80% of Safety Practitioners Are Idiots


Photo by Rodolpho Zanardo from Pexels

by Phil La Duke

Startling title; nasty, mean, condescending and just plain unfair.  It’s not right, it’s not fair,  it’s not just.  So how does it feel? Because as long as we perpetuate the 80% of all injuries are caused by employee behaviors we say that every day to hard-working men and women who want nothing more than do their jobs each day and escape unscathed. But then we would have to do real work, real thinking using real science to solve our problems and for too many of us, it just isn’t worth it.

In an interview with The Art of the CEO, that will be broadcast on December 4th, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. (tune in on any broadcast station that carries the show, or at  http://theartoftheceo.com. One of the questions asked was “…tell us how to get these guys to tie off—clip on—and save their own darn lives.”  Then I read a post by Carsten Busch, safety thinker extraordinaire, that quoted an early dissident to the “80% of injuries are caused by recklessness or carelessness,” and it pissed me off.  

I realize some of the more delicate among you will use this colloquialism to tune out. Good. I learned a long time ago that someone stupid enough to believe this would use any excuse to mentally discredit me and return to their lucrative business built on lies.  If not my use of course language, it’s my typos, or because I called someone a name—it amounts to nothing more than having a closed mind, a lucrative income based on the junk science, and unwillingness to so much as even consider a more viable approach.

By a more viable approach, I am not speaking of my approach (although it is) rather ANY of the umpteen methods that are based on scientific research that was conducted on human error, flawed decision making, or the latest in brain research.

But I beginning to realize that I may have been wrong all along, maybe the stupidity created by the vivid imagination of Henry Heimlich, and perpetuated by the National Safety Council for 100 years, is right, after all, maybe 80% of all incidents are caused by the behavior of safety practitioners and CEOs.  The behaviors of stubbornness, resistance to change, willingness to take shortcuts, out-and-out laziness, and the eagerness to accept the dumbest dreck ever uttered or written WERE INDEED causing most injuries.

What if the actions and inactions of senior leaders in Operations in unknowing cahoots with safety simpletons were causing 80% of the incidents.  What if companies did little more than pencil whip training, do no evaluation as to the effectiveness of the training, did no reinforcement of the training on the job, and didn’t even CONSIDER evaluating worker competency as part of the performance evaluation process, might that cause injuries? Or what if the companies evaluated the training based on how many people were injured after taking the training, might THAT causes injuries?

Or how about Operations that refuse to free up machinery for preventive maintenance, might THAT cause injuries? What about Operations managers who work outside of the process; providing workers with inadequate tools, or running production despite not having enough parts? Do you think that THAT might cause injuries?

Consider the companies that work their employees to the point where they can barely stand upright because they are so fatigued, might that not be a cause of injuries?

How about organizations that see hazards but do nothing to fix them or slap a containment Band-aid on it that fails to adequately protect workers, might this not be the kind of behavior that gets workers hurt and even killed?

What about the front-line leader who (with the full complicity of his or her leadership) decides to risk it and continue production when a sane person would freak out at the recklessness of the decision? Might that be a behavior that causes injuries? And let’s not forget about the safety practitioner who looks the other way or even cooks the books through Case Management?

Of course, we can’t forget the safety practitioners who aren’t qualified to do their jobs and yet gleefully continue to cash paychecks; might that not cause injuries? Why aren’t we blaming engineers, safety practitioners and Operations leaders who work at the lowest tier of the Hierarchy of Controls and slap a “Warning: Do Not Die” on a hazard instead of eliminating it?

How does it feel to get blamed for something you didn’t do or can’t control? Not great, right? So when for the love of all that’s holy are we going to stop smugly blaming workers for their injuries and start digging beyond, the careless, reckless idiot worker screwed up and got hurt or killed someone. We should be in the business of correcting system errors that cause injuries, improving worker competency, and yes, accountability, but for that to happen we first need to get out of the shame and blame business.

Not only do we have to stop buying into the Behavior-Based Swindle, but we have to stop promulgating it by insisting that our vendors have a BBS system in place.  We have to rely on science and sweat, not Bigotry-Based Safety (let’s not forget that the nationality and ethnicity of the worker were seen as potential root causes of Heinrich’s theory, and eugenics was a science embraced by the Nazis).

Why is it so difficult to believe that machines break down and hurt people, that people make flawed decisions—not because they are careless or reckless but—because they have imperfect information? Why do we struggle at the idea that doing a repetitive job over and over again can lead to human error which, in turn, can hurt us? What makes us react incredulously at the idea that human beings are innately imperfect and that human error is not something we can ever eliminate (even robots make mistakes).

Maybe things are like so many people persist in believing: stupid, careless, lazy people are the cause of most injuries. Maybe the National Safety Council is right in perpetuating the belief that 80% of injuries are caused by carelessness and recklessness. Maybe all those who cling to this belief like a mother lemur clutching its offspring. Maybe these things are all true, but if they are, maybe we are blaming the wrong people.

Did you like this post? Do you disagree but it made you think? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here from Amazon  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).

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.