encourage me to write this book to thank here, but you know who you are so consider yourself thanked.

If you visit the blog’s home page you will notice a button that you can click to preorder the book, but don’t feel as though you have to—you have done plenty already and I thank you.


Feedback is a Gift, But Sometimes Gifts Are Just Crappy

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By Phil La Duke

The feedback to my ASSP presentation came back and for the most were very positive. Thanks to all of you who attended and who commented, even those whose comments were hostile or insulting.  The problem with feedback of this nature is that you never get to respond to it and many people made valid points. I really would have liked to had a conversation with some of these folks but that wasn’t possible  so this week I thought I would do the next best thing and address some of them:

“Add in a bit more interaction and flair. You have an awesome personality and a great Mentor”

First thank you for your compliment. Awesome personality? Isn’t that what they say about the ugly girls? I am right there with you on these sessions being more interactive,  but interaction adds time (I do ask questions but it’s like pulling teeth to get people to answer). Unfortunately,  adding a full-blown activity into an hour presentation may be doable, but in so doing at (least for my presentation) it would have been at the cost of content.  I don’t know who you mean by my “great mentor” Siegfried or Roy? Batman? Charles Nelson Reilly?, but I can honestly say that no one mentored my speaking or even writing. Most people have been telling me to shut up most of my life. And whoever is claiming to be my mentor is full of hot steaming dung.

“Although he kind of looked like a little Truman Capote in his hat that he wore during the presentation I thought it was rude and unprofessional. His humour was not called for either. If he wants a standup job don’t do it at this professional conference. I would not attend any of his sessions in the future.”  

I didn’t like your shirt, I think it made you look paunchy.  I wore the hat because I liked the hat. I may wear it again. If you find it unprofessional find another session.  The ASSP puts on a heck of a conference and there were many in my time slot you could have attended as soon as you saw the hat.  As for humor, many people enjoy humor interjected into a serious subject rather than sit through a dry lecture, but what’s more, humor helps us retain the serious points that are made.  By interjecting humor, people are more inclined to listen and learn. I’m not changing my style so feel free to pursue other avenues of learning. Lighten up or get out. Be sure to buy my book so you can tell everyone how much you hate that, too.

“Awesome. Relevant info, engaged throughout session (sic). Would like to hear other Lectures.”

I would love to give other lectures.  I like ASSP because they tend to be really focused on keeping marketing or promoting a book out of the sessions.  Sure some slip by, but there are some that I have attended at other organizations’ conferences that are infomercials.

“Best subject I have heard since some to these PDCs.”  

This topic, causing safety, is one that I feel strongly about.  If we are agents of change and improvement we won’t feel so burnt out defending the workplace against risk and hazards.  We know what causes injuries so we know what causes safety.

“Common sense but a great way to review and bring concentration to the topics.Jobwell done! Thank you!”

Thank you, and you’re welcome. But let’s be clear, it’s only common sense because we were in a room full of safety professionals. We need to create a common understanding among the Operations leadership so that “common sense” becomes common practice.

“Content very basic. Presenter was engaging and humorous. Buy a new suit!”

I deliberately kept the content very basic, because a lot of people are resistant to the idea that we can cause safety.  Thanks for recognizing the role of engagement and humor as you may have read, there are still some staid, humorless drones working in safety. Ironically, I hate that suit, I feel like I look like Colonel Sanders when I wear it, but I chose to wear it because living in Michigan, I have a closet full of suits in which I would have just BAKED in; that one while ugly, is cooler than the others I have.

“Dynamic and entertaining.”

Thank you, and I hope in being so you were able to find value in my presentation.

“Excellent speaker. Funny and engaging!”  

Again thank you, it’s always a risk to use humor but I think it’s worth the risk. Here is a lesson for all the novice speakers out there: you can’t please everyone so don’t try. Humor for humor is sake becomes “infortainment”, a term we used to use in training to describe sessions that people enjoy but don’t really learn anything.  Humor is often a good way to get past people’s cognitive defenses and cause them to consider the message later. And contrary to the people who don’t care for humor, people who are bored by a humorless, bland speaker don’t take anything away from the session.

“Font too small for room size. The hat was a bold choice! Nice!”

Sorry for the font size, I had no idea they would have me in a room that size, but I will keep that in mind for the next time.  And thanks, I have something of a hat problem (over 50) and need something to keep the sun off my face while walking to and from the conference.  I left in on to the chagrin of one participant mainly because my hair would have looked like cats had been sucking on it, but I don’t think most people cared either way.

“Good presentation. Speaker is knowledgeable in the subject. He provided good Information”

Thank you, that affirmation means a lot.

“Great presentation!! Very engaging and dynamic speaker. Had good content and the pace of presentation was good.”

Again, I tried.  It isn’t always easy to succeed when you write an abstract almost a year before the conference but ASSP does there best to make it easier.

“Great speaker. Responded well to sticky questions.”

If you’re going to put yourself out there you have to be ready for irresponsible spokespeople of an opposing point of view. In this case, I think the person in question just wanted to talk.  I tried to remain polite and professional without letting him derail the Q&A although I talked to people later who said they left as soon as he started talking. He is a galvanizing personality which is why, like me, you see him at so many conferences.

“I couldn’t find the room”

ME EITHER! I went looking for it two hours before my session and only found it with 30 minutes to spare.

“Needed more time.”

I agree. It’s tough to cover anything of substance in one hour and have time for questions, which is where I think the real value lies. This is the real issue, does anyone want to sit in a session for 2 or 3 hours? On the other hand, the only way to conduct a session in an hour and allow time for people to gather, do the introductions and housekeeping, and allow ample time to answer questions forces me to keep the content fairly basic. We do the best with what we can but another 30 minutes would have been perfect.

“Nothing new or exciting. Disappointed in overall presentation. Much different than what he writes. Checked LinkedIn profile and no ground and pound safety experience to draw from.”

I don’t know what to tell you.  If I spoke like I write they would not allow me to speak.  Is that me copping out? I don’t think so, there is a time and a place for everything and my writing style isn’t appropriate for these venues.  As for ground and pound safety experience, it’s easy to dismiss as the inevitable sour grapes that one person who always gets snarky after a speech. There are always people who get puffed up thinking that they’re the real expert and it should be  the one who should be speaking. But anyone who reads my LinkedIn profile looking at it like it like one would a resume will be disappointed. I have worked in safety grinding it out on the site floor for over 30 years this month, At first I did safety training I did was based in the field demonstrating the desired safety skills and guiding the learners’ practice. It was done not only on the floor but in the context of the production, I did a ton of robot safety training, which included teaching the safety professionals how to write lockout procedures (a fairly new concept at the time) I did this kind of but  much of the work I do is highly confidential (companies don’t tend to hire me because everything is going swell) but I have worked on-site at paper mills, oil fields, factories—including being head of safety for several—distribution centers, and of course I was a production safety consultant for an action film—10 months of overseeing set build up and tear down and production for 36 film sets in Metro Detroit, sufficed to say my experience is broad, wide, and extensive. How does that compare to YOUR experience? If my experience isn’t to your liking don’t hire me, something tells me we wouldn’t be a good fit anyway.

“Overall an entertaining presentation on some basic safety concepts. Good job handling questions at the end of the session.”

Thank you, but I don’t think certain questions were intended to be as obnoxious as they were perceived.

“Phil was great. I even applaud him as he was put on the spot by another speaker who disagrees with his point of view on subjects.”

Yes, the other speaker and I disagree on the fundamentals of safety, but when he questioned the work of a man who received his Ph.D. from Yale and was on the staff of Princeton, by claiming the statement was not supported by data made him look like a fool.  I guess in some people’s mind getting a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois Carbondale (ranked tied for the 216th on US News and World Report’s 2018 list of best schools in America and being on the faculty of Virginia Tech (tied for 69th place) makes one more qualified and credentialed than someone who graduated from Yale (tied for third) and on the faculty at Princeton (ranked number one).  I, however, do not feel this way, but what do I know, my alma mater, The University of Michigan, is only ranked 28th? Given that the specific work I mentioned was based on the Doctoral Dissertation that Dr. Paul Marciano submitted to earn his degree from Yale, I think blurting out that “the research doesn’t support that” is almost slanderous.

“Room was hard to find. Arrived late…”

It was hard to find, I hope you still got something out of the session.

“The room was full in the last session of the day and stayed full throughout the presentation. That speaks for itself.”  

I was truly shocked and humbled at not only the size of the audience but how many stayed.  It was the end of the day, the beautiful riverwalk lay opposite of the room and people managed to make it through despite a crowded room.  Thank you all for doing so.

“The session was great. Dr Geller was in the audience and he pushed back on some of the points that Phil made. Geller was totally out of line on this. If he wants to offer a different point of view he should do it with the speaker one on one. If I wanted to hear what Geller had to say I would have signed up for his seedy. I have attended his in the past and they are great so I’m not some “hater”. Just think it was inappropriate.”

You aren’t the only one who felt that way, but Dr. Gellar did speak to me at length afterward and compliment my speech.  Perhaps he was just overly enthusiastic and wanted to get his comments out. But I’m sorry his attempts to besmirch the ground-breaking work of Dr. Paul Marciano’s book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work strikes me as irresponsible, unprofessional, and petty. But beyond that, I bear him no grudge.

“The title was Cause for safety and the presenter only attributed one slide to the cause. I really didn’t take anything away from this session. The presenter tried too hard to entertain the group with sarcastic humor.”

For this one, I will leave it for you, the reader, to decide.  The slides and presentation are posted on this blog.  My style isn’t for everyone, but for the record, the title was Causing Safety, that little point may have made the presentation more clear, either that or you could have paid attention a bit more attention.

“This was second best (session) at this point”

That’s great to hear, there were some really terrific sessions there and to be in the top 10 would be a great honor.

So that is what the people who provided feedback had to say, but unfortunately, two-thirds of the people provided no feedback which is a shame. Most of the people would recommend that I speak at another ASSP conference and I intend to submit abstracts for next year’s conference but given the intense competition for speaking at ASSP it’s a long-shot that I would be accepted two years in a row.


A Bit About My Book

I don’t have a photo of my upcoming book I approved it conceptually after designing a rough look and feel and then letting creative graphic artists do there job, so that’s why they’re no picture accompanying  this post.  I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the book so I thought I would address them now.

Why a book?  That’s a great question, about 15 years I had so many people telling me that I should write a book that I decided to write a book proposal and see what kind of response I would get.  I never even finished the proposal.  I did finish a rough draft and ran it by some published author friends of mine and they gave me notes on what I had to include; it seemed like way too much work so I scrapped the idea. (I never really wanted to do a book anyway, but when so many people tell you to do something you really need to listen.)  Fast forward 15 years and one of my author friends (who now has two best selling books and is working on his third) asked me whatever happened to my book, I made some lame excuse and he said he would talk to his publisher, who later told me that he insisted that she read at least three of my blog articles.  She did and called me soon afterwards.

What’s it about? It’s about a boy how finds a magical television set…NO! It’s about safety what the hell did you think it was going to be about?  Initially the book was going to just be 20 or 30 of my blog posts.  But after polling my subscribers and getting a great response I realized I needed to reach out to my old magazine publishers and get permission to use some of those articles, then I thought, “why not include some obscure, hard-to-find guest blogs, and magazine articles from around the world.” Even then I wasn’t satisfied, I figured, who wants to read that when you can get it all on line, so for every  third existing piece I tried to write a new piece. I say “tried” because after my editing process I don’t know the ratio of new material to republished but I am happy with it.

What’s it called? The first step in the process, believe it or not, was to get a title and a cover. I initially called it  I Know My Shoes Are Untied, Mind Your Own Damned Business: An Iconoclast’s View Of Safety but was persuaded to drop the word “Damned” because many store won’t carry it with a course word in the title

Is it Self-Published? No, and with all due respect to all the people who self publish, most self-published books I have read are crap.  They ramble, they repeat themselves, they…well just plain suck.  I read a self-published book on nudging in safety and in the hole book the author only made two good points and the rest was poorly written dreck.  Most authors need a professional editor, a professional publisher, and a professional agent.  I got all of them.

So if it’s professionally edited how much of your voice will be lost? None.  My publisher made it clear that only I was to touch the book.  She said that she feared that a professional editor would compromise my unique voice and writing style.  I worked hard to remove all the incomplete sentences and punctuation errors that so many people hate, and they will clean up the typos when they typeset it but the rest of it is all me.  I should note that I didn’t change a thing in the reprints of my published materials, they have already been published and edited so changing them now violates my agreement with them.

How does it cost? Well my preliminary draft came in at about 500 pages and would have cost $22.95, I decided to cut it down to around 200 pages and forgot the hardcover to bring the price down to $14.95 (plus shipping), and while that number is close, we won’t know for sure (give or take 50 cents) until the ink dries. Anyway, you can always expense it or insist that one of your vendors buy it for you.  That’s what I would do, come to think of it I might do that anyway.

Where can I get a copy? A copy, don’t you mean copies for all my friends?  Just kidding.  Pre-orders will be available July 8th and I will have links from this page and others, but pre-orders will only accept PayPal, which I don’t like, but it has something to do with the printer we’re using.  Soon after that it will be available from Amazon and Barns & Nobel, and wherever new books are sold.

Can I get an autographed copy? Yes, I DO get asked this a lot.  I’ll be glad to autograph as many copies as you want, and there are several ways to do that:

  1. Come to a book signing, but since I don’t know when or where (outside of Detroit) these events will take place that may take a while.
  2. Indicate that you would like me to autograph it during the pre-order period.
  3. Buy the book and bring it with you to one of the professional speeches I make at conferences.  I don’t plan to have any books with me at the conferences for two reasons: 1) because I don’t want to lug a bunch of heavy books around with me, and 2) Conferences frown on people marketing materials at professional conferences.
  4. Stalk me and risk having your autograph written in blood.

Will you be touring to promote the book? Well I still have a full time job so any lengthy tour is not likely, but I will be promoting the book through speaking engagements.

Does this mean you will be quitting ERM? No. I intend to work at ERM for as long as they will have me.  It’s a fantastic company that allows me to refuse work that the customer doesn’t really need, it affords me to work with top safety, environmental, and sustainability experts from all over the world, I get to work on really cool projects, and mostly because it has remained hands off when it comes to my writing.

If you have any other questions please feel free to post them under the comments section.

Your Words Matter


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By Phil La Duke

My blog was already written, locked down and in the vault.  My time is at a premium, with a full-time job, two magazine deadlines looming, and a book in post production, so I’m not to inclined to start over fresh with a new topic, and yet here I am at 5:30 a.m. hammering out a new blog. (I can always post the next week.)

Why? Well of course a reader wrote to me and struck a raw nerve.  I got up as I usually do at 5:00 a.m. and tended to my two rowdy labrador mutts and read my email. In it was a note from a reader.  These always stop me in my track. It is seldom that I get an email that is little more than an angergram attacking me for something I said, questioning whether I’ve ever even worked in safety (I have, in some real death traps, for the record), or the odd death threat.  So I read with trepidation the note. The reader, and as is my policy I do not reveal the names of people who write me privately, said that he was troubled because someone told him that he basically, sometimes in discussions people talk about needing to “babysit” other workers so people don’t make mistakes. The author works in aviation and recently someone said he was like a “teacher for kids.”  He went on to say that not only was referring to “fully grown adults as children is not only disrespectful, it is also a symptom of flawed safety thinking because it’s implying people are stupid and is counterproductive”

He told me that he had searched my blog and couldn’t find anything on the subject.   I was stunned, in fact, I specifically remembered writing about this topic, but while I have approximately 853 blog articles, I had a blog before that an ex-employer threatened to fire me unless I took it down.  I did, and in so doing lost 300 or so posts, so maybe it was in one or more of these.

I am extremely grateful to this reader for striking this nerve, it’s an important topic.  I have heard managers and safety practitioners refer to workers as “yard monkeys”, “factory rats” “Union drones” and every manner of pejorative you can think of, all of these meant to demean the workers as people too stupid to do what’s in their best interest.  I worked in a factory on the shop floor, assembling seats for 4 years, and I’ll stack my intelligence up against most of the people talking trash. My father and brother-in-law both worked in factories and both were tradesmen who did jobs that required an education that are harder to get through than your average college curriculum, my older brother went to Michigan Tech on football scholarship until he was injured and had to quit.  He took a job at a steel mill and in his spare time he became one of the most respected paleontologists despite not having a degree, he has written journal articles and has a theory named after him. He is routinely visited by professors from across the country to confer with him and ask his opinion of his findings. Recently he discovered a mastodon footprint on one of his digs, something, I doubt the average line manager or safety practitioner would recognize let alone meticulously preserve. My other brother-in-law holds several patents. Finally, one of my best friends when I worked the line, read both Detroit Newspapers every day, and a different major city newspaper each day.  He would dutifully hand over the newspaper after he read it. He held THREE master’s degrees, one in psychology, one in anthropology, and one in geology. I once asked him why he didn’t leave this miserable gothic cathedral of drudgery and he laughed, “what and take a $20K pay cut?” All of this is beside the point, however.

People act like children because they are treated like children; it’s that simple.  If you have a problem with people acting childish I am here to tell you the problem is YOU!


In the late sixties, Dr. Eric Berne, wrote The Games People Play: A Complete Guide to Transactional Analysis  and 5 million copies later it is still as useful today as it was then. Berne also wrote I’m Okay You’re Okay which ushered in the age of Pop Psychology and when that went out of vogue so did his The Games People Play.  Transactional analysis  works like this, whenever we encounter another person that is a transaction and we have them all day long, especially in safety or in management. When we are having a transaction, we adopt one of three roles (as do the other person). If we adopt the role as a parent or child there is likely to be a conflict, and our best bet is to always stay in the adult role.

The Parent role treats others like children, they bark orders that they expect to be followed, they mete out reward and punishment, they feel entitled to do this because without their intervention the childish imbeciles that are “their people” would goof off, hurt themselves, or otherwise behave badly.

The Child role makes excuses for bad behavior, and will often either act either passively or actively aggressive towards others, particularly those who are interacting with a child.  You might here “he’s not my boss” or “she can’t make me” kinds of statements made by people in the child role.

But here’s the thing.  When someone comes at you like a parent, you tend to instinctively react in child mode or in the parent mode which causes conflicts.

Parent:Parent Conflict

Parent: Parent conflict looks like this:  A supervisor (or safety practitioner) says, “put your safety glasses on” or the more gentle “where’s your safety glasses? This press the buttons on the other person and they will respond with something like “Screw you, I’m on my break and I don’t need safety glasses” or “You’re not my boss so go hassle someone else.” The supervisor/safety guy is then instinctively prodded to assert dominance and will amp up the tone and forcefulness of the the command and the worker will respond in kind until either one side backs down or there is a full-fledged conflict, with write ups and grievances and ugliness.

Slide2Parent:Child Conflict

Parent:Child Conflict (or vice versa) begins when a supervisor/safety guy talks to the worker as if they were a child.  “Charlie, we don’t walk in the aisle, we walk in the pedestrian walkways, this is to keep you safe.” Now Charlie knows damned well that he has to walk in the pedestrian area, and if he is in the child mode (and people who are looking to avoid conflict often adopt this position) he will respond by making excuses, or by saying “I forgot” for which he may get a good scolding.  In other cases, Charlie may have a toddler meltdown fit screaming that he was walking on the walkway and you are always picking on him. Once again, the child presses the parent button which increases parental behaviors and the parent presses the child button which results in an increase in childish behavior.

Child:Child Conflict

This often happens between coworkers who have been treated like children by the organization so often that this becomes their go to state.  Child:Child conflict is typified by one person deliberately messing with the other, with the other person retaliation, ad nauseum. IF, and this is deliberately a might be if the behavior is addressed, there will be a lot of he started it and truly toddler like behavior.

We create these conflicts and we can control them. How? My friend, Dr. Paul Marciano, wrote Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: How to Build a Culture of Employee Engagement With the Principles of RESPECT and Super Teams: Using the Principles of RESPECT to Unleash Explosive Business Performance both are great books that apply many of Berne’s principle.  Dr. Marciano earned his doctorate from Yale, and was on the faculty of Princeton, so when someone once again tries to shout me down in a public conference that “the data doesn’t support that” keep in mind that in my view getting a Doctorate at Yale and being on the faculty of Princeton trumps a degree from God knows where (it doesn’t seem to be listed in any of his bios…hmmm.) and being on the faculty of Virginia Tech, but I guess that’s just me engaging in elitist BS,  but I digress.

Slide3Adult:Adult Transaction

Berne’s ideal state was a transaction where both people act like adults, and believe it or not this works like a charm.  When you adopt the role of the adult you see and treat the other person with respect and as an equal. But the best thing is when people are trying to Parent you, or Child you, they try desperately to draw you in by pushing your buttons, while at the same time you are pushing their adult buttons. Easier said than done? Not really, but it does take a lot of practice.

Staying in the adult begins by seeing the other person as an adult and your equal, and by respecting them.  My brother recently had an exchange with his boss where he told his boss that he did not feel respected by his boss.  The boss huffed and said, “respect has to be earned” to which my brother, quickly responded, “No, respect is a given. When I meet someone for the first time I respect them and it’s theirs to lose.” I like that, and I will use it for the rest of my days, both in practice and in rhetoric.  So if a person deserves your respect you treat and talk to them like you would like to be treated and spoken to. When an adult speaks to someone in the parent mode, one doesn’t challenge them or use aggressive language. They remain assertive and state their case rationally and firmly. Let’s take our examples from above, instead of put your safety glasses on” or the more gentle “where’s your safety glasses? An adult might say, “hi Gary, what’s going on with your safety glasses?” not as an accusation, but as a genuine inquiry, Gary will instinctively go to his comfort mode, but no matter how he responds, you have to stay in the Adult mode which will cause him to escalate, but you have to stay cool and assertive. “Okay, Gary, but we all need to wear safety glasses.  Do you need a new pair? I can grab you some” Gary may still try to escalate, but by using a neutral, non-threatening but also not defensive tone eventually he will come around. And the NEXT time you have a transaction with him it will be easier and easier until eventually Gary’s go-to move will be to the Adult mode.

You can apply the same type of approach to Child:Child conflicts.  The key is always stay in the adult, see and treat others as equals and treat them with respect.  For example, you might say, “okay guys why don’t we sit down and talk this through. We’re all adults and I’m confident that between the three of us we can settle our differences.  By inserting yourself into the conflict as an equal, and remaining in the adult, you can relate to them as equals and avoid coming off as parental. Listen to both sides, but don’t allow name calling, and be careful to avoid becoming parental.  “Okay, knock off the name calling” is parental whereas “why don’t we all try to remain calm and focus on the issues instead of making it personal?” is a more neutral way to diffuse.

The greatest thing I have found about using transactional analysis (and I do a LOT) is that every time you use it both you and the person with whom you are interacting get better at it.  It makes your life easier, better, and you aren’t an ass who sees himself/herself as superior to people who just happen to have made a different career choice than you.

8 Tips For Staying Alive At Work

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Photo by Chevanon Photography on

By Phil La Duke

You’ve heard it before, “everyone plays a role in safety” and it’s true. What we don’t say enough is here are some things, easy things, that you can do to protect yourself. Just for today, I am going to focus on what you as an individual can do to increase your chance of coming home from work alive. Of course, it’s important to watch out for other people’s safety, but you’ve probably heard that more times than “bless you” after a sneeze. So, having a wide breadth of experience in incident investigation and worked in a variety of dangerous environments, here are my tips (in no particular order) for staying alive at work:

  1. Be Situationally Aware. Situationally Aware is just a fancy way of saying pay attention to who and what is around you. In any workplace, there is a lot going on and it’s easy to get distracted. Watch where you’re walking and read and observe warnings. Understand that industrial vehicles may not be able to see you and even if you have the right of way you will still be dead if one hits you. Situational Awareness is tricky—you have to focus on your immediate surroundings and the potential dangers they present, but you also have to refrain from becoming so focused that you lose sight of the fact that you are in a dynamic environment and must be prepared to react to a hazard that suddenly and unexpectedly appears. One of the key elements of Situational Awareness is to know EXACTLY where you are—often critical time is lost in an emergency because the individual trying to summon help doesn’t know his or her exact location causing first responders to widen the search area.
  2. Keep Yourself Fit For Work. You don’t have to do calisthenics or aerobics to stay in shape to do your job (although it can’t hurt). Each shift that you report to work you should be well (as in not sick), clear-headed (no hangovers, not under the influence of any drug—prescription, recreational, or over-the-counter (yes, including alcohol) that has a tendency to impair you physically or mentally), and undistracted (stressing about things at home? Many companies have Employee Assistance Programs to help you manage stress irrespective as to whether or not it is job-related.
  3. Get Enough Sleep. You may feel like the energizer bunny and that you can just keep going and going but you can’t. Lack of sleep leads to fatigue, heightened risk-taking, and impaired judgment, in fact, studies have shown that fatigued individuals’ judgment is as impaired as those who are legally drunk.
    Look For the Unusual. Most injuries occur when something unexpected and unusual happened. Look around the workplace. Are there materials, activities, or people in the work area that isn’t usually there? Then ask yourself, “what do I need to do to protect myself if something goes wrong—improperly stacked stock falls, a welder causes a fire, or…well you get the point.
    Know the Appropriate Response to An Emergency BEFORE You Need It. Periodically walk the emergency evacuation routes and ensure that the exits aren’t blocked, exit doors aren’t locked, or that the route leads you to a dead end. If you know what to do in an emergency before you need to, you will be less inclined to panic and more likely to survive everything from a mass shooter to a fire. Give some real thought to what you will do if something happens and be prepared to act on a moment’s notice.
  4. Follow Proper Procedures. Everything from walking in from the parking lot to operating the microwave in the break room has a proper procedure. There may be many ways to safely do your job, but there is only one that has been designed, tested, and approved to do it. So stay in pedestrian walkways, observe stop signs, wear the required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and don’t take shortcuts—if you think of a better way to do your job, notify the appropriate people and if it truly is an innovation than it can be the new and improved standard, but until it is, do your job the way you are supposed to.
  5. Know When to NOT Follow the Rules. Blindly obedience to the rules is never a good policy. Rules are in place to help you make safer choices, but in some cases, your circumstances may dictate that the safest course of action be to act outside the standard operating procedure. Before you violate a rule, be sure that you have the decision rights to do so, in other words, make sure that you have been advised by a safety professional when it is okay to violate a given rule and when it is not.
  6. Listen to Your Inner Voice. When that little voice inside your head tells you that what you are about to do is stupid, dangerous, or reckless listen to it (unless it tells you to kill someone) and take a moment to consider safer options. If you can’t think of any safer options then enlist the help of others, but careful, stupidity often loves company.
  7. Listen to Your Body. Straining to complete a task is a good indicator that what you are doing is unsafe. As the old joke goes: “A man walks into a doctor’s office and says it hurts when I do this as he makes an awkward move with his arm. The doctor says, ‘then stop doing that’”; bad joke, good advise.
  8. Think Before You Act. Slow down and carefully think through the task before you attempt it. Ask yourself three questions:
    1. Am I competent enough to do this (have I been trained? Do I understand what could go wrong that could hurt me or others?)
    2. Am I physically able to do this without assistance? We all get older and some of us don’t have the strength or stamina to do the things we once did with ease, and
    3. Am I authorized to do this? Just because you know how to change a power outlet doesn’t make you an electrician, and just because you can hammer a nail doesn’t mean you are qualified to be a carpenter. Ask yourself do you have the qualifications (certification, training, the authority conferred by the organization, and meet all the requirements identified by the organization) to complete a task. If the answer to one of these questions is “no” then move along.
      Certainly, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Static rules and procedures in a dynamic workplace cannot protect us. You have to use your head and exercise good judgment to stay alive in the workplace.