As businesses feel the economic pinch of COVID many safety professionals are living in fear for doing their jobs
Phil La Duke
I Know My Shoes Are Untied! Mind Your Own Business. An Iconoclast’s View of Workers’ Safety.
Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention
Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands and contributor to 1% Safer,
Not that anyone has been keeping track, but I have been blogging on fewer and fewer occasions—mainly because there just isn’t much to say about safety in a world (and a field) seemingly completely unable to distinguish facts from uninformed opinion. I’m used to the halfwits of safety puffing their chests out in righteous indignation when they feel the need to defend the slack-assed and slack-jawed people working in safety (not all people obviously, but if that just made you bristle then maybe you had better stop reading my stuff and start reading some of Scott Gellar’s dreck that he churns out like a 1890’s pulp fiction sweatshop) and lately I have become more and more impatient with the crazy as a shit house rat crowd. Gellar will make you feel good, special, and you will be even dumber for having read it. Don’t bother sending me hate mail because you studied under him and think his work is just an easier to read version of the King James Bible.
This week I decided to try and be more positive with a Social Media post. I thought it would be interesting to hear from people working in the field and find out how they got into training, what they liked about it, what were their greatest frustrations and finally would they do it over. It was an interesting thread only occasionally interrupted by the usual type of boobs who want to argue my opinion apparently because the questions are too hard.
I was intrigued because I don’t think a single person said that safety was a lifelong dream, or even that they thought they could make a difference, ironically most of us—judging from this insanely small and statistically irrelevant sample size—ended up in safety accidentally, we figuratively fell into a job that is responsible for helping companies reduce falls. Even I who have lost too many people to indifferent managers and owners of dangerous workplaces can muster the fervor to say that I got into this thankless job.
As for the thread—except for a couple of responses—I thought it was a fun and interesting exercise and I was entertained enough by it. What I hadn’t expected was the outpouring of private emails and messages that I received in response to my fairly innocuous thread. I got dozens of emails where our colleagues in safety wrote to me privately because they feared career repercussions if their answers were shared publicly. Several in particular really moved me as they literally begged me to keep up my barking rat schtick.
Three were fired for whistleblowing (and I know of at least three more outside of this who were also fired for whistleblowing), another five or so shared with me that they had been openly intimidated by their employers to NOT intervene on safety matters. All of them voiced their frustrations at owners and middle managers, and sadly all of them told me that they had once loved their jobs but now dreaded the prospect of going in and knowing that they couldn’t make a difference.
I for my part love my job (I now work for a company that knows and values what I do, and also truly puts people before all else), and for the most part I loved my last job even though I had a boss who felt it was his full-time job trying to censor and silence me. When I referred to my first car (a 1976 used Granada, as a Ford POS, he threw a conniption fit because 30 years later someone from Ford (our client) might see the blog and be offended. I have driven many Fords and the last two have had serious recalls, and I would categorize them as Steaming Piles of Mechanical Dung heaps. That just sent my exboss’s tiny testicals ascending back into his body cavity. I spent seven years continually arguing over something I said that they thought reflected badly on them. To the point that I removed the name of my employer from my profile. One arrogant pig fucker (he and the pigs know who he is) from Australia, who left my former employer got pissy and told me that he was going to my CEO. He did and dozens of emails were exchanged before cooler minds prevailed. Think of the money spent with seven figure executives taking the time to try to silence me. Fuck it, if it were me I would have just spent ten grand and had me killed. But it wasn’t just them, a prior employer also got into my shit because of my blogs and articles. To quote Ice Cube, “Speak a little truth and people gonna lose their fucking minds”.
I’ve addressed Deming’s 14 points as they pertain to safety, but today’s business climate makes one of those points: “Drive ferar from the organization” even more important lately. I participated in a contentious thread about “psychological safety”. Yes people should feel safe to speak up at work, but unfortunately, in many companies, shit ain’t like that, and likely never will be, at least soon. The worst workplaces are often extremely adept at making workers feel as if they are lucky to have a job at all. It’s gobsmacking to think that people would buy into the crap that it’s better to work for an employer who is more concerned about cheating you out of your Workers’ Compensation than in protecting you from harm (which is, afterall, its legal obligation.)
Safety has been under siege for a while, and it’s because some companies will never want a Safety function that does what it is supposed to do: to enable safer production. Part of that is our own fault, we have been saying stupid shit like, “I save lives” or “safety is our top priority”. We sound like people who were born simple and then took it further south with years of Meth use. But things in safety are worse then they have ever been. People are panicked at the spectre of losing their jobs as COVID ravages businesses. Some people flat out refuse to go to work because they are terrified of the invisible enemy, while others are too cowardly to even believe that the disease exists.
COVID is a blessing. Before COVID companies could lie about putting people before profits, but now, they openly protest in favor of becoming super spreaders just to stay open. Business owners whine about restrictions and how it hurts them financially. Why is it that we never heard them say a peep about the financial burdens placed on people who were injured and had to suddenly live on a fraction of their salary?
COVID makes the news. A Washington state restaurateur openly flauts the law against inside dining, and in Michigan many restaurants are doing the same. The police in Washington said they aren’t going to enforce the laws, in Michigan the laws are enforced unevenly. I know some of you don’t care about COVID; some think it’s a hoax, or even a world-wide conspiracy, if that is you go put on your tinfoil hat and post on some wackadoodle website; I make it a point to not argue with the crazy. For the rest of you, let me ask you this: what other health codes and laws do these businesses avoid to make money? How many businesses out there ignore safety openly and contemptuously because it would cost too much to comply. This isn’t about COVID; since when do we allow greedy businesses to decide which laws they get to follow and which laws they can just ignore? And what about police officers and entire departments who have decided that they will only enforce some laws and not others.
COVID—irrespective of how you feel about the restrictions—has shown the true colors of a lot of people. We as a society are okay with people dying as long the checks keep clearing. This is proof that these companies not only are okay with endangering their employees, but endangering their customers, and the general public as well!
I am not going to call out the people who are afraid to do their jobs in safety when they have already been told that doing so is a sure ticket to being fired, but l would like those of us (myself included) who work for decent companies who do put people before profit and public health ahead of cranking out products to speak out against these companies that fail to protect their workers, customers, and the general public.
Trust me when I tell you, that there are a lot of safety personnel terrified to do their job because they have already been threatened and can find no justice.
WARNING: What follows may just teach you something but you won’t get any CEUs for it, you’ll just be better educated and informed but seriously who wants or needs that?
Some time ago, I read an article in the Metro Times (a Detroit Weekly) about a Facebook group essentially dedicated to encouraging attacks on women, Democrats, Muslims, and LGBTQ persons. There were hundreds of specific threats of violence. You don’t have to buy my book, but I wish you would. But if you want to help follow this link. Search LinkedIn to find out where these people work and encourage their employers to fire them. This isn’t a political statement, I would react the same way if people were saying that White Heterosexual Christian Men were the targets. Purveyors of hate need to feel real-world consequences. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good to do nothing.
Violent acts begin with violent thoughts that turn into violent posts on social media. How long are you going to continue to throw your hands up and say, “what can I do?” My second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. answers this question. 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.)
Before you dismiss this as yet another shameless plug for my book I want you to ask yourself these questions:
What if anything is my employer doing to reduce its risk of a workplace attack?
Do the people who are doing the hiring at my workplace know the warning signs of a workplace attack?
What can I do to prevent workplace violence?
If you don’t have the answer to any of these questions, use your Amazon gift card to buy the book. 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 peppered 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.) You should buy it.