To Hell With Safety Goals

By Phil La Duke

Preface: I reached some deep insights about worker safety this week. That’s not much of an achievement as some may think but after 11 years of writing thousand-word articles on the same subject week after week it gets tougher and tougher to go to the well. It’s been a rough couple of months I walked away from a great project that I designed only to see it poisoned by a toxic person who was equal parts ego and sewer. This week I heard that this ichor-hearted brute told the client that I was dismissed from the project because I wasn’t contributing. Well what goes around comes around and in rare cases we get to watch the traitorous villains get their just desserts. All that is beside the point, I include it just so you can have some idea the state of mind I’m in—sick of putting up with shit and being to told to play nice with globs of animated excrement. Life has just put me into the kind of funk that makes you question whether you want to continue helping people like that or is it better to go to the competition and help bring the person ruin and misery. Add to all this quasi-drama the fact that my editor, at Entrepreneur—once an ardent fan and supporter of my work—has reduced my contributions from twice a week to twice a month. He said that I don’t draw enough traffic (literary speak for readers) to justify giving me the slots I had. While I certainly don’t disagree that I don’t draw the kind of audience that authors with big PR departments shilling my work, I suspect the guy soured on me, follow me long enough and generally that will be the case.

To hell with safety goals; there I said it. We are acting like simpletons having a goal of zero harm, or zero injuries (and if I get another drooling rant, from the psycho who challenges me to a debate every time the subject comes up I might just snap myself and fly to Australia and choke him out) or putting a numerical target on the number of injuries with which we’ll be satisfied. Think of it this way, if I were to ask you how many people it’s okay to hurt, what would your answer be?

When people tell me their goal for injuries is zero I just want to smack them, what the hell else would it be? Having a goal for injuries implies that there’s a number of injuries that it acceptable. So if there is only one acceptable goal what’s the point of having one?

And let us suppose you achieve your goal of zero injuries, what then? It’s rather like having the goal of finding your car keys. The reason your car keys are always the last place you look is because what kind of an imbecile continues to look for something they’ve already found? So you’ve achieved your goal, and you have zero injuries, now what? The mountain’s been climbed, where do you go from there?

We don’t need a goal for safety. Somebody PLEASE tell me why we need to have a goal for safety when everyone has the same goal? This makes us a laughing stock.   That’s all I’m going to write this week.

Post script

It’s been two days since I wrote the original draft, and upon reflection I must say that I don’t think I provide very much thought leadership, or anything of much use.  So in way of consolation, I thought I would add just a touch more substance and a lot less whining about people who really don’t matter; lying and deceit eventually sort themselves out.  My apologies for an emotional, although heartfelt rant.  So back on topic, to sum up, we need safety to stop being philosophical and make it operational, but making it operational isn’t about giving it a goal, it’s about embedding safety into OTHER operational goals.  For example, you can’t be considered successful meeting your production goals if you injured workers to do it.  You can’t get your gold star for quality if, while achieving zero defects you injured workers.  Safety exists outside the functions and needs to be the thread that pulls an organization together.  Last week on the local news they showed gruesome footage of the events just prior to a road worker getting killed.  In Michigan we get monster potholes this time of year and crews are sent out to patch them with hot blacktop.  They tend to do this on the busiest streets during rush hour, that is to say, at the height of risk of worker/traffic interaction. The manner in which they do this job is water-headed and criminal.  Several men with shovels dart in and out of traffic throwing hot asphalt in a hole and tamping down with the back of a shovel.  They violate laws against illegal lane closure (last time I checked it was 2 miles prior to the work and a mile after.  The process involves two trucks one in front that carries the crew and the asphalt and another behind with a big arrow for the traffic approaching the work area to veer suddenly into the adjacent lane.  But as often as not I have seen near collisions with the back truck, and worse yet, workers patching holes in the very lanes to which traffic has just been suddenly and with little warning directed.  I personally have witnessed many close calls and have even stopped to talk to the crews about what they were doing.  In this case, and the details are still sketchy, the driver of the rear truck failed to stop and struck the front truck, striking two workers and killing one.  I saw the footage that the news ran over and over again with them stopping the footage just seconds before the collision, leaving viewers to use their imagination as to what came next.  A horrific but wholly foreseeable tragedy that effected me deeply, not the least of which because it happened just a few miles from my house. A 47 year old man died because of wanton recklessness, not by the drivers, or the workers, but whatever imbecile decided that this INCREDIBLE risk was worth it.  He died so we wouldn’t have potholes.  This as well as the issues I mentioned in my crybaby rant weighed on me as I wrote my blog. It may not excuse it, but maybe you will understand my state of mind and give me a pass for my writing.  It made me question why I do this at all, because it seems like all I get these days are arguments about how safe the workplace has become.  I don’t think it has, I think we’ve just become desensitized to the risks we take we are overtaking by complacency because we have so many fewer injuries than we once did.  As I said,  the level of injuries used to be criminal, now its just less criminal.  The point of me bringing up this tragedy is that I am sure Michigan Department of Transportation has a goal of not killing anyone, but it isn’t a value.  If it were a value they would have looked at the risks of how they currently patch potholes and judged it too dangerous to be doing during rush hour, too dangerous to have workers in between two large trucks where they are virtually invisible until it’s too late, or if someone collided with the rear truck it most likely would lurch forward and injure those workers.

It has to be a value that permeates all we do not something that hangs on the wall.