It’s Hard to Help People Who Refuse To Help Themselves

 

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Note: I wrote this last weekend and screwed up the publication time so sorry if you were waiting with baited breath for this week’s

by Phil La Duke

“It’s difficult to help the poor because they make so many poor choices”

—Bishop Ken Untner

Last week was a weird week for me.  It started with a mentally ill stalker writing a comment on my blog that consisted of the lyrics of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road not once but twice. It was the lunatic ramblings of a man who if he were well would still be worth more to society in parts.  I tried, despite the warnings of people I know and respect, that this man is deeply mentally ill (manic-depressive and Lord know what else.) and potentially, if not probably a danger to himself and others.

But early on I made a commitment to publish all comments sent to me, a policy this festering boil of a man made me modify.  With all that I have going on—writing a book, working on a highly important and groundbreaking project for work about which I will disclose no details because that is the property of my employer.  I will say that it is hard work, mentally and intellectually taxing, and extremely important (read high stress) and of course I am fighting with city hall about the ineptitude and indifference to safety they have shown in a recent construction project. On top of all of that my romantic entanglement got a Facebook invite from a loon with whom I used to be friends who is also manic-depressive but refuse to take his meds.  I warned him that if he remained unmedicated I would unfriend him and block him. I can’t have phone calls at 3:00 a.m. asking when we are going to go to Vegas. I sympathize with the mentally ill to a point, and that point is when they are medicated I feel for them and try to help them, but when they refuse treatment I can’t have that in my life.

But let’s take a look at the men behind the illness.  One flies into a rage if anyone disagrees with him. Medicated he is a narcissist who believes his opinions can only be right if everyone else’s is wrong.  There are a lot of pompous asses in this business. I know, I’ve met them, and even more send me poison pen letters telling me how great they are and how much I suck. C’est la vie.  But this guy is such a self-absorbed ass-hat that he attacks anyone who disagrees with him about anything. Medicated he’s a teardown, but unmedicated he should be put down like a rabid coyote. The other has always just been a jerk.  Thinking it funny to promise that if I went water-skiing with him he would have me back in plenty of time for my afternoon shift and then laugh when he would drop me off without enough time for me to drive to my job let alone shower, put on my work uniform, and arrive to work on time.  I could go on with the many stupid things that he did but thought were funny—but just thinking about it makes me angry.

This could be a blog about the responsibilities we have toward the mentally ill or a better discussion would perhaps be whether or not one is entitled to be a dysfunctional jerk just because one is mentally ill?   

All of this makes me acutely aware of how frustrating working in safety can be.  You deal with high emotions, the mentally ill, and too often just plain jerks. I am growing increasingly sympathetic to those of us who have thrown up their hands and said “screw it” I’m done trying. Of course, we can’t just give up.  For the record, I have worked with many mentally ill or emotionally broken people who, while challenging, are able to do their jobs, very well. So I tend toward the opinion that if you are mentally ill, and most of us are to one degree or another, you don’t get a free pass.  It’s like diabetes. If you are diabetic and choose to eat nothing but hot fudge sundaes and drink shots of maple syrup all the while refusing to take your medications and forgoing exercise in favor of bing watching the view, you can’t expect a lot of sympathy. You aren’t to be pitied, although I can honestly say that I have never taken any solace in the fact that my current predicament was entirely predictable and I had no one to blame but myself. But this is beside the point.  The real question is how much responsibility are we to take for the poor choices of others.

When someone decides, despite the warnings and with the full knowledge of the risks to work on energized equipment, how much culpability are we to take? Certainly, we have to take action in a case where we witness such actions, but what about when we aren’t there? And how about instances where the person’s management is complicit in the violation? At what point has our relentless intervention enough?

The answer is, of course, never.  As safety practitioners, we are like the doctor who treats the patient who refuses to quit smoking despite developing heart problems.  They own the car, we are merely the mechanics. We don’t get to be sanctimonious or whiny about it; there will be no self-pity here. And while we might have the lofty goal of zero harm, we need to realize that we aren’t in this alone, and if others refuse to get on board with the program people will continue to get hurt.  Again, we are like doctors. What doctor would have anything less than zero patient deaths and zero complications as a goal? Certainly not one to whom I would want anyone (with the possible exceptions of my stalkers) to go for treatment.

We can never openly say, “there are some people who just can’t be helped” and frankly even if we believe that we cannot stop trying.  At some point, we may reach them and if even if they insult us for trying to help them secretly our words might just sink in and they may be moved to make a  better decision. And if they don’t at least we can look ourselves in the mirror in the morning and know that while our best may not have been good enough, we did our best and therefore have no cause for regret.

 

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When Experience Isn’t the Best Teacher

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By Phil La Duke

It’s said that you can’t fight city hall, but that’s not right.  You CAN fight city hall, it’s just that if you do you will deal with people so proudly stupid and belligerently ignorant that any victory no matter how great will feel pyrrhic.  Such was the case in my recent dealings with the city of Allen Park, Michigan, when I made numerous complaints to the city about heavy construction vehicles speeding, running stop signs, and other serious violations.  I started my one-man campaign after watching an elderly pedestrian scramble for his life when a 20-ton vehicle blew a stop sign and turned right without looking and nearly striking a man whose only unsafe behavior was living in a city that doesn’t properly manage its contractors.

Before I continue, I have to apologize to some of the safety practitioners and policemen who I have called lazy dung heaps, sloths or worse for not doing their jobs. Although I have, I admit, a skewed view or workplace safety because people don’t tend to hire safety consultants because everything is going great.  I have seen too many safety people who aren’t doing their jobs and blaming it on leadership. I have said and will continue to contend that if you are unable to do your job because leaders won’t cooperate the ethical thing to do is to get out of that organization. And I have turned down work with organizations that I felt wasn’t serious about safety, or that just wanted to be “safe enough” to keep regulators from closing them down. While I don’t condone accepting a paycheck for not doing the job for which you’ve been paid, I now clearly understand how someone can, in frustration, surrender to the futility of fighting a battle he or she clearly will never win.

So back to city hall.  As I mentioned, I had issues with the safety (or lack thereof) of the drivers of heavy equipment on my second call with the mayor, I told him that I watched as a payloader gunned it down the street, blew through a stop sign, and when I confronted the driver he just said “so?!?!”  The mayor’s response was typical of a small town politician: “you gotta understand sometimes they HAVE to do that”. Hmmm… I was skeptical. For the record, I have never driven a payloader but I find it difficult to believe that you have to get a 3/4s of a block headstart to dump gravel into a dump truck. (Please if there are any drivers out there and I’m wrong set me straight).  Anyway, after three phone calls the head of (Doesn’t Produce Work) DPW set up a meeting between him, the contractors, and I.

I was ushered into a sort of a break room where everyone responsible for the crews was assembled.  It was a motley crew of people who weren’t burdened by a lot of career choices (bull semen collector at a breeding ranch, rodeo clown, Walmart greeter’s assistant, etc.) whose sole qualification seemed to be having a relative on the city council.  

I walked in loaded for bear.  I had researched the number of deaths associated with pedestrian and heavy equipment interaction, I researched the weight and stopping distance required for the exact makes and models of the vehicles they were using, I calculated the stopping distance for each of the vehicles, and I even found a study by the Department of Transportation (DOT) report loaded with safety statistics.  I printed each of them out (a total of over 50 pages). It was unnecessary. One of the “subcontractors” was an expert in all things save hygiene. “I don’t need to read that crap, I was a driver for 20 years.” It was then when it occurred to me that he may well be illiterate.

No matter what I said, this guy refuted it.  When I told him the stopping distance of one of the vehicles he scoffed and said, “it doesn’t take that much”  so I asked him how much time it DID take, to which he replied derisively, “I don’t know but it ain’t THAT much” he reiterated that he had been a driver for 20 years.  I told him in exasperation that this was PHYSICS but he just waved his hand like he was shooing away a fly. On and on it went with them constantly trying to turn the table on me by saying I shouldn’t have called the mayor, and I shouldn’t confront the drivers, and I shouldn’t…the man who drove for 20 years actually said, “we’re just the engineering firm, it’s not our responsibility for the contractor’s safety”. I told him that as the ‘host company” he had a joint responsibility for the safety of the workers with the contractor, he just said, “no I don’t” when I said OSHA would disagree, he got angry and said I that I was wrong.  The department head said I had no business calling OSHA, the mayor, or the police or anyone but him.

When Mr. Know It All smugly asked me what proof I had, I showed him the video I had taken with my phone demonstrating two drivers running a stop sign, he acknowledged that they had indeed done so.  

All of them howled that they can’t watch their guys every minute, and when I suggested that they wouldn’t have to if they were better at people management that set them off into another frothy rage.  They don’t need ME to tell THEM how to manage people.

So what did I learn:

  • No amount of pestering, nudging, cajoling, or pleading with this coterie of fools was going to change their behaviors.
  • You can’t introduce facts to someone so stupid as someone who believes that they know everything.
  • People who engage in high-risk behaviors but manage to avoid killing people will convince themselves that this behavior is safe and are likely to take even greater risks.
  • If a supervisor, manager, and department heads (so-called leaders) are indifferent or outright hostile to safety, so too will the workers.
  • When basic no-@#$%l, any-idiot-knows-you-have-to-do-that! rules are ignored with impunity those rules will be ignored with regularity
  • Apparently driving for 20 years makes one an expert in physics, employment law, safety, and everything except hygiene

Did I accomplish anything? Maybe; maybe not.  But I put them on notice that people are watching them, people are holding them accountable, people SEE what they are doing and don’t accept it.

I sincerely hope to God that these idiots don’t kill someone, and statistically, they probably won’t.  But if they do, I will be in court recounting in painstaking detail my meeting and what was said.  They won’t be able to plead ignorance or excuse their culpability in the death, and may God have mercy on their souls.

 

If You Want to Save Lives Be a Lifeguard

pexels-photo-114997.jpegby Phil La Duke

I’ve worked in safety to one extent or another for 30 years.  In fact, This June will mark my thirtieth year in a profession that isn’t all that much older than me.  And in that time I’ve met all kinds of safety professionals, from the useless goofballs that the organization felt obligated to keep (the plant manager’s brother-in-law), to the lazy, on-the-job retirees who sit in their offices and do nothing but produce carbon dioxide and occasionally methane, to the safety fanatics (usually someone who has been personally and viscerally effected by tragedy), to the know-it-all safety cops, to the flavor-of-the-month safety version of the helicopter parent.  And of course I’ve met many good, reasonable, intelligent, wise, and hardworking safety professionals (which makes things worse actually, knowing that so many people form an image of the safety guy (by the way “guy” is a gender neutral term—look it up) not from interactions with the many excellent safety guys, but by the water-headed, mouth-breathers of whom there are far too many.

But for me the most irritating safety guy to me has been the sanctimonious life-saver.

When I say that safety practitioners don’t save lives it creates such a hullabaloo that I have to wonder if these people are trying to convince me or themselves. The statement draws the pedantic boobs out of the woodwork (the least desirable boobs in my opinion) and I get the long rambling emails about how they saved someone’s life.  But it is, let’s face it steaming piles of bull excrement. Most safety people’s claims to have saved a life fall into one of two categories: the “I saw a person on the stairs and reminded them to use the handrail” life saving claim, or the “I save lives indirectly by reminding people to work safely” claim.

The first claim is crap, I have said it before and I will say it again, “reminding me not to die is not the same as saving my life”.  Now I myself have intervened many times and reminded people of a hazard, but safety is about probability, risk tolerance, and choices.  I remember I was working on a platform that was over 10 feet in the air and had no guard rails (the reason for that was a good one and the particular industry wasn’t bound by OSHA regulations for this particular scenario.  I was the assigned the highly cerebral role of human guard rail. I watched as a worker nose deep in his phone walked toward the edge. I bounded out like a ball boy at the U.S. open and stopped him before he walked off the edge.  He was grateful in a condescending way, thanking me and telling me that “I know you are only watching out for my safety.” I told him, that with all due respect I was looking out for my resume—if he died my resume wouldn’t be worth the construction paper and crayons it’s made of and frankly a good share of my resume is questionable as is.  He had a good laugh and I asked him to try to remain stationary and situationally aware when using his crack-pipe of a smartphone. He laughed again and went on his merry way. A short while later, I saw him intervene with a colleague. He saw me watching him and he yelled, “you see Phil? I’m looking out for your resume.” Now I could claim that I saved his life but that just isn’t true.  What I did was help him to make an informed decision so that he could make a safer choice. There are so many outcomes to that scenario and his death was far from certain. To be sure he definitely put himself at great risk, but my intervention did nothing to reduce that risk—HE made the decision to modify his behavior, but even had he chosen to ignore me and proceeded, there is no guarantee that he would have fallen off the platform—he may have self-corrected, someone else may have intervened, or he may have finished the business on his phone and put it away.  But let’s that but for my intervention he would have fallen off the platform. Here again there is no guarantee that he would have died, he certainly, might have died, he might have been severely injured, he might have fallen on debris below the platform and escaped unharmed, or with a relatively minor injury, or he might have fallen into a puddle of mud that cushioned his fall. So if I claim to have saved his life…well either I am either delusional or a liar or that all too common combination of the two.

The second position, that ““I save lives indirectly by reminding people to work safely” claim is equally dubious.  Sure some people will forget a key element of a safety element, but this position implies that were it not for the constant and ever-present vigilance of the safety guy people would be dropping dead right and left. To me this claim is a bit like me claiming that I reduce crime by not robbing liquor stores.  Certainly an argument can be made that if I were robbing liquor stores crime would go up, but the fact that crime statistics stay static cannot be reasonably attributed to my not robbing stores, and the neighborhood policeman cannot claim responsibility for the drop in crime because he stopped me while I was walking my dog and reminded me not to rob the liquor store or by praising me by catching me “doing something good” and giving me a free pizza for not robbing the liquor store. Years ago I read that it cost over $50K a year to keep a person in prison in Michigan and I considered writing to the Governor and promising to stay out of trouble for $35K a year.  I never followed up on it because that kind of letter tends to get you added scrutiny and that is something I have NEVER needed, plus I didn’t think the cheap SOBs would go for it, and let’s face it, staying out of trouble has never been my forte.

So we don’t save lives? So what? Where is the harm in some drooling half-wit walking around telling people he works in safety and by gully HE SAVES LIVES? Groucho Marx once said, In a telegram to the telegram to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills (to which he belonged), “Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”. That’s the danger of incompetents (who may be the minority but they are an extremely vocal minority). If you could see some of the email I get from these cheese-and-sawdust filled vacuous dolts you would understand.  A group of colleagues and I were talking about the irritating tendency of strangers talking to us on a plane after a long and tough stint in the field. One of them piped up with, “I don’t have that problem, if someone wants to talk and I don’t, I just tell them that I work in safety and that shuts the conversation down.

So if you want to save lives become a nurse, or a doctor, or an EMT, or …hell waiters probably save more lives administering the Heimlich Maneuver than the average safety guy.

 

I need your help

To all the loyal followers of my blog:

A publisher is interested in making a sort of a “Best of the Blog” book of my blog posts.  I have two blogs this one and https://workersafetynet.wordpress.com .  I have been tasked with selecting 20-25 of my blogs for the book. Given that this blog alone has 385 posts and the other has a hundred or so, I could use your help.  Which of my blog articles are “must includes”?

The title of the book is “I Know My Shoes Are Untied, Mind Your Own Business: An Iconoclast’s View of Worker Safety” and we are shooting for a June prerelease date (you will be able to order it in June, details to follow).  In addition to the previously posted articles I will be adding new material (my goal is to add one new post for every two existing ones.

I am sifting through the blogs and cleaning up some typos, but choosing the right ones is tough, so what do you think? Are there any that you think are especially good?

Also, after the release I would appreciate it if someone could arrange a public book burning—it’s good publicity and it sells books.

The Horse Led To Water

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By Phil La Duke

My romantic entanglement tells a tale of jury duty that I find appropriate to safety. Jury duty has always fascinated me, I get served with notices often but seldom make it past the questions in the selection process.  After sitting eagerly and patiently listening to the patently absurd excuses that each pathetic juror proffers to the judge, I get my turn and answer all questions put to me, only to hear the inevitable, “we’d like to thank and excuse Mr. La Duke for his service”. But my vis-a-vis has yet to be so lucky.  Not only has she been selected, but she has been on a jury and served on a trial. As I mentioned, she tells the story of her experience as a juror. It seems that one of the lawyers was questioning a witness, and the exchange went something like this:

“Lawyer:  Had you been drinking?

Witness: No sir, I am 10 years sober.

Lawyer: If you don’t drink, why were you in a bar?

Witness: Because I’m a grown-ass man.”

“Because I’m a grown-ass man” the implication being that as an adult he could choose to exercise his God-given right to go where he pleased and make his own decisions.

I think sometimes we forget that when it comes to safety we are dealing with grown-ass men and women who not only have the right to make their own decisions but resent people who have no standing telling us differently.

I have always hated being told what to do, as a child I was indolent and insolent I didn’t want to do work and I was sassy and often disrespectful.  In school, I was worse and let’s just say managing me as an employee is reserved for those leaders single out for singular punishment, I don’t like being told what I HAVE to do.  Point of fact, all I have to do is die. There are people who will tell you that all that is certain in life is death and taxes, but I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to pay taxes; of course, if you don’t, my tax dollars will be spent paying machine-toting thugs to  bash down your compound door and start the process of making the other of life’s certainties a reality. That’s why I pay taxes.

When it comes to safety, how I behave is completely my choice and my choice alone. You can tell me you have your Safety 10 Commandments and describe all manner of horrific fates that will befall me if I don’t comply, but we both know that you don’t have the power to fire me and even fewer of you have the guts to fire me as long as I shut up and the work gets done.

I feel sorry for people who got into the safety trade to boss people around, waiting to swing the safety baton and rap the knuckles of the great unwashed who dare defy the pure and just ideals of safety.  It ain’t like that kid. In safety, we are often merely glorified tattletales who run and tell the people who CAN fire us how we misbehaved. Nobody likes a rat and where I come from we have a saying, “snitches end up in ditches”.

When I was a kid I remember seeing an overly photocopied cartoon of a mouse standing between the descending claws of a hawk.  The mouse stood upright with his middle finger raised high above his head, its posture proud and stiff with unrelenting resistance; an artist’s interpretation of the last moments of that mouse’s life. The illustration was entitled, “the last great act of defiance.” There’s a lot of safety wisdom in that cartoon.  Sometimes our desire to live our lives as “a grown-ass man” (or woman) is greater than our desire to go home with all our appendages. Some of us, a LOT of us will behave precisely the opposite of the way we’ve been told to. We run with the proverbial scissors, and why? Because in a world where everyone seems to be telling us what to do we will always have the power of defiance.

If I chose to behave unsafely, it’s not always because I am stupid, ignorant, or foolish, it’s because someone like you has told me to behave in a certain way once too often. I will be the horse that you can lead to water but I will be damned if you can make me take a drink.

You can talk about engagement, and maybe I should behave safely because it’s the right thing to do, but then again, who are you to lecture me on right from wrong? Treat me like a child and I will behave like a child but treat me as a partner in making the workplace safety, ask me for my advise and listen to what I tell you and I will exceed your wildest expectations.

 

Do We Really Care About Under-Reported Injuries?

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by Phil La Duke

Over the past 12 years of writing this blog I’ve asked a lot of questions relative to what exactly we as a profession care about.  It generally raises a lot of emotional hoohah but relatively few answers. Since emotional histrionics tend to generate a lot of buzz and readers to the blog I welcome them, even though supposed mature professionals tend to call me everything but a child of God, threaten me with violence (the rich irony of a safety professional threatening me is not lost on me). But in case I am really curious about the question: “do we really care about under-reported injuries?”

Let’s start by defining “care”.  When I say I care about something, I mean that I am concerned enough to do something about it. So in that respect, I care about my health, my family’s well being, the handful of charities to which I support, worker safety (which I donate approximately 20 hours a month, outside the work week writing about) and…not much else.  I mean it’s great to say that I care about world hunger, or crime, or income inequality, or a lasting peace in the Middle East, but all that it takes to expose me as a fraud is to ask a simple question: “what are you doing about it?” The extent that one gets involved in solving a problem is the extent that one really cares about it.  So I ask you again, do we as an occupation truly care about under-reporting of injuries? If most of us are being honest we would have to say no, we don’t care.

It’s not that we’re monsters and actively want people to shut up about the injuries they’ve suffered, it’s just that we don’t want to uncover that rock.  Underreporting of injuries is the child molestation of the safety community—nobody WANTS to think or hear about it. If it’s out there we don’t want to hear about it, and while we know it’s probably out there we convince ourselves that it isn’t happening in OUR environment.

Not only do we not CARE about underreporting we deny its existence.We damned sure don’t go looking for it, and if it does exist we will find ways to deny it, down-play it, or refuse to believe it even when faced with irrefutable evidence that it exists, come to think of it maybe we are monsters. The denial of unreported injuries is so strong that when forced to deal with the fact that even when faced with the fact that while recordable/reportable injuries are ostensibly dropping worldwide, serious injury and fatalities trends are flat many of us have concluded that the precursors to serious injuries and fatalities MUST be different than those of more minor injuries. Apparently the fact that it is pretty tough to hide an amputation or a fatality shy of a macabre Weekend At Bernie’s scheme, while it is exceedingly easy to hide a minor recordable.  I know of a worker who worked three days with a hernia because he thought reporting the injury would get him in trouble.  Ultimately he collapsed in excruciating pain, causing the executives to openly question what horrible message were they were sending that would make this poor man think that his injury—which he sustained while working out of process—would get him in trouble.  It was one of those visceral events that changed those executives forever.

Even after OSHA and other regulatory agencies around the world (along with a couple of major insurance carriers,) concluded that Behavior Based Safety (BBS) tended to encourage workers not to report injuries, companies still persist not just in implementing BBS programs but also make it a requirement for their supply chain.

Some companies even blame the victim, a response not uncommon when the reality is to horrible to imagine and process, again it’s like claiming the victim of child abuse is lying about the incident—when reality is too repugnant we will choose the lie every time.

Years ago, I wrote Four Reasons, Eight Lessons: Reluctance to Report May Not Be Caused By Fear  (Facility Safety Management Magazine Apr 2, 2011) and while the focus of the article is on underreporting of near misses, I think the reasons and lessons are every bit as valid for underreporting injuries, and while underreporting of near misses may be dangerous (because it skews our view of our operational risks) underreporting of injuries is exponentially more dangerous because the risk here has already proven not only the potential for injury but the reality of this potential. Identifying the reasons for underreporting is easy, foremost among those reasons is that people don’t want to disappoint us and frankly don’t want to talk about an uncomfortable subject any more than we do. So they shut up, and we sleep better and everyone is happy.

So why we don’t care? For the same reason we don’t really care about the big problems in the world—because caring means acting and acting is dangerous.  It’s why we don’t care about child abuse, or human trafficking, or global warming, or ending war and hunger, because it’s too damned HARD.We worry that if we get involved it will get us fired and given the climate in many workplaces it just might.  It’s always easier to think of the ugliest problems as being isolated and remote; too little to worry about and not worth the effort to get involved, and besides it’s someone else’s job…except in this case it is OUR job and we will never be taken seriously as a profession until we do our jobs and show the courage to do the right thing no matter the consequences.\

On an unrelated note, a publisher contacted me about publishing a compendium of my blog articles into a honest-to-goodness book.  I will be selecting and editing my favorite works as well as contributing new material—I welcome any suggestions from you as to what should be included.  We are looking at a June publishing date (since all the material is essentially written) so watch this space for details.

Does Your Company Value Your Safety?

coins-currency-investment-insurance-128867.jpegBy Phil La Duke

At first glance most of you silently answered, “of course they do” but is your personal safety truly a value of the company?  In many cases while you may think so it just isn’t the case. When I say values, I am talking about the most deeply seated beliefs held by the company, the non-negotiables by which all the decisions are made at the firm.  

Think of someone you greatly respect and admire, someone you know well.  What are his or her values? Is this person honest? Loyal? Brave? Kind? Just what is it about them that makes you admire them?  When you answer these questions like as not, you will have a good understanding of their values. And how did you get to know these values? Was it because this person SAID these things where his or her values or was it more likely the way he or she behaved, the way they treated others?

Jesus said, and Abraham Lincoln quoted him, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.  In a real way this means that you can’t consistently live your life acting outside your values without it leading to failure and catastrophe.  A dear friend of mine quit his job one day because, as he told me, “I don’t like what I am becoming; what this job is turning me into.” He was talking about being forced DAILY to compromise his values in order to do and keep his job. So take a hard look at your company’s website and then look at how people make decisions and behave?

Have you ever seen anyone caught violating a safety policy and have the supervisor overlook it? Do your senior leaders talk a good game when it comes to safety but when doing the job safely means jeopardizing a production timeline they consistently risk it and push production? Do middle managers get judged on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to everything BUT safety?

I’ve talked about people who mistake supporting safety philosophically but ignoring it operationally before.  These aren’t bad people, in fact, their hear is in the right place it’s just that their head isn’t. I support world peace, but I am nothing about it.  You’re not likely to see me get the Nobel Prize (Hell, you won’t even see me get a nod for speaking up about the need for safety improvements) because world peace isn’t really my value.  Do you want to truly know what you value? Take a hard look at how you spend your time and money. Don’t tell me you view your family when you are missing every big moment in your kid’s life—and don’t diminish what might be a big moment in your kid’s life a gawdawful holiday pageant may be torturous to sit through with kids shouting (not singing) Christmas carols and what not, but the first thing your little boy or girl will say to you when it’s over is “DID YOU SEE ME?!?!?” It’s not about them thinking they will be Broadway stars, it’s about connecting with you. It’s the affirmation that you value them above your bowling team, above a drink with a college buddy, and above a client dinner.

So think about your company and what it DOES to protect you from harm, what it does to reduce your risk.  While in the U.S. injuries that happen on your commute to work don’t count as workplace injuries, but in many parts of the world they do.  Statistically, at least in most parts of the world you are far more likely to be killed or seriously injured in your commute to work, and yet I still know many companies that limit how much time a person can work from home.  Does this sound like the actions of a company that values the safety of their workers? Or does it sound like the actions of a company that values facetime in the office?

Don’t even get me started on case management.  There are bureaucrats out there whose sole job is to prove that a worker injury claim is not job related.  If I have an old football injury that means my shoulder hurts once in awhile and then get a rack of engine blocks slammed into me aggravating that injury there are many companies that will pay three times more money to prove that my injury was a preexisting condition and therefore not their responsibility.  If my car has a dent in it, and you slam your truck into it and total it, are you absolved of any responsibility because my car had a preexisting condition.

Often employers are more subtle in demonstrating that they don’t value safety. Have you ever seen a supervisor or manager tell someone to “get it done whatever it takes?” I have and what they are not-so-subtly telling you is that we value job completion even if that means it darn near kills you.  Of course after the fact they are all saying “I never told him not to lock out” or “obviously I didn’t mean run a red light and kill that man” but they DID mean exactly that.

Sometimes a lack of value for safety manifests as safety policies and rules that make it practically impossible to do the job without taking risky short cuts.  We are forced to do the job at high risk and for them it’s a no-lose proposition. If we violate the procedure even though we took needless risk they met their goals and are heroes.  If we violate the procedure and hurt ourselves we get written up for the violation. Is this what valuing safety looks like?

Putting “we provide our workers with a safe workplace” or some other vague and fanciful slogan on your company website may look good for the stockholders and customers, but for money, don’t TELL me you value my safety and well being SHOW me you value my safety and well-being and show me every day.