I Want Safety To Do Better


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

I haven’t been on my soapbox much lately.  It’s not that I don’t have plenty to say, it’s just that so much of it makes me angry to write about I end up sounding like a troll who hates everything. Abby Ferri inspired me to write this post when she asked on LinkedIn a simple question to anyone who cared to answer: What do you dislike about your colleagues? (my apologies if I don’t have the exact wording down, but the point being, what is it about the behavior or some safety people that make you cringe?)

So I am going to flip the script a bit here and tell you what I would LIKE to see improvements in the Safety function.

Kill The National Safety Trade Organizations

This week I received my last rejection letter for a speaking abstract.  I know it is the last one because I sent two abstracts to ASSP Safety 2020  before deciding to give up speaking at trade shows, and while I submitted two in the typical manner bereft of any sort of decorum or class received one form-letter via email. The cheap bastards couldn’t even fork out the postage to send me a proper response. I actually breathed a sigh of relief.  I honestly don’t think I could stand seeing the smug money grubbing faces of people acting as if they were doing me a favor by allowing me to speak at my own, not inconsiderable expense.

For the record, I am not resigning from speaking—although after speaking at multiple trade shows every year since 2006, I think I’ve earned the right—I am quitting.

I understand that much of what you are about to read may sound like sour grapes, but I’m prepared to risk it to say some things I think need to be said.

I would love to tell you that I agonized over the decision to give up unpaid speaking engagements, but that would be an outright lie.  I made this decision after an epiphany brought about after ASSP condescendingly turned down my books for sale at the shows where I was speaking for free.  They didn’t like my tone. I didn’t really expect them to sell my books because, after all, what would be in it for them? I further realized that Trade Shows are dying if not already dead.  Yes, people who want to keep the alphabet after their names will always show up, but the rest of us gain very little from participating except to bear witness to the death rattle of the trade show.

Let’s take a look at the value proposition of trade shows, well at least the two big Safety trade show.  First, there is the cost of membership both a national membership and a local membership and neither of these fees is inconsequential. Sure they may entitle you to discounts but they are typically on things you wouldn’t ordinarily buy.  You get to go to meetings and to network, but couldn’t we organize that ourselves? Do we really have to pay dues to go to a happy hour and share ideas over a pint and some quesadillas? I don’t think so. And while my current employer is very willing to support my colleagues and I in our pursuit of professional growth, many of us have to fight and argue with our bosses just to have the company pick up the membership tab.

Then we have the national conferences which amount to a money grab. Do you doubt me? Consider this:

  1. Professional Development Seminars  These are great training programs on basic topics about which most of us already know. BUT they also give us CEUs so we can maintain the alphabet soup after our names. The price of these sessions ranges from a couple of hundred dollars to over a thousand. They are offered both before and after the main event to ensure maximum money-making potential.
  2. Technical Sessions.  These sessions are included in a full-price full conference admission, typically as much as $1,000 or more.  Conference planners LOVE technical sessions It’s a nice little money maker—the speakers aren’t compensated (except for full admission to the show) and the sessions are moderated by volunteers who are given a one-day pass for their services. So the conference organizers pay nothing but derive great benefits from having a wide range of speakers but really don’t pay anything to the speakers.
  3. The Exhibit Hall.  The Exhibit Hall is code for the big room of vendors where participants go to from booth-to-booth like trick or treaters collect useless promotional crap that they will likely throw away as soon as they return to the hotel.  If you have been to as many of these shows as I have you probably have noticed a great degradation in the number and quality of vendors. I used to wander the exhibit hall checking out new technology and talking to the vendors.  Now I see unattended booth after unattended booth. It seems like there are fewer and fewer companies are exhibiting, and those that are seem less and less enthusiastic about being there.

So what would I LIKE to see? 


  • More Information less “Infortainment”. “Infortainment” used to have a horrible connotation it was the worse thing an instructional designer  could say about a course. It was an ugly insult that meant the course had no substance. People had fun but didn’t learn anything of value.  And yet I have heard safety doorknobs openly demand more “infortainment”; we don’t.
  • Less “Here’s what I did” and more “Imagine the possibilities.” Not only are there too many infomercials at trade shows they are getting longer and they are the SAME five guys spewing the same crap.  Can’t we have more open forum discussions and less “I’m great, buy my book, hire me?”
  • More information exchange.  People complain that the sessions aren’t interactive enough, and yet whenever I try to create a dialog I stand before a 100-person jury.  They will gig me on my evaluation on the topic (seriously, are they too stupid to read the program, or are they just looking for something to bitch about?  The most powerful sessions I attended were when the audience was divided into groups and given a discussion topic. After a time spokespeople from the group would report out on their conclusions.  A group discussion would ensue and the “speaker” would facilitate learning.
  • More engagement from the exhibitors.  Exhibitors pay a pretty penny to showcase their wares, but over the years fewer and fewer quality vendors exhibit.  In my experience it’s because: a) the professional organization treats you like something it scraped of its shoe, b) the professional organization nickel and dimes you to death. (Need power? That’s $50) c) if the professional organization has a product or service that competes with you they will put its both right next to yours and compete openly with you.  What’s more not long ago, exhibitors would greet you as you went by ask what you did at your company and if you got involved with the purchase of whatever they were selling. Now you see empty both after empty booth interrupted only by exhibitors with there nose in their phone ignoring people as they go by.


Drive Safety Cops Into the Sea

There are two types of safety cops: “the thou shall nots”, and the grand inquisitors.  The thou shall not go around the organizations sniffing out rule breakers so they can report them to management. These safety cops are little more than capos in a death camp or collaborators with an invading force.  They crave power that they cannot obtain through skill or hard work so they seek to have it imparted on them by a higher force. Like the behavior of any other creepy little tattletale, these safety cops just drive unsafe behavior underground, they are the enemy of the worker.

The grand inquisitors fear change and they will malign and persecute anyone who thinks differently from them.  They know what’s best in safety and cannot stand anyone who dares to think differently. They shout down people on internet threads and complain bitterly about anyone who questions the theories of an insurance man who may or may not have made up his research.

There can be no tolerance or forgiveness for these people, because they make all of us the enemy of the worker when we should be the advocate for them.

Tar and Feather the Simpletons

While it’s true that many people are killed because they weren’t aware of the risks associated with a given activity, Safety Simpletons have an awareness campaign to suit ever occasion  even if the awareness campaign is completely pointless.  They will argue that the children’s safety poster awareness program is fun and people like it.  I would argue that only a sociopathic sadist introduces the idea that mommy and daddy might end up bleeding out on the shop floor into the mind of an 8-year old child. “I’m sorry Dylan, daddy died at work today. I told not to use the green crayon, but you didn’t listen and you killed daddy.” Show me one incident report that concludes that the root cause of a workplace injury was “his kid just didn’t love him enough” and I will show you a safety simpleton. And, if that is NOT a cause, why on God’s green Earth do we tout it as anything but a simpleminded waste of time?

More Emphasis on Risk Reduction and Less Body Counts

We still have a problem where we congratulate ourselves for killing and maiming less people than our competitors or than we did last year.  Can’t we do better? Shouldn’t we be striving every day to do better? I think so.

My second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. is now available as an eBook (through Kindle or iTunes). 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.)

Or if you prefer you can buy it 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.) 

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