80% of Safety Practitioners Are Idiots

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Photo by Rodolpho Zanardo from Pexels

by Phil La Duke

Startling title; nasty, mean, condescending and just plain unfair.  It’s not right, it’s not fair,  it’s not just.  So how does it feel? Because as long as we perpetuate the 80% of all injuries are caused by employee behaviors we say that every day to hard-working men and women who want nothing more than do their jobs each day and escape unscathed. But then we would have to do real work, real thinking using real science to solve our problems and for too many of us, it just isn’t worth it.

In an interview with The Art of the CEO, that will be broadcast on December 4th, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. (tune in on any broadcast station that carries the show, or at  http://theartoftheceo.com. One of the questions asked was “…tell us how to get these guys to tie off—clip on—and save their own darn lives.”  Then I read a post by Carsten Busch, safety thinker extraordinaire, that quoted an early dissident to the “80% of injuries are caused by recklessness or carelessness,” and it pissed me off.  

I realize some of the more delicate among you will use this colloquialism to tune out. Good. I learned a long time ago that someone stupid enough to believe this would use any excuse to mentally discredit me and return to their lucrative business built on lies.  If not my use of course language, it’s my typos, or because I called someone a name—it amounts to nothing more than having a closed mind, a lucrative income based on the junk science, and unwillingness to so much as even consider a more viable approach.

By a more viable approach, I am not speaking of my approach (although it is) rather ANY of the umpteen methods that are based on scientific research that was conducted on human error, flawed decision making, or the latest in brain research.

But I beginning to realize that I may have been wrong all along, maybe the stupidity created by the vivid imagination of Henry Heimlich, and perpetuated by the National Safety Council for 100 years, is right, after all, maybe 80% of all incidents are caused by the behavior of safety practitioners and CEOs.  The behaviors of stubbornness, resistance to change, willingness to take shortcuts, out-and-out laziness, and the eagerness to accept the dumbest dreck ever uttered or written WERE INDEED causing most injuries.

What if the actions and inactions of senior leaders in Operations in unknowing cahoots with safety simpletons were causing 80% of the incidents.  What if companies did little more than pencil whip training, do no evaluation as to the effectiveness of the training, did no reinforcement of the training on the job, and didn’t even CONSIDER evaluating worker competency as part of the performance evaluation process, might that cause injuries? Or what if the companies evaluated the training based on how many people were injured after taking the training, might THAT causes injuries?

Or how about Operations that refuse to free up machinery for preventive maintenance, might THAT cause injuries? What about Operations managers who work outside of the process; providing workers with inadequate tools, or running production despite not having enough parts? Do you think that THAT might cause injuries?

Consider the companies that work their employees to the point where they can barely stand upright because they are so fatigued, might that not be a cause of injuries?

How about organizations that see hazards but do nothing to fix them or slap a containment Band-aid on it that fails to adequately protect workers, might this not be the kind of behavior that gets workers hurt and even killed?

What about the front-line leader who (with the full complicity of his or her leadership) decides to risk it and continue production when a sane person would freak out at the recklessness of the decision? Might that be a behavior that causes injuries? And let’s not forget about the safety practitioner who looks the other way or even cooks the books through Case Management?

Of course, we can’t forget the safety practitioners who aren’t qualified to do their jobs and yet gleefully continue to cash paychecks; might that not cause injuries? Why aren’t we blaming engineers, safety practitioners and Operations leaders who work at the lowest tier of the Hierarchy of Controls and slap a “Warning: Do Not Die” on a hazard instead of eliminating it?

How does it feel to get blamed for something you didn’t do or can’t control? Not great, right? So when for the love of all that’s holy are we going to stop smugly blaming workers for their injuries and start digging beyond, the careless, reckless idiot worker screwed up and got hurt or killed someone. We should be in the business of correcting system errors that cause injuries, improving worker competency, and yes, accountability, but for that to happen we first need to get out of the shame and blame business.

Not only do we have to stop buying into the Behavior-Based Swindle, but we have to stop promulgating it by insisting that our vendors have a BBS system in place.  We have to rely on science and sweat, not Bigotry-Based Safety (let’s not forget that the nationality and ethnicity of the worker were seen as potential root causes of Heinrich’s theory, and eugenics was a science embraced by the Nazis).

Why is it so difficult to believe that machines break down and hurt people, that people make flawed decisions—not because they are careless or reckless but—because they have imperfect information? Why do we struggle at the idea that doing a repetitive job over and over again can lead to human error which, in turn, can hurt us? What makes us react incredulously at the idea that human beings are innately imperfect and that human error is not something we can ever eliminate (even robots make mistakes).

Maybe things are like so many people persist in believing: stupid, careless, lazy people are the cause of most injuries. Maybe the National Safety Council is right in perpetuating the belief that 80% of injuries are caused by carelessness and recklessness. Maybe all those who cling to this belief like a mother lemur clutching its offspring. Maybe these things are all true, but if they are, maybe we are blaming the wrong people.

Did you like this post? Do you disagree but it made you think? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here from Amazon  I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel obligated to get something for but don’t really like.

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.

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Is Zero Harm a SMART Goal?

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By Phil La Duke

Ask any member of the cult of safety what the Goal is and through glassy eyes and a smile that can only be produced by Stockholm Syndrome and you will hear in a zombie-like voice, “Zero Harm, the only acceptable goal can be Zero Harm”. Good goal, no question. Well not really a good goal if you follow the time cherished rule of making SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.  Is Zero Harm specific, it seems like it at first blush but we need to define harm. Is it harm to workers? What about harm to equipment? How about harm to the bottom line? How about harm to the company’s reputation? How about harm to the environment? How about hurting my feelings? Okay, okay, I’ve made my point, but realistically, since we are talking about harm in the context of the Safety Goal, I will cut the zealots some slack and say it’s probably specific enough for workers to get the drift of what we want to accomplish.

Is zero harm measurable? This one is a bit sticky.  Safety as a profession, function, and pagan religion has defined itself by trying to measure the absence of something, in this case, harm. This is akin to trying to measure the speed of dark (try it). This is a maddening quagmire mess: when we measure injuries (or harm) we typically end up measuring the absence of reported or detected injury.  If there is a hole in the bottom of your boat, it doesn’t matter if you see it or not it’s going to sink. When we set goals our hope at least, is that everyone will work together to achieve that goal, of course. Add to that, that pesky lack of specificity mentioned above and you have a real problem measuring this goal. It’s like the old philosophical question if a man cuts down a tree in the forest and it falls on him killing him does it make a sound?  

Our lack of ability to get a tight measurement on an esoteric concept is why we have indicators which about half the people reading this don’t have a clue what the indicators are telling them (you know who you are).

We can certainly attain zero harm, hell I’ve gone about 6 hours without being injured. So clearly zero harm is attainable, I know even though the specific part of the goal is weak, and the measurable is nebulous, I am unequivocally positive that zero harm can be attained. I cut open some boxes and even DROVE in icy conditions and you know what? Zero Harm, nothing, nil, zip, nada.  But alas, I work from home so there will be no pizza party for the likes of me. Just as well, pizza is a food that will kill Phil so the reward for my not harming me would harm me. Ponder that..yeah, that’s what it feels like to have your mind blown. I have always thought Zero Ham would make a beautiful goal it’s specific (it’s either ham or it ain’t) measurable (97% rat droppings free and it’s ham my friend) attainable? I haven’t eaten any ham today, have you? Relative? Who can’t relate to a ham-free meal? I’m not asking you to swear off pork (although that wouldn’t kill you) Timely: Okay maybe I need to think this through. Is it over between ham and me? Will I never eat it again? Some scenarios are too horrible to visualize and you know the most ironic thing about this is? I don’t even really like ham. So it goes…but what we can all agree on, is that if someone challenges the reasonableness of our goal of zero ham we can reasonably and believably claim it was a typo.

As indicated, Zero Harm is attainable, but is it sustainable? and if so for how long? This is where I have gotten into too many arguments with too many mouth breathers (the kind of person who used to remind the teacher to assign homework just before the bell rings) about how they KNOW Zero Harm is possible because they achieved it. As my daughter tells people whose claim that something is true she doubts because they argue that they’ve seen pictures of it. “I have a picture of my dad walking across Abbey Road with the Beatles but that doesn’t prove it happened. These glassy-eyed worshipers of the One True Goal brag about how many hours (because it’s 24 times more impressive than days) without a reportable, detectable, observed injury. If the goal is to attain zero injuries then every minute that somebody doesn’t get harmed is cause for celebration. HUZZAH!! GO US!!!! That’s why those signs with the number of days or hours without a recordable, detectable, harmful incidents are so important and inspirational. Doggone It I some days that sign is the only thing keeping me from driving the fork truck (you can’t use the most common name for such a vehicle because it’s a trademark and I don’t need big Powered Industrial Vehicles on my ass) off the loading dock is knowing that if I get harmed then we have to start all over with more than 1 hour without a…So if the goal is truly Zero Harm shouldn’t it have a context? And if the goal is forever…well that’s a heck of a long time to go without harm.

When I was taught to set goals I wasn’t taught the SMART acronym (too cute for my taste) instead I was taught a different acronym that I don’t remember but I do remember that measurable and attainable tangible were in there; maybe the acronym was MEAT.  Measurable because the goal should leave you better off than when you started, and attainable, which in this context meant that it was within my power to achieve the goal, and that’s something I think a lot of people fail to recognize in safety is that we can’t control the incredibly intricate, complicated, and maddeningly unpredictable system that is worker safety.  

Trying to impose order on to chaos is the height of madness.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel obligated to get something for but don’t really like.

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

An Open Letter to Safety Professionals from the 4,690 Workers Who Died on the Job in the United States in 2010

St. John’s Cemetary, New Orleans

Note: I thought long and hard about writing what you are about to read.  Whenever I have taken issue with the self-congratulatory tone and self-righteous complacency that I see dangerously prevalent among safety professionals the ensuing storm of bile and abuse heaped on me has, at times, made me consider bagging it—stopping the blog, ending the speeches, and retiring from my gigs as a safety columnist.  But after more than a decade of decline the workplace death toll in the U.S. has risen.  In 2010, while some of you were jetting off to Brazil on your citizen diplomat boon-doggle an average of 13 workers died a day.  If you get offended by the truth; stop reading.  If you do read on, save us both time and aggravation and spare me your outraged venomous hate mail, I don’t want to hear it and all it does is convince me of the veracity of my message.  What follows is perhaps my magnum opus of provocative work. I dedicate it to my father who died of me, my brother-in-law who died of lung cancer after working for decades on Zug Island, once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the dirtiest square mile on the planet Earth, my brother who suffered permanent memory loss after an industrial accident, my many friends who died in industrial accidents but most especially to those who have  taken such extraordinary measures to try attack and insult me in an effort to silence my message.

Dear Safety Guy:

I hope you are doing well and are enjoying this lovely weather with family and friends.  I don’t want to your harsh buzz or bust up the barbecue, but I died in the workplace this week and I want you to know that I am deeply disappointed in you.  You see, I trusted you and you failed me. And not just me, 12 other guys died along side me and 13 of us died yesterday, and another 13 tomorrow, in fact, every day; day in and day out.  4,690 of us in all…wait that’s not quite right another 50,000 or so died from illnesses caused by working waste deep in poisons or breathing in chemicals that would kill us slowly, horribly.

Some of us died because we did stupid things, some of us weren’t adequately trained, some of us under estimated the dangers we faced, and some of us over estimated our skills, but none of us expected to die. None of reported for work expecting to get killed. None of our lives were any less valuable than yours and before you get all self righteous it wasn’t my job not to die, it was YOUR job to make sure my job didn’t kill me.  But I DID die, and I doubt you will ever get a verbal warning.

As I write this I can see you squirm.  Does it make you uncomfortable for me to hold you accountable? Is it unfair that I blame you for something that I did that killed me?  After all, how—you ask—can I hold you accountable for my own stupidity? You didn’t tell me to do the things that I did to day that ultimately got me killed.  But it was your job to keep me alive.  I certainly didn’t do those things that I did because I wanted more butt time (as I’ve heard you describe to your colleagues at conferences or huddled around a coffee talking about how stupid we all are).  I screwed up, and that screw up got me killed.  Everyone makes mistakes, but nobody should have to die because of a mistake made at work. I counted on you to anticipate and correct the things that would kill me before I got hurt; where were you when I died?

I really liked the safety BINGO, and I sure loved the extra money when we got as a bonus for zero injury days.  Were you too stupid to know that these things created an environment where we were essentially bribed to stay quiet about injuries? Or did you just recklessly disregard the fact that you were creating incident statistics that lulled the decision makers into a false sense of security regarding our risk level? I knew what you were doing was wrong but I wasn’t about to turn the whole company against me and speak up.  Congratulations on having such a great safety record; how does my death look on your resume?

I can only imagine how disappointed you were to learn that worker fatalities in the U.S. has spiked—I think we all figured that when we sourced all that the really dangerous work out to the Third World that we were home free.  I feel kind of bad about it now—the after life is full Third World workers who bought it because their lives were thought to be so much cheaper than mine. It turns out they weren’t that much different from me.  They had families who loved them, wives and children who counted on them. All they wanted to do was go to work, make a buck, and come home safe. They had lives snatched away from them same as me; just cause we showed up for work.

I know that as you read this you are tempted to excuse yourself and tell yourself that my death isn’t your fault.  That management put profits before safety; that the Union shut down what you wanted to do; that you can’t protect people when they won’t listen to you, and all that other crap I’ve heard you say a thousand times.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself; you aren’t the victim here.  Before you blame management… the last time I checked most of you ARE management.  The same goes for leadership—isn’t that what you are supposed to be, a leader? If a juggler can’t do his job guess what? he drops a couple of balls;  no harm, no foul.  If YOU are incompetent, people DIE; I DIED. 4,695 other people died. If you can’t hack it, get out of the game.  Stop worrying about the condition of your 401K and retire or change careers; become a florist, that way the only thing at risk of dying because of your ineptitude is a dozen carnations.

Remember how much we all enjoyed your children’s safety poster contest? Now it just seems sad.  How about all those pictures of people doing unsafe things? Remember how we’d laugh about how stupid they were? somehow it’s just not that funny anymore. Did you really think you were making a difference with that crap?

Think I’m being too hard on you? Think you deserve some credit for doing your best? Screw you, I can get a baboon in here to do its best. Your best doesn’t measure up.  Your best gets people killed.  And I don’t believe for a second that you were doing your best when I died.  It’s not like you weren’t warned.  When people posted things on blogs or magazines that were critical of your profession you chose to get indignant and hammered out a “how dare you insult the hard working men and women of the august profession of worker health and safety blah blah blah”, you remember that don’t you? It was a hell of a lot easier to write an indignant email telling your peers to tell that guy to shut up than it was to consider for one microsecond that you might have to do something different.  And now even in the face of my death you are still too arrogant to consider that there might be a better way.

Was it the culture that killed me? Did you see all the signs that we were ripe for a fatality?  Did you storm around the office saying if someone doesn’t do something that someone was going to die? Did “you tell the bastards”?  Well if you continued to take a paycheck in a hopeless environment where leaders didn’t care about the safety of the workers I decry you as a craven and fool.

I know you see yourself as under appreciated and doing a thankless job.  Well I’m dead and thanks for nothing. You aren’t a hero; you don’t even deserve a footnote in my obituary.  You get no thanks because there is nothing you’ve done that deserves the smallest modicum of gratitude.

Before you wrap yourself in the blanket of “there was no way I could have prevented his death” there are plenty of people working for change and we NEED change.  These people work against impossible odds against people just like you. You have a decision: you can either be on the side of change or be part of the forces lined up against it.  You can either save lives or save your twisted sense of self righteousness; you choose, and for the first time in your life be prepared to live with the consequences of your choices; I doubt you have that in you.So what now? My role in this argument ends at the grave.  What will you do next? Between now and Monday, 26 more workers will die in the U.S. and ten times that worldwide.  Will it just be a statistic? Will it be a shame?  What will you differently in response to my death? Do you care even a little bit? Are you more concerned about saving lives or saving your own ass?

Sincerely,

4,695 dead workers and counting

#2010-worker-fatalities, #safety, #worker-fatalities

Predictive Indicators Are Hogwash

lightning during nighttime

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

By Phil La Duke

I didn’t get my blog written until late last night, because a) I wasn’t feeling well, b)had started a topic that was way too long to post, and c) I was very busy, But something gnawing at me for awhile: this whole emerging infatuation with the idea of “predictive indicators” as it pertains to safety.  Let me begin by saying there are a lot more companies relying solely on lagging indicators than using a holistic approach that compares leading and lagging indicators to accurately gauge the companies’ current performance (never mind trends and likely future performance). Even within organizations with the organizations who meticulously gather lagging indicators too many do nothing to interpret the data and turn it into something that is meaningful, useful, and actionable to and for Operations.

Let me dispel the myth of safety “predictive indicators”. The term “predictive indicators” was borrowed from the world of finance and was originally applied to the ability of stock analysts to use an algorithm to predict market fluctuations, as anyone who has stock (or a retirement fund that has stocks) these predictive indicators aren’t very accurate and some believe are no better than throwing a dart at a board.  So while stock analysts still look at these predictive indicators, few of them are staking their entire fortunes on them and fewer still are betting the lives of others on them. In any case, in most cases that I have seen, when safety pundits are using term Predictive Indicators, they are either misusing the term to describe a leading indicator, or have developed a model that is impressive in its complexity but as reliable as a degenerate gambler’s system for picking the winning horse.

So what is a predictive indicator anyway? Probably the most familiar forecast using predictive indicators are weather forecasts.  It’s an apt analogy to both the stock market and performance of Safety within an organization. I tried to research exactly how reliable weather forecasts were and it was like trying to get a politician to go on the record.  As one article, put it “We know that weather forecasts are inherently uncertain. (We’re predicting the future, after all!)” What I learned is that the closer you are to the event the more accurate the prediction will be, but as you move out 5 days there is an exponential drop off in accuracy and when you get to a 14-day forecast you basically have a SWAG (silly, wild-assed, guess).  So while this lack of accuracy might prompt you to grab an umbrella on your way out the door, it’s hardly the same when it comes to dealing with financial decisions and the life and death of workers.

We need to nip this in the bud because there are non-safety executives now co opting this term and wondering why we in safety can’t use the information at hand to scry the future, and once we know what’s going to happen, can come to the rescue just in time.

I know I am once again rattling the cages of academics and con men who have spent years developing an algorithm or pretty, complex, and useless model which they want to sell to you for an incredibly low price.  The problem is we can’t predict the future outcomes of a complex system and the stock market, the weather, and safety and even a guess can be dangerous. Again, think of the weather forecast. If the forecast calls for a 70% chance of rain, that means that there is a 30% it won’t rain, and even if it DOES rain, it doesn’t mean that it will rain where you are, so most people figure, “it’s probably gonna rain” and dress appropriately.  Except me, I don’t believe in umbrellas—you still get wet and you have the inconvenience of having one hand encumbered—and forget rain hats and raincoats (what am I a cod fisherman?)

Playing the odds

I can’t tell you how many people, when I warn them of a hazard, look at me with a “gimme a break” look on their face and ask “yeah, but what are the odds that’s gonna happen?” I’m honest with them, I will tell them that the odds are low but the stakes are high.  It’s like a reverse lottery ticket. I know plenty of people who will not swim in the ocean for fear of sharks, despite the astronomical odds against being attacked. They aren’t playing the odds because the potential outcome is death and the reward (swimming) isn’t sufficient for them to chance it.  Why then do people in the workplace engage in high-risk, high-consequence activities? What’s the reward for failing to control the energy while performing tasks that require it? You save a couple of minutes? What is the probability that something could go wrong? (I’m not going to waste the time and effort to calculate the odds, but suffice to say, the odds are considerably higher of dying in a LOTO accident than it is being attacked by a shark, and swimming in the ocean is a far better reward than finishing a job 5 minutes quicker.

Duration of Exposure

While it may be impossible to predict with any sort of frequence how and when someone will get hurt we can look at leading indicators that correlate to injuries. The duration of exposure is a decent indicator of the risk associated with a given activity.  All other things being equal, a worker who spends 5 minutes in a confined space is at significantly lower risk of being harmed than a worker who spends 12 hours in a confined space. It stands to reason that, minus any other risk factors, the worker who is in a confined space is 144 times more likely to be harmed than the worker who is in a confined space than the worker who spends 5 minutes in a confined space (5 minutes x 12 =1 hour, and 1 hour x 12=144 five minute increments).  But even this is of limited value, because there is no guarantee that either worker will not be harmed in the first 5 minutes, which is why I qualified it by saying, “minus any other risk factors”. This should not be seen as an encouragement of rushing to get a job done, rather it should serve as a warning to the people who take risks because they are “only going to be in there for a minute.” Statistically, people tend to underestimate how long a task will take to complete and that means that people consistently underestimate the duration of their exposure and subsequently the risk of being killed or injured.

So let’s erase “predictive indicators” from our lexicon and focus instead on doing a better job of using appropriate lagging and leading indicators to calculate or risks.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Note: If you are outside North America, you will want to order for the Amazon site in your country.  Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel obligated to get something for but don’t really like.

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.

Safety Differently: The Next Bandwagon On Which To Jump

By Phil La Duke

a man riding a carriage

Photo by Adrian Jozefowicz on Pexels.com

As a big Sidney Dekker fan, I was intrigued by the buzz over his latest offering Safety Differently, so I checked it out, and I have to confess that I was disappointed.  Why? Well, it wasn’t because his work wasn’t spot on, but for a couple of reasons. First of all, Safety Differently is dangerously close to Apple’s slogan of “Think Different”.  The uninformed pedantic lumps of fetid flesh— of which there are many (in my experience)—we’re quick to point out that the slogan is grammatically incorrect. A good point, to be sure, except that it isn’t.  Jobs wasn’t telling people to change the way they were thinking (“Think differently”) rather, he wanted them to think “different”, in other words, gravitate towards things that are different than anything ever seen before. Jobs didn’t want his team to merely create derivations of existing products but to push ever harder to innovate.

Dekker’s “Safety Differently”, may roll off the tongue in a more grammatically pleasing manner, but I’m sorry, I don’t see it as all that different than the way safety should have been done for decades. How long have we known that recognized that companies have been rewarding workers not for making things safer, with less risk, but for not reporting injuries? How long have we known that “the absence of injuries does not denote the presence of safety?” How long have we known that safety has become a bloated bureaucracy?  How long have we (at least most of us) known that blaming the people for injuries was wrong-headed and we should be looking at the system defects that cause the injuries instead? How long have we known that engaging workers in finding solutions for lowering the risk of injuries is a key to finding a safer way to do things?

I recognize for a third of you this is heresy; how dare I question the great and powerful Dekker? Another third of you are still clinging to the Behavior Based Swindle that pays your rent and gets you speaking gigs and even sells your books. But just maybe a third, probably a lot less, will recognize that Safety Differently isn’t all that different, and furthermore it doesn’t go far enough.  In one of the many YouTube videos, Dr. Dekker talks about how safety has become a numbers game; that safety practitioners have become slaves to Key Performance Indicators that are poor indicators of performance. He says that Safety is an ethical responsibility. No kidding? How long did it take his Think Tank to come up with that? I’ve literally been saying this for decades, but it’s more than just an ethical concern, it’s a business concern.  We have to stop killing people in the workplace; no one should have to be told that this is wrong. But more importantly, we have to stop lying and cheating and manipulating the data so that an injured worker isn’t reclassified as a non-recordable/reportable injury.

We need lagging indicators to be linked to leading indicators.  Leading indicators should be telling us what our strategy needs to be while lagging indicators should tell us how much progress we are making toward successfully achieving our strategic goals.  

Yes, we need to engage workers in reducing risk, but I am not sure that the team that thunk up Safety Differently is the same team that knows how to create that engagement or even what that engagement should look like.

The danger, however, doesn’t lie in what Sidney Dekker is proposing, the danger lies is that the fact that as I write this there are purveyors of Culture Transformations, who 5 years ago were purveyors of Behavior-Based Swindles, who 5 years before that were cashiers at Kmart, who are now scrambling to get on the bandwagon and repackage and rebrand the swill they’ve been serving to safety practitioners who greedily slurp it up, as Safety Differently.

I don’t disagree with Dekker.  Heck, any of you who have read my book (and let’s face it you are so much smarter than those who haven’t) or have been a long time reader of my blog know that I have been saying all of these things and more since 2006.  In fact, I hope Safety Differently spurs some action so that in so much as we can, (OSHA and its counterparts around the world aren’t going to suddenly let us stop counting bodies) we can start causing safety instead of preventing injuries.  Dekker has a less crass, less offensive, less provocative way of getting his message out there than I do so maybe the half-wits who are planning the safety BINGO will listen to him where they wouldn’t listen to me.

Meanwhile, watch out for snake oil salesmen, pitching the same tired crap with a Safety Different label on it because you can BET its coming.  The safety conglomerates and the safety mom and pops alike will jump on this bandwagon and continue the Behavior-Based Swindle, but a turd by any other name is still a turd.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Note: If you are outside North America, you will want to order for the Amazon site in your country.  Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel obligated to get something for but don’t really like.

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.

Persuasive Leadership: Or How You Are Likely Wasting Time And Money On Safety Today

The Godfather

Photo courtesy of IMDB

by Phil La Duke

There’s a piece of trivia about one of my favorite movies, The Godfather.  It’s probably apocryphal (I spent way more time looking online for confirmation, than I should of) but legend has it that when casting the role of Don Vito Corleone, director Frances Ford Copolla, insisted that the role go to either Marlon Brando or Sir Lawrence Olivier  because the Godfather appears only 13 minutes on film but his imposing presence is felt throughout the film. If you’ve seen the film you understand that Vito Corleone’s presence is felt in every frame of the movie, and if you haven’t seen the film, stop reading this and watch it. No excuses. Just shut up and watch it. 

As with so much that I have to say, this next bit will upset a fair amount of you.  Safety has far less to do with the success or failure of safety in an organization, than they think or for which they claim credit.  In fact, in my experience—both actual work experience in safety and in organizational development—and research, it is the leader of the organization, typically the COO who has the most influence over whether or not a culture that values safety develops or not.  As someone once said to me, “what the Admiral finds interesting we all find fascinating” meaning if the top brass pays attention to something the rest of the organization finds a way to make it happen. Paul O’Neil, understood this when he used Safety to push his organizational changes at Alcoa, and Tom Lasorda pulled a page from that playbook to transform Chrysler from a safety laggard to a leader.  But even though O’Neil and Lasorda couldn’t be everywhere at once their leadership was felt. These two personalities were so strong, and they were so insistent on a change that would improve safety, that like Don Vito Corleone, you could feel their leadership even when they were miles away.

Developing Persuasive Leadership

Developing a leadership style that is palpable even when you aren’t physically present isn’t an aspect of the leader’s personality.  Persuasive leadership is a product of several things:

  • Visibility.  A Persuasive leader is someone who spends a great deal of time in the workplace. The workers know who he or she is and that his or her being there is expensive and therefore purposeful.  Nobody believes that the COO has nothing better to do than walk around a construction site, factory floor, or oil rig.
  • Caring.  Leaders who parade through the workplace looking stern and judgmental are viewed as just another blowhard with more ego than brains, who is indifferent to their day-to-day struggles. We’ve all seen the elephants on parade go through our workplaces and worry our supervisors and site leaders.  Persuasive leaders engage with workers, they ask good questions and they genuinely care about the person to whom they are listening. A lot of leaders try to fake this but you can’t; workers can smell a disingenuous performance like dog crap on your shoes when you come in from mowing the lawn, and the smell of it makes things worse not better.
  • Respect. A lot of executives patronize the workers by saying, “You are the real heroes, I’m here to support you, blah blah blah.” If that were the case the first person to get laid off in tough times would be the COO. Obviously, he or she failed to support the workers in some way. But that’s not the case, is it? If a company needs to cut payroll by a million dollars it is far more likely to cut 20 jobs that pay $50K than two positions that pay $500K.  When the COO respects the fortitude and resilience it takes to hump the line for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, that respect shows and the workers feel valued.
  • Integrity. There are three ways in which a leader’s integrity manifests itself: Honesty, Follow-Up, and Behavior.  Nobody will respect a liar, especially a liar who tries to ingratiate him or herself by telling them what they want to hear.  Workers are far less thin-skinned than leaders think. Workers at all levels know that if a leader with integrity tells them something he or she believes it to be true at the time.  No worker is so dim that he or she believes that the circumstances might change, or that the leader may not have the latest information, but most people can sense when they are being lied to and resent it. Secondly, integrity means doing what you say you are going to do, and in many cases, executives delegate the things that they say they will take care of to useless puss-bags who make the executive out to be a liar. Persuasive leaders, follow-up. When they delegate something they make sure that it is done and done quickly and most importantly they trust but verify so that nobody can claim to do something he or she hasn’t. Finally, the best way to win the hearts and minds of the organization is to set a good example.  The executive that pulls up to a work site, walks to the the trunk of the car and pulls out and dons his or her OWN personal protective equipment (or better yet has it on when he or she gets out of the car) is a ton more credible than the COO who shows up and expects the site to provide all the required PPE like he or she is visiting royalty.

So as disappointing as this to so many of you, you have far less influence and control over safety and you are likely focusing on the wrong population to make the workplace safer.  A small amount of effort from your executive suite—and you should remind them that Paul O’Neil and Tom Lasorda didn’t have any less time than they do—will likely have a much greater effect on safety than reminding people to use the handrail or tie their shoelaces.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Note: If you are outside North America, you will want to order for the Amazon site in your country.  Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel obligated to get something for but don’t really like.

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.

 

Screw Warnings. Find It and Fix It

By Phil La Duke

Too often we are content to slap a sign or label or sticker on a known hazard and call it good. It isn’t. The day is coming when knowing a hazard exists but doing nothing more than putting up “death awaits” sign will be seen as criminally negligent.

I am loathed to compare workers to children, and my intent is not to infantilize adults, but “well gee, I warned him” is not an excuse; it’s an admission of one’s own stupidity.

I don’t know when it’s coming but it’s not soon enough. What prompted this particular rant is something I witnessed in the Miami airport. I saw no fewer than six maintenance employees feverishly dry mopping a floor. There was a “wet floor” sign but nonetheless, they worked and in minutes the floor was dry. They removed the sign and left.

Our default response has got to stop being, “hey buddy watch out for that trip hazard” and start fixing things.

If you insist on having “behavioral observations” then the observers should be fired if the person observed ever gets hurt. Implement this policy and you will have less “be careful and more fixing the issue”.

Years ago I went to an incompetent doctor after my regular doctor sold the practice. The boob who bought the practice looked like a Dr. Seuss character and had the brains of a yam. Each time I visited he would begin by asking me “do you smoke”. I have never smoked a complete cigarette in my life. “No” I would impatiently answer. One day enough was enough. When he asked I said “actually doc that’s why I am here. I want to start smoking.” He warned me of the dangers of smoking. I acknowledged his warning but pointed out that at my age the probability of getting those horrible conditions was remote. He stood dumbfounded “I want to start with two packs a day”. He finally found his words “I would never endorse such an irresponsible act”. To which I responded “I’m not going to start smoking you (expletive) idiot. You ask me that every (expletive) time I come in here. WRITE THIS SHIT DOWN!!

On my next visit, he greeted me and said: “do you…(glancing up nervously from my chart)…still not smoke?” He retired about a month later.

The point is what do we hope to accomplish raising awareness of the already aware. As one reader once said in response to my anti awareness rants said: “I was aware of breast cancer and got it anyway”. Awareness without useful countermeasures is basically just fear mongering.

So if we know there’s a problem fix it. Don’t just tell me to watch out for it and be careful

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel obligate to get something for but don’t really like.

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.