Thanks For Nothing


By Phil La Duke

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrated in the U.S., and while the dates may differ many countries take a day to reflect on the many things for which to be grateful. The temptation to rifle off some insipid, smarmy, warm and gooey contemplation on gratitude, but alas my private persona is every bit as irascible as my public one and safety remains a thankless job. And while a lot of us in safety bemoan how little appreciated we are some of us use this time to reflect on exactly why should anyone appreciate what we do—after all the best we can do is nothing; anything less than zero injuries, in many people’s mind (both within and outside the safety trade) represent failure. So in a very real sense people say thanks for nothing when we succeed, and thanks for nothing when we fail.

I don’t have the energy for another frothy debate, but a member of LinkedIn, Armand Audette, commented on last week’s post, he quotes one of his contacts, Kevin Burns, as saying “we all start at zero injuries everyday its ours to lose or keep.” I’m a bit torn on this statement. On one hand, it’s a great sentiment and something like a value; something to which we all can and should aspire. On the other hand it smacks of original sin, which we are somehow pure at the daybreak and get more and more sullied as the day progresses. In this, the darker of the two scenarios, to be injured is to sin, it becomes about shame and blame. I prefer to think of it in the former, but that’s a matter of choice I will leave to you all.

I promised not to make this about being grateful, but I do have to say that I have been reflecting on my life in safety and thought that just maybe an expression of gratitude might be worth it.

First, I am grateful that I was dragged kicking and screaming into safety after over a decade working in organizational development and lean manufacturing. I’m grateful that I got to work on a multi-year joint program to transform a company into the safest company in the world. In the course of that project I worked with some of the greatest minds in safety and with a Union that rejected BBS as a “blame the worker” philosophy.

Next I’m grateful for the many dysfunctional workplaces where I have worked, one of which is where I was forced to start writing and speaking as a condition of my erstwhile employment. I fought against blogging, protesting that it was self-indulgent crap best reserved for talentless hacks who couldn’t get their work published by the established safety press. I’m grateful that in the misguided attempt to get fired or at least subvert the order that I create a blog I decided to create a safety blog where I would speak with my own voice.

I wish to thank all my editors (most of whom would prefer I NOT mention them here given my complete disregard for punctuation and grammar.)But I’m especially grateful to Mike Riley, the publisher or Fabricating &Metalworking magazine, who ran across a white paper I wrote and published it which ultimately lead to a monthly column on safety in a magazine devoted not to safety, but to metal manufacturers and processers. Thanks largely to Mike, a whole industry accustomed to safety as an after thought was not having safety presented to them on the same equal footing as quality, grinding, and the latest in fabricating innovation.

I’m also grateful for Chris Sanford, who I met at a tradeshow and who encouraged me to send him some samples (“If they’re shit, I won’t print them”). Chris took some of my roughest work and shaped into something worth reading, truly my best work was done at the business end of Chris’s red pen.

I would be remiss in not voicing my heartfelt appreciation to the likes of Dave Johnson and Dave Collins who ran counter to the safety establishment and encouraged me to go on the aggressive. It was they who recognized that too many people writing about safety were playing it safe for fear of losing customers. They encouraged me to take risks and to push the envelop; to ruffle feathers. They did this not because they hoped to see me crash and burn, but because they judged me to have the guts and thick skin to handle the insults, death threats, and general violent insinuations. They encouraged me to continue when I was both privately and publically ready to quit.

Of course I appreciate people like Barb Fleming (even though her Facebook account got hacked and Lord knows what hell has in store for me now) and Hilda Koskiewicz who have awarded me coveted speaking spots at their respective conferences (talk about a thankless job!) Pieter Jan Bots the driving force behind one of the largest LinkedIn groups dedicated to worker safety who chose me to be one of the sponsored bloggers for the group which helped boost the readership of my blogs and articles tenfold.

I’m grateful for Rockford Greene International co-founder, Pat Sullivan who prodded and pushed me outside my comfort zone and single-handedly helped me to create one of the fastest growing safety consultancy before I was assimilated.

Most of all I’m grateful for my many readers, detractors, fans, and sociopaths that keep me at it. For those I’ve helped, for those I’ve infuriated, and for those I’ve inspired, I am grateful. There are others of course as there always will be; omissions I assure you are both inadvertent and spitefully calculated; if you don’t see yourself here I leave it to you to wonder which.

But where is this outpouring of thanksgiving coming from? It’s damned sure a kindler, gentler Phil. It just occurred to me that for a field so incredibly rife with crybabies and whiners we all have a lot for which to be thankful. Perhaps Safety Practitioners (and all of us really) should focus more on appreciating instead of being appreciated. We entered this field (at least ostensibly) to help people. When we answer a higher noble high road we lose all credit if we whine about the lack of appreciation we received for our efforts. If we truly want to be appreciated we have to do our jobs without complaining; except me off course, complaining is my job.