They Called It Common Sense When Sense Was Common

By Phil La Duke

The other day I was trolling the LinkedIn discussions looking for signs of intelligent life when I came across a discussion that eulogized common sense. It was the type of piece that burnt-out old coots send each other to remind themselves of how much smarter they are than this new generation of soft-headed safety do-gooders. I’ve never liked this crap; and by crap I mean the kind of Andy Rooneyesque nostalgia that reminds us how much better were before safety professionals got involved and kids had to wear helmets to ride their bikes, medicine bottles had to have those infernal lids, seat belts were optional, and doctors told you to smoke cigarettes to relax. (For my part, I don’t miss polio and asbestos pajamas.) This wasn’t so much a discussion thread (hell, it even had a “pass this along to others who miss common sense” imperative at its end) as a manifesto, and the chain email tone turned me off. I started to comment, but for once I thought better of it. I’ve had enough arguments with idiots the last month or so to last a lifetime and I wasn’t quite ready to invite anymore.

The irony of me tacking on some digital blowhard is not lost on me (so if you are some jackass who reads my work just to have something to throw back at me, don’t bother.) But something about the subject matter really bugged me. Common sense…hmmm… In the book, Risk Makes Sense: Human Judgment and Risk by Dr. Robert Long and Joshua Long the authors attempt to debunk the “myth of common sense” and what they have to say on the subject resonates with me. The authors point out that most injuries are proceeded by an action that made sense to the person who caused it. Sometimes these people are dealing with imperfect information (like the man who was injured when he tried to remove what he erroneously believed to be an empty gas tank with a cutting torch), in other cases the person believes the risk of injury is much less than what it actually is (like the person who believes that the odds of being close head injured in a motorcycle accident because one is wearing a helmet are much greater than they are if one is not wearing a helmet). And sure, in some cases the person does something really stupid, but he who is without sin…

When people hear that I work in safety they invariably ask if what I do isn’t mostly common sense. It’s fairly insulting if you think about it. Imagine asking any other profession if most—if not all—of what they have trained and studied to do isn’t just common sense? “So you do heart surgery? Isn’t that mostly just common sense?” or “International copyright law? Isn’t that mostly common sense?” “You fly airplanes on transcontinental flights? How hard is that? I mean isn’t most of that just common sense?” When people ask me if what I do isn’t mostly common sense I just say, “oh yes a chimpanzee could do my job”; let them persist in their stupidity, hell I didn’t want to talk about work anyway.

As Long points out, there are two ways to look at “common sense”. One interpretation is that sense, i.e. judgment, isn’t particularly rare. Another interpretation is that common sense is a nearly universal reaction to a given situation or decision. In other words, common sense is the universally known and accepted response to every situation; the collective judgment. If people don’t intuitively read the situation in the same way most other people would, then they get what’s coming to them.

Using common sense means using your intuition and most people’s intuition sucks. In fact, common sense in this respect, is likely to cause more injuries than it prevents. In a world driven by common sense, we don’t need Material Data Safety Sheets because people shouldn’t have to be told not to drink chemicals with which they are working. In this Utopian paradise of common sense we don’t need a safety professional to identify the appropriate personal protective equipment because the intuition of the shop supervisor should be enough to protect people.

In a way, common sense is merely what most people would do in a situation; sometimes that’s the right move and more often it’s a deadly mistake. People are seriously injured and killed every day doing what common sense tells them. When we make a simple decision and we are successful we say it’s just common sense, but when someone else fouls up a simple decision we dismiss him as an idiot with no common sense. Another element of common sense is that populations don’t come to a common understanding overnight, and in many cases the learning that it takes to reach this common belief set exacts a horrible price. Today’s fatality is tomorrow’s common sense. People love common sense. When we read about someone dying in a horrific accident it’s comforting for us to think that we will never suffer a similar fate because, well, we have “common sense”.

We have to stop hiding behind this imaginary mystical power of common sense to protect us. Common sense makes us feel smarter than we really are, and encourages us take risks that we shouldn’t. Common sense is a last ditch effort, it’s what we rely on when we don’t have anything better on which to act.

I’d like to live in a world where people’s intuition was so razor sharp that we could rely on it over carefully crafted safety protocols but we don’t. People need to be trained in the safe performance of their jobs, nothing “goes without saying” and if faced with the decision to offend my intelligence by telling me something that is “common sense” or omitting a little detail that might kill me, insult away; I’d rather be insulted than dead.

I suppose it all comes down to they called it common sense when sense was common; the same can be said for courtesy I guess.


#common-sense, #dr-rober-long-and-joshua-long, #risk, #safety, #worker-safety

Why We Make Bad Decisions

Posting  about 20 hours early this week (so don’t expect a fresh one at noon EST tomorrow.

By Phil La Duke

The View From the Top Of the Cliff

I’m in the middle of reading, Risk Makes Sense: Human Judgment and Risk by Dr. Robert Long and I can already recommend it.  Dr. Long’s work got me thinking about the concept of risk and bad decisions.  I’m not going to talk about the book beyond saying that it is a must read for any Human Resources, Quality, or most of all Safety professional.  Instead I thought I would share some of the insights I had as I reflected on the nature of bad decision-making.

While it’s true that there are plenty of instances where injuries are caused by equipment failure, an act of God, or other freak occurrence, my experience has shown that a fair amount of injuries, if not MOST injuries, are the result of bad decisions. Whether the decision is to knowingly take an unreasonable risk or just to do something stupid; at one point or another we all make bad decisions. If we are ever going to hope to make the workplace safer we have to help people make better decisions, and to do that, we have to understand why people make such poor choices.

The Need For Expediency Trumps the Need To Be Safe

Human beings have a natural inclination to seek out expediency; we want to avoid unnecessary work and hassle whenever we can.  If asked to choose between the expeditious and the safe, people will generally gauge the risk of consequences and weigh it against the rewards.

Let me tell you a story that I think illustrates a lot about poor decision making. I am the world’s worst surfer.  I have been surfing for nearly 20 years and am not measurably better than the first time I surfed, but it’s something I enjoy.  The first time I went surfing was at Sanofre State Park, near Camp Pendleton in Southern California.  Trail Six is a winding path to the beach that creeps along the base of sandstone cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean.  As we approached the path, my buddy (who was introducing the world of surfing to me) looked at me and laid out a choice for me point blank: “Which way do you want to go? There’s the fast way and there’s the safe way.” I asked what the difference was and he told me about 20 minutes.  I asked, “which way do you usually go?” and followed him as we strayed from the path and headed to the edge of what I judged to be a 30-50 foot cliff.  As we walked past the wreaths where others had fallen and died and the signs that warned of unstable cliffs (and urged us to go back) I grew a bit apprehensive but I reasoned that these veterans were smart enough to judge the risks and they would never put themselves, and me, in harm’s way.

We reached the edge of the cliff and clutching a surfboard in one hand, literally climbed down its face, from one precarious foot- and handhold to the next, one handed.  “Don’t look down” someone warned in all earnestness.  The wind was brisk, and catching my board, threatened to pull me from the cliff and hurl me to the rocks below. I got scared but it was too late.  “I am going to die” I remember thinking over and over again. Our party of six surfers got to the bottom without incident.  I’ve made that climb dozens of times since, and each time it gets a little easier. Why would anyone, let alone someone who works in worker safety, make such a bad decision?

Reason #1: Expediency

Clearly it was more expedient to climb down the cliff’s face than it would be to walk 20 minutes down the trail.  All I gained from taking the trail was safety where as I lost 20 minutes, inconvenienced my friend and risked losing the respect of my newfound surfing buddies.  I chose expediency even though there were plenty of indications that expediency would come at the cost of my personal safety.  This same thought process is at play when a skilled tradesman decides not to lock out because he is only going to be in the robot cell for a minute, or a truck driver decides not to wear her seat belt because she is only going to be driving across the compound, or a someone uses a golf cart to move furniture or anyone of a thousand examples from around industry.  If it takes appreciably more time to do something the safe way, people will generally look for shortcuts even if they risk death.

Reason #2: Peer Pressure

Some industries, or even some workplaces, have the misguided belief that safety is for wimps.  And that anyone who advocates for safety over production or expediency is a mother hen, a goofball, or a nerd.  Let’s be clear: in my example, I imposed the peer pressure on myself.  My buddy was perfectly willing to walk down the trail with me if I was in anyway uncomfortable.  But I wanted to be one of the guys.  I was learning the norms and if I was going to be a surfer I was going to do whatever surfers did, and surfers walked down the cliff.  The same can be said of the workplace.  New workers want to belong (having a new job sucks) and they want to feel comfortable so they adopt the norms that they see on the job.  If the safety guy (or trainer) tells them one thing but the rest of the crew is doing something else, the new guy will adopt the traits that make him or her fit in.

Reason #3: Imperfect Knowledge

Often we make decisions based on something we assume to be fact, or think we know but don’t.  In my case, I was trusting that others had knowledge that I didn’t, and in my case I was correct.  I trusted that my colleagues knew the situation better than I did (or the state of California did for that matter). I believed them because they were there and able to assess the situation in ways that I (or the state park) could.  I have seen far too many fatalities that were caused simply because someone believed something was true when it was not—from machines that were believed to be locked out when they were energized to parking brakes thought to be engaged when they weren’t.

Reason #4: Past Successful Outcomes

The first couple of reasons explained why I took the risk in the first place, but it doesn’t explain why I continued to take the risk.  As I got to know my peers and gained their respect I could absolutely have said, “you know guys, maybe we shouldn’t…” but after successfully negotiating the cliff numerous times I downplayed the risk in my mind.  After all, why would I stop doing something at which I was repeatedly successful?  Think about workplaces where workers do repetitive tasks day in and day out.  How likely will they be to take risks that do not result in negative consequences but that reap real rewards?

Reason #5: Bad Decisions Breed Bad Decisions

Once I had committed to climbing one-handed down the side of a cliff there was no turning back.  I was in a dangerous situation and every decision I made from that point on would prove more critical.  This happens in the workplace often and many times ends in tragedy.  Consider the worker who is violating the company’s no smoking policy by having an unsanctioned smoke break in the work area.  When he thought he heard someone approaching he quickly throws the lit cigarette in  a trash barrel filled with acetone soaked rags which ignites, panicked he runs for a fire extinguisher…Often one bad decision leads to a string of worse decisions simply because the first decision eliminates the possibility of good decisions from that point forward. Someone smarter than me once said mistakes + blame = criminality; I think that’s true.

Reason #6: Under Appreciation Of Risk

I can still, years later, clearly remember thinking, “people have been telling me to be careful for years…how risky can this be?”  I have been warned so often about dangers so ridiculously remote that I dismissed the risk of falling almost immediately.  In some cases, we get so many ridiculous warnings (in Michigan, there are road signs that say “Bridge May Be Icy” that are posted year long;  every July I think, “not bloody” likely) that we just tune them all out.  How many people have you heard say, “everything causes cancer” in response to the latest medical warning? In the workplace sometimes we remind people to work safe so frequently and to be mindful of dangers so remote that our voices start to sound like blah, blah, blah. Worker’s know the difference between something that could potentially in some cases maybe harm them and those that most certainly WILL harm them; we need to stop acting as if that they can’t.

Reason #7: Lack of Immediate Negative Consequences

            After I successfully made the climb (climbing up that bugger after 4 hours of surfing was miserable, but I did it) it made all my apprehension seem silly and trivial.  I was fine and had been stupid worrying about falling to my death. The same dynamic plays out in the workplace.  Workers make bad decisions and they are fine so they start to disbelieve the laws of probability.

At the end of the day there is little we can do to control how people will make decisions, but we can work to obviate the negative effects of these seven reasons. But even if we can’t help people make bad decisions let’s all remember that even though everybody at sometime will make a bad decision, nobody should ever have to die because of it.  Ultimately, I—the worker—control my own safety, but I sure hope there is someone out there trying to shield me from the logical consequences of my own foolishness.  The answer isn’t in reminding me not to die, nor is it in taking away my right to make decisions, and we can’t bubble-wrap and mistake proof the world.  In the end we have to be our brother’s keeper.  It’s up to us as people (not as safety professionals) to help protect people from bad decisions, our own and others’ as well.

#at-risk-behavior, #at-risk-behaviour, #decision-making, #human-error, #phil-la-duke, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #risk, #risk-management, #risk-taking, #why-we-make-bad-decisions

Is Safety Compliance Training A Complete Waste Of Time?


U.S. Industry spends a fortune needlessly delivering safety training that fails to engage the learners, provides only the most cursory awareness of the topic, and imparts little in the way of skills. There are exceptions, of course.  A handful of large companies and many international Unions have made a concerted and largely effective effort to meet the requirements imposed by OSHA while ensuring that the training meets very specific needs of the workers. Unfortunately, most employers lack sufficient resources and will to provide professionally designed and developed training that also meets OSHA regulations.  Instead of spending precious resources developing training that is customized to their needs while meeting Federal requirements, these smaller (or less interested) organizations waste their training budgets buying training that is costly, time consuming and boring; the learners don’t like it and employers resent having to provide it.  The situation is a lose-lose proposition except that this kind of training satisfies OSHA regulations that mandate that it be provided.  Many companies find themselves expending precious resources providing safety training for the sole purpose of complying with government regulations that require training.  Most of this training fails to provide the skills it intends to impart, exacts a considerable opportunity cost, and does little to protect workers. By making small changes to how safety training is designed and delivered, however, organizations can comply with Federal safety regulations and significantly increase the instructional integrity and effectiveness of the safety training courses it provides to workers.

And what’s more all parties seem to like things precisely as they are.  There is little in the national debate in the way of a call to change the system. Most people seem to be content with a system that promulgates the existing checklist mentality instead of a system where employers are required to do only that training which directly links to a safer work environment where the risk to workers is significantly reduced. While scarce little resource exists, veteran safety professionals can attest to the woefully inadequate safety training that exists in many organizations throughout the United States.

A Brief History of OSHA Requirements for Safety Training

While the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 itself does not directly specify that employers provide health and safety training it does so indirectly since section 5(a)(2) requires that employers “ . . . shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.”  Over the years OSHA has prescribed more than one hundred specific training requirements and while it has developed training guidelines for employers, the development of safety training has largely been relegated to subject matter experts and entrepreneurs (chiefly those with a safety expertise instead of a training background).  Companies are reluctant to develop training that might go beyond mere compliance for fear that if in trusting the task to an instructional designer the resultant courses could cause an organization to expend resources developing a course that, while instructionally sound, might not meet the criteria required by OSHA.  Simply stated, many employers make the pragmatic decision to use a course that meets the letter of the OSHA standard over a superior course that meets the specific skills requirements.


If safety training is poorly designed and developed the blame lies not with OSHA. According to OSHA, its training guidelines were designed to assist employers in seven areas: determining whether worksite issues can be resolved by training; determining what training, if any, is needed; identifying goals and objectives for the training; designing learning activities; conducting training; determining the effectiveness of the training; and revising the training program based on feedback from employees, supervisors, and others. In short, OSHA’s guidelines aren’t significantly different from the ADDIE model.  Developed in 1975 the ADDIE model was commissioned by the U.S. Army who contracted the Center for Educational Technology at Florida State University (FSU) in response to a growing disparity between the complexity and sophistication of defense equipment and the diminished educational background of newly recruited service personnel.

The solution proposed by FSU was to create a ‘systems approach’ to training. The five-phase process prescribes a strict, step-by-step approach wherein training is developed by completing an Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  The primary purposes of the Analysis stage aligns closely to OSHA’s first stated purpose of determining whether worksite issues can be resolved by training and if so, what training, if any, is needed. Similarly, the second phase of ADDIE, Design, maps to OSHA’s  goal of helping employers in identifying goals and objectives for the training and designing learning activities. And while ADDIE’s Development phase doesn’t have a counterpart in the OSHA guidelines it his highly unlikely that this incongruence could account for the weakness in today’s safety training.

While the guidelines were intended to “encourage cooperative, voluntary safety and health activities among OSHA, the business community, and workers” the end result was a glut of companies that do a poor job of safety training, the participants rarely retain or apply the things they learn, and except for complying with government regulations little is accomplished. Safety training is required to protect workers so why should organizations have to fight with people to get them to complete the training?

How Do We Know the Training Is Ineffective?

Most of the data that supports the contention that much of the OSHA compliance safety training is ineffective is anecdotal; gathered from my personal experience (over 25 years of providing safety training in a diverse range of manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, construction, and aerospace environments) and from the conclusions of many other professionals with a hands-on awareness of safety training as delivered in industry today.  Anyone who doubts the assertion that safety training is ineffective need only review the course evaluations.  Some of common reasons given for resisting safety training include: the training is boring, the topics presented are just “common-sense” or don’t pertain to learners, and learner only attends the training because he or she was forced to attend – not because they are expected to learn anything useful.

Chief Complaints Of Safety Training

      OSHA required training is unpopular on all fronts.  Organizations view OSHA training as needlessly costly, over-protective, expensive, and unnecessary.  Training professionals view safety training as untouchable—developing custom training may result in training that is high quality but does not meet the OSHA standards.  Employees view the commercially purchased one-size-fits-all safety training as a boring, irrelevant waste of time. The chief problem associated with poor safety training is that a relatively small group of providers have created courses that appeal to the widest customer set.  So while it is true that there is some training tailored to fit a specific audience most is general training aimed at the lowest common denominator.

Safety Training Is Boring

A chief complaint regarding safety training is that it is boring. A large amount of safety training fails to keep the learners engaged in the topics presented. And to make matters worse, a generation of safety trainers has grown up believing that the topics in OSHA-required training are intrinsically boring.  OSHA bears indirect responsibility for the bromidic tone prevalent in safety training.   Employers have been taught by OSHA that they must provide training, but employers never got the message that the training had to be meaningful.  Organizations feel coerced by OSHA into delivering mediocre training with little to no relevance to the specific safety issues that are most likely to injure workers. The belief that training designed to protect an individual from life ending or debilitating injury is somehow boring by default is incredible, and yet millions of workers assume that safety training will automatically put them to sleep.

There are three issues associated with boring safety training: course design, facilitation, and evaluation. Courses are poorly designed because the primary intent of the course is typically nothing more than to meet the OSHA requirements.  Facilitation is often sub par because it is entrusted to subject matter experts instead of professional trainers. If the training is evaluated, this evaluation of the training is typically useless: if OSHA evaluates it at all, it limits its evaluation to a determination as to whether or not the training met the OSHA requirements and not whether or not the training was effective.

Designing Better Safety Training Courses

The best way to make safety more interesting is to develop a good course design, and a good course design beings with good course objectives.  In this regard, OSHA has made it easy for course designers.  In non-safety training it is rare that a course designer is given clear and specific outcomes required, but OSHA clearly defines the criteria for the training to meet the standard.  Unfortunately, OSHA falls short of developing the objectives for the required courses, and instead allows employers significant latitude with their treatment of the required course content. The result tends to be training that is very rudimentary and that focuses on awareness-level learning instead of skills application.

A primary contributor to the issue of over educating at the awareness level is that much of the safety training is developed by Subject Matter Experts in Safety (SMEs) who have little experience in developing training. SMEs often have difficulty separating the “need to know” from the “nice to know” and many SMEs are convinced that a skill can only be acquired once an individual fully grasps the scientific principles behind the skills and has a complete understanding of the topic presented.  These courses bog down in technical minutia that does nothing to increase the proficiency with which the participants will apply the skills being taught. Some may argue that there is no harm in providing extra information, but this is a specious argument.  Sometimes courses contain so much minutia and trivia that the focus on the skills required are lost.

It is unfortunate that OSHA inspectors do not evaluate course objectives. Certainly good course objectives can be a checklist of the topics that the course must cover but they can also identify the criteria for success. The best objectives describe measurable and observable behaviors that could easily be audited by OSHA.  Regrettably, while it is fairly easy for OSHA inspectors to measure what someone can and cannot do, it is nearly impossible to tell what someone knows unless there’s an accompanying observable behavior.

In broad strokes, courses that impart knowledge are “education” and those that teach a skill are “training”; this is a important distinction. Every good instructional objective will have three elements:

1. Identification of the skill expressed using action verbs

2. Criteria for success

3. Measurement parameters

The identification of a skill using action verbs may seem fairly obvious, but when one attempts write an objective that clearly identifies the skills one wants to impart, it can be extremely difficult and frustrating especially for subject matter experts, who while very skilled in safety may lack the most cursory instructional design skills.

Action verbs denote a person doing something, which is important when one is attempting to provide skills training relative to safety because when an organization trains a worker, it generally expects them to DO something. When one writes an objective it is crucial that one uses an action verb to describe what the participants will be able to do.

Establishing a criteria for success also SEEMS easy, but can be even more difficult than describing the skill, but once one has determined the actions the workers will be able to perform one needs to identify how good is “good enough”. This is where OSHA could be a key partner with industry but to date has done little to guide the developers of safety training.  Take Material Safety Data Sheet training, for example.  OSHA could easily identify specific criteria for success that would guide both course developers and government inspectors alike. Knowledge of a hazard without applicable skills for safely interacting with the hazard is useless.  As OSHA develops criteria for the successful achievement of safety training objectives it should resist the temptation of being overly stringent in its expectations. Perfectionists will demand 100% accuracy and that is laudable, but it also sets up an unrealistic expectation and the likelihood that an organization will end up retraining a considerable portion of the population who will never pass with 100% accuracy.   A far more reasonable approach is to allow for provisional completions, i.e. the learner is credited with completing the course provided he or she is able to perform a task with 100% accuracy, OR is able to perform it with 75% task followed by one-on-one coaching.

Facilitation of Safety Training

A lack of professional course design is certainly a problem, but non-engaging content is only part of the problem. In the earnest desire to comply, far too many safety courses focus only on the content and ignore delivery.  Subject Matter Experts turned safety instructors drone on and on, oblivious to a room full of participants who have completely checked-out mentally. A good safety course should keep the learners engaged by employing some simple instructional methods.  OSHA can support this by issuing criteria for certifying instructors.

An unskilled instructor typically struggles to hold the participants’ attention.  Estimates of the attention span of an average adult American range between 10 and 15 minutes.   That may seem hard to believe until one considers the way the brain works.  The human brain takes in information for about 30 seconds and then spends about a minute and a half processing the information. This cycle continues until the brain feels the stress of concentration and moves on to a new subject. These times are purely to demonstrate the dynamic, and reader should recognize that the veracity of the exact timing is purely illustrative and should not considered scientific fact. Irrespective of the exact timing of this processing, if an instructor presents too much information at an individual too quickly, the brain simply can’t keep up and shuts down.  Conversely, if the brain receives information too slowly, the mind tends to wander and seek out other input to process; a phenomenon is commonly called daydreaming.

There are ways with which an instructor can hold people’s attention longer.  First, the instructor should vary the delivery methods.  Many safety instructors have one delivery method: lecture.  Lecture is very useful and widely used in traditional education and it certainly has a place in safety training, but it shouldn’t be the only method an instructor uses. Lectures are popular among safety instructors because people tend to model the methods most familiar to them, and since most safety instructors sat through numerous lectures in college, they gravitate to this delivery method. There is an opportunity here for OSHA to develop guidelines for developing courses that will meet its standards and for shifting its policy away from a more broad-based and flexible approach to its training to a more clear and prescriptive approach.

A ten minute lecture that introduces defines and explains a topic is an excellent way to provide the participants with a lot of information quickly, but then a good instructor should use another delivery method to illustrate the point.   Many instructors like to use question-and-answer (Socratic method) or a group discussion to illustrate the skills they are trying to teach, but others might also consider a case study, a video, or a simulation exercise to illustrate a key point.

Case studies and simulation exercises are best used during the demonstration and practice steps of the instructional process.  A case study is typically an in-depth examination of one specific situation that is representative of the circumstances under which the learners will apply the skill.  A good case study should have a dilemma that the learner is asked to solve.  When one writes a case study, one must ensure one provides enough information so the learners can draw correct conclusions but not so much information that the learners will find the solution to the problem obvious.

Writing a good case study is similar to writing anything worth reading—it must keep the reader interested and engaged—except that case studies differ from written descriptions in that case studies are designed to teach a lesson of some sort.  But a well-written case study is only part of what makes the tool valuable.  In the case of OSHA required safety training, a case study could get at the heart of why the particular training is required to begin with. Facilitating a case study is at least as important as how well the case study is written.  While case studies can be used as part of individual or group work, a highly effective technique involves dividing the class into small groups and having the participants engage in discussion.  When facilitating a case study, the facilitator should have the participants in each group read the case and discuss the questions that are either included in the handouts or posted in the room. (Posting the questions obviates the need to have the facilitator keep repeating the questions to throughout the exercise.) Once each group has discussed the questions and arrived at a consensus the facilitator should ask a group spokesperson to share the group’s responses with the entire class. The discussion of the case study in the entire group will allow the facilitator to gage the learners understanding of the points most germane to the case study.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Safety Training

When it comes to evaluation there is no substitute for a good experiential exercise (or simulation).  An experiential exercise/simulation is a controlled environment where the learner can perform the skills without exposing themselves to real-life dangers associated with performing the skills under actual working conditions; this is key in safety training.  An excellent example of the effectiveness of simulations is the training conducted in a nuclear power.  One can imagine how important safety is when working around potentially radioactive materials, and can probably understand how much safety training the average nuclear facility requires its workers to compete.  A course on the proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) associated with entering a radioactive area would pose a particular problem.  Obviously the instructor can’t take the learners into an actual radioactive area for training because the consequences for incorrect performance would be dire.  The situation is complicated because typically such training is conducted with over 25 participants, and there are seldom more than only two or three sets of PPE available for training. (These suits are expensive and typically only issued to people who will work in an environment requiring them even though training is required for everyone.) Despite these challenges the instructor can train workers in the procedure for putting on the gear and taking it off by using a simple simulation.  The instructor need only designate an area of an adjacent room (using masking tape to mark the boundaries of the area) as “radioactive”, the facilitator then instructs the group to (in pairs) demonstrate the proper procedure for putting on our imaginary gear, and then removing the gear.  The procedure for doing so is painfully specific, with each piece of gear requiring that it donned in a specific order.  If a participant erred while removing the gear the facilitator observes, “congratulations, you are radioactive” and ask offending participant to go to the end of the line.  This, and similar situations can be fun, but more importantly, the learners retain important skills that may one day save their lives.  This fictitious exercise can be more than just engaging; it can be meaningful and effective.

Safety Training Is Indiscriminate 

Far too often a population is provided safety training that it doesn’t need or is provided a level of training that is deeper in scope than would ever be required to protect the worker—even in the most extreme cases. Workers, who might only require a warning, are instead required to complete training that provides higher level skills that they will never use. And because a key requirement of adult learning is relevance, this safety training “over kill” produces a sense of triviality among the learners. Since there is such poor delineation in the OSHA requirements between the needs of a few key positions and the general populace training tends to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, i.e. organizations provide training to too broad an audience rather risk violation of a requirement.

Determining the Appropriate Audience for Training

A key to providing safety training at the right level of detail lies in the use the words “do” and “know”. The difference between “doing” and “knowing” is substantial, profound and lies at the heart of the difficulties associated with poor safety training. In 1956 a committee of educators led by Benjamin Bloom classified the levels of learning arranged in hierarchical order. This work, which came to be known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, identifies the level of skills mastery with which a learner should acquire to achieve the course goals. Bloom, and subsequent researchers identified three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.  Skills associated with the cognitive domain focus on knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking. Safety training tends to focus on training on the lowest levels of the cognitive domain, but such focus is inappropriate for protecting workers.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom et al identified six levels in the taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  Unfortunately, most safety training stops at the first two levels, and in some cases focus only on the knowledge. Ostensibly, this focus seems to make sense, after all, we can’t expect workers to follow safety rules if they don’t know the rules exist or don’t understand how the rules apply to them.  But there is a chasm between knowing and understanding the rules and following these rules.

Most safety training falls short of addressing skills at the application level and this is a serious shortfall.  Safety training needs to impart skills that can be transferred across varied and diverse.  The workplace is dynamic and hazards can crop up unexpectedly and unpredictably and good safety training should prepare workers to deal with new hazards.

OSHA-required training seldom addresses skills at the analysis level and in so doing, ignores some of the most crucial skills for protecting workers.  Analysis-level training helps the learner to divide content into its basic elements and to organize ideas.  At this level, the prime objective of training is to give the learners skills necessary to problem solve. Because the learner is able to extrapolate new skills from the application of existing skills the learner is better prepared for assessing risk, troubleshooting, diagnosing process flaws and, in general, thinking proactively about ways to make the workplace safer.  The lack of requirements for analysis-level safety training underpins the criticisms leveled at OSHA-required training.  Such criticisms are unfair and misguided; it is not incumbent on OSHA to compel employers to do what companies should intuitively understand as being in their own interests.

The next level of training on Bloom’s taxonomy is Synthesis.  Synthesis-level training builds skills relative to combing varied sources to create a true innovation. While analysis builds skills that help workers to discover hazards and have a deeper understanding of the causes of worker injuries, synthesis-level training help workers to craft new and innovative solutions that can make the entire workplace safer.  Synthesis-level training will tend to blur the lines between traditional safety training and job-specific training. Because this training is more deeply imbedded into the curriculum than the training at lower levels, it is unreasonable to expect OSHA to require training this extensive, but clearly, imbedding synthesis-level skills into all its training.

The highest level of training in Bloom’s Taxonomy is Evaluation.  Safety training designed to impart evaluation-level skills is intended to help worker to make sound judgments relative to the efficacy and value of ideas or materials. Evaluation-level training is paramount to transforming a corporate culture from one where safety is seen as an obligation to one where safety is seen as process improvement.

A Lack Of Relevancy

Adults need to be able to directly relate a topic in a training course to a real-life need. Respected researcher and author on the topic of andragogy, Malcolm Knowles offered some fundamental differences between how adults and how children learn.  According to Knowles, a key means for motivating adults to learn is to demonstrate the relevancy of the topics to a skill that the adult learner perceives as useful.  Safety training often lacks this essential element, and topics seen as irrelevant are not likely to be retained.  While the OSHA requirements encourage employers to provide training that addresses the specific needs it doesn’t mandate that the training be relevant to the job requirements.

Even training that is relevant in the broadest sense—e.g. training in the safe response to a natural disaster—may not seem as important as other training owing to the remote chance that such skills will ever be required. There are two dynamics at play in this scenario: all safety hazards do not carry the same perceived weight, and the commitment to the training by the learner directly correlates to the perceived relevance to the learner’s need.

The argument that safety training does not apply to the hazards generally faced by the adult learners is a fairly specious one.  The problem is typically not in the applicability of content but in the course or course facilitation, but in a flaw in the design where the course fails to connect the topic to a meaningful What’s In It For Me: (WIIFM).  Unless the course facilitator can make a compelling argument for the usefulness of the course content the adult learner is likely to mentally check out and retain little to no course content.

Compliance At The Expense Of Safety Skills

A lot of safety training is seen as a necessary evil by the organization and major inconvenience by the individual.  It is impossible to provide training to people that honestly and ardently believe that they aren’t attending the training, they are being subjected to it. Yet organizations have to do safety training to comply with the law. There isn’t a choice; organizations have to present safety training and people have to attend it.  While compliance is certainly an important part of why organizations do training, it MUST be secondary to protecting workers. There can never be a trade off between imparting skills necessary for workers to be safe and complying with regulations.  An organization should never tell an adult that the reason they are in safety training is because the law says they have to be—that may well be an accurate statement, but it sets a tone where the participants are being treated as convicts or children. The current OSHA structure for the oversight of safety training perpetuates and reinforces “compliance over quality” thinking. Consider, Hazard Communication training;  Haz Com used to be, for many, the symbol of pointless compliance training.  Workers believe that organizations conducted the training annually, not because it was necessary or valuable, but exclusively because the law required it and if the organization failed to comply it risked a big fine. How likely is it that adults will be receptive when they feel that they were dragged into the class against their will?  But if a facilitator were to focus on the skills the organization wanted the participants to learn, instead of the compliance box it was going to check the organization could make some significant and important improvements to the course.

Link Safety Training to the Intent of the Regulation not to Compliance

As organizations seek to improve their safety training, it should begin by asking why OSHA required the course. The identification of what OSHA expects people will do differently after having attended the training will help organizations to retool the course to meet the goal of warning people about dangers in the workplace while informing them of their rights under the law instead of merely checking the compliance box.  This is more than an issue of deepening the learner’s appreciation of the relevancy of a safety course; the failure of the organization to provide safety training that is relevant and that identifies the WIIFM encourages organizations to falsify training records.  Far too many organizations circulate a document and have workers sign a bogus sign-in sheet instead of providing an actual training course.

Policy Implications

OSHA has done an outstanding job in creating a climate where employers understand that they must comply or they will be fined or will face other legal consequences.  While considerable effort is spent ensuring that companies present the required training, little is done in the way of evaluating the quality or effectiveness of this training.

Shift the Focus Away from Compliance

While it is unrealistic to expect that OSHA will begin to evaluate the quality of individual training courses, it can shift away from the binary “complete or incomplete” view of worker safety in favor of an audit system that identifies the vital behaviors and critical indicators that demonstrate a movement toward a culture of safety. The quality of safety training would rapidly increase if OSHA would increase exponentially if it would shift the focus of its compliance audits away from attendance and documentation of training course and toward the analysis of the quality the training delivered. Such an audit process is not impossible, in fact, it is not even unprecedented; currently there is no expectation for OSHA auditors to qualify the efficacy of the training offered or presented, but auditing of this nature is neither unprecedented nor unduly difficult.  The German quality management system, Verband der Automobilindustrie (VDA), has specific requirements that include ways for evaluating the effectiveness of training.

Stewarding OSHA Resources

The policy implications of OSHA audits that measure the efficacy of corporate learning will be significant.  OSHA lacks the resources to field auditors who will routinely judge the quality of safety training.  To obviate this dilemma, OSHA need only shift the burden of proof of quality of safety training from the government to employers.  The International Standards Organization (ISO) and similar organizations have required companies to earn and maintain third party certification for years.  In these scenarios, companies require their suppliers to maintain the certification as a condition of doing business with the companies. The supplier company is required to comply with strict criteria to earn and maintain the certification.  To earn the certification the supplier must first conduct several self-audits followed by a number of third-party audits.  Once the supplier is certified, it must renew its certification at regular intervals.  OSHA would be well served with this model.  In this model, OSHA would need only to require companies of a certain profile to earn and maintain an independent certification.

Better Align OSHA Requirements with Modern Educational Technology

While OSHA encourages employers to evaluate courses and improve them based on input from the learner OSHA stops short of requiring that courses be good, effective, or relevant to the work performed. This not to say that there is no effective safety training but even organizations with the best safety training often are forced to choose between safety training that makes sense and safety training that complies with OSHA requirements.  Consider the requirements associated with eLearning.  Only a handful of eLearning providers are OSHA accepted (OSHA does not endorse these courses and forbids the providers from using words like “approved” or its synonyms) without a proctor.  Imagine the onus this places on Oil & Gas Exploration, construction, or other operations.  This leaves these organizations little in way of options—either they can purchase one of these vendors or they can pay a person to watch another complete an eLearning module, which all eliminates any benefit derived from delivering the training via a distance learning modality.  An audit process that focuses on performance indicators will make it easier and less resource-intensive while encouraging organizations to use safety indicators to drive strategic efficiency goals.  In addition to requiring fewer resources to assess the efficacy of an organization’s safety efforts, this approach lessens the adversarial relationship between OSHA and industry.

Identify Performance Indicators for the Effectiveness Safety Training

OSHA regulations should be modified to include that organizations provide evidence of the identification of performance indicators for safety.  OSHA should be careful not to overstep its boundaries by specifying the precise performance indicators, because differences in industry could make very specific prescriptions inappropriate, but it should provide examples. For example, a prime indicator as to the effectiveness of safety training is whether the course developer followed a basic course design. This indicator can be used to infer better facilitation; Simple Train-the-Trainer workshops based on a simplified (from ADDIE) course development model greatly improve the quality of facilitation by subject matter experts who were pressed into doing training.  OSHA would be well served to evaluate the course design process by comparing it to the following model:

  1. Introduce the topic. Adults need to understand why they should learn the skill, and believe that learning the skill has something meaningful and valuable in it for them.
  2. Define the skill. An effective course design will specifically define the skill and identify the scope i.e. identify exactly what the skill is, and—where appropriate—is not.
  3. Explain the skill. Once a course designer has defined the skill, it requires that the facilitator explain the context in which the person will use the skill, and provide the participants with criteria so they can judge whether or not they are correctly applying the skill.  Far too often skills are defined in such vague terms that the participants what they are expected to learn.
  4. Illustrate the skill.  Using examples, visual aids, or other means, the course should illustrate what the skill looks like when being properly applied.
  5. Demonstrate the skill. Demonstrating a skill is crucial, both in building a skill and maintaining course credibility. Demonstrating a skill allows the participant to see how the skill is correctly performed and can ask questions to clarify things that they may not understand.  
  6. Allow people to practice the skill.  Once people have seen the skill they are ready to try it themselves.  While they practice the skill the instructor should be providing guidance and coaching so that people are able to refine the newly acquired skill in the safety of a supervised situation.
  7. Evaluate the skill.  If the designer wrote a good objective, evaluating the participant’s progress should be very easy; all the auditor need do is to compare the participant’s demonstration of the skill with the criteria for success.

By assessing the evidence presented by an organization that clearly proves that it has followed these seven steps for each of required topics the auditor should be able to be confident that the organization has built the skills that are required under OSHA mandates.

Include Standards for On-the-Job-Training (OJT)

OSHA should broaden its scope beyond traditional safety courses and include standards for On-the-Job-Training (OJT) and other core skills training. This can only be practical if OSHA also implements the third-party audit approach recommended above. The most important Safety training is quality training in the skills required for the worker to do his or her job.  Most workplace injuries are not currently caused because of a lack of safety training rather, a substantial number of injuries are caused by a lack of competency in the worker’s core skills caused a lack of effective training. The use of key indicators associated with quality course development and evaluation of training can greatly improve the quality of the basic job skills training and OJT.

End “One-Size-Fits-All” Safety Training Regulations

Another critical shift that OSHA should make is to move away from the “one-size-fits-all” approach to safety training requirements.  While OSHA does make allowances for very small organizations, it should consider creating more industry specific safety training.

Again, OSHA should shift the onus of the responsibility for defining industry-specific requirements to third-party industry organizations.  Industry organizations are more likely to understand the specific dangers of their industries and can make recommendations to OSHA.  The Unions that represent the workers of these industries should be engaged as key stakeholders before any recommendations are crafted.  The addition of Unions will create added checks and balances to ensure that an industry does not craft recommendations that are too lenient or favorable to an industry while putting workers at risk.

Create Safety Incentives and Rewards

Because the third-party audit process would substantially reduce the demands on OSHA’s  already limited and increasingly taxed resources, OSHA would be better able to offer more rewards for training innovations.  By offering incentives for businesses to proactively attack safety issues, OSHA puts itself in the enviable role of a resource to business instead of a policing agency.


That most OSHA Safety Training is a waste of time for many organizations is perhaps the worst kept secret in U.S. industry. But effective safety training plays a pivotal role in improving the safety of the workplace and protecting workers.   An effective safety process is built on a foundation of well designed and delivered safety training.  A safer workplace is more than about protecting workers,  creating a workplace that does not injure workers improves productivity, makes organizations more competitive and reduces waste.  It is time for OSHA to a partner with U.S. businesses to enhance and protect our strategic manufacturing base.  The first step to forging this partnership is to dramatically improve the skill-set of the American worker, and to do this OSHA must approach how it audits safety much more differently than it does today.

#compliance, #osha, #safety, #training

Why I Pick On Safety Professionals

By Phil La Duke


Why I continue to Pick On Safety Professionals.

By Phil La Duke

Whenever I post a blog entry or submit a guest blog entry the crys of injustice ring out.  “Why does he always pick on the safety professional? Doesn’t he know how hard we work? How under-valued we are? How much we sacrifice? Why does he tar us all with the same brush? WHY DOES HE KEEP PICKING ON ME?”

Such criticsm is not without merit. I do focus on the shortcoming of both the safety function and the safety professionals themselves. But why? Am I the self-important bully that some of you make me out to be? Before you answer, consider that a true bully is someone who abuses his or her power over those who are either physically, emotionally, or intellectually inferior to them. So if you feel bullied by my work, you have to ask yourself if you are inferior to me in these areas; I don’t think most of you are.  There are no victims in Safety.  If you’re feeling inferior in some way, well then… that’s on you.

We Can Only Control Ourselves

I address the shortcomings our safety professionals because that is an area where we collectively can effect real and lasting change.  Some where along the way the snake-oil salesmen us that we not only had the power control other people’s behaviours we also had the right and the responsibility. Most people I know can barely control their own behaviour yet the safety community arrogantly presumes to modify the behaviours of others to its own sophomoric and twisted vision.  When we pronounce our ability to influence the behaviours of the workers we assume the culpability for injuries.  If we have a monopoly on the  knowledge about working safe than every injury is on the shoulders of the safety professional.  But we can’t change behaviours, and more importantly we can’t change Operations, at least not with platitudes and tired rhetoric  In fact we can’t even positively influence changes in Operations  without changing ourselves. So where does that leave us?

So Where Do We Need to Change?

If there is anyone out there truly listening, if I can reach a single open mind, if my message can punch through fog created by the red-faced hyperventilating mouth-breathing brutes who can’t wait to finish reading so they can hammer out an angry, half coherent (and I am being kind) snorting response, if I can speak to one reasonable person, listen to me.  If we don’t change, our profession will cease to exist, and our profession is the only thing that stands between us and the return to slavery.  We are the only thing that prevents corporations treating people like chattel, like an expendable, use-them-up-and-throw-them-away commodity and the simpletons that we have entrusted this sacred trust our selling us out.  We need change right now, and specifically here’s how:

  1. Enable Operations Ownership of Safety.  Operations clearly needs to own safety because only it has the power to aggressively manage hazards and risk.  But Safety can’t just dump its responsibilities on the doorstep of Operations like a box of unwanted kittens.  Operations ownership of safety will involve a great deal of education, not just of Operations but of Safety as well.  This shift in ownership will involve a great deal of education, not of Operations but of Safety as well.  This shift in is difficult to e effect from within and trust me when I tell you that the purveyors of bullshit are rapaciously watching and watching for any misstep.
  2. Stop Belly Aching.   Far too many safety people don’t feel appreciated: suck it up and stop simpering like a three year old who missed naptime.  If people don’t appreciate your contributions it’s likely because you haven’t made any. I am sick to death of listening to safety “professionals” whining about how nobody appreciates them. Is this how we want the world to view us? If you are truly under appreciated then do something about it, either clearly articulate the value you provide, leave and go work someplace that values what you do, or shut the hug up and cash paychecks.  But know this: safety is a job for grown ups.
  3. Learn the Business.  No business exists solely or even primarily to protect workers.  When you perpetuate this myth you make us all look stupid and out of touch.  What say you do us all a favor and learn how the organization makes money?  No one values advise offered by someone who refuses to take the time to learn the intricacies of the business. Safety professionals frequently act as if they are external to the core business.  This is wrong on so many levels.  First of all, safety professionals aren’t entitled  to their jobs.  Having a Safety function costs money and that investment is expected to return some tangible benefit. Secondly unless safety is hardwired into every process it will always be an after thought.  Safety has got to get in the game and stop waiting for someone else to do its job.  And safety can’t stop at operational processes.  Safety should inform organizational policies. Often the policies proffered by HR can actually encourage at risk behaviours.
  4. Anticipate Business Needs and Prepare to Meet Them.  As the executives roll out their strategic goals, safety professionals need to find ways not to merely support these strategies but to enable them.  The savvy safety professional will meet with individual Operations leaders and see how safety can help them to accomplish their incentive pay goals.  Putting money in the leader’s pocket is a sure way to have them invite safety into their decision making process.  Even if the safety professional can’t help accomplish the goal knowing what motivates the leader is invaluable.
  5. Collaborate, Communicate, and Cooperate.  Safety sounds great, but it cannot happen unless we tear down the internecine walls of the organization.  Safety needs to collaborate with departments like Continuous Improvement, Training, and Human Resources.  This collaboration will increase the power of the safety professional to effect meaningful change and to add real value.
  6. Earn Respect.  The most frequent whine I hear from the self-pitying safety mopes is that they aren’t respected by Operations.  Well why would they? You haven’t earned it.  If you walk around the organization advocating safety gimmicks that would make a first year kindergarten teacher blush how can you ever expect to be respected?  If you want respect you have to show respect for others.  Respect runs pretty thin in workplaces today. Meetings that waste people’s time, emails that are indecipherable and inane safety activities are disrespectful and wastrel.
  7. Grow a Pair.  Too many safety professionals acknowledge that there is a problem but quickly add how it’s not their fault.  And then continue to decry the injustice of it all.  Do use all a favor and consider for a minute that you might be contributing to the problem.  I have more respect for the safety veteran who admits his or her role in the problem but refuses to change then I do for those who refuse to be held accountable.

Now What?

Some of you reading this are getting all frothy and are gearing up to set me straight.  Well don’t.  I am beyond tired of reading crap from self-righteous safety professionals who are offended on other’s behalf.  If you think I am talking about you it’s because I probably am.  You don’t like it? Hammer out an email to somebody who gives a rat’s ass, but to quote Dylan, it aint me babe.  I hope some of you will heed what I have to say, or better yet send this post to those imbeciles who need it most.  But leave me out of it. Just change for the love of all that’s holy; you’re not just embarrassing yourself but all of us out here trying to make a difference.

If you feel picked on you probably deserve it.

#accountability-for-safety, #phil-la-duke, #picked-on, #rockford-greene, #safety, #worker-safety

The New Safe Side was just published in Fabricating and Metalworking

Phil La Duke’s latest in  Fabricating & Metalworking  magazine THE DEATH OF THE “SAFETY GUY”

When it comes to making the workplace safer, there is as much room for people who acquired their safety pedigree through years of work experience and corporate training as there is for those who acquired theirs in a university.

For those of you who don’t know, I write a monthly column, the Safe Side for Fabricating and Metalworking magazine.  This month, I coincidentally (really) wrote about safety credentials. Meanwhile, Dave Collins, editor of the safety blog, prefaced one of my more prickly works with a comment about the letters on people’s business cards.  So this work is NOT in response to that blog article, but in fact, preceded it.

It’s been almost a month since my post on created a maelstrom of on line correspondence. Well, unbeknown to Dave Collins, this was in the hopper waiting to be printed. Why not give it a read and see if it sparks the same passion? At any rate I’d like to hear what you think.

Phil (it’s neat to retweet!

Effective Hazard Management: The First Step To A Safer Work Place

By Phil La Duke



Those of you who’ve just discovered my blog might be under the impression that the only things I post are things meant to provoke cranks from the lunatic fringe into a digital tête-à-têtes Some of you might be surprised that I am capable of posting without having some over-caffeinated brute send me semi-coherent hate mail. And while I do so love to rattle the proverbial cages, I thought for my own sanity I would stay away from any sort of controversy this week and address a topic that is especially near and dear to me: hazard management.

Don’t worry all you folks who read my stuff just to get offended worked up in a froth of self-righteous indignation, if you’re looking to take offense, I’m sure you will find something to rail against. Hazard management is one of four pillars of a universally sound safety management system (the others being: Incident response, risk management, and safety strategy—there are other elements that shape the efficacy of an individual safety system, but these tend to differ from industry to industry and government to governement.

To accept hazard management as a cornerstone of safety you have to accept that without hazards there can be no injuries, so effective hazard management, that is, containing and/or correcting the hazard before someone is injured, is the first step to a safer workplace.

Anatomy of an Injury

For a worker to get injured three things must be present a:

  1. Hazard
  2. Interaction
  3. Catalyst


Before we continue, I should define what I mean by a hazard. A hazard is any condition that may cause an injury. Hazards, therefore, can be procedural, mechanical, environmental, and yes behavioural. Effectively a hazard is anything that can cause an injury—accidental or deliberate. Since safety is an expression of probability (We describe something as safe as if the condition of safety is an absolute, but most of us (didn’t’ say ALL for all of those looking to take a slight on behalf of a bunch of people you will never meet) understand that no environment is absolutely free of risk and therefore cannot be described as completely “safe”.) Hazards are the things that increase the risk of injuries. What About Behaviour? Before we continue, I should define what I mean by a hazard. A hazard is any condition that may cause an injury. Hazards, therefore, can be procedural, mechanical, environmental, and yes behavioural. Effectively a hazard is anything that can cause an injury—accidental or deliberate.


Whenever I meet a new client, I invariably get a worried Operations leader who worries that I am going to “safety them out of business.” I like to tell them that the safest organizations are those who went broke and closed their doors. Nobody is getting hurt in mothballed factories or abandoned mines. Being a good safety professional means recognizing that we can make a process so “safe” that it effectively makes it too inefficient to run. In those cases we protect the workers from injuries, but we also “protect” them from paychecks. A hazard in and of itself doesn’t injure someone unless the person interacts with it. This statement may seem so basic that some of you are thinking, “no kidding genius” but this understanding is key to how we approach containment and correction of injuries.


A catalyst is a factor that sets things into motion, call it the straw that breaks the camels back. Without the catalyst a person can interact with a hazard and escape unharmed. The lack of a catalyst allows workers to engage in at-risk behaviour without getting hurt, which teaches the worker that an unsafe act is benign. We walk by hazards every day, we see them in our homes, and encounter them every day on our morning commute. Think of the catalyst as that little extra element that either sets the injury in motion, makes an injury worse, or makes the interaction far more likely. For example, standing in a puddle of water is not in itself likely to injure someone, but standing in water while making repairs on an energized piece of equipment makes an injury far more likely. (In this case the hazard is the water on the floor, the interaction is standing in it, and the catalyst is working on energized equipment. You could also describe the energized equipment as the hazard and the water as the catalyst and be correct but now were talking semantics.)

Managing Hazards

Hazard management consists of eight steps:

  1. Identification. The heart of hazard management is finding the hazards and containing them before anyone gets hurt. Unfortunately, we often learn of the existence of a hazard because someone has been injured. What’s more, hazards can be tricky: they come in all shapes and sizes; can grow and shrink with alarming speed; and can move throughout your facility or your process. They can crop up in different places, different times of day, and move across shifts.The best hazard identification process involves front-line supervision walking the work area and asking simple questions about where the process could fail. This is more than just observing workers’ behaviors, and involves taking a holistic look at the process and applying the 5 Ms of production (Manpower, machines, materials, methods, and environment—I never said the M was at the beginning of the word). Basically the front-line supervisor is conducting a process audit and gathering information on where the operation could fail.
  2. Containment. Once a hazard has been found the person who discovers it should not leave the area until the hazard is contained. Documenting hazards without indicating how you contained them is a good way to get sued, but that notwithstanding how would you feel if someone was seriously injured because they interacted with a hazard that you knew about but did nothing? Containment actions are quick fixes designed to last only long enough for an unsafe condition to be fixed, so in many cases restricting access, warning employees or other similar low-level controls may be appropriate.
  3. Root Cause Analysis. Before you can appropriately address a hazard you must know it’s primary root cause. I’ve noticed some confusion around Root Cause Analysis. Many people believe it is appropriate to look for a single cause of a hazard. This approach only makes sense if you have a specific problem structure with a sudden occurrence (things are going along just fine until a catalyst creates a problem). Unfortunately, the vast majority of hazards result from a broad problem structure with a gradual occurrence (the straw that breaks the camel’s back) where many interrelated causes and effects are at play. To make a long story well…less long, you usually have to look for multiple, interrelated causes of an injury.
  4. Correction. Containment will only take you so far, and the ultimate goal of hazard management is to permanently correct hazards and keep them from coming back. Correction usually involves maintenance and all hazards are not created equally. The safety committee can work with maintenance to correctly prioritize hazard correction. For more on the safety meetings check out this weeks post on
  5. Read-Across. Often a hazard that is present in one area of the organization is present in other departments as well, a solid process for read-across (checking to see where else the hazard might manifest) is a key step that many organizations miss. Read-across allows many areas to benefit from the discoveries of a single walk-thru.
  6. Hazard Trend Analysis. Finding a single hazard is valuable, finding a trend that tells you where you are most at risk is invaluable. Hazard Trend Analysis should be the primary activity of the safety committee meeting, because it can help make the entire operation far more efficient.
  7. Process Improvement. In world-class problem solving methodologies, they talk about the importance of fixing the system flaw that allowed the problem to manifest (for instance the recruiting and hiring policies that hire people who are physically unable to do the job.) This is step key in hazard management because fixing the system likely will prevent numerous problems down stream.

Remember as you implement a hazard management process to keep things simple. You will likely face considerable resistance as first line supervisors insist that they don’t have time to walk their areas and identify hazards. But if they don’t have time to do it right when will they find time to do it over, and ultimately when will they have time to stop work because of a worker injury?

#containment, #correction, #hazard-identification, #hazard-management, #hazards, #phil-la-duke, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #process-improvement, #read-across, #rockford-greene-international, #root-cause-analysis, #safety-meeting

Who Writes This Rag

What do Pol Pot, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and certain LinkedIn group managers have in common? a love of censorship.  This week I got an LinkedIn message from Kathleen Hurley, manager of the Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance Network 10,000 +, telling me that in response to my having posted four items in a single day that hence forth all my comments and posts would be moderated and that I would be limited to two links a week.

Anyone who is a LinkedIn contact of mine knows that I am very active; to an irritating degree.  I post daily, and between press releases, blog posts, tweets, and articles the home page of my poor contacts will almost certainly have my face emblazoned across it. I feel your pain, and I know a little of me goes a long, long way.  I am also active in answering questions and in the discussion portion of the 50 (49 after dumping Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance Network 10,000 +).  So I can understand why many of you may be thinking, well I can sympathize with poor, poor Kathleen. I won’t apologize for my shameless self-promotion.  After all, it has resulted in my writing being published in about a dozen or so places, me speaking at numerous international venues, being published in respected scientific and academic journals, and being named to the ISHN Power 101 (a list of the powerful and influential people in worker safety) a fact that I seem to manage to work into every conversation.

For the record, I believe that if one starts a blog, LinkedIn group, or social club it is their inalienable right to restrict or prohibit whoever and whatever they want. But as Director, Corporate Communications at Actio Corporation, whose president is listed as the group’s owner I am, I admit, a bit alarmed.  I find it disquieting that a group founded and moderated by a safety vendor is not forth coming about the fact that they aren’t exactly without ulterior motive (or at least could be perceived as having said motive) or bias when it comes to the topics discussed in the group.  Even this isn’t a problem if one isn’t actively tampering with the discussions—after all, aren’t the founders of any organizations likely to shout down opposing points of view?

But hapless Ms. Hurley didn’t oppose a point of view, she decided that she had ought have a look at the dangerous, dangerous posts of this dangerous, dangerous man. She never got the chance. I took my ball and went home shared her email with the 300 or so contacts who were also group members. She didn’t want to read my stuff and I didn’t want her deciding whether or not it would post; so I voted with my feet.

Let me say that I am pretty thick skinned about my writing.  It’s not for everyone.  I the majority of the feedback is positive, but I always get a stream of simpletons who post hate mail on my work.  I publish any comment I get and I try to answer each and every response to my work.  I am more puzzled by the responses than anything.  I’ve always believed that if you didn’t like what I wrote you were under no obligation to read it. I have never understood the imbecile who posts rambling, borderline psychotic frothy rants about something I said.  The first time I was censored was an article I wrote for the college newspaper where I was a reporter and columnist.  The paper wasn’t very good, even by college standards (it was riddled with typos and grammatical errors, sloppy journalism, and hastily produced and sophomoric articles) and I wrote a piece, “Who Writes This Rag?” The article was a tongue-in-cheek look at how the staff (mainly me and my friend and fellow goof off editor) did the bare minimum was sloppy writers and editors who seldom bothered to proofread. My fellow staff members, including the faculty adviser, all enjoyed the article immensely and we all had a good laugh at ourselves.  The mirth was short lived however.  When the article was sent off to be typesetter who refused to typeset it.  He apparently thought the article was directed at him and took offense to it.  (If he is reading this I sincerely hope he is roasting in Hell.)  The faculty adviser tried to talk reason but eventually acquiesced and apologized so that the paper could be produced.

I learned many important lessons from that experience.  First, I learned that one closed-minded, power-crazed anus of a person can censor even the most innocuous work. This censorship, or that of a certain group manager are not the work of an international conspiracy, this isn’t the work of a cadre of master criminals; this is the work of a few (usually one) twisted little people driven mad with the sad little power given to them.

Next, I learned that there are people in this world who see their own frailties in every bit of written work.  People who decry as fraud that which is critical of a population are usually the guiltiest or secretly think they might be.  These people are bigots and bullies who should never EVER be left in a position where they can censor the ideas of others. Small minds don’t leave much room for new ideas. This may smack of hypocrisy given my penchant for publicly telling people to shut up.  But telling people to shut up is a far cry from silencing them; ii’s small distinction, but an important one.

I also learned that there are a fair amount of people who go through life waiting to take offense.  These are neither the glass is half empty nor half full people, these are “the who the hell drank half of my drink?” people.  These people are deeply dysfunctional people who can only find happiness in misery.  They can’t read the paper, listen to the news, or see a movie without taking everything as a personal affront.  I provide them a service.  If you can’t be offended reading something I wrote you probably don’t have very good reading comprehension skills.

Finally, I learned that words are power and unpopular words are the most powerful.  Words and ideas outside our comfort zone force us to question whether or not our most deeply held beliefs.  When someone says something that upsets us, the courageous among us reflect and grow, sometimes this causes us to change our minds while other times it strengthens and deepens our beliefs. In either case, we continue to evolve as intellectuals.  But the cowards among us try to silence criticism and mute debate.  Somewhere deep inside them they know how fragile their bigotry is and they are afraid that if they look within themselves they may have to hold themselves accountable. What’s worse, is their fear that others may also be convinced and that will further isolate them.

Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin all knew that the unfettered flow of ideas and words was the cornerstone of freedom and democracy; they would make poor LinkedIn group owners and managers. (For one they are all dead, and for another I doubt they have the computer skills.) So to all you group managers, and bloggers, and angry dissocials pining to take offense know that censorship is on the same continuum as rape; it is you asserting your sick power over another just because you can.  And power is addictive and censorship is habit forming, if you aren’t careful you may find yourself the intellectual equivalent of a serial killer.

#censorship, #linkedin, #worker-safety