Safety Differently: The Next Bandwagon On Which To Jump

By Phil La Duke

a man riding a carriage

Photo by Adrian Jozefowicz on

As a big Sidney Dekker fan, I was intrigued by the buzz over his latest offering Safety Differently, so I checked it out, and I have to confess that I was disappointed.  Why? Well, it wasn’t because his work wasn’t spot on, but for a couple of reasons. First of all, Safety Differently is dangerously close to Apple’s slogan of “Think Different”.  The uninformed pedantic lumps of fetid flesh— of which there are many (in my experience)—we’re quick to point out that the slogan is grammatically incorrect. A good point, to be sure, except that it isn’t.  Jobs wasn’t telling people to change the way they were thinking (“Think differently”) rather, he wanted them to think “different”, in other words, gravitate towards things that are different than anything ever seen before. Jobs didn’t want his team to merely create derivations of existing products but to push ever harder to innovate.

Dekker’s “Safety Differently”, may roll off the tongue in a more grammatically pleasing manner, but I’m sorry, I don’t see it as all that different than the way safety should have been done for decades. How long have we known that recognized that companies have been rewarding workers not for making things safer, with less risk, but for not reporting injuries? How long have we known that “the absence of injuries does not denote the presence of safety?” How long have we known that safety has become a bloated bureaucracy?  How long have we (at least most of us) known that blaming the people for injuries was wrong-headed and we should be looking at the system defects that cause the injuries instead? How long have we known that engaging workers in finding solutions for lowering the risk of injuries is a key to finding a safer way to do things?

I recognize for a third of you this is heresy; how dare I question the great and powerful Dekker? Another third of you are still clinging to the Behavior Based Swindle that pays your rent and gets you speaking gigs and even sells your books. But just maybe a third, probably a lot less, will recognize that Safety Differently isn’t all that different, and furthermore it doesn’t go far enough.  In one of the many YouTube videos, Dr. Dekker talks about how safety has become a numbers game; that safety practitioners have become slaves to Key Performance Indicators that are poor indicators of performance. He says that Safety is an ethical responsibility. No kidding? How long did it take his Think Tank to come up with that? I’ve literally been saying this for decades, but it’s more than just an ethical concern, it’s a business concern.  We have to stop killing people in the workplace; no one should have to be told that this is wrong. But more importantly, we have to stop lying and cheating and manipulating the data so that an injured worker isn’t reclassified as a non-recordable/reportable injury.

We need lagging indicators to be linked to leading indicators.  Leading indicators should be telling us what our strategy needs to be while lagging indicators should tell us how much progress we are making toward successfully achieving our strategic goals.  

Yes, we need to engage workers in reducing risk, but I am not sure that the team that thunk up Safety Differently is the same team that knows how to create that engagement or even what that engagement should look like.

The danger, however, doesn’t lie in what Sidney Dekker is proposing, the danger lies is that the fact that as I write this there are purveyors of Culture Transformations, who 5 years ago were purveyors of Behavior-Based Swindles, who 5 years before that were cashiers at Kmart, who are now scrambling to get on the bandwagon and repackage and rebrand the swill they’ve been serving to safety practitioners who greedily slurp it up, as Safety Differently.

I don’t disagree with Dekker.  Heck, any of you who have read my book (and let’s face it you are so much smarter than those who haven’t) or have been a long time reader of my blog know that I have been saying all of these things and more since 2006.  In fact, I hope Safety Differently spurs some action so that in so much as we can, (OSHA and its counterparts around the world aren’t going to suddenly let us stop counting bodies) we can start causing safety instead of preventing injuries.  Dekker has a less crass, less offensive, less provocative way of getting his message out there than I do so maybe the half-wits who are planning the safety BINGO will listen to him where they wouldn’t listen to me.

Meanwhile, watch out for snake oil salesmen, pitching the same tired crap with a Safety Different label on it because you can BET its coming.  The safety conglomerates and the safety mom and pops alike will jump on this bandwagon and continue the Behavior-Based Swindle, but a turd by any other name is still a turd.

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 & Note: If you are outside North America, you will want to order for the Amazon site in your country.  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).

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel obligated to get something for but don’t really like.

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.