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Snitches End Up In Ditches

From the 4-year old tattle tale to the office colleague that runs to the boss with a petty grievance against you, people dislike informers.  Unfortunately for those of us in the safety industry many people see us as the rat squad, or even more dangerously, see anyone who has the courage to exercise stop work authority as a rat.

As much as we are loath to admit it safety slows work and can often be a nuisance to the people who believe that getting the work done is more important than following the procedure to ensure the work is being done as safely as is practicable.  Even the wording of UK law that holds employers responsible for performing work in the safest way practicable can be troubling.  What’s the difference between practicable (we in the States might say “feasible”) and possible? A lot. And who decides where lies the line between an unfair burden on the company and reasonable precaution? Typically the employer and the person who blows the whistle on an over zealous employer may find him or herself ostracized by coworkers for being a rat.

Safety Will Put Us Out of Business

No I know that many reading this will frown a patronizing frown and think, “this guy has got it all wrong, MY people would never react this way”  and maybe they’re right.  But I have been in the safety business in one form or another for over 25 years for the last 15 I have worked on consulting projects for the bulk of my time.  Consulting is a cut-throat, back-stabbing, dog-eat-dog world, but the nice thing about being a consultant is that people will tell me things that they would never tell someone in their company.  Years ago, I was working with a small manufacturer with a horrible safety record and worse culture.  (I was brought in by their biggest customer who was concerned about what they saw as a disaster waiting to happen).  One of the leaders told me that “if we did things the way you think they should be done (safely) we would be out of business in a week.”  The workforce were largely minimum wage and spoke little English and if they knew something was unsafe they knew better than to report it. there were no lock out procedures, placards, or discipline and I personally had to intervene three times because someone was working in a robot cell while it was fully energized.  The sole focus was speed (the parts they produced didn’t have a whole lot of possibility of a meaningful defect.)  Ultimately they decided to strong arm the customer by refusing to make parts until they were granted a 25% price increase.  A week later they were out of business, killed not by safety, but by greed.

Still, the idea that in some industries it is impossible to work safely persists. In some industries an injury is a badge of honor; it means you are no longer a rookie.  In those environments safety is the enemy and to bring up a safety concern is to be a snitch, the lowest of the low, a coward who can only muster the gumption to tattle in secret; below scum.

Fighting Back

So how does one combat that twisted mentality? For starters you need to ferret out the real informers and let them know in no uncertain terms that if they have a problem they need to address it assertively with the individual and not run to the boss with petty crap. Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations are really great books that describe skills that all professionals (not just safety professionals) should master.  I will warn you, having conversations of this nature isn’t fun, but they are a heck of a lot more productive than snitching.

Years ago I was commissioned by a large company to produce a video that showed a cross section of workers answering one question: “How do you intervene when you see someone doing something safe?”  the answers ranged from “I tell the person that I care about them and don’t want to see them hurt” to “hey (expletive) can I have your tools when you’re dead” (I didn’t get to use that one, but it was effective).

We ARE Snitches, But We Don’t Have To Be

Many of us are snitches.  We lack the authority to discipline workers for not following the safety rules and the best we can do (along those lines) is tattle to someone who can enforce the rules. But we don’t need to be snitches, instead of trying to force people to follow a safety rule we need to influence them to see following the safety rules (or in the case of the company that forces people to tie off at the height of 4 feet when the harnesses have a 10 foot lanyard to speak up when the rule doesn’t make sense or even further imperils the worker) we need to listen, learn, and advise the workers.  They may have a very good reason for not following a rule and if were not careful, we might just learn something.

Why Safety Will Never Achieve What Quality Does

Quality

By Phil La Duke

Back in 1985 when I worked the line at a major player in the auto industry they put up signs: DIRT FOOT. DIRTFOOT stood for Do It Right The First Time the extraneous “O”s were added either because us lowly floor workers were thought to be too stupid to remember it without it spelling out something, or someone thought it was witty or cute But behind the DIRT FOOT campaign was the supposition that, unless reminded to do otherwise, the clumsy, lazy, stupid, and indifferent workers would, left to their own designs would produce poor quality; and so it was before the “quality revolution” when the teachings of Deming, Drucker, Jurandt, and others transformed the auto industry. Cars are much more complex than ever and yet the quality endemic to the vehicles produced is exponentially higher than the vehicles produced in the 1970s, may my crappy first car POS rust in peace.

Does the mindset prior to the quality revolution sound familiar? Are workers still reminded not to die by cutesy signs and trite slogans? Do companies manage safety as if “the clumsy, lazy, stupid, and indifferent workers would, left to their own designs would injure themselves”?  It’s a rhetorical question, but it begs another, non-rhetorical question: “Why were companies so successful in making such vast progress in quality and yet safety—while admittedly improved—still struggles?”

Quality is a market-driven; it’s simple mathematics: build inferior shoddy products and sell them at the same price as comparable products that are high quality and you will be driven from the market. Safety isn’t market-driven.  If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when was the last time you decided NOT to purchase something because of its safety record?

NOTE: This section has been edited because I think it could be unfairly misconstrued as calling into question the safety efforts of companies I respect, or as a call to action to boycott companies unfairly.

I fully admit that while I won’t shop at a particular retailer or I don’t buy a particular brand, that usually has more to do with its behavior as a corporate citizen (does it pollute the environment or did its bloated sub-simian founder kill the last known black rhino and then brag about it on Facebook, or even because I don’t like its commercials, but I have never once balked at buying a product because it had a poor safety record, and with the exception of a family member or a friend of the victim, few if any people consider the safety of the workforce when buying a company’s goods or services. The hard reality is people generally don’t care about safety, or to be more granular and specific: we the consumers don’t use the safety of the workers as a criterion when deciding what to buy.  The fact is, we don’t even think about how safely a product was assembled as long as it performs satisfactorily and as promised. And we are safety professionals, so what hope is there for changing the hearts and minds of the average consumer?

As with so many of my posts, things aren’t as cut and dried as they seem. Sure we hear and read news reports of workplace fatalities, but we rarely hear the facts of the incident, and unless there is an indictment we aren’t likely to be able to say with certainty that the company behaved inappropriately. So even if we wanted to restrict our shopping to companies with the best safety records it’s unlikely that we could.  I would also be remiss to not point out that many of my customers use my company’s safety record as a criterion for whether or not they source work to us, so for me to say that there is absolutely NO market pressure to work safer would not be accurate.

That having been said, from a manufacturing standpoint (or oil and gas, or construction, or mining, or whatever your industry) there is scarce little difference between quality defects and injuries. Something or someone messes up and it either damages the people, the product, or the equipment (and sometimes all three). So if the cause is the same, why is it so difficult for companies to embrace the teachings of Deming?  I have written both published works AND blogged about how Deming can be applied to safety, and yet the gulf between how we view and manage quality and how we manage safety seems to have grown.

Deming said, “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality”[1] and yet “behavioral observations” are still commonplace in the world of safety. Deming said, “Institute training on the job.”1 and yet much of the “training on the job” isn’t really training—even in the broadest sense of that word—rather one employee showing the new employee how to do the job; it is seldom formal, recorded , measured, or covers safety issues specific to the job.  On-the-job-training is still almost unchanged from the training I received in 1985 when a foreman asked if I had ever used hydraulic tools and I said no.  He then asked if I had ever used power tools and I said, “not extensively”.  He looked irritated and said, “read this ticket if there is a letter “T” here it’s a Cadillac and that means you put on a recliner lock by driving screws here, here and here.  If there is a “TL” on the ticket you put recliners on both sides. You use the big gun to drive the big screws and the little gun to drive the little screws (they were bolts by the way, not screws) It there’s nothing on the ticket you put on a regular lock and drive screws here and here, you got it?” I said not really and he walked away.  I learned about safety by missing the recliner bolt and having the part spiral backwards narrowly missing my head. Safety wasn’t a priority, hell safety wasn’t even a vague notion in anyone’s head.  People who went to medical were seen as malingers and lazy goof offs. Treatment at the medical department was designed to keep the injuries off the book and generally consisted of aspirin and the unfortunately named “Analgel”.

Deming said, “drive out fear” and yet when it comes to incident investigations many of them still feel more like a police interrogation than an honest attempt to find out how to make things safer. Too often incident reports come back with “employee screwed up” or some fancied up version of that as a root cause.  And perhaps the biggest difference between Deming’s teachings and safety as practiced today is Deming’s point “Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.”1 We festoon our walls with posters made by the children of employees and have slogan contests.  We argue bitterly over whether or not our goal should be “zero injuries”, we ignore that like low quality and low productivity poor performance in safety belongs to the system and is beyond the power of the workforce.  This incongruence steadfastly remains even in workplaces with fairly sophisticated quality management systems.

So here we sit. We have the tools that have been proven to work in quality and yet we ignore them in safety.  We vehemently argue against Deming’s points, not because they are wrong or that they don’t make sense but because they weren’t invented here.  Until consumers, us among them, stop buying from companies that kill and seriously injure their workers there won’t be a Safety Revolution to rival the quality revolution; just a bunch of safety guys arguing about nonsense.

[1] Source: https://deming.org/management-system/fourteenpoints The Deming institute

What I Learned Working Safety For A Major Motion Picture

Movie equipment

By Phil La Duke

Two days ago, feeling depressed and frustrated by the number of “safety people” who insulted and threatened me the week of July 4th simply because I said it was wrong to plagiarize, steal, and commit fraud. One particularly dim bulb said, “the internet makes plagiarism irrelevant” while another said “my friends and customers don’t care that I steal”.  It weighed on me.  Last year at this time I was working as a Production Safety Consultant on a big budget, star-studded Hollywood action film, and for the first time in my tenure as a safety professional I met people who thought my job was cool, sexy even.  The truth of the matter is that while the movie business isn’t that much different from other industries in terms of risks (most of the injuries are the same kinds of things that happen on any construction or demolition job) I learned a LOT about safety.  Having worked in the safety business in one capacity or another for over 20 years, like most of you, I thought that if I didn’t know everything I knew an awful lot.  But there’s a big difference between KNOWING something and truly UNDERSTANDING something, and it was this understanding that was made so much deeper and it changed me forever. I realize that only a handful will ever read this—it seems these days that people only come to my speeches and read my work so that they can be offended and hold me in contempt. But I also know that there are a core view of you who truly are interested in my meager wisdom and advice.

Time Really Is Money

I have preached this and preached this and it largely falls on deaf ears of the safety crusaders and zealots who honestly believe that God put them on this earth to keep people safe. When an injury shuts down production it costs tens of thousands of dollars a minute and even in big budget films delays are a big source of attention.  I remember on one shoot that the Assistant Director pointed to a cloud in the sky and said, “when that cloud there move to over there we need to be shooting so everyone pay attention and be ready to move when we need to.” Now suppose someone got injured just as the cloud gets into position; the shot is delayed and potentially ruined. Lesson: Safety is most important when it is enabling production not impeding it.

Take “Can’t” Out Of Your Vocabulary

In most people’s safety job we have to say, “I’m sorry, you can’t do it that way” all that does is delay the activity until you are out of the area at which time they resume doing it the way you just told them they couldn’t. Instead of “You can’t…” I learned that I was better served asking what they hoped to accomplish, and then saying, “let’s see if we can brainstorm a safer way of doing this.” The reaction was incredible; within a week I had special effects and pyrotechnic guys calling me over to discuss the day’s activities. They would explain what they wanted to do, list their safety concerns and ask me what I thought. They actually wanted to discuss safety before starting the job and they wanted to draw on my expertise. Lesson: When Safety becomes an ally safety becomes a resource.

Safety Isn’t About Saving Lives or Even About Enforcing Rules

The first day on site, as the crews from four different Unions were preparing to begin work I introduced myself to the top management guy. He was in charge of everything related to constructing sets on the site. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to in anyway correct his people for any safety violation.  I was to tell him and he would correct them.  Of course, he qualified that with “except where you see eminent danger of the loss of life”.  I had no problem with not correcting his people, because it wasn’t my job.  Now some safety professionals will bristle at that.  But the reality is this: there are strict rules in many labor agreements about to whom a worker answers and typically that means one and only one boss (co-supervision is a grievance).  I’m not their mother, I’m not their guardian angel, and I certainly have no “or else” power to hold over the people who don’t comply. When I would introduce myself to the crew I would say, “I’m a different kind of safety guy than you might be used to; I have your back I’m not on your back.”  They appreciated that I was looking out for them in an intrinsically dangerous workplace and would often come to me with questions and concerns. Lesson: We are not in the enforcement business.

Some people hate the safety guy because they hate authority figures

Every day I arrived at the set I would be greeted by a loud exaggerated voice of one of the few asshats I met on the production. Everybody has the guy who is passively aggressive attacking the safety guy because the safety guy is “the man”.  He would shout, “hey everybody, here comes the safety guy make sure your all wearing your safety glasses” and then look around wearing a dopey open mouthed grin scanning the crowd for support or a laugh and finding none.  His shtick got old fast, and one day I just wasn’t in the mood for it.  As I was walking away from a crew who had just alerted me of a safety concern he approached and sarcastically asked me “is everyone following the rules, Mr. Safety?” and I told him that I didn’t care if they were.  I told him that my job is to be sure that people have all the information that they need to make safer decisions and choices about the work they were doing.  I told him that if HE in particular chose to ignore those rules out of some sort of misguided outlaw rebellion and ended up dead I wouldn’t care, because a) I did my job in giving him the best advice I could and b) I barely knew him, and what I did know of him I didn’t particularly like. I told him that I hoped he was an organ donor because from what I could see he would contribute more to society in parts.  It wasn’t a nice thing to say, but it got the message across in terms he could finally understand.  After that he apologized for giving me such a hard time and we actually became friends. Lesson: We don’t save lives, the best we can hope for is to be trusted advisors who help people to make sound decisions and safer decisions so that they can save their OWN lives

Production Safety Isn’t About Meeting Celebrities

One of the first questions I am always asked when people find out that I work with the movie business is did you get to meet Star X, followed by did you get to talk to Star X? I am a movie fan, but that is a leisure activity not a job. If you are easily star struck don’t try to get into this business; it’s just not for you.  On rare the rare occasions that I did talk to the talent I talked about safety.  In fact, I didn’t see where their lives and wellbeing were any more important than the interns. As corny as it sounds they are all stars in my book and deserved equal treatment. Besides what are you going to say to a star that they want to hear? “I’m a big fan of your work?” They don’t say that to me so why should I say it to them? Lesson: In the eyes of safety all lives are of equal value.

Understanding What Someone Does Is Key

The first thing I would ask someone when I met them is what they do. Not what their position was but what they actually did (check out the excellent text book that references one of my articles,  The Complete Guide To Film and Digital Production: The People And The Process Third Edition by Lorene M. Wales for a complete view of how nebulous a title can be on a movie production).  I found that people LOVE to explain exactly what their jobs are and in knowing what they do I can find better ways to advise them on safety.  Each day I would approach the crew—from carpenters, to painters, to pyrotechnic technicians, to grips, to gaffers and everywhere in between and ask them what they would be working on that particular day.  If I didn’t know what something meant I would ask about it. It was easier to gain their trust and therefore easier to do my job, by taking a genuine interest in what they did. Lesson: You can’t advise someone about safety if you don’t understand their job and what they are up against, and genuinely caring about the things on which they are working makes a big difference.

 

 

 

Resilience and Safety

By Phil La Duke

Last week I watched a video posted by a LinkedIn contact Carsten Bush. Those of you who are fortunate enough to know Carsten know that he is on top of his game when it comes to safety and he brings a lot of insight to his posts. He posted a 12 minute video of a talk by Johan Bergström https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-lhUjKqD-s

The video makes some pretty profound points and I recommend that you watch it, but his definition of “resilience” that really got me thinking. Johan Bergström points out that the word resilience doesn’t make sense in Scandinavian languages but in English, for example, resilience has different meaning depending on context. It can mean the ability of a material to return to its original state after being stress (the example he uses is a spring returning to its former state after being pulled.  Bergström additionally points out that in the psychology “resilience” refers to a human being’s ability to thrive despite adversity (this is called resilience theory), and finally in ecology resilience is the ability to continually adapt to constantly evolving stressors. All of this is contained in the video linked, so any quotation or reference should be credited to Bergström not me.

I got thinking about resilience in the context of organizational change and safety. If a person can be resilient, isn’t it possible that an organization can be equally resilient? I see some profound implications for safety in all three definitions of the word resilience.

An Organization’s Ability to Return to Its Former State

Those of us in the change business have to consider that the difference between changing a culture and changing a climate depends to a large extent on how resilient the organization is. The more resilient the organization the more difficult it will be to effect lasting and sustainable change. Some organizations aren’t very resilient—for example organizations with significant turn over and/or changes in key leadership positions will find returning to the days prior to the organizational change very difficult as many of the key players are no longer present—while other organizations can undue a state-of-the-art and forward-thinking safety management system in weeks or months because it is so resilient that what seemed like a culture change was simply a climate change.

People’s Ability to Work Thrive Despite Adversity

If your current culture is highly resilient your people will be difficult to change because a key element of change is the organization’s dissatisfaction with the current state. If people are able to thrive in dysfunction they are far less likely to be dissatisfied with the current state. Years ago I worked with a company that had been sold five times in seven years. Talk about a resilient population! Any change imitative went largely ignored because the population would just wait it out.  It was impossible to govern or make any lasting change because the people could work through the discomfort of change and quickly return to their former cultural state.

The Ability To Continually Adapt To Constantly Evolving Stressors

If individuals are continually adapting to constantly evolving stressors, in other words they are highly resilient, it will take enormous effort to get them to recognize and accept that they need to change. Hazards are constantly evolving stressors and one of the greatest shortfalls of most approaches to safety is that we treat both behavioral and physical hazards as a) a discreet element unaffected with the other hazards present and b) static in nature, that is, they are constantly present as opposed to hazards that are intermittently present.  In fact, many hazards are constantly evolving and interacting with other hazards to heighten or lessen the risk of injury.  Many of us work with individuals who seem just plain accident-prone, but might they instead simply be less resilient—less able to deal with (thrive) in an environment rife with constantly evolving stressors (groups of hazards, or a hazard environment)? A lack of resilience in this sense also could explain why so many people inexplicably do so many stupid things or make so many mistakes (as I have mentioned in numerous other posts, stress is a performance inhibitor and greatly increases the likelihood that people will commit human errors).

So How Can We Use This Information

The first step toward innovation is to understand that every existing culture has some degree of resilience and before we can create a culture change we had better intimately understand the degree of resilience of our organization. Also, we need to recognize that resilience has limits and whatever solution we bring to the table must cause enough stress on the organization to “forever bend the spring”. Culture change initiatives must breakdown the organizations resilience to ensure that it adopts the new normal and never returns to its former state.

Finally, we have to continually reinforce the changes to the culture so that they stick. Culture change vendors who don’t provide a means for your organization to sustain the changes aren’t really offering you more than a temporary climate change, or a parasitic relationship where the change will only remain as long as you retain the services of the vendor.  I don’t know about you, but I like to pay for services once and not be held hostage by a vendor.

 

 

Choosing Your Approach To Culture Change Should Be Driven By Need Not By Desire

by Phil La Duke

When you decide to transform your safety culture you will find many people offering to help and since that help can come with a pretty big price tag you will want to be confident that it works. The snake-oil salesmen and petty conmen so prevalent in the safety field that when I suggested that it was wrong to steal people lost there mind and messed their trousers.  In short, when someone is selling hammers your organization looks like a nail.   When it comes to transforming an organization’s Safety Culture  one size definitely doesn’t fit all and while many providers insist that a single change model can be fitted to any organization, you really need to begin the diagnostic process before you even take bids or decide on specific methodology. Dismissing the out-and-out snake oil almost all methods fall into three main categories based on an organization’s place on the change continuum.

Current State Approach Description
Executives understand that the local sites operate under substantial risk but local leadership either underestimate the risks or don’t take the risks seriously Transformational Approach A team of Safety Culture Change specialists guide the site on a voyage of discovery toward the presence, nature, and potentially serious consequences of the risks at the local sites.   The key is to allow the organization to become dissatisfied with the current state on its own and to be forced to admit it has a problem.
Executives aren’t certain of the risks under which their local sites operate or are seeking verification of internal findings Diagnostic Approach A team Safety Culture Change Specialists analyze and assess both the local and corporate cultures and score the organization on its maturity in seven to ten key business areas
Executives are fairly certain of the risks under which the local facilities operate but lack a safety infrastructure for harmonizing local practices with the corporate vision Structural Approach A team consisting of Safety Culture Change specialists work with the local site to build a Safety Infrastructure that is harmonious with the corporate vision.

Most of these change models can be directly traced to David Gleicher’s work while he was at the contract services pioneer Arthur D. Little sometime in the 1960’s[1].  It’s tough to give a more finite reference because this formula as been cannibalized to the extent that there are numerous versions some that are attempts to simplify Gleicher’s formula and others that make it more complex, in most cases for nothing more than complexities sake.

[1] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_for_change

changeThe Transformational Approach focuses on fomenting dissatisfaction by forcing the local organization to face its inadequacies and the gaps between its current state and the corporate vision.  The key to this approach is to have an outside team guide the organization through the process of accepting that they are at risk and that things are not as great and safe as they want to believe.  I believe that this needs to be done by an outside team because: a) people tend to be blind to their own inadequacies; b) people tend to downplay the risk because “no one has ever been hurt by x before”; and c) while people will generally learn to accept change they will seldom forgive it or the people who brought it.”  The team who facilities this kind of transformation must also be chosen carefully because if it is to heavy handed then the organization will treat them as interlopers and auditors. The inadequacies MUST be found and reported on by people within the organization, unless they own the problem they won’t be dissatisfied with the current state.

A Diagnostic Approach helps corporate leaders define or refine a compelling corporate vision for safety and identify the gaps while preparing a roadmap for successfully harmonizing local practices with corporate vision.  This can be done by outsiders or an internal group, but the kind of forensic digging can be difficult as one function hoards information.  An outside group tends to be less menacing and less threatening to Bob in accounting who won’t release the confidential Workers’ Comp figures to “just anybody”.  Crafting a vision for success begins with knowing where you are now and having a pretty good idea where you are now, just doesn’t cut it.

In my experience, where most organizational change efforts fail is in the “next steps” or first steps as it was originally called.  It’s relatively easy to get the C+ suite unhappy with the current state, and it’s almost as easy to get them to form and articulate a compelling vision for success, but when it comes to making the hard choices and allocating appropriate resources to make that vision a reality it can be tough.  This is another area where it’s useful to employ and outside resource because internal resources tend to get pulled off projects, the project gets put on hold, other priorities come up until the effort dies on the vine.

Keep Your Nose Out Of My Homelife

By Phil La Duke

For many people working in the safety field, safety is less a job than an obsession. For some safety is the zealous pursuit of safety in all circumstances—at work, at home, at play; everywhere. In this approach lies the path to madness. We need to focus on worker safety; only when we have achieved complete safety in the workplace (which is to say never) should we turn our focus to the safety of the conditions and behavior of workers outside the workplace.

I am not one to quote the bible but I think this is appropriate, “”No one can serve two masters.” Luke 16:13 source  http://biblehub.com/luke/16-13.htm I’m sure I will get yet another round of threats and insults for suggesting that how a worker behaves when not at work is, at least from a safety standpoint, none of our business.  Sound callous? Sound cold-hearted? What other occupation goes to such extremes to carry over what they do at work into the homes and lives of workers? Are there Lean practitioners conducting Kaizen events in worker’s kitchens? Do you have quality systems professionals trying to get workers to get their garages ISO certified? Does the 5S team foot print the television sets and ottomans in workers home? No, and to suggest that they should is ludicrous, and yet to suggest that maybe safety professionals need to mind their own businesses when it comes to how the worker’s behave at home is heresy.  Just my suggesting this will further stir the pot and I will get another week’s worth of insults, threats, and who knows maybe another bomb threat.  Just an aside, but what kind of safety person threatens the life of someone with whom he or she disagrees? Seems a bit hypocritical to me, but what do I know?

For the record I don’t want people to get hurt at home; a friend and co-worker of mine died at home. He was an electrician who died when he accidentally sawed through the power cord of his saw while cutting aluminum siding. There was nobody more informed about the safe use of hand tools and/or the dangers of electricity; and yet he still made a fateful error that cost him his life.  But I draw the line at calling the safety manager on the carpet for not preventing this death.  I was head of training at the time, should I have stuck my meddling nose in and insisted that I train him to cut aluminum siding?

I won’t go through the butcher’s bill of people who I have lost to workplace accidents, so before some water-headed bleeding heart accuses me of being indifferent let me ask this: is YOUR OWN workplace in order? Is your own workplace so free of risks and hazards that you can afford to think of ways people can be safe at home? Is your plate so empty that you can afford to take on safety at home? Personally, I believe that the National Safety Council and a handful of others have created a sort of identity crisis among safety professionals.  This is not a knock on the NSC, but we need to be mindful that they are not the Worker National Safety Council.  The scope and breadth of the NSC extends far beyond worker safety and into traffic safety, safety at home, and well…safety in just about any context you can think of. The scope of your job likely does not.

I think I am rather typical of the average worker. I have worked some real crap jobs; jobs where safety wasn’t regarded with derision and contempt.  The general attitude was if you want to be safe go work somewhere else, if there was a safety rep or safety manager at these places I damned sure didn’t know who it was, and I learned very quickly that if I was going to stay alive I had to take matters into my own hands. When the company would put up safety posters they were quickly vandalized (not by me) because of an abiding s sense that whoever was responsible didn’t live in the real world, and most certainly the company (that never in my almost four-year tenure fixed the missing wood block in the floor that I had stepped in and badly wrenched my ankle) couldn’t care less about my safety. For them to have the hubris to offer suggestions on how I could stay safe while at home would have incited us to riot.

I know the people who want to offer tips for working at home mean well, and truthfully I have throughout my career have offered the occasional tip myself. But there’s a difference between those who see no harm in the occasional “heads up” on safety at home and the safety martyrs who claim that they got into this business solely to help people.  We need to knock of that sanctimonious crap or stop collecting paychecks for doing our jobs. From wait staff, to nurses, to lawyers, to bellhops, to policemen to maids, to ambulance drivers, to…just about any number of jobs; the people doing them are helping people; of course they get paid to help people just like we do.  There is no dichotomy between helping people and making money and to suggest otherwise is to arm the people who dismiss us as soft-headed buffoons.

There comes a point where what I do when I am off the clock is none of your business; if I bring my problems into the work place it may become your business, or the business of my boss (who I hasten to add probably isn’t you) but until it does…butt out.