By Phil La Duke
I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business and Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence
One meets a lot of idiots in my line of work, and more than times than there should be those idiots work in safety. From the idiot safety appointee when I worked on the line who was given this lucrative salaried position in safety because, if his impressive credentials as a failed hairdresser and the fact that his brother was a middle managers with cheese and sawdust in his head to the clinical imbecile who hounded me to tie my shoes but never once mentioned the hazard of me wearing a metal watch and belt buckle in an area ripe for an arc flash incident (which tragically took the life of a worker a month or so later. He was fried to a crisp, but by God his shoes were tightly tied.)
Nowhere is the worship and promulgation of stupidity better exemplified than on LinkedIn. A contact posted a short video where a vehicle.vehicle left the road and struck the trailer of a tow truck. People, many of them who work in safety, rushed to judgement admonishing the driver for not paying attention, none of them presumably guilty of ever taking their eyes off the road. Many and more posted supposition and facts not in evidence to support their contentions. When I pointed out that the tow driver bore some responsibility because while he was on the shoulder he was mere inches from traffic (and at one angle appears to be actually parked in traffic.)
My point was that a good incident investigation a) doesn’t seek to find out who is to blame (or responsible) rather why something happened; b) what factors contributed to the incident, and c) what can be done to mitigate the risk of a repeat injury.
This is a good point for me to interject that I wasn’t defending the driver, nor excusing distracted driving (we can’t be sure that this was even the cause, as the poster said, “homicide? Suicide?”, I see plenty of stupid drivers (many professional drivers) who routinely disregard Stop signs or traffic signals, and these people aren’t distracted, they are arrogant pigs who believe that there time is more important than the lives of pedestrians. No cop? No stop? And given that in the U.S.A. one is far more likely to die driving to work than while physically AT work, I think it behooves us all to slow down and obey the traffic laws.
So let’s take a look at the reasons why these yowling simpletons are so dangerous:
- Blame ends conversations. When we investigate anything with the intent only to find who is responsible, we don’t learn much else. Continuing to investigate once you know who’s at fault is akin to continuing to look for your car keys once you’ve found them (that’s why they are always the last place you look!) Worthwhile investigations seldom find a single root cause. Let’s take the video (warning, speculation for the sake of example to follow) posted. The area between the lane marker (the solid white line) and the end of the pavement appeared to be a scant six inches or so—clearly not enough space for a vehicle to take refuge and forcing a driver to either park on the grave near a ditch or park in the line of fire; this is a poor design that constitutes a system flaw. Also, there were no “rumble strips” which could have alerted the driver that he or she had left the road. The road was only two lanes and traffic was backed up before the driver left the road. Exactly if and how this contributed to the incident is impossible to say without interviewing the driver, but since when has a lack of facts stopped a safety guy from running his or her mouth? What I found most interesting was what we didn’t know: was the driver sober? Was the driver taking any medications? Was the driver drunk or stoned? Was the vehicle in good working order and free from a mechanical problem (front end out of alignment, low front tire on the right side, faulty tie rods, bad ball joints?) Without answers to these questions we haven’t really done an incident investigation.
- Unless we know the contributing factors we can’t ensure the same (or similar) incident doesn’t happen again. As I pointed out, there were many potential contributors but none of the sub-simian pre-apes who posted seemed seemed to care; they had their scapegoat and all others were blameless. The anatomy of an incident is both simple and complex. It is simple because essentially the formula for an incident is hazard + interaction + catalyst = incident. An incident must have a source of harm, i.e. a hazard. If there is no hazard, there can be no harm and if there is no potential for harm there can be no injury. Similarly, someone has to interact with the hazard in order to be harmed by it. Think about it, hazards are everywhere, but we don’t interact with all of them so we can’t be harmed by them. Right now I can hear a speeding car a block away from the safety of my office. I am not interacting with it so I can’t be harmed by it; another obvious and easy concept. Finally, there needs to be some sort of catalyst that causes the hazard to harm us when we interact with it, and here is where it gets a bit dicey. The absence of a catalyst is why people say, “I’ve been doing this for 135 years and I have never been injured. doing it this way.” Catalysts tend to stack, that is to say, only when the catalyst reach a threshold (and it is difficult to say just what that threshold will be) will the contributors trigger the chain of events and cause an injury. In the case of the video, the tow driver is nearly hit by the car but jumps clear at the last second, had the driver been travelling at a greater rate of speed he may have been struck. Near misses are good indicators of the injury threshold. So how long can you drive without paying attention? It depends on a lot of other factors, but as the mouth-breathers in the thread demonstrate, few people care about the behavior unless it results in a catastrophic outcome. Driving while not fully committing to the task increases risk and increasing your risk without sufficient value-add is just plain stupid. When one dullard asserted that the tow driver had the right of way (a true statement) I replied that they could put that on his tombstone. He went on to make an exceedingly lame pun about Tombstone pizzas and made much ado about the fact that there was no fatality. The only reason that there was no fatality was that the tow truck driver had sufficient reflexes to dodge a car, that the car didn’t strike the back of the disabled vehicle
- Behavior is never the proximate cause. No matter what behavior you can conceive there is some antecedent that has caused or greatly influenced it. Watching a video and clucking tongues at how stupid the person was is the height of hypocrisy. We can’t prevent behavior without knowing the motivation and ignorance is seldom a motivator. Who among us can honestly say that we don’t know that multitasking while driving is stupid and dangerous? And yet the go-to move is an awareness campaign. Why? Do we think that people forget that taking their eyes (or mind) off the road while driving is anything less than potentially lethal?
LinkedIn used to be a place where professionals would engage in intelligent discourse, but most of the people capable of doing so have been driven out by, as John Lennon put it, “short-sighted neurotic narrow minded hypocrites.” All but a few notable exceptions of the giants in thought leadership in safety have left LinkedIn and keep their well-educated, well-reasoned thoughts to themselves; and that is a loss that affects us all.
And as for risk, people engage in at risk behaviors because every time we do and suffer no consequences we teach ourselves that it’s safe to do it. Our risk tolerance continues to expand until we reach the fatal threshold or have a near miss that causes our tolerance for risk to shrink. As long as the human brain teaches us that the value of a behavior outweighs the risk we will not only continue taking this risk we will increase the risk because, as Dr. Robert Long (before he got so sick of the LinkedIdiots, pointed out, “risk makes sense”.
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.)
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.