When it Comes To Safety There is No Room for Politeness


By Phil La Duke

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

It occurs to me that one or two of you might have actually noticed that I haven’t posted to my blog in a couple of weeks. I could claim that I have been busy (being a production safety consultant for two major motion pictures in the last month, speaking at VPPPA, and writing almost 100 articles for Authority magazine) but that would just be bullshit. (Pause a moment for all those uptight assholes who have never heard the word to exit in disgust,) The real reason is that since my books were rejected for inclusion in the American Society of Safety Professionals library, I have come to question everything that is safety.

To be fair, the ASSP has been nothing but good to me, and it is within their rights to not carry my book.  What has me troubled is that YOU, the people who ostensibly work in safety, who supposedly care about safety, are the ones who dictate what they sell. If you don’t buy it they don’t want to offer it anymore than the vending machine operator wants to be stuck with a gross of stale Zagnuts.  

I came from the world of Organizational Development. I am a change agent. But what are YOU? I have heard people bemoan the poor quality of trade organizations but with a couple of exceptions you either never got involved or you doing what I am considering doing…taking your ball and going home.

As Dr. Rob Long is fond of saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “Safety is not a profession”.  He won’t even use the term “safety professional”. For my part I don’t see much professionalism in safety.  Academic pendantics? You bet. Blowhards who talk a good game on discussion threads? We got them in spades. Snake oil salesmen? Too many to count.  We preach innovations and have lofty philosophical discussions about zero-injuries and other gobbledygook that makes us FEEL like we are advancing the function but in the end it’s just ones and zeros on an electronic display and it has about as much impact as one could expect, which is to say none.

We talk about lowering risk, without so much as a basic understanding of probability or statistics or even risks.  We make shit up and float it by an audience and if it finds it palatable it becomes part of the tool kit. We slap a new label on a defunct and debunked methodology and trot it out like  we went out in the rain and discovered wet.

Who are we? What is our role? I have always said my role is to help people from the C-suite to the “see? Sweep” to make informed choices about their safety. I go so far as to correct people who say, “you’re here to keep us safe”. I tell them that the best way they can lower their risk of injuries is to make better choices, and I am here to help guide them in those choices. Of course it depends on the situation, but in general that is my philosophy, Years ago, I had a nasty exchange with one of  the more belligerent workers (he always made a mockery of anything I said) I said, “I ain’t your mama, I ain’t your boss, Hell, I ain’t even your friend. I just met you and if you are harboring some half-baked grade-school grudge against authority take it somewhere else because if you ignore my advice and you end up dead I won’t shed a tear. But I WON”T have you undermining my advice to the other workers.” I stopped dead. I’m a hot head, but I generally don’t treat the people on a client site this way. I resolved to take whatever consequences came my way. He walked away, more embarrassed than angry. I felt bad. I wouldn’t have wanted to be treated that way and I don’t like to treat people the way I don’t like to be treated. The next day he showed up on site with a new lease on life.  He apologized in front of the same construction crew he so often had mocked me. When I started to reciprocate his apology he stopped me cold. “No,” he said, “don’t apologize you were in the right and I was in the wrong. I could have gotten someone killed.” He went on to tell the crew (who had no idea what had transpired between us) that I was a “wealth of information on safety and if they were smart they would listen to me.” I still feel ashamed of how I handled it and told him so. He responded that if I had responded to him in any other way it wouldn’t have had any effect on him whatsoever. That was the birth of my, stand-my ground, safety jerk, in-your-face style of which one or two of you are so fond, but at which so many more of you cluck tongues and shake your heads as you dismiss me because of my tone, or grammar (if you find typos feel free to cut/paste my blog into Gammerly and sit in smug satisfaction.

You people seem to forget that this is academic to me.  Both my grandfathers died from injuries sustained on the job.  They died a decade or more before I was born. Remember YOUR grandpa? Remember all the good times you had? Not me.  That was stolen from me. I have lost friends, a great uncle, neighbors, and coworkers to workplace injuries. How about your dad? Mine died from mesothelioma. Next time you barbecue with your dad think of what I wouldn’t give to have just one more barbecue with mine. Or my brother-in-law, part of my family since I was 8 or 9 who died of silicosis, the most gentle, generous, and goodhearted person I’ve ever known, killed by his job; I wouldn’t mind another conversation with him. So to those of you who think my tone is too harsh, or not academic enough, I ask you: What TONE AM i SUPPOSED TO TAKE?

I guess I’m just thick.  I used to think that people who were outraged by senseless, stupid injuries on the jobs that killed temp workers the first hour of their first day of their first job out numbered the smug asshats who referred to the people working in factories, and on oil rigs, or in mines, as yard monkeys, or factory rats, or whatever pejorative term your industry chooses to throw at them.  I have met some of the smartest (and dumbest) people I know when I was working the line. I WAS WRONG. I still here, “well if the imbecile would have just done the job like he was supposed to…?” Of course no one has the balls to say that to the next of kin. “I’m really sorry Mrs. Wiseman but your son just screwed up. When you think about it’s his own fault for not going going to college.”  

I have no desire to be a safety cop. I have no desire to protect the company by fighting workers’ compensation claims.  I just want to help people make informed decisions about their safety and I’m damned good at it. But as for continuing to spend money (I actually figured out how much it cost me to travel to conferences since my first one in 2006, and it came out to over $70,000 a lot of it subsidized by employers, but even that has its own costs—like them wanting to see sales come out of my appearance (which, given I am not selling gloves doesn’t happen). I am done with speaking for free and pretty fed up with writing for free.  Forget being a thought leader…there’s no money in it (or respect for that matter.).

Okay, it’s time to get off your asses and buy both my books. I have been writing this blog since 2006 and refusing ads (although WordPress my stick its own in) In January, 2019 I announced the release 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’s important that you read it; if you’re not part of the solution than you ARE the problem.

It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble  Thanks to you who have already purchased it.

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.) 

And if you still haven’t purchased first book, what the Hell are you waiting for? It 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.