Keep Your Nose Out Of My Homelife

By Phil La Duke

For many people working in the safety field, safety is less a job than an obsession. For some safety is the zealous pursuit of safety in all circumstances—at work, at home, at play; everywhere. In this approach lies the path to madness. We need to focus on worker safety; only when we have achieved complete safety in the workplace (which is to say never) should we turn our focus to the safety of the conditions and behavior of workers outside the workplace.

I am not one to quote the bible but I think this is appropriate, “”No one can serve two masters.” Luke 16:13 source I’m sure I will get yet another round of threats and insults for suggesting that how a worker behaves when not at work is, at least from a safety standpoint, none of our business.  Sound callous? Sound cold-hearted? What other occupation goes to such extremes to carry over what they do at work into the homes and lives of workers? Are there Lean practitioners conducting Kaizen events in worker’s kitchens? Do you have quality systems professionals trying to get workers to get their garages ISO certified? Does the 5S team foot print the television sets and ottomans in workers home? No, and to suggest that they should is ludicrous, and yet to suggest that maybe safety professionals need to mind their own businesses when it comes to how the worker’s behave at home is heresy.  Just my suggesting this will further stir the pot and I will get another week’s worth of insults, threats, and who knows maybe another bomb threat.  Just an aside, but what kind of safety person threatens the life of someone with whom he or she disagrees? Seems a bit hypocritical to me, but what do I know?

For the record I don’t want people to get hurt at home; a friend and co-worker of mine died at home. He was an electrician who died when he accidentally sawed through the power cord of his saw while cutting aluminum siding. There was nobody more informed about the safe use of hand tools and/or the dangers of electricity; and yet he still made a fateful error that cost him his life.  But I draw the line at calling the safety manager on the carpet for not preventing this death.  I was head of training at the time, should I have stuck my meddling nose in and insisted that I train him to cut aluminum siding?

I won’t go through the butcher’s bill of people who I have lost to workplace accidents, so before some water-headed bleeding heart accuses me of being indifferent let me ask this: is YOUR OWN workplace in order? Is your own workplace so free of risks and hazards that you can afford to think of ways people can be safe at home? Is your plate so empty that you can afford to take on safety at home? Personally, I believe that the National Safety Council and a handful of others have created a sort of identity crisis among safety professionals.  This is not a knock on the NSC, but we need to be mindful that they are not the Worker National Safety Council.  The scope and breadth of the NSC extends far beyond worker safety and into traffic safety, safety at home, and well…safety in just about any context you can think of. The scope of your job likely does not.

I think I am rather typical of the average worker. I have worked some real crap jobs; jobs where safety wasn’t regarded with derision and contempt.  The general attitude was if you want to be safe go work somewhere else, if there was a safety rep or safety manager at these places I damned sure didn’t know who it was, and I learned very quickly that if I was going to stay alive I had to take matters into my own hands. When the company would put up safety posters they were quickly vandalized (not by me) because of an abiding s sense that whoever was responsible didn’t live in the real world, and most certainly the company (that never in my almost four-year tenure fixed the missing wood block in the floor that I had stepped in and badly wrenched my ankle) couldn’t care less about my safety. For them to have the hubris to offer suggestions on how I could stay safe while at home would have incited us to riot.

I know the people who want to offer tips for working at home mean well, and truthfully I have throughout my career have offered the occasional tip myself. But there’s a difference between those who see no harm in the occasional “heads up” on safety at home and the safety martyrs who claim that they got into this business solely to help people.  We need to knock of that sanctimonious crap or stop collecting paychecks for doing our jobs. From wait staff, to nurses, to lawyers, to bellhops, to policemen to maids, to ambulance drivers, to…just about any number of jobs; the people doing them are helping people; of course they get paid to help people just like we do.  There is no dichotomy between helping people and making money and to suggest otherwise is to arm the people who dismiss us as soft-headed buffoons.

There comes a point where what I do when I am off the clock is none of your business; if I bring my problems into the work place it may become your business, or the business of my boss (who I hasten to add probably isn’t you) but until it does…butt out.