Safety Never Sleeps: Creating A Culture of Vigilance

We-Never-Sleep

By Phil La Duke

Creating a safety culture is all the rage today, and whether you are a snake oil shyster or an organizational psychologist working in safety everyone seems to agree that we need to create cultures of safety to be successful in reducing injuries.  I don’t know about you, but I get a more than a bit nervous when everyone agrees on a single course of action.

The concept of a “safety culture” in itself is both widely known and impossibly vague.  In broad strokes a safety culture is a state where “safety” is a shared value.[1]  I put the word “safety” in quotes because it is the most basic definition of our profession and the most poorly defined.  I have had people define it as the absence of injuries, but that doesn’t necessarily make one safe.  I have been in plenty of unsafe situations where I never even came close to being injured.  Some say that safety is the absence of risk, but since such a thing can never be true defining safety as such is to admit that safety is an impossibility. There are even some that will say that safety is a state of mind, that we either feel safe or we don’t, but if that’s the case pursuit of safety is the pursuit of complacency (a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.[2]) and since one of the major players in the safety community now openly claims that complacency is the cause of something like 60% of all injuries this creates a circular logic—we can only be safe if we feel safe and if we feel safe we are complacent and if we are complacent we can never be safe.

Safety is too broad a concept, too philosophical on which to build a culture.  So if not safety what then?  A couple weeks ago I began toying with the concept of a culture of vigilance.  What, I asked myself, if we decided to pursue a culture of vigilance instead of a culture of safety? Could it work? What would it look like?

I envisioned a culture where people valued the approach more than the result, where risk taking wasn’t a sign of bravery and ingenuity but of recklessness and irresponsibility, I asked myself what might that look like.  It’s tough in a world where the “cowboy culture” is no longer a uniquely American thing the world loves an action hero and the ubiquitous rogue anti-hero pervades pop culture from Australia to Greenland, from Hollywood to Bollywood, from Argentina to Japan.

Arsonist Are the Best Firefighters

There is nothing like the feeling of sweeping into a mess and saving the day.  Unfortunately, too often we idealize people  for cleaning up their own messes.  We rarely praise someone for planning and executing a task with such precision that nothing even comes close to going wrong; it’s boring, and as my daughter (and Chris Rock) are fond of saying, “you don’t get credit for doing the things you are supposed to do”.  But maybe we should give credit for the people who get it right, and that’s what I think lies at the center of a culture of vigilance.

Rewarding someone for putting out the fire he or she set is a bit like the puzzling practice of having far less harsh penalties for attempted murder than for actual murder, I mean, in so doing aren’t we just rewarding failure? Not to make light of murder, but if we adopted a culture of vigilance the penalty for TRYING to commit murder (the intent or the action) would be the same as it would be for SUCCEEDING in killing someone (the outcome).  We need to focus on what we can control and stop focusing on those things beyond our control.

The Values Of A Culture Of Vigilance

If such a thing as a Culture of Vigilance can be said to exist there must be shared values associated with it.  I would like to submit the following for your consideration:

  1. Success is borne of planning. Solid planning is required for Operations to run smoothly with minimal variation and lowest possible risk; the better we plan the safer we are.
  2. We Cannot Prevent What We Cannot Foresee.  One of the first things we should be asking ourselves when someone is injured is not “what could the injured person have done to have avoided being harmed” (not that this question isn’t worth asking, but it shouldn’t be the FIRST question), rather we should be asking “was this foreseeable?” and if so, “why did we fail to foresee this?” and then “if we did foresee this, what did we do to mitigate our risk?”
  3. An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure.  It is always smarter and more effective to prevent injuries than to react to them and we need to build safety systems that spend far more effort preventing injuries than in treating them and preventing recurrence.
  4. Safety Never Sleeps. A culture of vigilance means that we are relentlessly pursuing the prevention of injuries and that we can never be fooled into thinking that nothing can go wrong; we are piloting The Titanic , a ship that once regarded as the safest ocean going vessel, right up until it sank.
  5. Vigilance is Exhausting So It Takes Everyone Working Together.  Constant vigilance creates a state of chronic unease that leads to stress and injuries so we have to get as many people involved as possible; many hands make for light lifting.
  6. Knowledge is Power.  We won’t be perfect, but as long as we learn from our mistakes we can continue to improve, and continual, incremental improvement will make the workplace safer.
  7. Every Injury Is A Big Deal.  We may never achieve zero-injury, and zero-harm may remain an ever elusive goal, most certainly we can never achieve zero risk,  but its never okay to hurt workers.  People can argue whether or not the idea of zero injuries is a faerie tale or the only acceptable goal, but both sides should agree that hurting workers is never okay and that anytime  a worker is harmed we have failed at our jobs.

 

[1] Before anyone runs off at the mouth about how this isn’t how he or she defines safety culture please read https://philladuke.wordpress.com/2015/06/07/safety-in-the-age-of-wikipidiots/ and then kindly keep your definition to yourself; I don’t care Daniel Webster you don’t get to just make up definitions to suit your purpose although I guess that’s essentially what I’m doing, but hey, it’s my blog; such is my right

[2] Dictionary.com

#accountability, #arson, #at-risk-behavior, #attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #awareness, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #change, #corporate-culture, #culture-change, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #human-error, #increasing-efficiency, #loss-prevention, #mining-safety, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #risk-management, #safety-culture, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #the-nature-of-mistakes, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety

Smells Like A Safety Meeting

shutterstock_157734158By Phil La Duke
Author
I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business and
Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence

Dark House Brewery, a microbrewery based in Michigan has a beer that is called “Smells Like A Safety Meeting”.  You might think that this is a compliment to all the hard working men and women in the safety field; if you do you would be dead wrong.  In many workplaces, sneaking off to smoke marijuana is referred to mockingly, as “going to a safety meeting.” Given that a brewery would name a beer after the practice one can logically assume that this euphemism is not uncommon.

Sadly, the fact that people mock safety people isn’t shocking. I get derisively called, “Mr. Safety” by family and friends more often than I would like, and as a good friend of mine offered during a discussion about how a group of us hate strangers talking to us on a plane, “I don’t have that problem. As soon as I sit down I tell the person next to me that I am a safety consultant and that shuts down any further conversation.”  It’s good that we can laugh at ourselves, but too few of us can, and even more of us provide continually fodder for mocking, ridicule, and even out–and–out hostility toward us.

Ostensibly it doesn’t make sense. Why would people mock and ridicule a profession whose sole purpose is to reduce the risk of injuries; in effect, to ensure that whenever possible people won’t get hurt? Unfortunately, in a practical sense we make it easy to see why many people hold us up for ridicule.

“I Save Lives”

In my book, I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business, I reprinted a post that I posted on my blog. The post was a fictional letter from all the workers who died on the job to safety professionals. I also wrote a fictional letter from the safety guy to the dead workers in response.  My intention was to post the former the first week and the latter the following week. Well the uproar that ensued from the first post was truly shocking. Safety professionals told me they hated me, some threatened violence, some just lobbed insults. I was so ticked off that I toyed with the idea of not posting the response, but I hate being manipulated so I decided not to change my plans. When my publisher told me that my book was too long, I cut out the response to the letter. I am petty, and this was my pathetic revenge. 

The whole intent of the exercise was to demonstrate to our shared occupation that if we say we save lives we must hold ourselves culpable for the deaths of the people on our watch.  We delight in saying that we save lives but recoil at the slightest hint that we are in anyway responsible for the deaths of workers. We can’t have it both ways.

I take on some of the Myths (or lies if you prefer) that we safety folks tell ourselves and each other and the biggest one has to be that we save lives. I for my part do not save lives.  I provide workers (at all levels) with the information that they need to make informed choices about the risks they take and their safety. In other words, I help people save their OWN lives.  I have skills, and training, and experience on which to draw so that I can have conversations with individuals to help them make their own decisions. I hope what I have to offer, but I also LEARN from these conversations. 

Ridiculous Precautions

Everyone working in safety has their pet peeves when it comes to a hazard.  As I have explained to people who ask about the origins of the title of my above mentioned book safety professionals—particularly those who learned it on the job—there are some pretty dopey things safety professions insist people do.  My favorite is “use the handrail, always maintain three points of contact on a staircase.” Well….as I learned while working in healthcare, having continuous contact with the handrail spreads germs and poses a health threat. The proper way to ascend or descend a staircase is to keep the hand closest to the rail hovering above the rail so that if you trip you can quickly grab the rail and prevent yourself from failing.  Anyone who has seen the (often remarkably gruesome injuries) from people cut from splintered wood or jagged metal on handrails can attest to the fact that in many cases the practice of glomming your hand onto the rail is anything but best practice. I speak from experience. I was once seriously cut on my hand from a handrail, so I’m not prepared to argue the case. There are plenty of trivial, ridiculous things that we require people to do and they KNOW that there is not a good reason for them to do them. Furthermore, there are often arbitrary requirements that we impose out of ignorance (something that LOOKS dangerous but in actuality is less dangerous than the requirement—think wearing cotton gloves around a spindle.  In other cases we make a rule that is more about ease of enforcement than it is about safety. Take for example safety glasses. Too often the rule is everyone must where safety glasses when in this area, but the law doesn’t dictate that requirement, the organization decides that it is too difficult to suss out which employees are doing what activities and who are legally required to wear safety glasses and who are not. We simplify things by saying everyone must wear safety glasses. We justify it as for everyone’s safety but if we are truly being honest it is for OUR convenience. Don’t get me wrong, I support this approach, but we should at least be honest with people and tell them that it’s too tough to get people to wear safety glasses depending on each person’s individual activity situation. Instead we dig in our heels and try to defend the rule. We also don’t do a very good job of explaining why the rule exists sometimes just because we don’t think it’s important and other times because we just flat out don’t know.  But a fundamental tenet of adult education is that you have to provide them the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) or the learner will tune you out. And what we do, or should be doing, is teaching people to make informed choices about their safety. And this may startle you, but “you won’t get killed or maimed” isn’t enough of a WIIFM for most people. We should we not speed? Because it decreases our reaction time and when some idiot does something stupid you have more time to react. When I tell someone to drive safely I usually add: there are a lot of idiots out there on the road. Taking a moment to explain WHY a rule is in someone’s best interest is your best bet for getting them to comply.

Soft Headed Parenting

Years ago I was working safety on a construction site, and one guy kept announcing my arrival in a mocking tone with “OK everybody the safety guy is here. We better all follow the rules so we don’t get in trouble” or something similarly belittling.  After about three times I approached him when he was alone. “Writing anybody up today?’ he asked through the kind of smug smirk that makes you want to slap him so hard that his mouth ends up so far behind his head that it requires plastic surgery to ever get it back into position.  I told him, “I don’t know what your problem is and I don’t care. But you need to know, I aint your mama, I aint your daddy, I aint your boss, and I aint your friend. In fact, I don’t even like you, not even a little. If you were to die on the job today it wouldn’t affect me in the least. BUT, I won’t have you undermining the advice and notification I am giving the other people who value their lives and safety, so you can knock off your bullshit.” I walked away and, being me, realized that while the guy was a complete waste of skin who was more valuable to society in parts (a cornea transplant here, a kidney transplant there, you get the drill) he was still my customer and while the customer isn’t always right, the customer is always the customer.  So when he approached me the next day and asked to talk to me privately I was more than a little filled with dread. He said, “look, I’ve never had a safety guy talk to me like that, and I want to apologize. I realize what I thought was just joking around was really hostility toward safety. You have a job to do and I think you really want to do it well so I would like to just start over.” We shook hands and from that day on he was a huge safety advocate. Too many people feed into this parent-child dynamic and it gets in the way of our jobs. We come to represent every authority person that people hate and they respond accordingly. Treat people like grown ups even when they act like children and you will soon have a more functional relationship with your contingency.

Pretending We Have Authority and Power We Don’t Have

Safety cops complain that they “catch people in the act” and nobody supports them. That’s because we don’t have the authority or power to fire anyone and we have overplayed our hand. The offending person has called our bluff and we had squat.  What’s worse is many of us think that we have power and authority that we don’t have. The best we can do is be tattle-tales and run to their bosses, who like as not will only tell them not to do it again. These are grown people and they know far better than many safety professionals that there is nothing we can do to them.  Remember screaming, “You’re not the boss of me as a kid?” well that’s what their thinking if not outright saying it.

We Can Do Better

I am hoping that all of you reading this and see some element of yourself in these archetypes that you will do your best to break out of that mode and become something that people won’t make fun of and mock.  We need to be the resource that we always have claimed to be; we need to be coaches and mentors and evangelists for safety, not in an abstract way, but in a practical way. We need to teach people to question what they are doing and why, we need to persuade people to forget about the easiest way to do the job but the safest way to do the job.  It won’t be easy, but if it was than any idiot could do it.

This morning 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. It made me sad, and then it made me angry. 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. Seriously I’m not telling you how to live your life but you should buy it. Okay, I AM telling you how to live your life, just buy the damned book.

Of course, my first book is still for sale, and is ALSO available in the eBook format 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 are gone, and you can basically only go back two years on my blog (eight year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck.) And besides, about a third of the book is newly written material that cannot be found anywhere else. So buy it. People who have read it say that it belongs in everyone who works in safety’s library. 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.

As always, Read. Learn. Live. Share. Inspire

 

#consulting, #culture, #i-know-my-shoes-are-untied-mind-your-own-business, #lone-gunman-rewriting-the-handbook-on-workplace-violence-prevention, #peace, #repairing-the-reputation-of-safety, #safety, #training, #violence

Safety is Bunk

I am continually surprised at how firmly people cling to Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) as a way to improve workplace safety, despite increasing criticism and a growing body of evidence that BBS just doesn’t work (at least for long.)  I don’t have a vested interest in BBS, and I have (I think) made it very clear that I am a “process safety” proponent.  Even by process safety standards, I am something of an outsider.

Perhaps it’s because I came from outside the field of safety.  My background before diving into worker safety was in organizational development and training. The position  I held meant that I was expected to fix organizational problems and process defects and to essentially ignore blaming people.  That sounds like sacrilege to many. I mean, how dare this guy (who isn’t a CSP, an MBA, or CHSP, or DDT, or ETC, by the way) come into our organizations and tell us the emperor is naked?!? Simple: blame just doesn’t matter that much.

It Doesn’t Matter Who Did It

One of the first things they teach you in problem-solving is to ask “How did this happen?”  This a subtle but important shift from the traditional “What happened?”  Knowing “what happened” is really about recording an event.  It creates the sense that somehow by knowing what happened we have accomplished an important measure.  By keeping a record, we think we are making progress.  Henry Ford reputedly said, “History is bunk.”  Having grown up with a love of history, a stone’s throw from Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum (for those of you who aren’t familiar with these terrific organizations they were founded and supported by Henry Ford,) I was always puzzled by the seeming contradiction.  But as I spent more time in problem-solving and investigating worker safety, I realized that not only was there no paradox in what Henry Ford said and what he did, but:

History IS Bunk

If we view history as this static record of “what happened” and we list all the pertinent whos, whats, wheres, when, how much, and how many, but we ignore the whys and the deeper hows, then we gain no insight. Without insight, there can be no learning, and without learning our knowledge never rises above trivia, meaning there will never be any true wisdom or understanding. Those who record events without interpretation are merely bearing witness to history, and the adage that  “those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it” not only becomes true but it doubly damns the observer, because not only does the observer lack any true understanding (i.e. can do nothing to avert a disaster from repeating,) but also runs the serious risk of misunderstanding the very nature of what he or she has seen.  The record itself is useless because the tale has been tainted in the telling.  This is true of many things, but when it comes to safety I think it, no pun intended, painfully true.

The Short Happy Life of Just Culture

So what are we left with?  It’s all well and good to talk about the Utopian “no-blame” culture, but what about situations where the outcome was catastrophic? Do we forgive a Chernobyl? A Love Canal? Can we get past Texas City with an “oops?” The self-righteous indignation rises up in us and makes our blood boil.  When people act so stupidly, so recklessly, and so inexplicably we MUST get retribution.  While satisfying, that attitude is wrong-headed and stupid.  Just culture grew out of research that showed that: a) mistakes are inevitable, the brain functions in such a way that (and research here gets a bit fuzzy on the exact number) a person makes an average of 5 mistakes an hour.  That’s 40 mistakes a workday; 200 mistakes in a workweek, and 10,400 mistakes in a work year.  Sometimes the mistakes are small and of little consequence, like ordering a cranberry muffin instead of a raspberry muffin.  Other errors are big mistakes with life-altering consequences like marrying my ex-wife or forgetting to lockout and losing a hand. And still, others get people killed.  The point is this:  no matter how much we try to stop it or how much money we spend, people will still make mistakes.  So there are many, many mistakes made (see my resume for a fairly detailed and recent list of mine) and yet only 2% or 3% are ever rep0rted.  Dangers lurk, and people know about them, but say nothing for fear of punishment.  The culture of blame created an environment where reporting an error would be akin to seeing a policeman and telling him that you blew three stoplights and were speeding most of the day. Honest yes; smart no. Reporting your mistakes invites punishment.

A fatal flaw of Just Culture as it was first conceived is that it didn’t satisfy people’s sense of justice.  People have tweaked Just Culture and it is seeing a resurgence in popularity (largely, in my opinion, based at least in part by the work of Dr. Patrick Hudson—now at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands) especially in the U.S. in health-care.  There is more right with Just Culture than could ever be wrong with it, but getting people to report near misses is only half the equation (if that.)  Just Culture without a robust process for investigating injuries is tantamount to bearing witness to history, recording the “what” without the “why.” It’s not useful, at least, not useful for preventing those injuries from recurring.  So while Just Culture is a leap forward (especially when one considers the work of Dr. Hudson et al) it needs to be combined with situation analysis to make it a viable tool in culture change.

And Then Along Comes Engagement

“Engagement” is one of those words that make me want to scream.  It gets bandied about by whoever is the latest and slickest pundit in a lexicon of jargon designed to make him/her seem smarter (and more valuable/useful) than he/she is in reality. Our eyes glaze over and he/she cashes checks.  But true engagement—call it embracing safety, hard-wiring excellence, or what have you,—is essential to sustaining a corporate culture where not only safety is of paramount importance, but so too are quality, delivery, customer service, cost control, and any other business element that organizations think are important.

The most important work on the subject of worker safety in the 21st century may well already have been written, and it’s not a book about worker safety (an admittedly sad commentary on my work, but I think once you’ve read it you will agree.)  Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement With the Principles of RESPECT™ (by Dr. Paul L. Marciano) should be required reading for anyone working in worker safety in any capacity. In fact, it should be required reading for anyone working or interacting with people.  Maybe I’m overselling it, but seriously, if you are considering a BBS system or a safety rewards system, stop what you’re doing and read this book.  And get a copy for your head of HR and your CEO too. And no, I don’t have any stake in the sales. Marciano, like Hudson, has a gift for taking a fairly complex concept and breaking it down in simple, layman’s terms and practical tactics for building a cultural base wherein mutual trust and respect can make a blame-free, Just Culture not only viable but workable and practicable.

Tying It All Together

I guess being deprived of this unfettered and unfiltered forum has made me a bit long-winded, but please indulge me one last paragraph to tie this all together.  There are a lot of good ideas floating around that are too academic, too incomplete, or too impractical to ever reach fruition.  For some of us, that means a professional life fraught with frustration.  For others, it means trying to sell an incomplete solution and apologizing when it doesn’t work. And for everyone else,  it means chasing our own tails as we run from one expert to the next.  Meanwhile, Operations execs get more and more impatient with us are more likely to buy into junk theories and safety snake oil.  I think combining the theories of Marciano, Hudson, and a handful of other thought leaders is an essential next step.  I don’t have all the answers; no one does.  But if we can divorce ourselves from dependence on a single, “quick-fix,” methodology long enough to consider how these approaches might just fit in our organizations; and if we can get something that is simple, practical, and most importantly, fast; we might just finally get the results that the organization demands and the respect so many of us crave.

There is more, but this is enough,

Phil

#behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #culture-change, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #just-cause, #loss-prevention, #mine-safety, #patrick-hudson, #paul-marciano, #phil-la-duke, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #process-safety, #rockford-greene, #safety-culture, #safety-incentives, #safety-recognition-programs, #worker-safety

The Dangerous and Irresponsible Resurgence in the Popularity of BBS

shutterstock_659858677By Phil La Duke
Author
I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business and Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence

Unless this is the first thing of mine of which you’ve read, you know how I despise Behavior-Based Safety (BBS). It’s devotees are the simple and the greedy, repackaging a ludicrously stupid system year after year in hopes of continuing the swindle. Some may wonder why I am so adamantly against Behavior Based Systems and before I get into it YET again I will simply say this: getting safety right and implementing sound systems is the difference between life and death. Some of you may recall that I lost both grandfathers, a great uncle, my father, my brother-in-law, one of my brother’s best friends, a childhood acquaintance, and numerous coworkers and friends to either workplace accidents or industrial illnesses, so you will forgive me if my tone isn’t as warm as fuzzy as you might like.

So what’s wrong with BBS? A lot:

  1. It presupposes that all unsafe behavior is deliberate. Most of our behavior is not deliberate especially rote exercises (those tasks we have done hundreds of times). Tasks we have memorized become unconscious—we do them without thinking. 
  2. Many unsafe behaviors are taught and BBS does nothing to guard against a veteran employee passing along unsafe behaviors. I have first hand knowledge of how this can happen. When I worked the line EVERY new job I was taught had at least one task where the trainer told me “we’re SUPPOSED to do it this way but we actually do it THIS way.” Some of this was simple innovation, but even if it was it should have been added to the official Standard Procedures and it never was.
  3. It drives unsafe behavior underground
  4. It pits worker against worker
  5. It doesn’t allow or address behavioral drift
  6. It leads to blame and shame of the workers.
  7. It creates an incentive to hide injuries and under-report injuries.
  8. It flies in the face of Deming’s 14 points.

At this point, either some snake oil salesmen who has spent years making money off this excremental nonsense, or some earnestly ignorant who acts as if he walked out into the rain and discovered wet, will try to sway me that BBS isn’t flawed, I just haven’t seen it properly implemented.  I have used the analysis of fricasseed squirrel anus several times, I am going to use it again. If you offer me fricasseed squirrel anus,and after a quick nibble I say, “oh jeez this is awful”, I should be able to refuse to eat it again, and yet invariably someone will say, “oh, you have to try MY fricasseed squirrel anus,you’ll love it”.  How many times do I have to eat a squirrel’s ass before I can say definitively that I don’t like it? And it is similar to BBS. If the system is so routinely misused maybe—and I’m just spitballing here—there is a better way to reduce the risk of injury in the process.

So why, if this system is as dangerously flawed is there a resurgence in its popularity?

  1. We have been convincing Operations leadership that this is the only option for 40 years.
  2. Injuries are under-reported and therefore it makes the Safety Function look good.
  3. College professors who have never worked in industry continue to extoll the wonders of BBS.
  4. Snake-Oil salesmen make $100s of million selling it.
  5. It provides the illusion of doing something about unsafe working conditions without making any substantial investment in infrastructure.
  6. It’s easy to implement.
  7. It centers the conversation around the flaws of workers and their poor choices instead of examining WHY the workers made poor choices or put themselves in the line of fire.

You can make a lot of money selling this dreck, but continuing to sell BBS, push it, and extol its imaginary virtues makes you dangerous, and speaking for the dead and permanently disabled shame on you.

Last week there were three workplace shootings in 5 days. 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.)

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. Seriously I’m not telling you how to live your life but you should buy it. Okay I AM telling you how to live your life, just buy the damned book.

Of course, my first book is still for sale, and is ALSO available in the eBook format 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 are gone, and you can basically only go back two years on my blog (eight 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.

As always, Read. Learn. Live. Share. Inspire.

Feeling Unappreciated? Maybe You Invite the Abuse

By Phil LaDuke

There’s no denying the job of a safety professional can be tough. Between opportunistic vendors pushing snake oil, trenchant Operations leaders willing to take unreasonable risks, and petulant workers who passively (or belligerently) resist any and all efforts to make the workplace safer it’s easy to see Safety as a thankless profession.  But I’ve it occurs to me lately that many in the safety community bring this suffering on themselves and I think we would all—those of use who work within safety and those who work on it’s periphery—be a lot better off if Safety ended the adversarial relationship.

What’s that you say? You don’t see us as having an adversarial with Operations? Congratulations; if that is the case you are in the minority, at least in my experience. While it is easy to see the safety practitioner as the put-upon, long-suffering victim in many cases we invite this abuse, how? By:

Wrapping Ourselves In the Flag. When we tell Operations that they must make the workplace safer for God and country, that we must be the protectorate of all things safe an humane, that in Safety we trust…we come off as self-righteous and delusional jerks without the business acumen of a water buffalo.  Too often safety professionals default to the “it’s the right thing to do” argument for safety.  What’s wrong with pursuing safety because it’s the right thing to do? absolutely nothing, but when we tell someone that safety is the right thing to do we are implying (or could create the impression that we are implying) the person to whom we are giving our sanctimonious sermon can’t (without our help) tell right from wrong.  As much as we all like condescending lectures it does tend to set up a dichotomy where we have a monopoly on all that is just and holy.

Answering To a Higher Calling. I have met many safety professionals who believe that their jobs are more than just an occupation it’s a sacred calling.  While one is entitled to believe what one wants, believing that one isn’t a slave to the almighty buck and whose purpose on this earth is to protect the great unwashed from unscrupulous employers who otherwise would prey upon them and break their backs against the capitalist anvil gets a bit old to those of us who work for a living.  I won’t apologize for making my living from safety, I think it’s a noble profession.  I have often said that engineers believe the whole world would be an engineer if only they were smart enough, and nurses believe that the whole world would be a nurse of only they cared enough.  If that is true then may safety practitioners believe that the whole world would work in safety if only they were both smart enough and cared enough.  I freely acknowledge that our chosen profession requires a certain skill set and a specific personality, but the whole world doesn’t want our job—or even value it.

Taking All Of the Credit And None Of the Blame. Too many people in safety play the “I save lives” card without acknowledging that if our effectiveness saves lives then our ineffectiveness gets people killed.  How can we claim success without acknowledging our role in failure? When we do this we trivialize any contribution toward success made by Operations and inflate our own role and conversely we quickly blame Operations when things turn sour.  Operations, for their part see this hypocrisy and resent it.

Pretending That Safety Is the Ultimate Goal. I know many safety practitioners who act as if they are somehow external from the money-making arm of the organization.  Imagine how irritating it is for Operations personnel to have someone act as if it makes no difference whether the company is profitable and who sees themselves as the watchdog of safety, implying that but for them you would act with wanton disregard for worker safety.  If safety were truly the organization’s ultimate goal it would close its doors and bubble wrap all the workers before laying them off.

#5s, #accountability, #aerospace, #at-risk-behavior, #attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #awareness, #behavior, #behavior-based-safety, #behavior-observations, #behaviour-based-safety, #branding, #change, #combustible-dust-2, #construction-safety, #continuous-improvement, #contractor-safety, #core-skills-training, #criticisms-of-bbs, #culture-change, #deming, #distracted-driving, #driving-while-distracted, #empowerment, #enforcement, #engagement, #fabricating-metalworking, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #fleet-safety, #guiding-behaviors, #happiness, #hazard-management, #healthcare, #human-error, #incident-investigation, #increasing-efficiency, #individual-accountability-for-safety, #injury-reporting, #joy, #just-culture, #kan-ban-systems, #line-of-fire, #logistics, #loss-prevention, #manufacturing, #mining-safety, #mistake-proofing, #mistakes, #national-safety-council, #near-miss-reporting-2, #oil-and-gas, #operating-efficiency, #organizational-change-2, #organizational-development, #peace, #pedestrian-safety, #performance-improvement, #phil-la-duke, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #poke-yoke, #process-capability, #process-improvement, #process-safety, #regulations, #risk, #risk-management, #risk-taking, #rockford-greene, #root-cause-analysis, #rules, #safe-work-culture, #safety, #safety-branding, #safety-culture, #safety-culture-development, #safety-incentives, #safety-observations, #safety-slogans, #safety-tours, #safety-training, #selling-safety, #selling-safety-in-tough-times, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #systems-based-safety, #talent-management-2, #texting-while-driving, #the-enforceable-rule, #the-nature-of-mistakes, #traffic-fatalities, #traffic-safety, #training, #transformational-safety, #values, #variability-in-human-behavior, #why-we-violate-rules, #worker-safety, #worker-safety-net, #workplace-fatalities

Never Trust Anyone Who Claims Safety Is Their Number One Priority

Safety Priority

By Phil La Duke

The following is a retooled, repurposed, and recycled post that was origionally made to the now decommissioned Rockford Green International blog. (Since renamed the Worker Safety Net)

There are things that need to change in safety and they need to change fast.  Safety is losing ground, no matter how hard we try, we are losing ground in the court of public opinion—public policies are softening on safety (Michigan recently legalized the personal use of fireworks and the practice of riding motorcycles without a helmet—effectively rolling back almost 50 years of safety regulations.  Michigan may be a long way from where you live, but believe me these kinds of rollbacks aren’t isolated to Michigan.)

One of the primary reasons safety professionals have lost credibility is the insistence that safety is—or at least should be—an organization’s number one priority.  This ludicrous claim sets safety at odds with operations, and makes the both workers and the general public view us as kooks, imbeciles, or hopelessly out of touch.

Let me state for the record that I remain completely devoted to safety, I believe one’s right to make a living without undue jeopardy of loss of life or limb is a basic human right.  But how we approach the achievement of a safe workplace will greatly shape the likelihood of our success.

It’s tough to visit any workplace without seeing a poster that says, “safety is our number one priority”.  It’s a crock; no company ever has gone into business for the purpose of keeping its workers safe. Companies exist to make money. No sane person would manufacture, ship,  process, or manipulate anything if his or her primary motivation was to ensure nobody engaged in these activities got  injured. When safety professionals perpetuate the lie that safety is the number one priority they lose credibility and are alienated.  People hear, “safety is our number one priority” and know it’s either a lie, or the pathetic simpering of a deluded fool, in either case the prudent move is to assume the person spouting this nonsense can’t be taken seriously or trusted.

Imagine a worker who has been told that “safety is our number one priority” following any advice the boob who said offered the advice has to say; why believe that tying off while working at heights is essential to safety when the person who told you so also told you safety is your first priority?  If safety truly is your number one priority, don’t work at heights, period. But safety isn’t our number one priority, getting the job done is almost more important than anything else.

The effectiveness of a safety professional depends on his or her credibility; safety professionals have to stop forcing people to choose between working safely and making a livelihood. One of the most frequent complaints about safety professionals from workers and business leaders is that safety professionals are obstructionist policemen who, however well intentioned, don’t live in the real world.  People gravitate toward the practical and tend to disregard things that don’t make sense, or where they see over whelming evidence to the contrary. Safety professionals have to balance safety against the practical requirements of a job.

I want to be clear that I am not saying that safety isn’t an important criterion for success but there is a difference between saying, “making money is our priority, but we can’t in conscience make money while hurting workers” and saying “safety is our number one priority”.  Hurting workers costs money and is poor business practice, but when safety professionals makes the claim that their function, safety, is the primary reason a company exists, nobody in their right minds can take them seriously.

Safety professionals need to shift their thinking when it comes to worker safety, away from “safety as the right thing to do” to “safety as a crucial improvement initiative”. It may sound like I am nit-picking but the words we use shape how our constituents view us and whether or not they find us credible.  A safety professional without credibility is worse than ineffective; he or she is taking a job that an effective safety professional could otherwise be doing.

Safety isn’t a priority; it’s a value and criterion for success.  Frankly, we don’t want safety to be a priority—priorities change and shift where values endure and guide our decision making.  The safe execution of work must be a core value and a guiding behavior in any ethical organization.  Treating workers like chattle, or fuel to be used up in the furtherance of business is morally repugnant.  Safety must go deeper than being a mere priority, it must be the cornerstone of any business that is serious about sustainable success.

Sadly, many of the companies that proudly boast of safety as a priority are some of the worst offenders for putting workers at risk.  In these cases, safety is neither a priority nor a value.  Safety at these hell holes only becomes a priority after catastrophe strikes and then only when the climate of fear and retribution is in full swing.  When the smoke clears and the blood is mopped up, these companies quickly revert to bad behaviors and more misguided behaviors.

#lies-about-safety, #organizational-change-2, #safety-as-a-priority, #safety-as-a-value, #safety-slogans

I Want Safety To Do Better

shutterstock_624832211

By Phil La Duke
Author
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.) 

Photo by it’s me neosiam on Pexels.com