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.

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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.

When It Comes To Unsafe Behaviors There’s Plenty Of Blame to Go Around

By Phil La Duke

scissors 2

If you’ve made even the most cursory read of my articles and blogs you probably already know that I don’t hold much stock in Behavior Based Safety (BBS).  I believe that except for the odd statistical outlier nut-job, nobody WANTS to get hurt and unless they were designed my the Marquis De Sade you processes aren’t intended to hurt people.  If those two things are true no amount of behavior modification—whether it be incentive programs or telling people to be more careful—is going to change much of anything.  But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe unsafe behavior is the single largest cause of injuries, and if so, we have to manage those behaviors.

Before we can manage unsafe behaviors we have to understand the context in which the behaviors occur.  We can’t take effective action unless we understand precisely why people behaved in an unsafe manner.  A couple of days ago an acquaintance told me about how he had been injured on the job during the third week of February on two consecutive years (he was nervously praying for the first of March to come so he could relax a bit).  “It was my own fault,” he explained, “I was rushing to get things done because my boss was standing over my shoulder saying ‘we gotta get this order out’”.  Unsafe behavior? sure;  the fault of the worker? I don’t think so. Most traditional BBS programs focus on the unsafe behaviors of workers. Productivity is sapped as millions of hours are wasted insisting that supervisors watch people work and coach them on their unsafe behaviors.  Don’t the people whose unsafe decisions and insistence and encouragement of unsafe behaviors bear any culpability in worker injuries? I think they should.

Here are some incredibly unsafe behaviors (attitudes + action) up-stream in the process that organizations need to address:

  • “I Don’t Care How; Just Get It Done.” Whether it’s manufacturing, or construction, or mining or oil and gas there are supervisors, and site managers, and even executives who reward the people who ignore safety protocols and procedure to “get things done”.  This sends a strong message to the workers: you will get rewarded for violating the rules.  Ask these leaders about this behavior and you will likely get a sermon on how they will never tolerate unsafe work and a worker has a right to go home in the same condition…blah, blah, blah.  But when the rubber hits the road and they are faced with falling behind schedule and giving a nod-and-wink “work safe” while telling the workers that the job must get done by Thursday at all costs.  Workers aren’t stupid; they know that they can take risks and nine times out of ten nothing bad will happen.  They understand that probability favors them not getting hurt and if they “get the job done” they will be seen—and more importantly treated—like heroes.  It’s the guys who get things done who get promoted, get the plum assignments, and get fat raises.  They will take unnecessary risks because they are rewarded for doing so, while the people who work safely are punished.  A pizza party at the end of the month for zero loss time injuries can’t compete with the raises, opportunities, and job security afford to those who “get things done”.
  • “I Don’t Care If the Safety Rule Makes It Impossible to Do the Job You Must Follow The Rule.” This behavior is most prevalent among the “command and control” safety professionals who neither know, nor care to know how the work is done.  It’s an ignorance borne out of laziness.  Workers are told they can’t do the job in the most expeditious and efficient manner because doing so is unsafe, are given an unworkable solution, and an expectation to perform to standard. Faced with this choice they take unjustifiable risks, and why wouldn’t they? We can cluck our tongues at the violations of the workers but really whose unsafe behavior is truly to blame for the hazardous situation?
  • “What Can I DO? I Can’t Make Them Work Safely.” In the grand scheme of things there is no such thing as working completely safely.  Sure we can work in ways in which we minimize our risk but even the best set of rules can only protect us from hazards that have been anticipated. It’s tough to anticipate every conceivable hazard in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment.  Too many safety professionals act like institutional eunuchs, trumpeting their emasculation to anyone they think might listen.  The lack of a safe behavior can be the same as an unsafe one.  When safety professionals or supervisors turn a blind eye toward hazards—behavioral or physical—the effect is every bit as dangerous as the unsafe act itself.
  • “I Don’t Have Time”. The lack of time has become the rallying cry for every aspiring martyr. Where the quality of a person’s work was once the measure of his or her performance now, in many organizations, bellyaching about how little time you have has become the new hallmark of an employee’s contribution.  I have heard so many safety professionals, supervisors, and operations managers whine about their lack of time to get everything done that I involuntarily roll my eyes when I hear it.  What am I supposed to do with that information? Praise you for doing a half-assed job? Sympathize because you can’t manage up? Studies have shown that people tend to do work in the following order: tasks they enjoy, tasks that are easy, tasks that are fun, and then everything else.  If you don’t have time for safety—from the maintenance managers who can’t find the time to maintain equipment or repair facility issues to the safety person who can’t find the time to do a proper incident investigation to the materials manager who doesn’t have time to get stock out of the aisle ways, to the site manager who padlocks emergency exits because he doesn’t have time to discipline the people who are using it inappropriately, to the supervisor who doesn’t have time to inspect the work area to ensure it is free of hazards—you need to either reprioritize your work or get out before someone get’s killed.
  • “They Wouldn’t Get Hurt If they would Be More Careful.” Blaming the injured is a staple of many Safety Management systems. I have heard safety professionals describe workers who have suffered repeat injuries “frequent flyers” and plant managers insist that workers are hurt “primarily because they take short cuts to get more ass time”.  I have heard that safety is everyone’s job so many times that I want to vomit.  If safety truly is everyone’s job then where is the culpability for those of us who make decisions who jeopardize the safety of others?

So maybe behavior is a key component in worker safety, and maybe we bear some responsibility for our own behavior.  If safety truly is everyone’s job than there is blood on our hands every time someone gets injured on our watch.  We bear as much of the responsibility for the gore and carnage as anyone. Maybe it’s time we take a hard look at OUR behavior before we start pointing fingers of shame at the injured worker.  Maybe it’s time for us to ask ourselves what did we do TODAY to help worker’s make safe decisions? Maybe it’s time to turn the lens of judgment on ourselves and ask what we could have done to prevent the injury that took the life of a coworker, and how we will change our OWN behavior to help workers make better, safer choices from now on.

#88-of-injuries-caused-by-unsafe-behavior, #at-risk-behavior, #behavior-based-safety, #improving-worker-safety, #safety, #the-myth-of-95-of-injuries-are-caused-by-unsafe-behaviors, #worker-safety

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Safety Stupidity

Because Alan Langston wanted to see me do a graphic

By Phil La Duke

When I talk to many safety practitioners invariable the incredible stupidity of the injured worker rears its ugly head.  Well, I’m here to tell you that when it comes to safety there is plenty of stupid to go around. At the forefront of my mind is the absolute and unquestionable stupidity of how safety practitioners increasingly seek to solve safety issues by using solutions from the lowest levels of the Hierarchy of Controls.  Just this morning I saw orange cones places around: a generator that was blocking a full lane of traffic, a mound of dirt, and a trench. What’s more, I just returned from California where I saw startling examples of the stupidity of safety. Please understand that this has nothing to do with California and everything to do with me walking in unfamiliar places.

First, the button to push to activate the walk sign was disabled, and at this particular stop light, it meant that the “Walk” sign would never illuminate.  Here in Michigan you can push that button all day long and it has no effect since the WALK signal timed to the traffic light but people push it anyway. Since the button was working on the adjacent street we crossed and then crossed again, and then crossed a third time.  It was hardly expedient, and people have an innate drive toward expediency. The next day, not only were both buttons inactive (they were actually removed and the cases dangled like cats tortured and hung there by budding serial killers) but a large trench was there where the sidewalk was 24 hours prior.  Our choices were (at least how we saw them) to either walk two blocks to reach our destination that was less than 100 feet away, or wait for the light to change and cross despite having a don’t walk sign. We walked across the grass and when no traffic was coming AND the light in which we were walking was green we walked across the street.

My point is that the brain trust who put the safety measures in place just told us what we couldn’t do, without offering any alternatives.  Seriously, what did they expect people would do, or better yet, what would THEY have done in that situation?

Now some of you are shaking your heads and saying “We didn’t do this,” and I’ll grant you that.  I doubt anyone even remotely interested in safety had anything to do with these controls I’ve mentioned, but WHY WASN’T a safety person involved? Why were these mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging brutes allowed to begin work with no safety over-site or guidance?  My guess is because the people responsible knew that the safety guy would tell them that they couldn’t do it that way, but that past experience had taught them that wouldn’t have given them a better solution. Even people who work in safety have run into the safety dunderhead that just says “thou shalt not…” without giving a viable alternative. We’ve all met the thick-witted, rules-worshiping safety guy that does give two craps as to whether or not the job gets done, and many people in the work word honestly and yet too often erroneously figure that the hazard will only be there a day or so, the risk is minor, and the odds of anyone getting seriously are minuscule.

Safety, as a function, must enable Operations and must help those in Operations to make informed decisions about risk.  This is going to be an uphill battle because so many in safety have used the “ignore it” or “figure it out for yourself” approach for too long, or they just say know.

If we want Operations to own safety, and we should want this, then we have to teach them how to make better, safer choices when assessing risk.  We can’t just dump safety on them and wash our hands and go back to playing Mine Sweeper at our desks. The people we are so quick to deride as stupid are actually just ignorant.  Many people don’t think of the immediate consequences of their decisions and we expect them—without any guidance—to think about the consequence of their decisions four or five steps removed from the immediate consequences.  This IS stupid, but when it comes to stupidity it’s never in short supply. Before we start passing judgment on how stupid the injured workers are maybe it’s time to ask ourselves what WE have done to educate them.

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).

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.

Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands

blood on my hands

Photo by it’s me neosiam on Pexels.com

As some of you know, I am in the process of putting the finishing touches on my second book. It is an expansion of my blog post Forget BBS There Is A Better Way   I have been rightfully criticized for doing too much attacking and not enough constructive criticism. In fairness to me, apart from a handful of devoted readers my blog posts only go viral when I call people out on the stupid crap that they are doing in the name of worker safety.  I honestly can’t wrap my brain around the kind of person who reads something just to puff out their chest and yell “foul!” in sanctimonious outrage.

I decided to call my second book, “Blood In My Pocket”  and it will be much the same format as my first book, (i.e. a mixture of cleaned up blog posts, published magazine articles, and new material, but will be structured around the points made in Forget BBS, There’s A Better Way) (shameless plug,  We plan to have it available for sale November 1st, 2018).

As I told people, even safety people recoiled in horror.  They had never heard what I assumed was a widely known phrase in safety.  The Blood In the Pocket Effect refers to the practice by injured workers, of seeking medical attention from their own physicians rather than the company medical department and therefore ruining the company’s perfect safety record.

The term itself describes a worker who cuts his hand, wraps it in a dirty shop rag and puts it in his pocket so that his supervisor can’t see the injury.  In some companies concealing an injury is a fireable offense, but in most cases, no one goes looking too deeply for under-reporting. In fact, ask 15 safety guys if there is under-reporting at their facilities and at least 12 will swear that there are absolutely no underreporting.

Years ago, before joining my current employer, I went on a sales call and toured a facility where the ebullient kept telling me to watch my step, and to use the handrail (that was so rickety that I was sure if I put any weight against it I would fall to my death) and generally mother-hen me through the tour.  I proudly told me about the children’s poster problem (I’ve asked it before and I will ask it again, what kind of sociopath introduces the idea that mommy and daddy could die at work to a six-year-old?) and boast in pride about all the useless and pointless activity the company did in the name of safety.

As we walked, he pointed to a woman who was doing a highly physically demanding job.  She looked miserable and when she took her break she sat alone looking downtrodden. “She’s one of our frequent flyers,” my tour guide told me.  “Frequent flyers?” I asked in genuine confusion. “Yeah, she’s been injured like six times, she had to have back surgery twice, and since the workers, all get a $250 bonus each quarter when she gets hurt it cost every other worker at least  $250. One year it cost them all $1,000. The people here hate her and just wish she would quit.” I was aghast but said nothing. Like the death camp guard who knows right from wrong, I still thought I had a shot at a sale and wasn’t about to open my mouth.  I carry that burden with me even today, almost two decades later.

I’ve heard numerous tales of companies who either use incentives inappropriately or push zero-injuries with such force that workers will openly tell workers headed to medical that they better not “screw up my bonus” or council new workers that if they get hurt they get better care from their own doctors than from the company doctors.

People were outraged when they heard about the child molestation scandals of the Catholic Church, and rightfully so.  For the record, I am a practicing Catholic (you have to practice if you aren’t any good at something) and am neither a defender of the faith nor an anti-Catholic bigot. (Before any other faiths start congratulating themselves and assuring themselves that it can’t happen to them, take a look at your youth group leaders. and bible camp counselors and you won’t find many stones to throw.) The crime was bad enough, but the cover-up was even more heinous.  How is this different than deceiving the government, the shareholders, the workers, and the people about the number of injuries there truly are at your company? If you turn a blind eye toward underreporting of injuries you are just as despicable as the bishops who quietly settle the case and move the pedophile to a different parish.

By now some of you are in a froth.  You are grumbling aloud that not doing anything to stop underreporting is nowhere near as bad as allowing pedophiles access to children. Well, consider this: underreporting conceals risks. These risks tend to grow and compound until they manifest in an injury that can no longer be concealed—amputations, crippling injuries, and fatalities.

Blood in the pocket is blood on your hands.

Did you like this post? (I don’t really care if you LIKED as much as if it made you think) If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business  (save yourself some money and order it from the Amazon.com in your country or at least on your continent)  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).

 

LinkedIn and Facebook are making…

LinkedIn and Facebook are making it increasingly difficult for me to post from this site to theirs. So what USED to take me 2-3 hours on a Saturday (for free) now takes 5 times that (for free) and I am not sure how long I am going to keep doing this. So if this site and my work is of ANY value to you, you need to do the following:

• Follow me on Twitter. It’s easy and it will keep you up to date with additions to this site, or subscribe to the site, or both
• Post these in just one of the discussion groups on LinkedIN, just one, that’s all I’m asking one.
• Share this post with someone, post it (bu copying the URL) on Facebook or by sending it via email.
• Buy my book. I have written over 950 blog posts, and over 300 magazine articles. The book is a selection (mostly from reader suggestions) of popular blog posts and magazine articles. Plus in all but one chapter I added new material. Think of the book as compensation for 18 years of stirring the pot.
• Do nothing, which I know is what most of you will do and that’s fine too, but every week this gets to be a bigger pain in the ass and if you don’t care about it, I have to question why I should go to all this effort.

If BBS Is So Bad Why Do People Love it So Much?

hofc-e1535903556987.jpg

By Phil La Duke

Popularity seldom equals value or worth. When I would criticize a celebrity that I disliked, my late mother would almost always respond, “well they make a lot of money doing that so they must be doing something right,” to which I would respond, “I can make a lot of money robbing liquor stores or turning tricks at a truck stop but that doesn’t make these things good or a benefit to society.” Think of this exchange often when people challenge my assertion that there is a better way to safety with “Then why is so popular, and why do companies spend millions on it?”
The answer isn’t complex. BBS is easy and fast to implement so many companies figure so what if it is ineffectual, or to be fair, needlessly costly for a meager return ineffectiveness.

I have gone over, around, and through what’s wrong with BBS but essentially I have been arguing outcomes. I don’t think I’m wrong for arguing outcomes, but I DO think that I need to address the elephant in the dining room and talk about WHY BBS fails to deliver on its promises.

A LinkedIn contact said in condemning BBS, quoting, I believe a national study. “BBS works the Hierarchy of Controls upside down.” Most of us have heard of the Hierarchy of Controls, it’s yet another pyramid where the most effective measure of reducing risks sit atop the hierarchy and the least effective form the base of the pyramid.

The Hierarchy of Controls is a tool used to apply the most effective controls to processes. At the top of the hierarchy are the most effective controls, albeit the most difficult to implement. The layers of the hierarchy proceeding downward from their getting less effective and easier to implement.

Elimination. Design the hazard out, or remove it once it is in production.
Substitution. Replace the hazard with something less hazardous.
Engineering Controls. Physically construct barriers that prevent workers from interacting with a hazard.
Administrative. Rules, training, procedures, discipline, coaching, or just plain telling people to be more careful.
Personal Protective Equipment. Safety glasses, gloves, welding goggles, basically the suits of armor we put on workers to protect them when all else fails.

Companies that employ a BBS system are focusing on the easiest, fastest measures, which are also on the least effective controls. Instead of working up the hierarchy and looking for better, more effective solutions, BBS is just an attempt to make the easy, scientifically proven ineffective controls better. It seeks to redesign the people instead of redesigning the system.

Years ago I developed a way to immediately inform site leaders, safety personnel, and Operation or Maintenance leaders when an employee was working in a controlled area without locking out. No one cared. The technology existed and the company I was working at, at the time, wasn’t even going to charge for it. It was simply a matter of connecting the software that controlled these areas with our hazard tracking system. The client said “no”. Its reasoning was befuddling, “if we do that and we don’t act fast enough we could be liable.” “But if you kill someone you will be liable ANYWAY,!” I argued to deaf ears. It used to be we valued knowledge and armed with just a little knowledge we believed we could do great things. But now we revile knowledge and innovative. No one wants to believe that things can be as simple of getting rid of a hazard or substituting it with something less treacherous.
At the heart of BBS is the belief that people are at fault for injuries. Through what they have done or what they have failed to do. And people do, in fact, do a lot of stupid things. They rig safety interlocks with “jumpers” so they enter energized equipment, they remove guards to make it easier to clear jams, they run with scissors, they text while driving. But the answer isn’t to try to reprogram people with theories built on 100-year old junk science.
But what IS the solution. The average safety practitioner can’t eliminate a hazard that has been designed into a process or piece of equipment, but the Safety Function can convince Engineering leadership to invest in Design For Assembly/Manufacturing training and software. The Safety Function can get involved in and help create Failure Modes Effects Analysis with Engineers and talk about the implications of a design on the safety of the workers.
We need to accept that workers will ALWAYS make mistakes, but those mistakes should be death sentences. The things that make the lowest controls on the hierarchy ineffective are the amount that they depend on worker compliance, competence, and lack of mistake making.
So breaking it down:
People make mistakes
We can either try in vain to change point number one or we can concentrate instead on making sure that these mistakes don’t injure or kill people.
BBS seems to ignore point #1 and seems to believe that they can change the truth that “To err is human”. System after system plays God with worker’s trying to shape and mold them into some creature that doesn’t make mistakes. The goal is to make the worker better than robots (which, believe it or not, also make mistakes) the goal isn’t zero harm in these systems, it’s zero errors, zero machine malfunctions, zero parts shortages, and zero management accountability. You can make workers smarter, more competent, and even more engaged, but you will never make them infallible.
We need to focus less on fixing people and blame and more on fixing system errors, replacing worn out equipment and tools, and for the love of all that is holy protect people when they make a mistake.

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).