Advocate For the People

antique armor black and white chrome

Photo by Mikes Photos on

By Phil La Duke

Let us never lose sight that we are not advocates for safety, nor the company, nor the stats, rather we are now and forever advocates for the people.

Something you must know about my blog posts is that I NEVER disclose confidential information or experiences with current (meaning my current employer) clients, and in cases where I discuss previous client relationships I disguise key elements so that the privacy of the company or individual is compromised. I tell you this because recently people have asked me “is this about _____?” several times.  In each case, it is not even a company I have worked with at any time. So with that in mind…

Years ago, when I was a new employee I was traveling on business and in the course of my business travel, I was injured not once but twice in my hotel room owing to the darkness and poor furniture placement.  When I returned I dutifully reported the injuries as we were instructed to do. A short time later I was interrogated by our safety guy and lectured on ways to be more careful. I finished by saying my injury wasn’t work-related because the law considers a hotel a temporary domicile and therefore not my workplace.  It was clear to me in that instant that my safety guy cared not one whit about my safety, he cared about whether or not my injury would adversely affect the company’s safety record. I immediately lost respect for him and never reported another injury again. Knock wood, but I have never been seriously injured at work, but I resented the hypocrisy of telling me to report everything, going so far as to lecture me at how to be safer at home, while dismissing actual injuries as inconsequential.

All injuries are consequential to the injured party, and those who don’t believe it needs to get out of the business.  I believe now, that the role of the safety professional, must by necessity, be to help individuals to make informed decisions about their safety.  I am not a cop, a mother, or even a concerned friend. I’m a paid advisor (whether I work as an internal safety guy or an external consultant) to help you, my constituents, make smarter choices. Just as a lawyer (and I realized at age 32 that the fact that I had a divorce attorney, an attorney simply for lawsuits, a tax attorney, and a criminal attorney that something had gone horribly wrong with my life) can give you advice it’s up to you to follow it. I’m here to tell you (and perhaps living proof) that the worst advice you can ever get is usually free.

When people ask me if I want some free advice I ask THEM if they want a long sweaty awkward hug from a fat man. Both are equally repulsive to me.

So let us never forget that we are paid for our advice. A good criminal lawyer keeps his or her clients out of jail so they can commit more crimes, but a good safety practitioner hopes people will heed his or her advice so they will be able to offer more life-saving advice. Sure your lawyer will tell you they want you to stay out of trouble but as Larry Flynt reportedly said (arguing why his lawyer would never quit) “I’m rich, I’m the most fun, and I’m always in trouble).

So while we may not be lawyers we still are advocates. Let us never lose sight that we are not advocates for safety, nor the company, nor the stats, rather we are now and forever advocates for the people.

When we are advocates for safety we have a tendency to see people as the primary obstacle to safety. “If only people would do as they were told, stop making stupid choices, and cease being complacent, lazy oafs we’d have a perfect safety record.” Safety must be for the people not despite the people and as long as we worship the Safety like a pagan god the workers will always resent us and oppose us.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that as safety practitioners we are advocates for the company, but here again, we short shrift the people.  A safe workplace is a successful workplace, and when we advocate for the company we are actually working against safety. Case management may be a necessary evil, but it’s still evil.  I’ve seen too many great people with legitimate injuries get chewed up and spit out by this inhuman process. To be sure there ARE people who want to cheat the system, but these miscreants are in the minority.  Why then do so many case managers treat EVERYONE like a liar and a cheat?

Similarly, many safety practitioners who see themselves as advocates of the company consciously or unconsciously create programs that actively and passively encourage workers NOT to report injuries.  Unreported injuries seem like a good thing for the company and a lot of leaders don’t differentiate between zero injuries and zero reported injuries.  It looks good on paper and everyone gets a pat on the back, even the people who risk being cheated out of their legal rights because they went home with blood in their pockets so they didn’t screw up the safety BINGO.

It’s only when we see ourselves as we should, as absolute champions of the people’s right to a safe workplace that we can ever truly be successful.  Anything less than that is sheer sloth and cowardice.