Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Safety Stupidity

Because Alan Langston wanted to see me do a graphic

By Phil La Duke

When I talk to many safety practitioners invariable the incredible stupidity of the injured worker rears its ugly head.  Well, I’m here to tell you that when it comes to safety there is plenty of stupid to go around. At the forefront of my mind is the absolute and unquestionable stupidity of how safety practitioners increasingly seek to solve safety issues by using solutions from the lowest levels of the Hierarchy of Controls.  Just this morning I saw orange cones places around: a generator that was blocking a full lane of traffic, a mound of dirt, and a trench. What’s more, I just returned from California where I saw startling examples of the stupidity of safety. Please understand that this has nothing to do with California and everything to do with me walking in unfamiliar places.

First, the button to push to activate the walk sign was disabled, and at this particular stop light, it meant that the “Walk” sign would never illuminate.  Here in Michigan you can push that button all day long and it has no effect since the WALK signal timed to the traffic light but people push it anyway. Since the button was working on the adjacent street we crossed and then crossed again, and then crossed a third time.  It was hardly expedient, and people have an innate drive toward expediency. The next day, not only were both buttons inactive (they were actually removed and the cases dangled like cats tortured and hung there by budding serial killers) but a large trench was there where the sidewalk was 24 hours prior.  Our choices were (at least how we saw them) to either walk two blocks to reach our destination that was less than 100 feet away, or wait for the light to change and cross despite having a don’t walk sign. We walked across the grass and when no traffic was coming AND the light in which we were walking was green we walked across the street.

My point is that the brain trust who put the safety measures in place just told us what we couldn’t do, without offering any alternatives.  Seriously, what did they expect people would do, or better yet, what would THEY have done in that situation?

Now some of you are shaking your heads and saying “We didn’t do this,” and I’ll grant you that.  I doubt anyone even remotely interested in safety had anything to do with these controls I’ve mentioned, but WHY WASN’T a safety person involved? Why were these mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging brutes allowed to begin work with no safety over-site or guidance?  My guess is because the people responsible knew that the safety guy would tell them that they couldn’t do it that way, but that past experience had taught them that wouldn’t have given them a better solution. Even people who work in safety have run into the safety dunderhead that just says “thou shalt not…” without giving a viable alternative. We’ve all met the thick-witted, rules-worshiping safety guy that does give two craps as to whether or not the job gets done, and many people in the work word honestly and yet too often erroneously figure that the hazard will only be there a day or so, the risk is minor, and the odds of anyone getting seriously are minuscule.

Safety, as a function, must enable Operations and must help those in Operations to make informed decisions about risk.  This is going to be an uphill battle because so many in safety have used the “ignore it” or “figure it out for yourself” approach for too long, or they just say know.

If we want Operations to own safety, and we should want this, then we have to teach them how to make better, safer choices when assessing risk.  We can’t just dump safety on them and wash our hands and go back to playing Mine Sweeper at our desks. The people we are so quick to deride as stupid are actually just ignorant.  Many people don’t think of the immediate consequences of their decisions and we expect them—without any guidance—to think about the consequence of their decisions four or five steps removed from the immediate consequences.  This IS stupid, but when it comes to stupidity it’s never in short supply. Before we start passing judgment on how stupid the injured workers are maybe it’s time to ask ourselves what WE have done to educate them.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.

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