Danger: Professional Development Conferences May Be A Danger To Your Stupidity


by Phil La Duke

Safety is a thankless job; there’s no disputing it. But realistically if you do a job because you hope someone will thank you volunteer. You probably won’t get thanked for that either, but at least you will have some moral standing to piss and moan about it on Facebook. I generate (on average) 6,000 words in print a month for free. I don’t expect gratitude, hell I have long since stopped expecting civility, so what I was met with at this year’s National Safety Council’s Congress and Expo took me back. I made my first speech at the National Safety Council way back in 2007 and have made nine speeches in nine years (it should be ten, but owing to a decisive screwing by an employer I was forced to drop out just before speaking in 2010. (Special thanks to Hilda for not blackballing me). When I started the speakers were given a full conference admission, lunch each day, and a small gift. Now the speakers are given a conference admission minus lunch tickets and admission to contests that paid attendees are given. I’ve heard speaker’s grumble—with the exception of keynote speakers, speakers are expected to pay their own travel expenses, and there have been at least 3 years that I have gone out of pocket to appear—but not me. I happen to believe that professional conventions (really congress IS a better term) are an important, nay, essential part of the growth of our profession. I cannot trace one single business deal to an appearance I made at one of these conferences and being famous for safety (such as it is) is sort of sad; it’s like bragging about having a 84 level half-elf wizard at your regular Monday Night Dungeons & Dragons game—cool in the right crowd, but not exactly one of the five facts you give Alex Trebeck to ask you about if you are a contestant on Jeopardy! But as I said, this year I was taken aback. I spoke on the 3Cs of safety with Rockwell International’s Mark Eitzmann and both before and after the session I was approached by five or six individuals who just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for speaking. Thank you for having written them back when they sent me an email some years ago. Thank you for opening their eyes that they may have been approaching safety, and thank you for speaking.

I have to admit it was a bit humbling (don’t worry I am and will always be the smug, arrogant son of several bitches you’ve come to expect.) These people were there to tell me how I had touched their lives in some way and it meant a lot to me. One gentleman was quick to point out that he was NOT there to kick my ass, since, as he pointed out, I threw out the challenge to those of you who can muster up the energy to punch out hate email through bratwurst fingers about how you are going to kick my ass or kill me or whatever (seriously people grammar—and yes I recognize the irony of me giving a lecture on grammar—makes a difference). So where were you cowards anyway? You are so tough when you fire off a “I’m gonna kill you and eat your brain” missive but when it comes to prying your ample ass out of your recycled Barcalounger (come on, let’s call it what it is something you dug out of someone’s garbage and you continue to use because, as you tell your wife “ya get used to the smell of cat pee”) you come up short. And you wonder why you don’t scare me.

So before I launch into my rant, I just want to thank you all. Thank you for reading. Thank you for disagreeing. Thank you for asking for my advice. Thank you for paying me to come to your safety leadership meetings and speaking. Thank you for showing your appreciation, disgust, admiration, respect and contempt. I am currently at 89 published works with five more in the works at which point I intend to stop submitting works for publication. As it stands I have no plans for a book (I won’t self- publish and I am too lazy to pursue a deal with a publisher) and while I don’t have a specific expiration date for the blog I don’t plan on doing it much longer (perhaps 500 posts). In fact, I am planning on leaving the safety field altogether although I don’t know when or for what (maybe I will just organize underground death matches with the Deliverance cast off extras). Success in life is all about knowing when to get out, and when you find yourself in a situation where you are neither respected nor valued you had ought have enough sense to fold the hand. But mostly it comes down to this. This month the first The Safe Side The Safe Side in Fabricating and Metalworking Magazine since lasts February. The column stopped running regularly because the editor, Mike Riley, decided that I was repeating myself. Mike’s a straight shooter and nicer than most editors (probably too nice, at least he doesn’t deserve someone as difficult to edit as me). During that same time the publisher of one magazine for which I wrote a desiccated turd of a man decided that I couldn’t write for him as long as I wrote for a competing magazine run by a man who gave me my start as a safety writer, so I was forced to write for a magazine that had 5 times the circulation but worked for a publisher who hired and fired my daughter for no better reason than because he has puss and bile where most people have a heart or work for a magazine that increasingly cut my articles to make room for ads. I’ve switched to writing for “business” magazines but I will spare you the indignities foisted upon anyone choosing that particular road. But hell, at least I don’t make any money doing it; and that isn’t me whining. That is my choice. But at $100 a story it just doesn’t seem worth it. I could monetize the blog, which with the right moves could bring in $50K or more a year, but screw that. I get enough shit from readers without having to listen to advertisers bitch. So anyway, the doom’s day clock is counting down on the paste (not quite pearls) of wisdom that I ooze each week.

But then I digress. My intent was not to announce my impending resignation from public (and perhaps private life—anyone out there want to hire a washed up safety pundit? —I thought not). What I wanted to address is the lost opportunity so many of you face in failing to avail yourselves of attending one of the handful of professional conferences that are worth attending. If you rely on LinkedIn to keep abreast of the latest in thought leadership you will only learn how to be stupid. You really need to get out there and learn from other professionals. Get out there and meet people. Disagree. Share ideas, share a meal, share many beers, and innovate. It may be time for me to step down (I really hope to do one more National Safety Council speech before quitting—but Anaheim? Anaheim? You know what’s fun about Anaheim? Me neither, but such is life.

Of course all that glitters is not gold. If you go to ASSE you will have to suffer through the pretentious boobs who put the Ass in ASSE and if you go to the National Safety Council you will most certainly have the opportunity to endure a pointless keynote speech by Scott Gellar and Charlie Moorecraft (one of whom is a real sweetheart) on a topic that is less credible or relevant than an episode of Hee-Haw (Google it) but that’s not the point. You will meet people in the field who need you. You can be the counterpoint that decries the emperor naked. Our trade won’t get stronger or more effective in the LinkedIn threads, only dumber and more sanctimonious. We get stronger and better by getting together and discussing topics that matter. Not in the technical sessions or the key notes, but in the bars and vendor socials. Too many of us miss out on this great experience, and well if you want to hear me speak, the next National Safety Council may well be your last chance to do so.

In case I don’t get a chance to say it before I flush this whole thing, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting even you obnoxious blowfish who couldn’t kick your own ass with an axe.