The Rise of the Safety Apologists

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By Phil La Duke

Stop Making Excuses For the Dorises. When you excuse the irresponsible  and reckless for weak and bland reasons you are abetting these idiots. 

Several weeks back I shared the story of Doris.  For those of you who are less than avid readers of  my work, Doris was the postal worker who recklessly and without regard to public safety drove across the sidewalk to safe literally seconds that she would have otherwise  have spent making two consecutive right turns to legally continue making her rounds.  The focus of the piece wasn’t really about Doris—although “What Would Doris Do?” and “Don’t be a Doris” and “Pulling a Doris” have become catch phrases with a handful of folks around the water cooler—it was about the pointlessness of creating a Job Safety Analysis (or Hazard Analysis if you prefer) while making the assumption that people would behave predictably, rationally, and responsibly.  I used Doris, as I am want to do, as an extreme (albeit true) example of the kinds of things that some employees do; unpredictable things, dangerous things, and yes, stupid things.

I did, as is my custom, promote the post on many of the nearly 50 groups to which I belong on LinkedIn in hopes of fomenting discussion.  I wasn’t prepared for the response.  The outpouring of support for “poor Doris” made me want to hunt some of you down and slap you.  Many people over looked that fact that I intervened and spoke with Doris, and rationalized her behavior “maybe she has too much work” whined one reader.  Others chimed in about the stress that the United States Postal Service puts on its workers and how that stress can lead to a worker behaving in ways that they normally wouldn’t consider.  Still others defended Doris as poorly trained, in need of coaching, or obviously abused by her supervisors.  Scarce few commented that Doris needs the mother of all ass-kickings before she kills someone.  One dolt even defended her actions as “not all that unsafe, because there weren’t any people around.”

I’d like to address these enablers (they are the safety equivalent of helping a friend battle alcoholism by being the designated driver to and from nightly keggers) one at a time if I  may (and since I’m the one making that call, I may indeed).

Training

I’ve gone on record as saying that training to mastery level competence of one’s job is the single greatest way to protect workers; in fact, I’ve said it so often that I feel like it’s become clichéd.  And I still believe that effective training in core skills trumps damned near every other thing we do to protect workers.  But come ON!!! Doris admitted that she drove on the sidewalk on purpose. Her actions were willful, belligerent, and reckless. She knew how to do the right thing but chose to do the wrong thing instead. What skills could we ever hope to impart that would change this bat-shit crazy turd of a human from the woman who drives on the sidewalk to the woman who values safety? Awareness training? Awareness training is for people who aren’t aware; Doris, on the other hand was not only aware that what she had done was wrong, she was defiant in her unsafe behavior.   Training has become, for some safety professionals, a panacea, a “get out of jail free”, a final, “shape up or ship out” chance for errant people to redeem themselves.  But even in the land of second chances some things are so heinous, so depraved, that another chance just signals to the organization that the unsafe act is trivial and no amount of irresponsibility will elicit an appropriate consequence.  This is typically the point where people pipe up about how they can’t do anything because of the “union”.  Typically, unions win their cases because of uneven enforcement of the rules.  After all, you can’t punish Doris unless you punish ALL the Dorises.  It’s the same song and dance with the Human Resources department…except they’re right.  Training isn’t magic, it won’t turn the sows’ ears in your organization into silk purses. 

“Maybe She’s Overworked”

Is Doris overworked? Maybe, but who cares? Hell I’M overworked and I don’t drive down the sidewalk? Charles Manson didn’t even HAVE a job and he ordered his drug-addled followers to kill innocent strangers for bizarre and murky reasons. In short, no one gets a pass for his or her criminal (and let’s face it, what Doris did was against the law so it IS by definition criminal behavior) behavior simply because they work too hard or not hard enough.

Doris Is Abused By Her Supervisors

I often joke that I’m no good at story problems because I get too emotionally invested in the characters (“why is this guy slinking out of Philadelphia in the middle of the night; on a train no less? He’s up to something.” But in this case I think some of you nut jobs are inappropriately filling in the blanks.  Even if Doris was being burned by her supervisor with cigarettes while he told her that her but looked fat in those government-issued shorts how do we get from there to the point where it’s suddenly excusable that she drives like an emotionally overwrought preteen?

The US Postal Service Puts Workers Under Undue Stress

Does the US Postal Service expose its workers to more stress than other organizations? I don’t know and neither do you.  I do know this, about 15 years ago the US Postal Service examined the problem in some detail and made real changes in how they manage and recruit. The “going postal” phenomena can’t be the crutch on which we allow Doris to lean; it’s not just, and it’s not fair. In fact, it’s an affront to the vast majority of postal workers who aren’t broken.

When did we as a society get so bent that we have to consider all possible excuses before we hold people accountable for their willful and deliberate recklessness? So what if she doesn’t get along with her supervisor? Furthermore, I don’t give a rat’s ass if Doris came from a broken home, wet her bed until she was 14, has PMS, or is possessed by a minor Babylonian demon-god, what she did was just plain wrong.  Might there have been extenuating circumstances? Yes, but how extenuating did they have to be before they begin to excuse her behavior?

I freely acknowledge that there are two sides to every story, but some sides just don’t matter.  Lee Harvey Oswald may have had a very persuasive case for shooting Kennedy but we will never know, and in the final estimation does it make one whit of difference? I think not.

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