Safety Is a Thankless Job

Thankless

By Phil La Duke

On April 19th I will make my 10th consecutive speaking appearance at the Michigan Safety Conference in Grand Rapids Michigan; this speech quite likely will be my last public appearance (it most certainly will be the only public appearance I will be making in 2016).  I have already have either submitted or am writing my 100th published article (I have 96 currently in print, ISHN has 4 as yet unpublished works, and Entrepreneur another 2, and I am working on a piece for Health & Safety International), and this is my 188th blog post.  That’s represents approximately 300,000 words in print, and (when coupled with my speaking engagement) close to a million hours of effort without compensation. Pro bono work offered in hopes of bettering the Safety Function. These milestones will go largely unnoticed and certainly uncelebrated within and without the safety community.

This sure sounds like it’s shaping up to be a mopey, “woe is me” “no one appreciates me” crybaby  post;  I can assure you it won’t be.  I titled this post, Safety is a Thankless Job, because there are plenty of famous wind bags and snake oil salesmen out there who have published just as much and spoken just as often (albeit for profit) who in their arrogance genuinely believe that they did it alone, and that their geniuses go largely under appreciated.  To be sure I am an arrogant son of a…well uncharacteristic decorum doesn’t permit me to finish that sentiment…but I am not so arrogant as to think I could have accomplished this alone.

So in the spirit of gratitude I want to say thank you to anyone reading this, including the pompous puss-bag to whom I affectionately refer to as “Crank Cox” who reads my work religiously, only to bad mouth it and personally attack me on LinkedIn. Over the years I’ve questioned some of Safety’s most cherished practices and challenged safety professionals to rethink some of the things they do and hold true.  Without the blithering idiots who attack my work, I wouldn’t have the thousands of devoted readers.  So love me or hate me, my first thank you has to go out to each and everyone of you takes time out of your life to read my work.

But my work wouldn’t exist at all without some notable people who deserve special recognition. (If I left someone out it’s either that I honestly forgot or I’m not all that grateful for their “support”).

I have to start with Rick Vlasic, the Chairman and  CEO of O/E who told me that he wanted me to start blogging.  I refused telling him that blogs were the inane blathering of people too untalented to get legitimately published and that blogs were nothing more than “self-indulgent bullshit”. He insisted that it was part of my job, so I did it because it wasn’t worth fighting over.

Barb Fleming, has been a dear friend and supporter who not only introduced me to The Michigan Safety Conference, but also organized (along with Laura Martin) my first speech at Automation Alley. A venue that got me national attention and made it easier to get gigs at places not only like ASSE and the National Safety Council, but also at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and several prestigious international conferences.

Speaking of international venues, I have to thank,  Erica Toms who literally saved my life on more occasions than I can count, and encouraged me to keep writing when I was so sick of the aggravation that I would have easily quit. It was Erica and I who found out how to use key words that robot clipping services looked for and how to use them to feed the Google algorithm to get my work published.

Brett Radlicki has been a friend and supporter from day one and even contributed the illustration for my very first published magazine article, “What’s Wrong With Safety and How to Fix It.”

And then came the editors. It was Mike Riley,  who first recognized that my snarky style and willingness to take on the sacred cows of safety was something his readers either wanted or needed to hear.  Mike was infinitely patient as I blew deadlines and submitted work so rife with typos it looked like it was typed by an arthritic orangutan. Mike had enough confidence in me to give me a monthly column, The Safe Side but more importantly Mike let me explore whatever I wanted to in safety, and was honest with me.  His opinion of my work ranged from “brilliant” to “bland and repetitive’. Sadly the column was dropped after around 45 articles, Mike felt that the pressures of a monthly deadline were preventing me from doing my best work.  Then the magazine was sold and while I have six stories in the can, they will likely never see the light of day.

Perhaps the best creative collaboration I have ever had was with Chris Sanford, the executive editor of Facility Safety Management magazine.  When I met Chris at a trade show and talked to him about the writing I had been doing, he said, “why don’t you write something for me; if it’s crap I won’t run it.”  Chris is an old school editor and perhaps the best thing I’ve ever published, 4 Reasons 8 Lessons, was a disjointed and muddled piece until Chris took his red pen to it.  Chris has always been able to artfully  convey what I was trying to say even when I struggled.  Alas,  the magazine has knuckled under to the belief that the average reader can’t digest  more than 500 word articles, and complex safety concepts don’t always lend themselves to sound bites.  In the event that all my dribble is ever published in a book form I hope that Chris will consider editing it.

Perhaps the two people who are most responsible for you ever seeing word one of my work are Dave Johnson and Dave Collins.  Dave Johnson has published my blogs, added me to list distinguished thought leaders and up and comers in safety.  Dave is one hell of a fine journalist who looks beyond stories of industrial accidents but foments debate,  and tries (tirelessly and often in vain) to help his readers make sense of the soup of chaos that is worker Health & Safety.  His work is uncompromised by advertisers and his editorials ask questions that safety practitioners need to hear.  Dave makes ISHN one of the freshest and most important safety media outlets.  But more than all of this Dave understands the emerging and ever increasing importance of social networking and blogging in  the emergence and refinement of safety thought leadership. As media changes, Dave Johnson will always be at its forefront.  Dave Collins approached me to guest blog for his http://www.safetyrisk.net/  I was  reluctant but Dave’s persistence is without peer.  Dave is the king of safety bloggers—with a million hits a year I defy anyone to challenge this statement.  Dave shy’s away from traditional views of safety and his blog makes mine look like an insignificant speck in the blogesphere.  He is taking safety to new frontiers and bringing safety thought leadership to a true global audience.  He has frequent contributions from Dr. Rob Long who manages to proffer insightful opinions based on research and his own storied experience.  Rob is well on his way to taking his place on the pantheon of thinkers like Dekker, Drucker, and Deming.  What I find remarkable about Rob is that he can defend his positions without responding like a pissy crybaby like some safety cult leaders  I could mention, but 1 part professionalism and 9 parts not wanting to get sued prevents (read cowardice) me for calling out the imbecile by name.

This is getting to sound like an academy award speech  and I can hear the music coming up so I will rap it up, certainly Hilda Koskiewicz who has helped me be successful in speaking at the National Safety Council. Dr. Jim Leeman, who has been a friend and mentor and who allowed me to guest lecture to his master’s students at Tulane. Dr. Judith Erickson who along with many is a devoted reader who never fails to further the sometimes contentious discussions. Peter Jan Bots who leads the largest Safety group on LinkedIn who made me one of four feature bloggers and introduced my work to thousands of people (most of whom hated it) and finally Dr. Paul Marciano a friend, early and eager supporter and best selling author whose work while not directly about safety has profound implications for making the workplace safer.

I promised to wrap it up, but I would be remiss without including Mark Donnelly who is perhaps my most avid and devoted reader.  Mark, like me, has an interesting take on safety, has been mocked and insulted for speaking his mine, and has a God-given gift for pissing people off.

There are many others, others not mentioned here, who in there own ways have shaped and molded my body of work over the past ten years, I don’t mean to diminish these contributions in any way.

Perhaps I give myself too much credit here, but as I look at these people and what they have contributed to the world of safety  I’m both humbled to be in their company.  What’s more, as I look at these people it feels like I am looking at the beginning of a new age of safety, a renaissance if you will.  As I reflect on these people and what they have meant to me, what they have meant to the safety function I feel like we all owe them a debt of gratitude, perhaps too great to express in this crumby blog.  Many of these people are frustrated and burnt out, they feel like asking questions about traditional safety practices or offering a better way is a bit like pushing a rope up hill.  I hope they never give up and I know that history will vindicate them and make the Crank Coxes and the Snake Oil salesmen look like Cotton Mathers.

 

 

 

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