Why I Pick On Safety Professionals

By Phil La Duke

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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.

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