Should Safety Pros Be Entrepreneurs?

Not that the public outcry about my hiatus from writing the blog has been deafening, I would like you each to know that I have been writing quite a bit, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine. In fact, one of my recent articles, The Top 5 Reasons Not to Be an Entrepreneur, was just featured  in This Week in Small Business whose editor described it as a “must read” although she did qualify it by saying, “Believe it or not, Phil La Duke’s…” The move from writing almost exclusively about safety to writing things that are at least tangentially related to entrepreneurship may seem a bit odd at first, but in my twisted mind it all makes perfect sense.  We are in the business of persuasion and if that doesn’t make you an entrepreneur nothing else will.

While many of the mouth breathing dopes on LinkedIn will argue to and fro whether or not we can lower the proverbial hammer and force people to behave safely (and then miraculously be free from things like exploding boilers, collapsing scaffolds, or the scores of other things that cause workplace fatalities and injuries, many of the rest of us realize that the best we can hope for is to help people make smarter choices and better decisions about their safety.  This lesson was driven home recently when as I spent six months or so as the Production Safety Consultant on a major Hollywood action picture.  This job put me in so many no-win situations that were so grossly out of my control that I realized that I would have to employ completely different techniques to bring some semblance of safety to an intrinsically unsafe environment.  Unlike working in a warehouse, retail, or manufacturing where a safety brute can throw his or her weight around and threaten workers with disciplinary action, the structure of a movie production is more like that of a construction site.  Thousands of people work on producing a motion picture and many of them are contractors.  But not just ordinary contractors, these men and women represent a handful of people in the world who perform some esoteric service and generally speaking they are the best at what they do.  In other words it’s not as if one can fire them and have 15 people waiting in line that can do the same job.

To make things even more difficult almost all the work is non-standard work, so there isn’t an instruction manual on how reduce the risks because many of the risks only become apparent when something really bad happens.  Most safety people run shrieking from the merest mention of a safety job where the things that happen  are almost always a surprise.  This begs the question, “what does any of this have to do with safety professionals being an entrepreneur?” The best answer is “everything”.

Safety professionals can no more force someone to behave safely than an entrepreneur can force someone to buy from them; most of the rules are the same—you have to convince the customer that buying  what you’re selling (whether it be safety or ferrets) is in there best interest.  So many times safety professionals convince themselves that God and the law is on their side and by golly we will make these people safe if it kills them.

But an entrepreneurial approach is different and exponentially more effective. Whenever I met someone I would introduce myself as the safety guy, but I would then qualify it by saying, I am probably different from the kind of safety guy you’re used to; I’m here to have your back not be on it.  I would explain that I was a resource to them; to help them to find the safest way to do something while still getting the job done.  I made it clear that we were in it together.

This paid off big time for me, as various crews from grips to painters to set decorators would involve me in their plans for the day.  They would ask for, and value, my opinion.  By taking an entrepreneurial approach (finding the pain points and helping to solve the problems) I set myself apart from the safety professionals they had previously worked.

Getting involved and learning the challenges of people’s jobs helps you to sell them on a safer way of getting things done.

There is also a large portion of the safety community who are indeed entrepreneurs, from the retiree who hung out a shingle to the independent consultants or people like me who are part of a massive consulting firm to the people who sell safety supplies, I don’t have the data, and am not going to spend time looking it up, but I will go out on limb and say that most safety practitioners are entrepreneurs and could benefit from my articles.

Now I am going to ask you for a favor.  As you know, I write this blog (and have done so for over 10 years) for free.  Plain and simply for the betterment of the community.  Similarly, I don’t get paid for the many articles that I have had published (158 at last count).  I have to believe that at least some of you find some value in what I have written (even if it is to puff up your chest and feel righteous indignation at what I have written.) In ten years I have only once asked for a favor: when my ex-wife was found dead this spring leaving my two daughters (both who have minimum wage jobs) with the choice of having their mother buried in potters field or somehow try to raise the money all the while grieving over a mother who had abandoned them and was estranged from them for years.  A family friend (my ex-wife was estranged from virtually anyone she had ever met unless they sold her drugs) started a Go-Fund Me Campaign.  I posted a link here in hopes that one of you might think my years of writing might be worth $5 or $10.  Not a single one of you donated anything.  We were able to cremate her and have a small, 2 hour service, thanks entirely to my Facebook friends and family, most of whom had never met the woman but had enough compassion for my daughters to send a few dollars to ease their suffering.  The lack of support played a big part in my decision to take a hiatus from writing this blog.  I guess it’s worth reading when it’s free, but has no value if it involves a simple act of charity.  I guess that’s just the post Napster world works.  Why buy the cow when you’re getting the milk for free.

The favor I am asking is this:  Go to Entrepreneur: Phil La Duke Articles pick one of the 57 articles I’ve written.  Read it.  And using the icons beneath my by-line share the articles with your social media contacts on Twitter, Facebook, and or LinkedIn.  You see, the way they determine whether or not people think my material is worth reading is by how many people like you share the article by using those buttons.  Unlike the Go-fund me campaign I won’t know whether or not you did this.  I won’t see who has done me this favor and who has not.  The only way I will know is through a sudden uptick in traffic to those stories.  Some of them are pretty good, some are a bit bland. This is probably the easiest favor your can do, but most of you won’t.  That saddens me because it makes me feel like the hundreds of articles I have written mean nothing.

A can tell you this with certainty: LinkedIn, far and away the biggest source of traffic to this site is making it increasingly difficult for me to post in my groups and is becoming a major pain in the ass, so I will count on each of you to pr0mulgate this site.  Many of you have expressed to me both public and privately that you find value in this site.  If that is true I will need your help in promoting it or it will just wither and die on the vine.

So get off your ass and do it.