The Politics of Stupid

by Phil La Duke

Good morning, afternoon, or evening.  It’s difficult to process the fact that people from all over the world read my blog.  For me it feels more like writing to an audience of one, and I guess when I think about it many of you have told me that you feel like I am talking directly to you when you read my work.  Over the past 12 years I have been hammering out blogs that have provoked, enraged, and hopefully entertained you, that’s approximately  624,000 words.  People seemed to like my work and I was invited to speak at international venues and to write for dozens of magazines. I was for a time the belle of the proverbial ball. But recently things have shifted.  A colleague was asked for his advice on a speaker for the leaders at one of his clients, and they recoiled in revulsion at the merest suggestion when he proffered my name up.  What if I said something…controversial? What if I said (as I have to other groups) that what they were doing was wrong?

The National Safety Council has effectively blackballed me ostensibly because of audience feedback that said I while I was an excellent speaker my topics weren’t all that great.  Keep in mind I would send as many as 40 abstracts from topics ranging from the safe and mundane to the truly outrageous and provocative and THEY selected the topic.  I think it has more to do with criticisms I have made privately and publically about keynote speakers who are more infomercial than technical and that speakers standing at the podium schilling their latest books.  Their staunchest competitor, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) doesn’t seem to have any particular beef against me, but year after year my abstracts get rejected. NOTE: I received word at 10:52 a.m. that I will be speaking at the 2018 ASSE Show in San Antonio. They notified me last November but like a fool I put down the wrong email.  Last year I spoke at a conference in Ireland and promised to share the video they were going to make, but it will be year in March and I’m no longer holding my breath.

Even publishers have cooled to my work.  I used to write three articles a week for Entrepreneur, a monthly column for Fabricating and Metalworking, and contribute to ISHN, and a list I’m too lazy to make of other high quality, high circulation magazines.  Now I am lucky to be asked to stop writing letters to the editor.

It would seem that once again people want to hear that things are great in safety and they aren’t. I would love to cater to your desire to be validated as the special creations of God, but I can’t.  I can’t play the politics of the stupid.  I keep trying to argue logic with people who will only make emotional statements and it’s exhausting.

None of you may have noticed, but I haven’t posted for over a month.  I am not in a depressive funk or in an existential crisis over whether I’m still relevant.  But what I have come to realize is that while my message has been the same for over a decade the safety industry doesn’t want to turn over the rocks that I do.  They don’t want controversy they want complacency.  They want me to tell them that things are going swell. Well they aren’t.  In the U.S. highway fatalities have been essentially trending flat for 20 years even though roads and cars are far safer than they were even five years ago. But nobody cares if a worker commuting to or from work dies because it’s not the company’s problem.  The coworkers still have to deal with the loss of a friend or colleague, the family is still impacted, and was it not for the commute to work the person would still be alive. Let me be clear: I am not saying that companies should start tackling the problem of safety fatalities, but let me ask you this: when was the last time your company shut down a shop site because the road conditions were unsafe for workers to drive on? Sometime last never, I’m betting.

We play all kinds of games with or safety metrics from the overly zealous case manager who fights like a badger to keep a legitimate work injury from being a Workers’ Compensation case or an OSHA recordable to the bureaucracy that recently removed two worker fatalities from its numbers because it “didn’t have jurisdiction over the industry that killed them”.

So I’m back (my month off was spent on a piece on culture—the blame d’jour for ineffective safety professionals to shield themselves.  Sometimes the culture does suck and sometimes it really IS the problem, but it can’t be the reason by default. “Gee I don’t know Al,  we tried a children’s poster contest, and given them pizza and that didn’t work, the culture must be broke, because it’s clearly not the fault of anything WE did.”) Long story less long I kept retooling it until I just got frustrated and quit it (for now)  And that for me is in itself a problem.  It’s not that the industry needs another big idea, we just need to start putting competent people in the right roles.  And before you get your boxers in a wad, I’m not just talking about safety practitioners, but middle managers, site leaders, and executives.  Hurting people at work because you did something you shouldn’t have or didn’t do something you should have is wrong and you are culpable for that, maybe not to me, or the family, or the law, and maybe not even to some higher power, but to someone or something.

I’ve never been good with the politics of stupid, and I have never been able to celebrate the fact that injuries are down.  Take a hard look at that data. Are injuries down or are reported injuries down?  Are you making the workplace safer or just getting better at swindling workers out of their disability checks? My theory is that injuries are falling while fatalities stay fairly static is that it’s tough to case manage your way out of a death on the shop floor but there are dozens of skeazy tricks one can pull to avoid injury claims.  Take China for example where many companies immediately fire injured workers (before a report is filed) presto perfect safety records. Or Mexico where a team scoops the gorey remains of a worker off the floor and slurps him into an ambulance where he officially dies, so it doesn’t count as a workplace fatality. Recordable or nonrecordable ALL INJURIES MATTER.

So I will remain controversial and before you say, “I could never take anyone serious with that shoddy grammar, or his disrespectful tone” ask yourself, is it that what’s really bothering you or the fact that I am saying it, it applies directly to you, and I am exposing it for the whole world to see.