Phil La Duke Live

A week from Wednesday I will be speaking at the Office Expo in Dublin, Ireland. I hope at least some of you will be able to attend. If you are unable to attend, but would like a link to my speech on YouTube please post a comment and I will send you the link. Of course I will also post it here but you may miss it. Wish me luck, I’m paying my own travel expenses.

This is from their website

The Speaker line up is now live for Ireland’s largest SME Expo, Grow SME . You can view the 350 agenda speaker line up here . The event is being held in the RDS on May 31st If you have not already registered, I would like to offer you complimentary delegate. Over 7000 delegates are registered to attend the event in the on 31st may in the RDS. Furthermore, Grow SME is also collocated with the following events. Tech Connect Live The National Sales and marketing Summit Grow your Business Online Expo IT, Software, Data Summit Grow SME The office expo The Blockchain Summit The GDPR Summit Delegates are free to move within events. You simply need to register online and there will be a delegate badge waiting for you. Feel free to pass on the invitation to colleagues, clients etc. that you believe may wish to attend any of the events.

Death from Above

“Maybe you got a kid, maybe you got a pretty wife”—Bruce Springsteen, State Trooper

By Phil La Duke

Every month a colleague sends me the butcher’s bill; a list of the people killed on the job. To a person the death could have been prevented without any notable expenditure. Roofers are frequently the victim slipping and falling from a roof to the ground or concrete below. This happens a lot. In part because one doesn’t need an education to be a roofer or laborer, and in part because in the US and many parts of the world small businesses are except from most of the protections afforded to workers in larger firms. In the U.S. small businesses are sacrosanct; with the possible exception of the elderly, politicians value the voting potential of promising to help small businesses than any other group. The rights of small businesses are political gold, but what about the rights of workers? Roofers, tend to be some of the most poorly trained and take more risks than just about any other small business employees that I can think of, they aren’t even treated as human beings rather they are seen as commodities to be used up. But even if small businesses were (and in some cases they are) subject to safety regulations, most countries lack the resources to focus on small businesses and prefer to go after  bigger companies

What’s worse than the fatalities are those who get injured but take years to die. I am reminded of a dear friend and colleague, Bill Sagy Sr. who decades ago when working as a steel worker he hurt his back. It wasn’t bad enough for him to go out on Workers’ Compensation or Social Security disability, he continued working. And then nearly 40 years later, after increasingly frequent spells where his “back went out”. Almost two years ago he went for a new form of laparoscopic surgery. He was skeptical but by then the pain was unbearable; I spoke to him two weeks after he had the surgery. He was almost euphoric; wistfully telling me how he wished the surgery had been around decades earlier. That was Thursday. On Sunday I received word that he was dead. It seems that Friday he developed a fever, it got worse until his wife rushed him to the emergency room where he collapsed. He was taken to intensive care where he died sometime Saturday. His routine surgery came with a free infection that killed him. Now there are water-heads among you will argue that the back injury so many years ago wasn’t the cause, that it was the infection and the infection alone that killed Bill. I’m not going to argue with those who feel that way, an idiot who enjoys arguing with people who put the time and effort into blogging and arguing an academic point aren’t worth my time.

But let me pander to that thought process for a while, and talk about my ex-father-in-law. He was injured when despite safety rules, Union rules, and common sense was working above me ex-father-in-law when he dropped what was described to me as an angle iron. It free fell three stories and struck my ex-father-in-law in the neck shattering one vertebrae and driving the second into a third. He had what was at the time experimental surgery, and had a cow bone fused into his neck. The surgery was successful and while he couldn’t lift more than 50lbs and was therefore judged permanently disabled. At first his life was pretty good, sure his activities were limited but he wasn’t a guy who golfed, or bowled or did much highly physical stuff. He came to grips with his limitations quickly and with aplomb. The doctors warned him that the cow bone would degrade and he would eventually have to undergo the surgery again. But when that day came he was diagnosed as having mesothelioma and the doctors advised against the surgery. He got addicted first to pain-killers and eventually to heroin he died from the mesothelioma before the heroin killed him. Heroin ate through his family like cancer, eventually my ex-wife got hooked and last year about this time she died of an overdose. If you find it hard to summon sympathy for another dead junky that’s none of my business, but it crushed my daughter and her sister who, while estranged from her at the time, prayed for the day she would straighten out her life. Like most of us, they thought they had more time than it turned out that they did. As Tom Waits wrote in the song Walking Spanish “Even Jesus wanted just a little more time, when he was walking Spanish down the hall”. For me those injuries so long ago caused those injuries and fatalities, but they won’t appear on any chart or make up any statistic. So as safety people slap each other on the back and praise themselves for a job well done, I’m out here watching in disgust. OSHA estimates that half of all injuries go unreported. We can do better.

Shut Up and Let Me Think: The Dangers of Cognitive Overload

Phrenology copy

By Phil La Duke

A good friend of mine and ex-colleague, Scott Studier, recently posted an article he had written for a publication on LinkedIn. The article was on cognitive overload, something that many and more of us are guilty—stuffing the proverbial 20lbs of meat sweepings into the five pound sausage casing. Okay, okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Cognitive overload is where you get either too much information or you get information to quickly to accurately process it.  When we hit cognitive overload we experience concentration fatigue and we are far more likely to make mistakes.

This subject is germane to safety in two ways: 1) we routinely develop courses that last eight hours long knowing full well that cognitive overload starts to set in at about the four hour mark, and 2) we are seeing longer and longer takt and cycle times.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term takt time is the length of time (originally in manufacturing) it takes to produce one product.  It has informally come to mean how long it takes to complete one job from start to finish, so for example the takt time for oil and gas would begin at the start of the drilling and end when the oil/gas is read for sale. Takt time can be applied to almost any industry.  Cycle time on the other hand, is the time it takes for one person to complete all the tasks on his or her job before it is passed down stream.

Time is money, and the longer a takt time the more costly it is to produce a product or deliver a service, so in the interest of productivity we want continually look for ways to shorten our takt time by eliminating waste. If we can reduce cycle time we typically (provided we just don’t move the work to someone else) have a corresponding reduction in takt time, and we become more profitable and faster.

Long cycle times are the result of one of the seven muda’s (I am convinced that the Japanese are slowly trying to teach us Japanese to make an invasion more efficient) or just plain too many tasks on a single job. Muda doesn’t just mean waste, it means futility, pointlessness. The seven forms of muda are:

    • Overproduction. You make too much and have to store it or it might go bad, it’s particularly bad if there is a change order or you just plain screwed up the batch.
    • Waiting. You ever see your tax dollars being wasted as a construction road crew is standing around? Well guess what? They aren’t just goofing off or on break, but generally waiting for someone or something usually materials or equipment to arrive. But we have no right to expect them to do that for nothing.
    • Transporting. Moving materials or people from point A to point B adds no value to the customer. Ever tried working on a plane? I’m too worried about getting choked out by a flight attendant trying to remove me from a plane to work. Rodney King didn’t take half the beating that some passengers are getting and I’m not taking any chances. I might read on a plane but the fact of the matter is you’re not gonna get much work out of me on a plane or in an airport.
    • Over Processing. Over processing is a step in the process that really isn’t necessary but you do it anyway because that’s what the SOP says to do. Pointless.
    • Unnecessary Inventory. Do you keep extra parts squirrelled away so you don’t run out. It cost money to hold inventory, if stuff isn’t moving through the system it’s wasting money.
    • Unnecessary / Excess Motion. Surprisingly this doesn’t refer to flash mobs that do elaborate dance numbers in the workplace (although I guess technically it could if that becomes a problem) rather, it’s the practice of setting up a work station that causes the worker to walk too much, bend over or awkwardly reach for a part. Motion doesn’t add value
    • Defects. Here I would include injuries. Your customer is not likely to pay you extra because you screwed up and produced below standard or injured a worker. In the view of the customer that’s your problem. I remember I had Lowes (a national US home improvement retailer) install a garage door which they did so poorly and the key broke off in the lock. Neither Lowes nor Pella (the door manufacturer) really cared too much they off-loaded all the blame on the husband & wife and presumably brother & sister who owned the half-assed door installation. When I insisted they send someone out to at very least unlock my garage door the Husband/Brother got indignant and said, “my guy broke his back installing a door, so what do you expect me to do?” I said, and in the interest of decorum I will sanitize this: “I don’t care if you killed a guy, in fact, I hope he sues your ass off. But until he does get your lazy, inbred ass out here and fix my door.” After three weeks of hassling with them I finally got the door unlocked but now cannot lock it. Don’t worry I have three angry badgers trapped in there so I worry more about the safety of a burglar than of being burgled. Moral: Don’t buy from Lowes or Pella.

All of these in and of themselves have the potential to cause injury, but cognitive overload is a BIG waste and in safety is potentially dangerous. Consider shadow training.  We have a slap-dash demonstration of the 86 tasks associated with a specific job and we wonder why people miss a step and get hurt.  Our solutions are as elegant as they are dopey. We sponsor a children’s poster contest. We offer pizza parties. We write people up for not getting it right.  We do everything but redesign the job to eliminate waste.

Cognitive overload is a big problem that is getting bigger. The people we hire aren’t any dumber than the ones we used to hire, but you can’t add more and more tasks onto a job and expect that nothing will break.

So what do we do about it? Well in addition to teaching engineers about designing using the engineering controls we need to teach them to reduce both takt and cycle time. If they do, we can have a faster, more nimble, cheaper, more efficient and most of all safer workplace.

Ten Years Later and We Still Haven’t Changed.

by Phil La Duke

I couldn’t sleep last night.  Either to much Diet Dr. Pepper or not enough booze.  Either way I wrote the blog early so I figured why not publish it?

Last week I tweeted, “people don’t get hurt because they do stupid things, people get hurt because employer fail to protect them when they do stupid things”. I have been writing this (and another safety blog) for over 10 years and including articles in safety magazines I believe I have probably written close to a million words on the subject, this on top of working a full time job. What struck me is how little things have changed in safety over the last 10 years.  We safety professionals are still essentially clueless.

How clueless are we? Let me count the ways:

  1. We still insist that safety comes down to behavior (and yes I supposed if you view it broadly enough that’s true) but we still delude ourselves into thinking that we can somehow reprogram the human brain into doing anything meaningful about it. I still have to argue with colleagues who are enamored with snake oil celebrities who have churned out a bunch of quasi-scientific dreck that miraculously supports the same crap they have been selling for two decades.
  2. We love the culture of blame. I can’t even count how many safety people bemoan the fact that workers wouldn’t get hurt if “the idiots would just follow the rules!” I always suggest that they stop actively recruiting idiots and they tell me, that they don’t pay enough to get good people. I believe in bad people. People who rape, murder, and assault people for sport. Would those of you who have told me that you don’t pay enough to get “good people” have me believe that you have instead got some discount murderous thugs on the payroll? If so you got deeper systemic issues then safety. No, I suspect by “good people” they mean “smart people” from “good homes” and as we all know smart, well-educated workers are worth more to society than the baboons we have working for us, right? Wrong. I didn’t grow up poor—I had enough to eat, clothes on my back, a warm place to sleep, indoor plumbing, and while I had to pay for a portion of it a parochial school education. When you consider how MOST people on this planet live I was extremely wealthy. But as farmers in a family of nine, all of these things were never guaranteed to us. I grew up in a climate of incessant worry over how we would replace the washing machine or where the money for car repairs would come from. There was a feeling that at any moment all this could come crashing down and my life would spin off into anarchy. I had friends who couldn’t afford clothes that fit, or who went to school hungry. To paraphrase Ginsberg, I watched the greatest minds of my generation destroyed, not by madness, but by resignation and desperation. We worked because we needed to survive, not because we could buy a fancy car or the latest smart device. We weren’t college bound, not because we weren’t smart enough, but because most of us hated authority especially that wielded by self-important bookworms. I did go to college, because it was either that or the military and nobody, myself included saw me going into the service and not either being kicked out outright or moldering in a military prison. So I went to community college and dinked around yet another directionless kid set loose on society like a mental patient released from the hospital and put on a bus to the next nearest bus station. Eventually I hit the Detroit lottery: I got a Union job at General Motors working the line, I screwed for a living and I came home dirty and sore. It was as close to hell as I ever hope to see, but it was money. BIG money. I figured I could continue my education using GM’s tuition assistance plan but soon learned that humping an assembly line for 8 or 9 hours was unconducive with going to college at night. Safety in the plant was a political job given to brother’s-in-laws of the petty despots who ran the plants. In my case the management safety appointee was a hairdresser turned safety specialist. No training, no experience, no real brains, but MAN could he cut hair. After two and half years I was, along with 50,000 other workers, encouraged to explore other career opportunities. I wasn’t worried, I had five or six really good prospects. As they dried up one by one, and my wife left me to pursue a life of sex, drugs, and really awful music, I worked odd jobs, went back to school and eventually got a job that paid $19K a year. I took it because I was desperate and had a kid to care for. Throughout these jobs I took throughout that period, (adjunct delivery worker for a major shipping company, a demolition worker who tore out stores in malls so a new crop could be built, ) safety was nonexistent. For instance the boss in demolition told the workers to remove the drop ceiling by cutting all the wires supporting it. It naturally fell on those of us working below. If only we idiots would have followed the…wait a minute, WHAT rules. Despite being flat-assed broke if we wanted PPE we had to buy our own and injuries were common. I wasn’t alone. All over Detroit (and presumably elsewhere) desperate people took horribly unsafe jobs because we didn’t have a choice. Contrary to blowhards at the end of the bar, welfare isn’t easy to get unless you have completely destroyed yourself financially—lost your home, behind on all your bills, car’s been repossessed; at least it was when I tried desperately to get help.) I watched as childhood acquaintances died on the job—my brother’s best friend, a friend of a friend, the list goes on. What all us injured and killed imbeciles had in common was we listened to our bosses and did what we were told to do.
  3. We think we’re indispensable and whine because no one listens to us. Some of you just took offense and are knitting your brows in preparation for an angry missive reminding me that there are a lot of good hard working dedicated…safety professionals and how dare I…Save your breath. I know there are a lot of terrific safety people. I also know that there are a lot of useless mouth breathers with the IQs of a jar of peanut butter working in safety. If you think I am talking about you let me save you from expending any further thought on the matter. I AM TALKING ABOUT YOU. We whine because no one listens to us or respects us, but nobody listens to us or respect us because we say and do stupid things. We don’t partner with the population, we see ourselves as the thin red line between them and death and dismemberment; we expect a little gratitude a little respect. Safety is a thankless job, what were you expecting to get tips? In fact, most jobs are thankless jobs. We get paid to do our job and unless you want to get paid in compliments suck it up.
  4. We’re still looking for that magic bullet that will make our jobs easier, even simple. Safety will never be simple. The human brain is too complex and there is far too much variability in human behavior for our jobs to be easy and stress free. Last week I harped on about the impossibility of truly calculating probability an argument I am not going to have again. The conscious, deliberate choices that people make are difficult enough to predict, but add to that, behavioral drift, human error, uninformed decision making, and a host of other irrational factors and you have a mess that is impossible (for all practical purposes) to predict. The best we can hope for is to protect people from their mistakes and poor choices. Most of us have been injured at some point in our lives and most of those injuries were probably our own fault. We have to stop assuming it’s different for other people then it is for us.

#2, #3

Have Safety Trade Shows Become Just a Place to Buy Gloves?

By Phil La Duke

Two weeks ago I spoke at my favorite safety trade show, the Michigan Safety Conference. When I am at a show I like to spend a fair amount of time in the exhibit hall.  Exhibitors and speakers make conferences possible.  And while—with the exception of the Michigan Safety Conference—speakers and generally treated pretty poorly (one is forced to jump through many hoops, typically bring your own computer, have sketchy AV support, and conference organizers who generally act as if they are doing YOU a favor. I get their attitude, after all, as a speaker I get to travel at my own expense and sometimes on my own time for the honor of speaking at their shows.) exhibitors really get mistreated.  For starters the national conferences charge you for everything from the carpet in your both to transporting your booth and giveaways from the loading docks to the exposition floor.  Again, I want to say NONE of this applies to the Michigan Safety Conference which is less a trade show and more of gathering of safety professionals organized by and for working safety professionals, no, it’s more the National Safety Conferences and Expos with whom I have a bone to pick.  The Michigan Safety Conference was well attended this year drawing in around 4,000 attendees and a nice selection of exhibitors.

I have noticed big and unsettling changes in Safety Trade shows lately, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I talked to the sole exhibitor that sold machine guarding. He pointed out that we KNOW that the controls at the bottom of the Hierarchy of Controls are least effective, and yet he was the vendor selling solutions at the highest point on the H of C.  Gone were the BBS consultants (that all that is holy) gone were the theoreticians hawking snake oil, gone were consultants with new methodologies, instead there was a room fool of people selling software, administrative controls and mostly PPE.

The speakers too were different too. There was nary a one BBS huckster, no sullen looking women staring out with dead eyes from BST’s booth (mainly because BST, DuPount, SafeStart and the usual cast of “let us safe the world” characters failed to show this year, either as speakers OR as exhibitors. (Don’t worry I’m sure they will all be there at the next National Safety Conference you attend.) There were far fewer speakers talking about strategy and big picture topics and more speeches about regulatory compliance and specific technical subjects. It’s good to have a nice selection of technical and regulatory topics but the gentleman selling guarding’s observation really stuck with me. Both in the speakers’ rooms and in the exposition hall the lower 2/5ths of the Hierarchy of Controls were disproportionately represented.

You can’t blame the conference’s organizers. Getting exhibitors is tough so in general you will take anyone willing to shell out the sizeable fee for floor space.  It’s tough to convince people to exhibit because there is seldom a quantifiable return on investment (this is MARKETING not SALES) but it is a great place to entertain clients, meet with people that it might otherwise be too expensive to jump on a plane, and above all get your name out there.  So don’t expect conference organizers to turn anyone away.  The speakers are much the same, now let me be clear hear, I have a bug up my butt about the National Safety Council for which I am blacklisted.  Why? They gave me a long and convoluted explanation that made no sense (“We took all the speaker evaluations and dropped the lowest scores.   Then we took the top half and divided that by two and gave only the top highest-scoring speakers preferential treatment, and you were in the lower half of the second cut.  Maybe when you have polished your speaking skills you can reapply.”  For the record I review all of my evaluations and get top marks for my presentation skills, and even though it is less popular than my presentation skills my topics get good to excellent marks (with the occasional satisfactory mark.  I submit up to 30 abstracts on a range of subjects and the organizers CHOOSE the topic on which I will speak, so I ask you, whose fault is it if people don’t like the topic.  Also, what kind of water head comes to a topic in which he or she isn’t interested?). My grey-listing (after nine speeches in eight years) has nothing to do with me suggesting that they find different key note speakers than repugnant Scott Gellar informercials and the great guy who hasn’t had a different message for 25 years Charlie Morecraft.  For the record Charlie is a great guy who has a really compelling story, he’s approachable, down to earth, helpful and free with advise and I really don’t have anything bad to say about him and Scott Gellar wrote a book, so…um…there’s that. What does it say about us as a community if our trade shows have devolved into little more than quilting circles where, instead of talking about quilting and buying quilting supplies, we instead get together and talk about theoretical (albeit untested) topics and compare prices on gloves.

Increasingly, speakers, exhibitors, and even attendees are finding it more and more difficult to justify the cost of these National Safety conferences and are opting for the smaller regional conferences. Judging from how unaffiliated regional conferences in Michigan, Ohio, and other states are growing it makes me wonder how long the National Safety conferences will continue. Should we fight to save them? Hell I like going to Vegas, or New Orleans, or San Diego, but is it worth the cost? You can find more conference attendees at the local pub than at a speech or in the exhibit hall. And incidentally I spoke at a regional ASSE PDC and it was great, but professional development conferences are a completely different, and dare I say better, animal.

I think the answer is DEMAND that the National Safety shows improve. Contact the organizers and tell them that if they want you to attend then they have to get better speakers and that the speeches can’t just be commercials.  That they need to get speakers and exhibitors that better represent the solutions from the Hierarchy of Controls, that they had ought to treat their speakers (who, except for the keynotes, they don’t pay at all and expect to absorb all their travel expenses) and exhibitors better (many exhibitors complain that either the conference organization actively competes against them; selling their products adjacent to the exhibitors or that there is too little time on the agenda for people to visit the exhibit hall.)

This year’s key note for AIHA is Ken Jennings the longest running Jeopardy! contestant; I’m sure the audience will learn much from Ken’s extensive knowledge of both game shows and Industrial Hygiene, but heck he’s likely to be more entertaining than most key notes so who cares if he isn’t even related to the topic in the most tangential measure?

Too lazy to look up the organizers for the shows? Here you go: (and no, you don’t necessarily have to support me, in fact you can tell them that the best move they ever made was dumping me as a speaker, it’s not like I can think of a circumstance that I would consider returning, eight years of providing services for free is enough)

The National Safety Council Hilda Koskiewicz (

The American Society Of Safety Engineers Dewey Whitmire ( )

American Industrial Hygiene Association Bethany Chirico ( )

If we don’t act now in ten years these shows won’t exist, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Academics: Go Back To Your Ivory Towers

broken cross

By Phil La Duke

I really need to stop reading LinkedIn discussions. Recently Alan Quilley (a smart guy and truly thought provoker) posted a link to his article Risk Analysis and Management in a discussion thread. True to form the mouth breathers and water heads attacked the article like howling rabid jackals. I don’t, no let’s make that I WON’T, rehash the argument, but sufficed to say, there was a lot of trash slung by smug academics who have never once set foot in anything approaching a medium-to high-risk workplace. Their claim was that the equation Quilley proffered, Risk = Probability x Severity x Exposure, was too simplistic and that Quilley didn’t understand the math.

There was some validity to the argument, which Quilley freely admitted. Both sides agreed that the average safety person doesn’t really understand the nuances of risk, and for that matter probability. I may not have accurately captured Alan’s arguments, and if you’re reading this Alan, my sincerest apologies, but my intent as I have stated is not to rehash the argument, but it did get me thinking about how irresponsible some safety practitioners apply concepts they only sort of understand; strike that; that they don’t understand at all.

Let’s take probability; pretty easy right? If you’ve ever flipped a coin or shot craps you understand probability, right? Wrong. There is a lot more to understanding probability than calculating the odds. There is sample size, and margin of error, and so on. But let’s deal with the simplest definition of probability I could find (I won’t site a source because it appears in about nine different places and none of them site a source so I won’t give credit to someone who is plagiarizing, and before anyone accuses me of doing the same, I freely and wholeheartedly admit that I am not the author of this definition): “Probability is the chance that a given event will occur divided by the number of possible outcomes.” (Feel free to argue amongst yourself). Probability isn’t subjective; it’s absolute. The probability of flipping a normally weighted coin heads side up is 1 in 2 or 50:50, but even in this simple example there is a third, extremely remote possibility that the coin will not flip on either side but land on its side; (let’s just chock that up to “margin of error”) even so, there is a remote possibility that the coin will land on its edge. So while it is generally accepted that the chance of a flipped coin is 50:50 it really isn’t. If we further consider that all coins are not the exact weight and shape (whether because of minor deviations in the minting process, wear from the time and condition of the circulation of the coin, or some other reason for which I can’t imagine) then there is even less certainty of the 50:50 probability. The point is, if we can’t even count on the purity of the odds of a coin flip how can we expect to calculate the odds of an injury.

We tend to think of the probability of injuries as fairly binary—there are two possible outcomes: injury or no injury. This thinking sounds reasonable but it is deeply flawed. Take a look at a person completely a task as part of his or her job. There are more than two outcomes, clearly there is the chance that the worker will be uninjured, we cannot treat the employee being injured as a single outcome because there are multiple causes for a worker injury. Not only that, there are several other outcomes we may forget to consider. For example, a worker could be killed, or at the other extreme the worker could suffer a near miss.

Just as the weight and shape of an imperfect coin can artificially impact probability so can things like the worker’s capability (training, natural aptitude, risk taking, behavioral drift, performance inhibitors, etc.) the process capability (process tolerance, reliability, etc.) in fact there are so many variables at play in worker injuries it’s a wonder we try to calculate probability at all.

To be fair to Quilley, his formula was never meant to be a scientific predictor of a given outcome, rather it is a workable formula for prioritizing injuries, and yes to be fair to the academics Quilley has over simplified probability. So what are we to do with all this? I for my part agree with Alan. The safety practitioners and frontline supervisors shouldn’t have to work differential equations to calculate risk. We need a practical, usable, and simple way to determine whether or not a given task is too risky to perform, which risks on which to concentrate, and which risks are more likely to cause the most severe injuries. A safety practitioner should not have to be Euclid to calculate probability, but then again one should also know that his or her calculation of probability is little more than a guess. A good guess to be sure, but a guess nonetheless. It’s an educated guess based on years of experience

To some extent it comes down to just plain sense. We know drunk driving is dangerous because we have seen too many tragic accidents caused because a driver was drunk, and you don’t have to be Pythagoras to foresee that a teen (or worse an elderly) driver texting is a high risk behavior.

What I am saying, in my round about way, is that arguments over whether or not a safety professional can accurate calculate probability of injuries is of far less important than whether or not we can prioritize the correction of hazards. Someone once said, “if you can’t say something nice about someone, then don’t say anything at all”. To the academics who went to such pains to argue against Quilley’s points I say, “shut up”. Not that I want to stifle freedom of speech, but yammering on and on about how wrong someone is without offering some useful counter suggestion is tantamount to bullying, and as much as I enjoy bullying, I say to the academics, take your theories back to the ivy towers where you can poison the minds of tomorrow’s leaders; they’re not welcome here and we’ve got work to do.



Compromise Is A Big Part of Safety

by Phil La Duke

Two weeks ago I spoke to a fine group of safety professionals at an ASSE PDC on the dangers of complacency and in two days I will speak at the Michigan Safety Conference about shifting the focus away from body counts in favor of the things that cause safety. In preparing for both of these topics something that had always bothered me became clear: Safety is a series of trade-offs and compromises.  I can already hear my detractors, “That’s La Duke endangering the workplace with more his safety  heresy.”

But think about it, “safe” is a relative term. Is it safe shooting a movie at the Packard Plant?  No when compared to shooting in a sound studio, yes compared to Detroit Animal Control capturing a scared and agitated tiger in the abandoned and unsafe labyrinth of tunnels below the plant (it had escaped during a German video shoot).

This weekend I saw a “health tip” on avoiding the flue: “get the flu vaccine, wash your hands often, and don’t touch handrails.” Now I know of at least four workplaces where an employee can get written up for NOT touching the handrails while traversing steps.  When I worked and Trinity Health (by people who really KNOW about the subject) we were a) required to get a flu shot, b) had ample dispensers of hand sanitizer conveniently located and c) were told not to touch the handrails, rather to hold our hands slightly above the rail so that should we begin to slip and fall we would be able to catch ourselves.  For the record this is how handrails are intended to be used.  The idea is less about eliminating the risk of falling, and more about the mitigation of the risk of injury; to reduce the consequences of slipping on the steps.

Tradeoffs are part of our job we want people to be alert and vigilant and to focus on the tasks at hand, and yet we know that remaining hyper-focused tends to lead to attention fatigue, where are minds can no longer focus at such a high level and errors become exponentially more common. So by pushing awareness and focus we at some point actually create hazards.

Complacency is another area where we have to pick our battles. On one hand we want workers to be confident and competent in the tasks they do, but on the other hand we don’t want them to get TOO confident either; it’s an on-going battle.

Just Say No Doesn’t Work

Too many safety professionals see themselves as guardians of all their flock. These safety professionals tend to discount the life experience and decision making abilities of their people and think they know better in all cases. And when safety professionals develop this attitude they get in the business of saying “no, that’s too dangerous”. I have occasion to be the Production Safety Consultant on a big budget action film. Action films, despite the extreme precautions to reduce the risk of undesirable outcomes (it’s not just injuries, but destruction of property, damage to equipment, etc.) action films remain a fairly high risk endeavor (as compared to shooting at an outdoor Paris café) but safety people need to recognize that the old adage, “the show must go on doesn’t just apply to Hollywood or Broadway but to oil fields, and auto manufacturing, or logistics, or bio tech, or well… you get the picture (no pun intended).  Everywhere the work has to get done, ideally safely, but if you tell them “no” they will just wait until you aren’t around to do it.  And hidden risk is deadly risk. Our jobs in safety has to be about helping people make informed decisions about the risks they take, not making global rules and procedures because one person made a bad decision. We have to be better than that, but being better than that is a lot more work.  Safety is not a profession for the lazy, and point of fact I haven’t met that many lazy safety practitioners (the problem is the ones who are stick out in my memory).  I’ve met plenty of crusaders who have an exaggerated sense of their own importance to the organization, and I’ve seen my fair share of bellyachers (you have to remember that through my writing, blogging, speaking, and consulting I meet a LOT of safety professionals that traverse geographies, cultures, industries) but mostly I’ve met good safety who are earnestly trying to do the best job they can. Most are respectful, thoughtful, and intelligent, and most would agree that safety, and the steps we are forced to take are often compromises that keep us up at night.