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La Duke’s 14 Points for Safety

Phil La Duke

by Phil La Duke

I am posting this as an extra (the official post for this week will be published at midnight tonight.—Phil

I have been trying for years to get Safety professionals to embrace the teachings of W. Edward Deming, specifically his 14 Points for Quality.  Deming’s points for quality are equally applicable to Safety, but for whatever reason my arguments have fallen on the deafest of ears.

Then it occurred to me.  Deming’s work was rooted in engineering discipline and process control but safety grew out of the Human Resources function.  This seemingly inconsequential difference has much to do with the state of Safety in the world and what needs to change. There’s a disconnect between HR and Engineering, a great and deep philosophical divide between the two.  Engineering is, at its purest core about change and improvement, it’s about continuous improvement.  Human Resources (as much as some may argue) is about keeping things the same.  A good Human Resources professional understands that change introduces dangerous variation into the a well oiled machine; it’s the job of HR to make sure that change isn’t capricious and more importantly that it doesn’t violate laws, unevenly apply policy, or a host of other dangers associated with change.  For centuries, the Human Resources function has been about governing the workforce, and organizational change is very disruptive.

I don’t mean to sound like Human Resources is incapable of leading change, it can and does lead successfully lead change all the time. It’s just that Human Resources as a function tends to be invested in the status quo.

Every organization needs a good mix of innovators and administrators, the innovators shake things up and the administrators find a way to make sense of it all and keep the organization running.  Engineering and lean practioners tend to believe that you can’t make an omelets without breaking some eggs while the human resources and safety professionals believe that if it aint broke don’t fix it. Of course these are generalities, and I am speaking of historical tendency (read: I am not talking about ever mammal who works or has ever worked in these functions)  but these parallel evolutions of these two disciplines explain why the Safety function finds it so difficult to lead meaningful change in the organization.

With that in mind, with apologies to W. Edward Deming here are my fourteen points for safety:

  1. All injuries are preventable—FMEA’s and other predictive tools should be used to identify areas of greatest risk and efforts should be made to reduce the risk of injuries to the lowest practical level.
  2. Move beyond compliance—compliance with the government regulations is important and compliance tends to correlate to a process that is in control. But we can never mistake being compliant with being safe.
  3. Focus on prevention. Preventing injuries is more efficient than reacting to them. Injuries are caused by failures in the system.  By managing hazards (procedural, behavioral, and mechanical) organizations can reduce unplanned downtime, injuries, and defects.
  4. Instill universal ownership and accountability for safety.  Every job plays a role in ensuring workplace safety, and everyone must be answerable when processes and protocols fail to keep workers safe.
  5. Imbed Safety into all activities.  Safety is neither a priority nor a goal, instead it is a criterion by which companies measure the efficacy of its efforts to be successful. Safety is a strategic business element that needs to be managed as scrupulously as Quality, Delivery, Cost, and Morale.
  6. Shift the ownership of safety to Operations— Operations has the greatest control and oversight of the safety of the workplace. Operations leadership should conduct routine reviews of key safety metrics.
  7. The absence of injuries does not necessarily denote the presence of safety. Safety is an expression of probability.  No situation is ever 100% risk free.
  8. Avoid Shame and Blame Policies and Tactics. Workers do not want to get hurt and an organization’s processes are not deliberately designed to hurt workers; no amount of behavior modification will change this.
  9. Invest in basic skills training. The best way to ensure worker safety is by providing them with good foundational training in the tasks they are routinely expected to do.
  10. End safety gimmickry. Incentives should only be used to reward active participation in safety, not to reward an absence of reported injuries.
  11. Stop comparing your safety performance to industry average. Measuring an organization’s safety record in safety relative to the company’s industry average are meaningless and should be abandoned. Instead, use a combination of lagging and leading indicators to get a more meaningful view of your overall performance in safety.
  12. Seek to protect people from their mistakes. People make mistakes and not necessarily because they took foolish risks or ignored safety protocols. Look for ways to prevent people from being injured by mistakes rather than preventing the mistakes themselves.
  13. Support Operations.  Safety must be a key resource to Operations. Instead of impeding Operations and hampering its progress safety must support Operations to find safe ways of accomplishing organizational goals instead of work at cross purposes with production.
  14. Cease attempts to manipulate worker’s behaviors. Safety is not about managing people’s behavior; it’s about managing risk. Behavioral psychology is over used and frequently misused in commercial safety solutions.

I have several more that I could add, but if 14 was enough for Deming than who am I to try to surpass the great man’s work?  I have said with irritating frequency that the Safety function must change if it is to survive. I believe wholeheartedly that the implementation of these 14 things can help the safety function not only to survive but to thrive.

Filed under: Behavior Based Safety, Loss Prevention, Phil La Duke, Safety, Safety Culture, Worker Safety, , , , ,

11 Responses

  1. Chris Wall says:

    Interesting post, but I’m not certain I agree with you on everything. First, 14 points… If you have that many points, be prepared to be ignored. I’ve found that it’s best to have one point per presentation and stick with that.

    OK, maybe two. But that’s it. No more.

    But that’s a superficial nit to pick. My real issue is with your representation of HR’s role. At its core, HR should be charged with ensuring that the organization has the right people in the right jobs doing the right work. Ideally, HR should be as antagonistic toward the status quo as any good engineering department. HR’s role, then, would be ensuring that the organization’s team has the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience to help the organization attain its goals or realize its vision, and, if it doesn’t, then HR should be helping the organization acquire the talent it needs.

    It’s a bit like Billy Ball, really.



    • Phil La Duke says:

      I know it will rile some people to think of HR in that way. Your point is a good one, though. HR should be hiring the right people (a lack of capability—physically unable to do the job—can be a HUGE safety hazard but it is often over looked), And if Deming can have 14 points so can i. Read them one at a time if it helps.


  2. Dave Collins says:

    With you all the way on this one mate. Safety people will not survive if they continue to work in a bubble!


    • Phil La Duke says:

      Thanks Dave. I freely admit it is pretentious of me to mimic someone as great as Deming, but having spent so much time researching his 14 points as they relate to safety I thought it was time to lay down some proverbial tracks on the matter. Thanks for your support


  3. […] Principles, then I am sure you will also see the merit in such an approach.Phil’s Blog Post:’s 14 Points:With that in mind, with apologies to W. Edward Deming here are my fourteen points […]


  4. Greg R Perry says:

    I found your blog while wrestling with my company’s launch of their new zero-injury initiative and BBS. I’m not a safety professional, but an engineer with a huge interest in security – real security, not that TSA stuff. People like me look at risk management with limited resources, and I’ve found a lot of validation in your criticisms of professional safety tenets. So I am surprised to find here a reiteration of that tired old dogma in your first point – all injuries are preventable.

    I thought I saw in one of last month’s posts that in some professions – you target sports – injuries are an accepted risk. There are other professions as well – off the top of my head I would say military, emergency responders and law enforcement – where injury, even death in cases, is received with sad acquiescence. In these cases, the unpreventability of *all* injuries is acknowledged, and focus is placed to meaningful and effective limitation of the possibility of injury or of the seriousness of the injury. This seems to be accepted by society. In some cases, the personal acceptance of injury to serve the greater good is not only accepted but praised. We call those people heroes.

    I tried challenging the preventability precept with one of my safety managers with a simple example of how all proper procedures could be followed an an injury could occur from a external source. He gave a fairly glib reply that placed the onus of the prevention on the external. That’s useless to me. To me, safety is something I can do to control my risk. When a safety person spouts the “all injuries are preventable” line, all he’s doing is telling me that if I’m unlucky one day, it’s going to be my fault.


    • Phil La Duke says:


      All injuries ARE preventable, but that doesn’t mean we are going to spend the resources to do so. It sounds cold-blooded to say it, but none of us are in the business of keeping workers safe, we’re in the business of protecting workers. And for those of you about to hammer out a angry, “how dare you say..” I say, fuck you. Everyone who straps on the pro viable tool belt and goes to work does so to make a living (save for those rarefied few who don’t need money to live). But there is a huge difference in having the balls to make a conscious choice not to expend the limited resources preventing an injury so remote and inconsequential (as much as any injury can be) and saying you CAN”T prevent an injury. Man up and admit that there are some injuries that aren’t worth the effort it would take to prevent them (and concentrate on making those injuries less severe). Too often safety professionals hide behind there lack of omniscience as a reason for their ineptitude. Believing that given enough resources and time we can prevent all injuries (and being legitimately disappointed when we do not) is, I believe the cornerstone of safety.

      You are correct in describing safety in terms of risk. Safety is the probability that a person wont’ be harmed by doing his or her job, and that probability will never be zero. But that doesn’t mean that we are ever helpless to prevent injuries, despite what the simperings of


    • Phil La Duke says:

      It’s always possible, as in we we should always aspire to it. But that doesn’t mean we are always going to succeed or even try. Given unlimited resources and time we absolutely can prevent injuries but often the injury is either so remotely possible or likely to be so inconsequential that we aren’t going to expend the resource to prevent it. that doesn’t make us evil, it just means that sometimes taking the counter measures are so out of proportion with the likelihood of injury that no sane business person would ever enact them. But too often the simperings of the safety professional make business leaders feel guilty about spending tens of thousands of dollars correcting the POTENTIAL for injuries so remote that no sane person could ever justify doing so.
      I know it may seem a bit “rah-rah” but we can never hide behind the “how could I have predicted that” crutch.


  5. […] been almost two months since I posted my 14 Points of Safety on my personal blog.  I’ve explored the first two points in detail on both […]


  6. […] been almost two months since I posted my 14 Points of Safety on my personal blog.  I’ve explored the first two points in detail on both […]


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