Safety Is Hard Enough

woman working girl sitting

Photo by Alexander Dummer on

By Phil La Duke

What you are about to read is likely to upset some of you, even ANGER you.  You see after 12 years of blogging I have learned one immutable truth: The majority of you read my work hoping against hope that I will give you a reason to puff up yourself in righteous indignation and post patronizing posts about what a uncouth and imbecilic jerk I am. If I write something helpful, optimistic, or innoculous only my most loyal readers will even see the post.  But if I write something inflammatory people flock to the site like it is a Black Friday Sale.  This week I finished my second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Preventing Workplace Violence and frankly I had to go to some dark places in my path to write it (on top of the subject itself being pretty grim).  I just needed a break from the slapping safety upside the head and offer some advice on how to do the job without burning out.  A lot of you will hate it.

Safety is a tough job if you’re on the inside you have so many demands placed on you (particularly by people who should be doing it themselves) that your day can become a living nightmare. If you are a consultant you are only as good as your last sale and you often have to talk people with just enough knowledge of safety to be dangerous; full of buzzwords and enamored with the latest fad. You have to get them to want what they need, and that’s seldom easy and sometimes impossible.

But this post isn’t going to be one of those “woe is me, please pity me for my thankless sacrifices” posts; far from it.  After all, we chose this job, and while there might be a handful of people who chose this profession thinking it would be easy, I believe most people entered the profession with open eyes and no delusions that the job would be easy. It’s not like any of us were 13-year old runaways who found ourselves scared, alone, and penniless until a kindly stranger took us home, gave us food and shelter and then one day told us we had to earn our keep by working in safety. And truthfully, this job has its moments, like when a client or boss starts to see that the strategy is paying off and lets you know how much the organization values you.  Of course, those moments are few and far between, but maybe there’s a way to make our lives better, even though our jobs will remain hard:


  • Advertise.  Let your constituents know about your contributions.  So many of us grew up being told to be modest and not to toot our own horn.  If not us, who will? Many of our clients (and let’s face it, whether you provide safety from the inside or the outside you have clients) don’t really understand what we do, and that is great if you are an incompetent boob who wants to conceal the lack of progress and the fact that we don’t really do much of anything.
  • Explain WHY what you did matters?  Did you reverse an injury trend that was heading upward to one that is now trending downward? For us, that is pretty self-explanatory but they don’t do what we do and they don’t know what we know.  Instead of prattling on about trend lines and statistical progressions, just tell the people, “at the rate we were going we would have hurt x number of people but instead we were able to reverse that rate and now we are less likely to hurt workers and if we continue improving more and more workers will be less likely to get injured.
  • Be generous with the credit and stingy with the blame. We didn’t really do much, we influenced others to do something.  We may have given excellent advice, but THEY had to follow it. I’m not discounting how difficult it is to persuade an organization to take on more work (work, by the way, that they often think we should be doing) but by recognizing the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices they made it will be easier to persuade them the next time.
  • Take care of yourself.  It’s easy to let the job get to you but don’t let it.  I know a lot of nurses who will sit on a barstool and loudly complain about their patients.  “These lousy sick creeps and their demanding families make me sick.” I gently remind them that the people they serve are, or potentially think they are, facing a terminal illness. They and their families are worried, scared, confused, and want answers.I go on to tell them that no one ever told them nursing would be easy, and if they really despise their patients so much to get out of the business.  I say the same thing to safety practitioners who ceaselessly complain about how their bosses don’t listen to them and no one appreciates what they do. If you collect a paycheck from a toxic environment that endangers workers despite your best efforts and you continue to work there (because quitting would be hard and scary) then you are complicit in the unsafe environment that is your workplace. That all having been said, prevent burnout, by taking care of yourself physically, don’t try to make yourself seem invaluable by working 16 hours a day—that’s not dedication, that’s suicide.

    Eat right.  Take a 20-minute walk twice a day (outside whenever possible, and be optimistic. I know that sounds incredible coming from me, but believe it or not, I am an optimist. I write these poison pen posts precisely because I think the safety profession CAN be better and needs constant chiding (and insults if necessary) to get there. Optimism and happiness are the two greatest determinants to the extent you will be resilient and be able to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks of our jobs.

  • Don’t kid yourself that you’re doing your best. If half the safety practitioners were doing their best half the time we would be living in a Utopian paradise, but they don’t.  I can hire a below average intelligence gibbon to do it’s best. If you really are doing your best and STILL can’t do the job than it is unethical to cash a paycheck.  I’m not saying you should quit the profession, but at very least do some soul-searching and determine where you need skills development and be frank with your boss about your shortcomings (trust me he or she probably already knows) and ask for help in developing your skills.  All quitting buys you is time until the pattern repeats itself.
  • Get to work. Years ago the Franklin-Covey institute did some research and found that people tend to approach work like this: 1) do what’s fun/what you enjoy 2) do what’s fast 3) do what’s easy, and 4) do what’s hard.  If you are like most people in safety today, you feel like there just isn’t time enough in the day to get it all done, and you know what? Most of you are right. But if you tackle the hard work first it’s both more personally satisfying and more noticeable and valued by the organization.  It also lifts an incredible burden from your shoulders which makes all the other tasks easier.

The people who figured this out love their jobs, and even though safety can be a back-breaking soul-sucking job, they know that what they are doing is worthwhile. So for those of you just entering the field know this: the job may never get easier, but if you persevere and stick with it, it will become more rewarding and satisfying than you ever imagined.

We still have a lot of things that need fixing, and I can’t always be the voice crying out in the wilderness, but if enough of us stop congratulating ourselves on a job half (and I am being generous here) done we can fix those problems we can develop safety into a respected and valued profession.

Don’t worry I’ll be back next week with some wild hair up my excretory orifice.

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 & 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.