In the Spirit of Festivus


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By Phil La Duke

Today marks the fourth anniversary of my blog; well sort of. I started my blog when a former employer ordered me to blog.  A fresh-faced, recent college grad and manipulative smirking-know-it-all convinced my then boss that we HAD to have a presence in the blogosphere.  I was against the idea from the onset.  I have always viewed blogs as poorly written self-indulgent crap. I was a publishing snob, believing that the only things that offered value were those that were peer-reviewed.  I should qualify the term “peer-reviewed” I use the term in a very broad way: a published article that is accepted as a source for citation in academic, scientific, or journalistic pieces.  In that respect, what you are now reading is not a peer reviewed work, as if you use it as a source some pedantic turd of a college professor will gig you on your grade because a blog is an opinion piece.  While my published work (even, interestingly enough my guest blogs for is ostensibly proofread, edited (not just for factual accuracy but also for bias), and fact-checked (fortunately I avoid having many actual “facts” in my work, having learned a long time ago to use words like “many” and “few” instead of words that are easy to quantify as correct or incorrect.

My boss at the time made it a condition of employment, and once my writing started to get noticed he insisted that he have one of his dim-witted henchmen read my work before I published it and ultimately forbade me from writing altogether that, and he claimed that everything I wrote was his intellectual property even though it was work that I did on my own time, using my own equipment, and for which he had not paid me to do.. (I flatly refused and this probably had more than a bit to do with our parting of the way.) I had to (successfully) defend myself against ethics charges  when a withered toad of a Subhuman Resources claimed that my work constituted moonlighting (karma is, as they say, a bitch, as this mouth-breather was accused of abuse of power and had to defend himself against, in this case just, charges.)

So roughly speaking I have produced about 170,000 words of content on the blog (plus another 40,000 or so in writing my column during that period, and another sundry 40,000 in articles that I submitted to Facility Safety Management, ISHN, and a hodgepodge of trade magazines collectively).  So I produced roughly quarter million words in print for which I received no compensation beyond the edification of the safety community or, lacking that, the satisfaction of knowing that I shook up a bunch of uptight safety codgers, and that put me in hot water with at least two employers.

So why do it? Last year alone, this meager blog attracted readers from 150 countries.  Impressive until you consider I get a fair readership of dying foreigners who are looking for a trust worthy lad to whom they can leave their millions.  In fact, I may be a Nigerian King, if emails are to be believed (of course if that’s the case I am a cheap, lazy, overweight and impotent loafer who likes to buy counterfeit drugs on the internet.

And apart from disrupting my weekends, getting hate mail from all over the world, and being threatened by safety boobs because my barbs, while clearly not directed at them personally, hit a little too close to home, what difference has churning out this load of…well I guess the next word is really yours to decide?  I don’t see much change out there in safety land, at least not any to which I can lay claim.   But truthfully, I didn’t start this blog because some boss ordered me too, and certainly not for the good of mankind. No, I started this blog to get some things off my chest, and even though I have cranked out a library full of content there are still some things that really bug me about safety.  So in that spirit, I would like to begin my next four years with a good old, Phil La Duke, fire and brimstone blog about the evils of safety.  Call them New Year’s Resolutions, call them the rantings of a self-important blowhard—I really don’t care, but in the spirit of Festivus, I have some real problems with some of you people. Let me preface this by saying that if you find yourself getting all sweaty and outraged because “not all safety professionals do these things” than you are exactly the person I am writing this to.

Grow The @#$% UP!

I am active in LinkedIn and by active I mean I belong to and participate in around 50 groups.  The groups are generally related to either safety, process improvement, or training (or one of these things are a subset of the topic to which the group is devoted) and while I have met my fair share of bright and open-minded safety professionals I have met just as many who are an embarrassment to the profession.  So I say again, “grow up”, if you don’t like safety get out of the business. Many openly whine about their jobs mainly because it isn’t what they thought it was going to be.  Thought safety was going to be easy? Guess again; thought it was going to be a position of power? Guess again; thought it going to be respected? Guess again. And if it were fun, they’d charge admission instead of paying you. Safety is just a single cog in the great machine that is your organization and if you thought you were somehow doing something more noble and deserving of the adulation and gratitude of the organization then you thought wrong.  We are paid to do a job—just like quality, and materials, and HR, and engineering, and…well you probably DON’T get the picture but we’ll stop there.  Our job is no more or less important than any other. When I worked in manufacturing I used to say that engineers believed that everyone would be an engineer if only they were smart enough. And when I worked in healthcare I said that nurses believed that everyone would be a nurse if only they cared enough, but safety professionals? Safety professionals believe that everyone would be a safety professional if only they cared enough, had enough vision, were moral enough, and were self-sacrificing enough.  Well I say, “enough’s enough”. You get out of a job what you put into it, and if you do your job with pride and professionalism and stop worrying about what the rest of the organization thinks of your job you will get the respect you whine about not getting now.

Stop Blaming Leadership For Your Inadequacies

I can hear some of you bleating, “yes but if upper management doesn’t support us we can’t…” No shit Sherlock.  What function can be successful if upper management doesn’t value and support it?  As much as anything your job is to sell your leadership on your ideas.  But before you can do that you have to stop chasing every softheaded fad that crosses your email.  Good business leaders respond to and support things that are good business.  If you have a good business idea you should be able to articulate it in a way that appeals to executives, but if you can’t make a business case consider that your idea much just be dumb.

Enough With the Martyr Routine Already

If you don’t feel appreciated, maybe it’s because you’re not.  Let’s stop playing the game where you are the thin red line between workers and a horrible death of disfigurement; YOU’RE NOT.  When things go well you take credit for saving lives and when people get hurt you’re quick to deflect the blame because “they won’t do what we tell them”.  I’ve said it before, and will likely say it again, our jobs aren’t to protect workers, our jobs are to help the company and the workers to make better decisions that will ultimately help to make things safer; we can neither claim credit or blame for changes in safety.

Blaming The Culture is Like Blaming the Boogieman

Too often safety professionals deflect criticism by blaming the culture, the system, or some other intangible force; they might as well be blaming pixies, elves, and sprites and the mischief they make.  Control what you can control, influence what you can influence, and leave the rest to people with the specialized skills to do those things.

I should close with a disclaimer to the effect that I am not talking about all safety professionals, and in fact, I have met many hardworking, long-suffering, under appreciated safety professionals.  But you know what? The people who truly are safety professionals don’t need this gutless, don’t-hate-me-cause-I’m-just-saying kind of cowardly shield.  Like I said, if you are offended by this, and are getting huffy by my “sweeping generalizations”, then you are most probably EXACTLY about whom I am talking.  Feel the hurt and let it go cause sending me your poison pen letter may not get you’re the result for which you are looking.