Safety Aint Pretty

Note: I am publishing about 5 hours earlier, so this is it for the week

Phil La Duke without his make up

I worked for a while as a security guard at a nuclear facility.  We were expected to work safe.  Let me be clear on this, we weren’t threatened with discipline if we didn’t work safe, nor were we given a pizza party at the end of the month if we didn’t kill anyone.  We were expected to work safe because just getting the job required the completion of rigorous screening, background checks,  and excruciating testing. Sure we faced disciplinary consequences for not following the safety protocols, but the people conducting my safety training tended to focus on the consequences for following the safety protocols: I wouldn’t get hurt or suffer a horrific death from becoming irradiated.

Now, if you don’t get hurt you get to play safety BINGO, and if you don’t kill someone you get to have a pizza party, or a Target gift card, or even a bonus.  And for those of us who might forget to work safe we have posters made by our cherubic little love ones reminding us not to die at work.

Safety professionals don’t give people much credit.  Unlike the professionals responsible for my safety training at the nuclear plant (interestingly enough they were security officers, managers, and first responders NOT safety professionals) who respected me enough to believe that I would do all in my power to ensure my safety and the safety of others simply out of my sense of integrity, not because I was looking for some trinket or game piece. These wonderful managers and supervisors assumed I would do what was right, but provided the training, because as they put it, “we can’t think of everything and neither can you, so we are going to teach you some things that can help you better protect yourself.  There were no scare tactics, no you better not let me catch you without your PPE; just a frank conversation and an admission that sometimes the system might break down and they were looking for us to help identify ways in which they could help us to be safe.

Frankly this cutesy crap is insulting to the hard working and responsible workers who log millions of hours doing their best to achieve safety perfection in an imperfect world.  Expectations can be powerful and they are difficult to fake,  You can tell me what a professional I am all you want, but if you patronize me with your ham-fisted attempts to manipulate me into working safety with a bunch of trinkets and crap that I probably will throw away before I get to my car I will know where you really stand.

Expectations can work against you too. When you implement a condescending Behavior Based Safety system you are telling me that you believe that left to my own designs you expect that I will act like a drug crazed baboon recklessly endangering myself and others.  You tell me, through these programs, that you believe that I am all id, and that I am naturally inclined to disregard regulations, work unsafely, and generally act like a spoiled, willful child.

And when exactly did the safety professional get so superior to the rest of operations? I’ve heard safety professionals call injured workers “wimps” “cry babies” and “frequent fliers”.  I’ve heard safety professionals deride “a good portion” of injured workers as milking fraudulent claims.  Safety professionals openly criticize managers and lazy do nothings and border-line criminals. Of course leadership are unenlightened dolts and Neanderthals who can’t be expected to care about safety.

Safety professionals have set themselves apart from too long and the day is coming where the rest of the workforce will ask safety professionals are you with it or against it? So here is what needs to happen.  Safety professionals grow up; the things you think are cute, fun, and innovative are viewed by the workers as condescending, simple-minded, unprofessional, and insulting.  Stop embarrassing yourself (and those of us in the safety professional who do expect professionalism and integrity from the workers) and stop insulting people.  Your job isn’t to protect the workers, your job is to help the workers to protect themselves.  And reminding me not to die isn’t the same as saving my life.