New Year’s Resolutions for Safety Professionals

2013By Phil La Duke

I know it’s kind of a cheese-ball move but I thought I would devote this week’s blog to New Year’s resolutions for safety professionals.

Resolution #1: Less Focus On Preaching More On Teaching

Awareness campaigns are important for the unaware. But most workers who ultimately get hurt do so knowing something they know is dangerous, or at very least that they suspected COULD be dangerous.  Too many awareness campaigns make safety professionals feel good about themselves but come off as smug and condescending to workers.  So in 2013, safety professionals should resolve to spend more time and effort teaching workers core skills and competencies and less time telling them trite stories about workplace bogeymen.

Resolution #2: Open A Dialog.

Recently I posted about the dangers of complacency only to have many well-meaning safety professionals commented on how battling complacency underscored the need for daily safety talks.  This set me to wondering about the entire notion of lectures on a given safety topic each morning.  In the minds of so many workers, safety talks are just so much blah blah blah; yet another lecture from a guy who doesn’t have a clue what they do or how they do it.  But most safety professionals I know don’t mean for the safety talk to be a one-sided conversation.  Few safety professionals that I know actually think that they know the job better than the workers themselves, so why not enter 2013 resolving to engage the workers in a dialog about safety.  Instead of a Safety Talk, led by the safety guy or supervisor, safety professionals should be facilitators of conversations between the workers themselves on where the risks of the jobs lie.

Resolution #3: Expand the Scope of Safety

Safety professionals tend to be fairly limited in scope: protect workers from being injured. Many safety professionals focus so intently on the specifics of the job that they lose sight of opportunities afforded to them by partnering with other functions.  The Continuous Improvement group can help safety to streamline the jobs such that the jobs become more efficient and safer.  The Quality group can provide important tools for quantifying the value of safety and help safety to better communicate in terms that business leaders understand, and the Human Resources department can help the Safety professional to craft safety policies and work rules that make sense and are better able to meet the dynamic needs of the modern workplace. 2013 will be the year that Safety collaborates with as many other functions as possible.

Resolution #4: Get in the Game

Safety professionals have been on the sidelines for too long.  Too few safety professionals see themselves as being essential contributors to the company’s bottom line.  Safety professionals should resolve to contribute more value to the company’s bottom line.  Safety professionals should look for ways to negotiate better rates for safety expendables (like gloves, or safety glasses), anticipate the need for training like hazard mat or other training that workers might need to enable them to go places and do things that competition can’t.  Safety should resolve to make itself an invaluable contributor to the core business and reduce the overhead costs of the company.

Resolution #5: Get Competitive

Safety professionals should be as hungry for competitive advantage as the sales force.  The best in safety aren’t looking to do what the other guys are doing, rather, they look to one-up the competition.  Safety needs to be about more than injury statistics and numbers, safety should be a differentiator—a means of being better than the competition. Safety should resolve to not only make the workplace safer, but in so doing make it a more competitive company.

Resolution #6: Embrace the “Healthy” Side of Health and Safety

Almost every safety professional I know has the word Health (or at least the initial H) in their titles. But even though it is ostensibly the responsibility of the Safety professional scare little is done to improve the physical condition of the workers.  Even if there isn’t budget for improving worker health there is certainly a financial incentive for improving worker health.  Sometimes workers resent campaigns aimed at getting them healthier. Safety professionals should resolve to reduce the stress in the workplace and to make worker’s lives better by keeping them healthier and feeling better.

Resolution #7: Turn Safety On Its Ear

Safety needs a shake up.  Too many organizations have created bloated safety infrastructures that are slow to move and unable to react to the nimble business world. As companies start to shake of the economic malaise that has beset business worldwide many leaders are more open to ideas that they previously wouldn’t have considered. Safety professionals should resolve to try new things in safety this year.

Resolution #8: Question Everything

Part of turning safety on its ear involves rethinking many of the cherished truisms of worker safety. Safety professionals should resolve to question everything it does and be able to defend all the things it has taken for granted.

Resolution 9: Take Chances

It’s no secret that Safety as a profession tends to attract more than its fair share of risk adverse people.  But taking calculated chances leads to innovation and discovery. Safety professionals should resolve to take more chances, try new things and explore different ways to make the workplace a better and safer place to work.

Resolution 10: Enjoy Life More

Sometimes working in safety feels like working under the Sword of Damocles when injury rates are high, safety professionals feel the crushing pressure to get things under control and when injury levels are down, safety professionals feel the chronic unease that comes with waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Safety is important, no question. But working in safety can be rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and well…dare I say it? Fun.  Safety professionals should make 2013 the year that they cut themselves a little slack and learn to enjoy their accomplishments.


#new-years-resolution, #preachy-safety-professionals, #safety-talks, #worker-complacency, #worker-safety

Doing It Right: Investing in Basic Skills Training Is a Key to A Safe Workplace

 Contextual Training

By Phil La Duke

An efficient workplace is typically a safe workplace. Injuries are a cost waste—last week on the Rockford Greene International website I spent a fair amount of digital ink exploring the many direct and indirect costs associated with injuries.  When workers are injured the company has effectively invested in hurting workers and the investment yields nothing of value.  Hurting workers is bad business. Few will contest the waste that is endemic to worker injuries. But preventing injuries has become a cottage industry and despite the billions companies spend in this pursuit; despite all the convoluted models and onerous infrastructures scarce few organizations are any closer to figuring things out.

I learned a long time ago that when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem the best thing to do is to return to the basics.  Several weeks ago I posted my take on the pillars of an effective safety management system but I didn’t really have the space to explore these pillars in detail.

There are five kinds of training that are important for creating an efficient and safe workplace: On boarding, core business skills, problem solving, technical competency, and regulatory training.

On Boarding

On boarding is the cutesy term Human Resources give to the period from the time of hire to the first 90 days or so on the job.  Effective on boarding (formerly called new employee orientation) is critical—it creates the strongest sense of the corporate values that employees will ever get.  New employees have a strong desire to learn the corporate norms and conform to them. On boarding is more than walking the new employee through the new hire paperwork, effective on boarding will introduce the workers to the expectations the organization has for safety.

On boarding is easy to screw up. Workers understand that what the company SAYS is important isn’t always what it rewards and reinforces.  The tone and values communicated in the on boarding process generally are more powerful than any other form of training.  Presentations by speakers and time spent in the classroom should be a very small portion of this kind of training. And veteran coworkers should be prepared to reinforce the standards and safe practices.  In fact, preparing veterans for their roles in on boarding new employees is an ideal way to reconnect them to safe practices from which they may have drifted.

Core Business Skills

It’s mind boggling how many companies ignore the need for their workers to have a basic understanding of how the business makes money. Years ago, I travelled to Communist Hungary where I provided, among other things, training in the business of manufacturing.  Workers can only be a meaningful part of process improvement and world-class operations when they have an application-level understanding of the practical considerations of operating a business in a given economic sector.  While companies are often quick to dismiss potential vendors because they lack insufficient experience in a business sector, these same organizations are content to hire workers who possess only the most marginal experience in their industry. Beyond the obvious, and oft repeated, need for worker to possess the core skills required of their jobs, training is also essential for workers to participate in problem solving, understanding the subtle nuances of their jobs, and to truly internalize the risks associated with their jobs.

Providing core business skills to all employees typically pays handsomely. Years ago I remember a study (from Harvard Review I think) that claimed that businesses tend to see a 35:1 return ratio for training (that means they saw a return on investment of $35 for every dollar spent.) Of course that ratio is only as good as the training, and there is a lot of crap out there so businesses should really retain only the most skilled and competent training providers.

Problem Solving

Perhaps the most overlooked training that has an important role in making the workplace safer is Problem Solving training.  Good problem solving training should provide analytic skills that workers can use to spot potential hazards, contain them, and recommend ways to correct the issues and prevent them from recurring. Problem solving teaches workers to think and to look for ways to improve the business. Toyoda, Drucker, Deming, et al believed that workers were the best source for improvement ideas. After all, they reasoned, those closest to the most basic business processes are best equipped to make informed suggestions for process improvement.

Technical Competency

When I joined the workforce of a Big Three automotive company in 1985, the extent to which I was trained was my boss handing me an air gun and telling me where to drive the screws to build the front seats for luxury cars. I grew up on a farm and had no occasion to work with compressed air-driven wrenches. I did my best and after months of self-instruction I managed to do a passable job.  I learned safety like most people, through near misses, injuries both minor and recordable, and anecdotes shared by veterans. This was a poor way to train new employees, but the company—like most companies of that time period—reckoned that training was a waste of money and valuable time. No one equated the skill level with which I did my job with the quality or safety with which I performed it. My quality was questionable and the fact that I was injured now and again was thought to be expected.

Training workers such that they masterfully perform their jobs.  When workers perform their jobs with mastery-level competency not only they are capable of working more safely, they tend to value safe work as part of their mastery.

Regulatory Training

Regulatory training is important for more than checking a box. Regulatory training should provide workers with important information that they need to do their jobs.  But regulatory training that is completed in good faith, presented contextually, and connected to meaningful parts of the worker’s jobs also send the message that organization is deeply concerned about safety for safety’s sake.

Training On Purpose

Too many people mistakenly believe that training can just happen. Training should be the tactical response to a strategic initiative  not an after thought or a cursory event. And training should be a lot more formalized than most safety people believe, and should be tracked and occasionally reviewed in the context in which it is most appropriate (for example confined space training should be conducted in a confined space for example. Training should be tracked by the safety professional—not just safety training—all training; it is essential that first line supervision has a complete understanding of the competency of each worker.  Safety professionals should work with the training professionals to assess the risk points of the job and together craft learning solutions that address the areas of greatest risk.

Training should focus on hazard recognition so that all workers can vigilantly approach the identification and containment of the hazards of their work areas. Only when workers have been trained in the safest ways in which to perform their tasks by providing them with good foundational training in the tasks they are routinely expected to do can the organization ensure that workers achieve some modicum of safety.

#on-boarding, #safety, #safety-training, #training, #worker-safety

When it Comes to Safety the Surest Way to Lose Is to Think You’ve Won



By Phil La Duke

Injury rates are down, the safety function is running like a well-oiled machine and senior leadership is happy, so now you can relax right? Wrong.  If safety is the probability of injuries and we know that the risk of injury is never zero, then most of us understand that we have to remain vigilant in our efforts to create a workplace with the lowest possible risk…blah, blah, blah. But realistically do we really need to keep trying new initiatives after we have licked the biggest hitters in safety? Isn’t that just some academic argument? Well, yes and no.  In some cases, we truly can wind down some of our safety efforts.  After all, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be hyper-vigilant in workplaces where most of our hazards are well managed and quickly contained or corrected—that’s like continuing to look for your car keys after you’ve already found them (“where else MIGHT they have been but weren’t?”) Unfortunately, most of us aren’t working for organizations that are quite there yet and still have some work to do.

In fact, it’s highly unlikely that we will ever get there.  We tend to think as safety (and other business systems) as its own system when, in fact, all our business systems are interconnected in highly complex ways.  What’s worse is that all our business systems operate in a dynamic business climate and this continuously changing environment makes it impossible for us to ever pronounce the workplace permanently “safe”.


When we are confronted with a new situation we generally feel nervous, or tentative, or unsafe in some way.  Even the boldest among us is likely to exercise heighted care when first confronted with a new situation, but as we get used to the situation we become more comfortable. We acclimate to the changes and feel more comfortable taking what a less seasoned observer might describe as unwarranted or even reckless. This same process of acclimation that allows us to perform our jobs with greater levels of skill also puts us at higher levels of risk.

Over Confidence and Complacency

Many organizations fail to recognize that the hazards shift and evolve.  These organizations, reckoning that they have solved the safety puzzle become less vigilant.  It’s a dangerous phenomenon.  Hazards insidiously grow while the perception of danger diminishes, leaving the organization open to unexpected catastrophe. Some of you may be skeptical; it’s often difficult to accept that you may be losing ground when all indications are to the contrary. But as long as the work environment changes and your safety management system stays the same, you are at significant risk.  And the kinds of catastrophes that strike seem to come out of nowhere.


A key source of variation in organizations is turn over.  We talk a lot about the effects of employee turnover on the safety organizations (well at least I talk a lot about it) but one of the most destructive changes to the organization is executive turnover.  Executive turnover can throw the vision of the organization into a tailspin, but even moderate turnover at the middle of the organization can change the environment enough to cause variation sufficient to pose a significant hazard to the workplace.

 Disruptive Technology

A prime driver for change in an organization is disruptive technology.  Clayton M. Christensen Harvard Business School professor coined the term “Disruptive Technology” to describe a new technology that unexpectedly displaces an established technology. Most companies are successful because they have mastered sustaining technologies.  But disruptive technologies introduce hazards far beyond the changes brought by the technology itself.  Disruptive technology generally produces ripple effects that, owing to the organization’s lack of experience and familiarity with the nuanced nature of the new technology, can manifest in lethal hazards.


Drift is the natural tendency to move away from a standard or a norm.  When we drift we tend to believe that risks are justifiable and fairly benign—like driving a car and thinking yourself safe even though statistically the faster we drive and the longer we drive we will make dozens of poor choices, risky choices and errors.  Our subconscious minds experiment with ways in which we can drift from the norm; it makes us make mistakes to test the safety of quickly moving from one environment to the next. This process allows us to quickly adapt when our survival depends on it, but it also subjects us to the risk of injuries.

All these factors—from acclimation to drift—build to put us in harms way.  But the biggest thing we have to fear, isn’t, as FDR once said, “fear itself”, but the absence of fear.  We are often most at risk when we believe ourselves to be “safest”.

#acclimation, #complacency, #feeling-safe-versus-being-safe, #over-confidence, #turnover, #worker-safety

Freeze! Should You Restrict Smart Device I The Workplace?

By Phil La Duke

laptop driverThe ubiquity of smart devise and myriad ways to stay in touch has blurred the lines between the traditional workplace and the rest of our lives.  There was a time when there was no expectation that workers would respond to requests when they weren’t “on-the-clock”. But email, voicemail, cellphones, Wi-Fi, and texting have changed all that.  The concept, at least for salaried professionals, of being on the clock has effectively disappeared. Customers—internal and external—and supervisors have a much more aggressive idea of exactly what constitutes a reasonable response time.  Professionals are essentially on the clock 24/7 and the workplace can be a restaurant, the grocery store, and most perilously the car.

As my hometown, Detroit, prepares for its international auto show, the media is abuzz with all the new features that will make it easier to conduct business in a car or truck.  In one news spot, a spokesman extolled the features that “could make the difference of a contractor getting the job or not”.

I find this trend troubling; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the most consistently lethal professions (the jobs that are most likely to result in a worker death) are sales jobs, and the most frequent sales death are resultant from traffic accidents.

You Might As Well Be Stoned

To make matters worse, studies have found and reaffirmed that the nature of the distraction is largely irrelevant, and that the nature and duration of the distraction is the real source of danger.  One study found that the largest and potentially most dangerous source of danger was a conversation with a passenger. Another study concluded that driver distraction was at least as dangerous as a driver that is moderately (well above the legal limit) intoxicated and in some cases even MORE dangerous.  This makes sense; while the impairment comparable may the degree to which drunk driving interact with other drivers is statistically less (the later in the evening the more intoxicated drivers on the road) than otherwise distracted drivers (people are texting, talking on cellphones, etc.) who do so in both high traffic circumstances as well as when traffic is light. Driver distraction is a real threat to public safety, and I find it unreasonable to believe that adding everything from Wi-Fi to waffle irons to vehicles will lesson driver distraction.

Laws Aren’t Enough

An increasing number of municipalities are moving to restrict distractions while driving, but most miss the mark.  Exemptions for hands-free and global positioning systems in many of these laws ignore the fact that the primary hazard is the lack of attentiveness of the driver not merely taking one’s eyes off the road. Keeping one’s EYES on the road but failing to keep one’s MIND on the road is a recipe for disaster.

Similarly, many organizations are taking increasingly aggressive measures to mitigate the risk associated with distracted drivers, and they should.  Think of the liability associated with an employee who is conducting company business—from a simple business phone call, to reading and responding to email—who subsequently is at fault in a fatal car accident.  Most companies have existing CYA (cover your assets) policies forbidding such activities, but if there is a policy with complicit breaches (and by that I mean, a case where company forbids an activity but then encourages it by rewarding results that are only possible by violating the rules or punishing people when for failing to achieve results that are only possible when people violate the rules) these policies aren’t like to provide much protection.

Staying Connected Is Killing Us

The temptation to stay connected is often far greater than the desire to comply with company policy and both employer and employee have a shared burden for ensuring that the spirit of the requirement is met.

First, companies should adopt zero-movement policies for smart device and phones.  One company adopted such a policy when a forklift killed a worker while he was talking on a cellphone and walking through an area that was off limits to pedestrians.  The distraction of the pedestrian was the proximate cause of the fatality, although other factors contributed to his fate, the company quickly enacted a policy where people were not allowed to be in motion while talking on cellphones, reading mail from a smart device, or engaged in any activity that would distract one from hazards in the workplace.

Taking It A Step Further

While this policy is laudable, I think we can do better.  Companies need to use a parallel strategy to attack his problem. First, ban communication devices from the vehicles.  Drivers and pedestrians should be prohibited from using any electronic communication while in motion, including hands-free devices. I have taken to stowing my iPhone in my center console while driving.  (I got this idea from a top safety professional that admitted that he struggled with the temptation of using his PDA during his commute. Although I didn’t adopted it until I was pulled over for monkeying about with my phone while driving.) Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, organizations must recognize that travel time is, in and of itself, work and no more should be expected of the individual while driving. This means the company has to adjust its expectations of responsiveness and recognize that individuals will not be able to maintain constant contact.

What About Emergencies?

Such policies invite excuses and “what ifs?”  Chief among these complaints is the objection in the name of safety.  If I comply and there is an emergency I can’t communicate and be touched.  The answer is that a cellphone in the glove box can be used after the driver is safely parked.

But Is It Practical?

I don’t like the idea of not using my cellphone for the 90 minutes a day that I commute, and I recognize that many of you may see this policy as one of those “safety guy goes overboard with overly zealous rules”, but there are an increasing number business leaders who are recognizing that this problem is not going to go away without intervention.

#communication-and-safety, #dangers-of-smart-devices, #driver-distraction, #driving-while-distracted, #expectations-of-productivity, #texting-while-driving

Sailing The Seven Cs of Change

Sailing The Seven Cs of Change

Photo courtesy of Asmundur

Photo courtesy of Asmundur

By Phil La Duke 

More and more safety professionals are coming to the conclusion that real, lasting change can only come as a result of a change to the culture.  For some, this means relabeling the same old schlock and positioning the same tired method as a new, “culture transformation”.  This trend concerns me.  While there are a handful of good (in fact, really good) change professionals out there, there are far more conmen out there whose only experience with change is nickels, dimes, and quarters.

For the record I am not against entrepreneurs making an honest living. But if we aren’t careful we can really screw up and have an uncontrolled and unplanned change with dangerous and unpredictable outcomes.

In my experience, change comes in distinct phases that sometimes overlap and may even move forward and backward.  These phases can be conveniently described using words that begin with the letter C allowing me to make my title pun.


It’s said that change only happens when the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing.  Organizations, like people, tend to actively resist change. Even positive changes that they know need to happen. Change, biologically speaking, is stupid and dangerous. If you are an organism that is flourishing—you have amply food and shelter, good breeding grounds and prospects, and low predators—changing even the seemingly most insignificant element can lead to extinction. Our central nervous systems are designed to resist change because it puts us in unpredictable situations. Of course we also live in a dynamic environment that is constantly changing and remaining static in a rapidly changing environment leads to extinction.
Organizations tend to resist change until the dissatisfaction with the status quo hits a critical level.
Not all change, is as Mao said, borne out of the barrel of a gun, but the more disruptive the circumstances the stronger the drive for change.

Creation of Vision

Unless leaders can construct a compelling vision, change will be stifled and obstructed. Change grows out of dissatisfaction with the current state, but change that is driven by dissatisfaction alone creates environment where the organization can go from bad to worse. An environment where change is made without a clear vision of the desired state leads to chaos and confusion and can quickly devolve into organizational anarchy. That may sound melodramatic, but in companies that I have seen fail, the failure tends to come gradually as systems breakdown and processes stop working. People still come to work, there is no reign of terror with the aristocracy being dragged to the guillotine, but there is a perceptible shift in work ethic. The good and capable leave the organization and the population reduces to incompetents who are too fearful to leave.

A compelling vision of a desired state focuses the population on a singular purpose, a common cause and an understanding of what they as an organization is trying to create.


Legend holds that Hernando Cortez burned his ships when he arrived in the New World to demonstrate to his men that retreat was not an option. Irrespective of your feelings toward Cortez, his actions, however apocryphal, are an excellent example of how commitment to a goal can drive change. Faced the with the choice of either achieving the goal or certain death, it’s fair to say that Cortez’s men were deeply committed to change. Obviously, change can’t always be driven as ruthlessly or aggressively as Cortez, but leaders must aggressively push change by figuratively burning the ships, i.e. they must make it unmistakably clear that anything shy of  100% support for the vision will not be tolerated and those who can’t change attitudes will be forced to change jobs.

Communication of Vision

It’s not enough to have a vision; leadership must make a compelling argument for the vision and inspire passion for the desired state among the population.  Communicating a fierce vision that inspires the population is paramount to a successful organizational change.


As the chances are implemented the organization quickly devolves into chaos. As theories become practices the numerous glitches make the change impossible and frightening. It’s easy for leaders to falter in there commitment to change when all seems lost.  Unless leaders are courageous and stick to the course they will not last long enough for the change to put down roots and grow.

As people struggle to create the new normal out of the howling chaos, they begin to see successes and reasons to hope.  At this point in the change, people start to connect these successes with elements of the vision.  They begin to connect with the desired state as something tangible and real.  These connections begin to forge the foundation of the new processes, tools, mores, and values on which a new and better corporate culture can be built. People tend to fiercely protect these newly forged connections and build norms around them.

Capability & Confidence

Slowly these connections and new practices start to yield real, tangible results and the population’s confidence rises. The organization becomes more capable as it repeats the new practices.  The reliable results that come with organization and personal capability builds confidence and the two form an improvement spiral, which ultimately makes the desired state a reality.

The desire state rarely comes to fruition exactly as envisioned or expected (remember change takes time and the vision often evolves and is refined as time elapses.) This isn’t a bad thing, often the ultimate state far exceeds the organization’s wildest expectations and desires.


#change, #communication-of-vision, #organizational-change-2, #safety-culture