by Phil La Duke
I missed last weekend’s deadline by a fortnight. I just got caught up in other things and had taken the red-eye home from Portland and was exhausted, as time pressed on I remained too busy to put my thoughts to paper. Then I got all my abstracts rejected by the National Safety Council for its 2016 Conference and Exposition in Anaheim.
I had submitted 26 individual abstracts and received 26 individual rejection form letters. I admit it was a blow. This would have been my tenth speech delivered at the conference and while I hadn’t yet come to expect a guaranteed slot I had come to think that my chances were pretty good.
And before you think, “what an arrogant jerk, maybe they just wanted a new voice, someone with a fresh perspective let me remind you that this is the organization that trots out Scott Gellar to spew out the same schlocky malarky he’s been shilling for 20 years along with Charlie Moorecraft, who, while a hell of a nice guy, has told his story so many times to so many safety professionals many believe he’s an urban legend.
While it’s true that I have been an outspoken critique of the the Behavior Based Safety quasi-religion, and the NSC has been painfully slow in denouncing it, or even postulating that said approach might be out-dated or even dangerous despite OSHA’s condemnation of BBS programs for promoting under-reporting and questioning its overall efficacy I still have a soft spot for the National Safety Council so I was more than a little disappointed when I was shut out of both the NSC’s regional Texas Conference and Expo AND it’s National Conference and Safety Exposition. I did write to the organizers and ask for feedback (not an explanation, one is neither owe nor expected) as to how I might do better moving forward (the reviews from the audience were consistently positive, very positive in fact.) But these emails were not answered so I can only assume that the 26 topics were not as thought-provoking as the other 300 or so abstracts they received. At any rate as it stands right now, the only public appearance I will be making will be at the Michigan Safety Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan in April.
It’s unfortunate, I turned away other venues in the naive belief that I would as likely as not be speaking in October. It’s not just the NSC. Early last year, Mike Riley, the editor of Fabricating and Metalworking notified me that he would be discontinuing my column, The Safe Side saying that I thought I was becoming repetitive. C’est la vie I guess, but a troubling trend since I have 46 articles that were published in the magazine and had hoped that I would make it to 50 before being put out to pasture.
Over the past ten years I have made 20 or so public speeches and published 96 articles and posted over 200 blog articles, all for no compensation. I didn’t do it for the fame, glory or notoriety either—of all the things I would have love to have been famous for, worker safety doesn’t rank in the top million. Trust me, the quickest way to shut down unwanted airplane chit chat with a gabby passenger is to tell him or her that I work in worker safety. No says, “wow, that sounds really interesting” or “wow that sounds like a lot of fun”; as soon as possible they read the book or magazine they brought with them, or lacking that read the emergency evacuation instructions over and over again.
So why did I do it? Why do I continue to do it? To give the field of safety metaphorical intellectual enigma it so richly deserves and in which it is in so dire a need. We still have too many people suffering crippling injuries because their only choices are to either listen to some water-headed simpleton who was put into safety because they were literally too useless for any other job or to figure things out for themselves. Sure there are some great safety professionals out there, but our whole profession has been sullied by well-meaning mouth-breathers who take a make-it-up-as-you-go approach to safety who have never seen a stupid idea they didn’t immediately love.
So am I washed up? Perhaps, but like so many blasé fads I will continue to go on and on and on. I will continue to question the dubious practices of the Safety fields and the even more ridiculous claims of the snake-oil salesmen.
I’m disappointed to see the end of my 15 minutes of fame, who wouldn’t be, but what is a deeper disappointment is that I don’t see anyone picking up where I left off. It takes courage—when one puts one’s opinion out into the blogisphere and questions the establishment one risks losing that big promotion, blowing that career making sale, or just in general having strangers adamantly dislike you. All I can say is that for me it has been worth it, in my own small way I have shaken things up and who knows what the ripples from my tiny contribution to the field of safety will ultimately make.