We Aren’t Gods; We Can’t Control Everything

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Author
I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business and Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence

Several weeks back I spoke at ASSP’s Safety 2019 on the topic of Worker Fatigue and Well-Being and today I got my reviews. They were mixed, but I am used to that—I have a polarizing effect on people and you either love me or hate me. But two things I found troubling: 1) While I listed the subject as advanced many found it too basic and 2) several found it lacking when it comes to takeaways.

Now I’ve always believed that there are two types of people who come to my sessions: forward-thinking professionals prepared to have their world view challenged and idiots who wandered into the wrong room, but in this case, some of the criticisms were right on the money. It was basic (mainly because the issue of fatigue is pretty basic: stop working your workers to death and then blaming them for dying) and I didn’t offer any quick fixes (because even if there were any Safety doesn’t have the power, influence, or respect, to implement them.)

I would like to address these here and a larger issue that is becoming a major impediment to working in the Safety Function. First, I rated this as “expert” because, realistically, what can a person with 1-5 years experience do to tackle a system issue—whatever it is? No, in my opinion, something that must be tackled by the C-suite is an expert level presentation, you may disagree, but you would be wrong. Secondly, when it comes to simple takeaways and practical solutions to worker fatigue there just aren’t any. (Again, you can disagree and also be wrong.)

Let’s get the fatigue issue out of the way and then get out of the weeds and look at the bigger problem. “Fatigue is a common problem involving a physical and mental state of being extremely tired. Physical and mental fatigue are different, but they often occur together. Long-term physical exhaustion can also lead to mental fatigue.”—Source Fatigue: Why am I so tired and what can I do about it? Medical News Today. It’s more than being merely being tired which until recent studies most people thought fatigued was synonymous with tired, and it’s cumulative which means that it will continue to build until something gives (usually the health and or safety of the worker). It may sound too basic to say that it is “a central cause of many injuries” but how many of you can honestly say that worker fatigue has shown up as a central cause or contributor in your incident investigations? Put your hands down, we both know you’re full of shit.

Of course, fatigue causes poor decision making, loss of manual dexterity, increased risk-taking, and many more underlying causes of traditional injuries, but we don’t call it fatigue, now do we? We say workers are complacent, or distracted, or even stupid or lazy, but if we say the workers are fatigued what solution do we have? There is a chasm separating fatigued workers and complacent, frustrated, or lazy workers. If we say the workers are any of these things be can blame the workers and we’re off the hook. WE didn’t hire them. WE don’t manage them. So how can anyone expect US to do anything about it? But if we say that the worker is fatigued, our bosses will want a solution, and there is no solution we can implement or even try to implement without looking like simpletons.

It gets worse. Fatigue has been shown to cause:

  • Acute liver failure
  • Anemia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic infection or inflammation
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Concussion
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) COPD
  • Depression (major depressive disorder)
  • Diabetes
  • Emphysema
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Medications and treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, pain drugs,
  • heart drugs, and antidepressants
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Obesity
  • Pain that’s persistent
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stress
  • Traumatic brain injury

I’m the first to admit that my research turned up a fairly lengthy and perhaps alarmist (it would appear that fatigue plays a role in everything this side of impotence in sea urchins) but if it really plays a role in one-third of these things shouldn’t we address it?

Except we can’t. At least not at the safety level. A lot of fatigue is caused by things that people do OFF the job. Things like:

  • Sleeping to long
  • Not sleeping long enough
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Eat like a goat with the munchies
  • Live a sedentary lifestyle

What easy takeaway is there to remedy dangerous and potentially stupid things people do on their own accord? I guess a case could be made for awareness, but many of these people aren’t lacking in the knowledge that this type of behavior is bad for them.

A lot of you dough heads seem to think that organizations see safety as a sacred calling…well it aint. If it was there wouldn’t be so many empty suits running companies or safety directors asking, “what are you doing to make people care?” (By the way, if your boss asks you that answer, “ I push people down the stairs and scream ‘hanging on the handrail doesn’t seem so stupid now does it m@#$%!# f@#$%! now does it?’ and then I laugh maniacally”.)

So to those of you who bitched that my presentation wasn’t a panacea for “curing” fatigue let me just say this. There isn’t one. All we can do is sound the alarm, and that isn’t a very satisfying answer—not for me and not for you. That segues nicely into the bigger problem: we can’t control the bigger, uglier, and most dangerous problems we face in workplace safety. We can’t control workplace violence, high-stress environments, compensation systems that pit worker-against-worker at all levels. These are problems that the executives need to tackle and more importantly fund.  Companies make record profits while their workers jump out the windows.

You want takeaways for dealing with fatigue? listen up screw heads:

  1. Stop shift work. Studies have shown that shift work is a major cause of fatigue and literally takes years off people’s lives. Okay, so what are you going to do about it? Jack and shit. We don’t run the companies and trying to get Operations to refill the first aid kit takes an act of congress so what makes you think we can make a change that is so enormous and so costly? Seriously if you got an answer I’m all ears.
  2. Stop 12-hour shifts. Even a half-hour commute means that an employee is working 13 hours, add to that the time it takes to shower, shave and…pack a lunch and you barely have time to yell at your kid to turn down the music let alone decompress. Fatigue keeps ticking down like a time-bomb.
  3. Restore the five-day workweek. People need work-life balance and without it, they get fatigued and die horribly and prematurely, but before they do they get injured. I believe it’s a defense mechanism. If you drive the machine too hard it breaks down.
  4. Restore the 8 hour day. The pursuit of money has made us diabolical criminals. We are prepared to work people to death LITERALLY so that we can buy…what exactly? The managers blame the executives, the executives blame the stockholders. What happened to morality and decency? Companies make enough money to not only reduce the amount of time a person works but pay the workers MORE. Check your 401K’s before you react in self-righteous indignation you greedy bastards.

This isn’t the only systemic issue that we (and I am not excluding myself here) face in health and safety that we cannot control. But lack of control is no excuse for lack of trying to influence. Every day, nay—every word I write—I risk some impotent mouth breather complaining that I’ve finally gone too far. But at some point, someone out there will finally realize that THEY have to act, that THEY have to think, and THEY will have to screw down their courage and ACT. You can’t just read a book, or post online, or go to a conference you have to get off your lazy asses and DO something. I may not have all the answers, in fact, I DON’T have all the answers but at least I have the courage to ask the questions. This is real life. You can’t sit on the sidelines and cluck your tongues.

John Lennon, in the song, Girl said, “ Did she understand it when they said, that a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure? Will she still believe it when he’s dead?” Well we are facing this now and we have a bunch of lazy boobs looking for a quick fix, well there isn’t one and the Health and Safety function is becoming that in name only.

Alan Ginsberg said, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,” Well I’ve seen the most feeble minds of my generation rise to prominence in the field of worker safety selling snake-oil, while the greatest minds were chased from the field by close-headed, psychotic, drooling, clinical imbeciles who talk big from anonymous walls of the digital fog but shrivel when confronted in person.

We may not be able to change things with fiats, but we can fight the good fight and try to convince our leaders that working our people to death is wrong, and bad for business. Boss Tweed said, “you can always hire half the poor to kill the other half”, but we can prove him wrong, and I spit on all of you who are too cowardly to even try. Oh, and the hat stays on.

I am proud to announce the hard launch by Marriah Publishing of my second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention.  This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. In light of all the talk and panic around gun violence, and the shamefully bad advice some “experts” are giving I hope some of you will read it and pass it along to your executives and HR leads (go ahead, expense it, they will be glad you did.)

It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble 

I should warn you, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights.The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence.  But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is pepper with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.) 

Of course, my first book is still for sale, and you might rightly ask yourself, why on God’s green Earth would I read a book that contains previously released material? Simple, like the rainforest and the polar bears my work is disappearing from the web very quickly.  All but a handful of my works for Facility Management Magazine is gone, and you can basically only go back 2 years on my blog (8 year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck.) And besides, about a third of the book is new material that cannot be found anywhere else. So buy it. It will teach you, entertain you, and make you want to read more it can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Noble.com.

It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble 

I should warn you, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights.The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence.  But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is pepper with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.) 

Of course, my first book is still for sale, and you might rightly ask yourself, why on God’s green Earth would I read a book that contains previously released material? Simple, like the rain forest and the polar bears my work is disappearing from the web very quickly.  All but a handful of my works for Facility Management Magazine is gone, and you can basically only go back 2 years on my blog (8 year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck.) And besides, about a third of the book is new material that cannot be found anywhere else. So buy it. It will teach you, entertain you, and make you want to read more it can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Noble.com.