Safety Is No Accident


By Phil La Duke

Let me begin by saying that the title is trite, and sounds like a slogan, I have to say I thought of rephrasing it but ultimately decided that however much it made me seem like I was trying to be clever or cute that was not my intent. It pains me to know that it countless workplaces there are probably signs with this slogan.

I don’t mean it as a slogan, I mean it as a call to action. Too many of us think of safety as this passive event.  Nothing happened and therefore we’re safe.  We shift from behaviors to culture to risk to whatever cockamamie idea is slowly percolating in the mind of some PhD who has never done an honest day’s work in his life. I will confess that this post grew out, to some degree, of my post Zero Injuries Are Nothing to Celebrate, where my principle point was that, while it’s great that nobody died, what did you do to prevent it.  What one thing, or multiple things did you do that was the proximate cause that nobody died? Scarce few had answers so they instead focused on my heresy that a celebration of a perfect safety record was soft-headed.

So what can we do to act with purpose to make the workplace safer? I get criticized a lot for only pointing out what’s wrong without offering solutions; to that I say: a) I raise these points because they need to be raised, b) nobody else seems to be raising them, and c) I’m not your paid consultant so I am under no obligation to give you free advice, but that’s just me getting cranky.  The truth is, there isn’t one true path to safety.  Somehow (and I have my characteristically strong opinions as to exactly how, but that is for another article) “Safety” has become a quasi-religion with the cult of behavior, or the cult of Gellar, or the cult of…well you get my point.  I’m not going to get into a debate over whether or not there is one true religion, but I will say that, having worked across many industries that safety means very different things depending on your industry, your location, and your size.

If you work in a high-consequence industry like oil and gas—where a single slip up can have catastrophic results—you tend to have a very different view of what’s safe and therefore a much lower tolerance for risk than say a shoe retailer. So for me, or anyone else, to offer universally applicable suggestions is irresponsible to the extreme. But I will say this: we have to understand how what we do is affecting the risk of a person being hurt by hazards in our workplaces.

Take slips, trips, and falls for example. Not a big concern for a chemical company whose biggest threat to worker and public safety is lethal chemicals shooting a death cloud over the surrounding community, but a huge concern for people working at heights or around sharp materials or bio hazards.  So what YOU think might not be a big deal (and you are correct) could be a huge deal for someone else.

Safety as Superstitious Nonsense

We do so much in safety, from awareness campaigns to Job Safety Analysis (and every day some genius comes up with something else for us to do) that we lose sight of the key components of safety; we can’t separate the nice to haves from the absolute must haves. Let’s take an easy example: A worker ascends a step ladder 15 feet.  We have two probabilities to worry about 1) the probability that he will fall and 2) the probability that if he falls he will be killed (or seriously injured but for our example let’s just say killed) is 98% (I don’t believe in absolute certainties) so let’s now work through how we lower that risk from 98% to as close to 0% (again I don’t believe in absolutes) as is practicable (don’t mistake this for practical). Now bear with me here as I work the problem backwards.  If we have the worker tie off how much does that reduce the risk? To answer that we would have to know the failure rate of all the fall protection components, but for our purposes let’s say it cuts it down to 20% can we live with a 20% chance that the worker might bang his head, have a lanyard break, or have some other unforeseen hazard come into play? Probably not, so we add…a children’s poster contest to remind him not to die? A pizza party if he doesn’t fall?

No in our case we would probable decide that a ladder is the wrong tool for the job and use a man lift. Let’s say this reduces the chances of him falling to his death to 2%. Obviously all my percentages are WAY too high, but the point remains we need to know, at a minimum, if what we are doing is causing safety.

We have to stop concentrating on preventing injuries and focus on causing safety. Let us never forget that everything we do should have a direct consequence of causing safety. Sure awareness campaigns may have some effect on workplace safety, but is this really where you should be spending your time and money? In environments where you have high turnover of workers who tend to have a limited awareness of the dangers around them, then it may well be, but if you are in a factory where people do repetitive jobs that cause their minds to wander or where they are more likely to be injured by a fatigue-induced mistake it probably isn’t.

The most difficult job in safety is that there isn’t a magic formula for getting things right. We have to think.  We have to create solutions that work in OUR environments  and stop thinking that anyone out there has it all figured out and all we need do is to copy their solution and we will be alright.  This is what makes it so difficult for people to move from one industry to another.  What is important in mining may be insignificant in retail.  What’s worse is even within our own industry what works for our completion may not work for us at all.  It’s too bad really, because my experience as a person who helps companies build safety management systems and infrastructures I’ve seen some pretty cool things that are completely unworkable in other industries, geographic regions, or sites.

Unfortunately for most of us, we are barraged by people telling us the opposite; that they have figured out the magic bullet and for the right price they can sell us a solution that works for everyone like magic! I’ve reviled these people as unethical snake-oil salesmen and some of them are indeed thieves.  But more of them believe what they’re saying, which makes them more dangerous.   It’s tempting to buy in to a philosophy that just requires you to turn off your brain and drink the Kool-Aid, especially if our boss has a big vat of it on his or her desk.

It is incumbent on us to make every dollar spent on safety count and if we are spending our time and money foolishly we could get someone killed. So again, before you start a new initiative, or even continue the things you’re doing, ask yourself, “how does this cause safety?”


Just Terriers With A Rat


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

I don’t want to write. My mood is sour and my disposition is foul.  Writing this has become a chore and inevitably and increasingly I have people pressuring me what to say and what not to say.  Fuck it. This is MY blog, nobody thinks that there’s an editorial staff that meets to decide what I should say and shouldn’t say. This isn’t marketing, this is me talking to the handful of you with open minds (some of you who actually find benefit from what I have to say).  But of course, there is a fair amount of you who read this for the sole purpose of taking offense and frankly I am beyond being bewildered by that particular motivation if I offend you well then it serves you right for continuing to read it, and if you think it reflects in ANY way on you or what you stand for, get over yourself. No one out there thinks you have the imagination or insight to coauthor or edit me.

Some weeks or a month ago even I was listed by as one of the top 20 Thought Leaders in Culture. Last week someone shortened that list to the Top 5; I was fourth on that list.  I know many of you are thinking, okay, here it comes, yet another internet loudmouth who is blowing his own horn, in fact, if the past is any indication, some washed up loser who hung out a shingle in Australia (if you think I am talking about you I probably will) will send an email to someone he thinks matters to me in hopes of getting me in trouble, someone else will post hateful posts trying to goad me into an internet postwar, while still others will just post their dreck about how self-aggrandizing I am.

This shit used to really bother me, but I guess after all these years I’ve developed a thick skin. For the record, Thinkers360 has developed a patent-pending algorithm to determine who the top thinkers are, and yes, you have to apply to the website to be considered (and there is no guarantee you will be selected) but other than what you write, get published, how many social media interactions you have, and media appearances there is nothing one can do to be selected; it’s a point system and one I don’t quite understand.  It’s free, so if you want to be an expert apply and see if they select you. Be forewarned that they make their money by pimping experts out to reporters and industry, so they are fairly selective about who they bring on board—they are more concerned about THEIR reputation than yours—so prepare to have your ego bruised.

It would be easy to dismiss this crowd of dimwits as jealous of my success, but I can’t do that. You see I don’t think it’s jealousy.  These human colonoscopy bags don’t want what I have, there is no envy here. What motivates these people is to make themselves feel better about being lazy.  I achieved what meager success I have by hard work. I write voraciously, on my own time—late nights after long days, I ponder the issues in safety and corporate culture continually, I read and process what others write.  I speak at professional events for free and talk to the people there. And I am about to publish my third book.

Does this make me any better than anyone else? Any smarter? Of course not.  I haven’t met many people who work in the field of worker safety that couldn’t do what I’ve done or will do.  For the most part, the only thing stopping most people is that Safety, as a profession, is exhausting. Most people don’t want to put in a full day’s work in Safety and come home and think and write about it, that’s okay. I’d be lying if I said that the whole idea of safety doesn’t make me want to chuck it all and work as a short-order cook every once in a while, but I can’t.

I could bring up the deaths of my father, brother-in-law, both grandfathers, one great uncle, a childhood acquaintance, and all coworkers and friends of friends who died on the job as the one thing that brings me back, and I’m sure that these many losses have shaped who I am and drive me subconsciously to some extent, but that’s not it, at least not entirely. What keeps bringing me back is just when you think the field of safety is growing someone will trot out some snake-oil like a terrier with a rat in its mouth.  

I want to scream “it’s dead, drop it”. But they won’t. Our field is choked with mouth-breathers who continually rediscover the obvious and proudly trotting it out like they walked out in the rain and discovered wet. I’ve been described as passionate about safety, I’ve even been called a crusader. If I am passionate about anything, if I am crusading against anything is ending stupidity.

We live in a world where correlation is considered causation, where if you don’t like the facts you just scream fake news or media bias, where vendors will sell a customer a safety solution that some vacuous executive wants knowing full well that the solution all smoke without the mirrors,  and no one asks, because no one CARES, how the purveyors of bullshit make their money. Safety is the only discipline in Business where executives continue to authorize increased investment without knowing if the solution they are buying will do anything but cost money, and where the people in the function can be blissfully ignorant as to whether the money is reducing risk or just making charlatans rich.  Try being an Operations leader and going to the COO with a budget with a line item that says, “machinery and stuff”. AND when the COO asks for more information you just say, “it’s the right thing to do”. You wouldn’t just leave the office with a boot in your ass, you’d also be handed a pink slip. And yet, “we fund safety because it’s the right thing to do” is a go-to argument.

Try telling a COO that you don’t know how much your scrap is costing you, or that you have no clue what your payroll costs, or that you can’t tell how much you’re spending on…virtually anything except safety and see how long you still have a job. And WHY is this the case? And why if safety so sacrosanct do we continue to kill and cripple people in the workplace? Because it’s hard to calculate the cost of safety? No, I’ve done it dozens of times. The answer is simple, because if we took a real hard look at how much we spend on safety, and the value derived from those expenditures we might just find we could do it cheaper, faster, and without all the convoluted processes.  In short, we don’t want an answer, just a bigger budget.

So I guess the real difference between a lot of us and that terrier with a rat is that the terrier cares that he caught a rat and can see that his efforts are paying off.  He can prove he did his job well, so I guess we’ll just let him shake that rat a little longer. He’s earned it, and the thought of a dead rat makes me smile and all warm inside.

I am proud to announce that Marriah Publishing has published my second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention.  This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. While homicide accounts for 10% of workplace fatalities this is a problem that can be easily prevented. Victims of domestic violence are disproportionately affected. Of women murdered in the workplace, 48% will be killed by a family member or domestic partner, while only 2% of men are killed this way.  I wrote this book at the request of my publisher, as there are growing numbers of “experts” who are treating random mass shootings (where the goal is usually a high body count) the same as single shooter events in the workplace (which tend to target a specific individual.) The research I did was eye-opening for me as I expect it will be for you too. This is one of the most powerful things I have ever written so I hope you will find it useful.

It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback at Amazon (US and Canada) or Barnes & Nobel (as it stands now B&N is only listing the hardcover but I’m told the paperback will be on sale this Monday.  It’s an important book on a serious topic as seen through my bleary-eyed lens.)

Of course, my first book is still for sale…

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 &

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 (without sponsors or advertising) clearly damned near zero moral support from people who could and do benefit from my notoriety for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy a damned book.


You Know What They Say About People Who Can’t Take A Joke

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Photo by Pixabay on

by Phil La Duke

I’ve taken a lot of flack over the use because I use humor in presentations and training. It appears that there is always someone with an insect in his anus about humor. I’ve heard everything from “well I don’t think safety should be taken lightly” to “if he wanted to be a stand-up comedian he should have performed somewhere else” to “I came to learn, not to laugh”.

Humor is an important part of how we learn, but it can’t just be “infotainment” (term trainers used to use to derisively describe a course that people enjoyed, but that taught them nothing.) And humor is subjective and what you think is funny or light-hearted, might be offensive to someone else, so you need to be careful. That is going to strike some of you as odd because I generally don’t give a rat’s ass if someone takes offense to something I’ve written, not because I am insensitive jerk, but because one takes offense and if I didn’t write or say something deliberately give offense to someone yet he or she still takes it then he needs to feel the hurt and let it go, even if that means seeking therapy where he can talk to a trained professional using dolls to describe exactly how and where I hurt him.

So while there are self-righteous people who routinely take offense to any use of humor as either diminishing the seriousness of a safety course of a safety presentation there are plenty of good reasons for using humor in these situations:

  1. Humor engages the audience. Many people enjoy a good laugh and since humor is rooted in the unexpected it requires the audience to pay more attention to what is being said than at a staid, monotone, presentation read to the audience of ugly and poorly designed PowerPoint slides.
  2. Humor increases retention. Years ago a taught a class in leadership and the next day one of the more senior managers from the class came up to me and told me that he went home and was telling his wife about how funny my class was. He told me that he repeated some of my funnier lines and how his wife looked at him irritated and asked him if he had been to training or to a comedy club. He told me that he quickly defended me and said, that right after I made the joke I made an important point. He was amazed. He told me that he remembered almost word-for-word the point I had made, and then he asked me if that is why I used so much humor in my courses. I told him that yes, indeed it was. Humor activates the part of our brain that controls emotions. We laugh because something surprises, delights, or just plain makes us happy. Recent brain research (there are phenomenal discoveries made about the human brain now that we can see what’s going on through MRI’s and brain scans that were impossible when most of what has been accepted in psychology for 200 years was based merely on people telling researchers what they were feeling) has shown that we make decisions and retain more information using when we activate the part of the brain that controls our emotions. So even if you HATE my humor you are still learning more than from someone who does a hardcore data dump on you. So hate away, you humorless howler monkeys who write scathing hateful reviews, you still learned something and you have me and my humor to thank for it. You’re welcome, don’t come back.
  3. Humor Energizes an Audience. The average person has an attention span of about 2 minutes and that is shrinking (many attribute this to smart devices and reading from a screen, but the science on this is sketchy and frankly we have enough sketchy “science” in this profession and I don’t want to promulgate any more of it.) Let me explain. The human mind works a lot like a computer, in that it gathers information for about 30 seconds and then processes it for about 90 seconds; it completes this cycle over and over again and it is easiest to get distracted in between cycles. Even using the most intense concentration a person cannot maintain focus after approximately (give or take 3 minutes) 10 minutes. Minds begin to wander and people can actually suffer from attention fatigue. That’s why a good training course varies the delivery method every 10 minutes, but let’s face it good safety training is often an oxymoron. Humor allows the presenter to interject information that alleviates stress and concentration fatigue, again except for the people who hate humor because they were molested by a clown at an early age (or whatever their deal is, I honestly don’t care).
  4. Humor increase resilience. Early horror filmmakers realized quite quickly that a horror movie that doesn’t release the tension causes the audience to reject the premise and either check out or laugh inappropriately. Their answer? Build suspense and tension and then relieve it with a bit of humor. Resilience is a person’s ability to bounce back, not just from tragedy and horror, but to a far lesser extent from attention fatigue. I have been to one hour sessions where fifteen minutes into the session I was praying to die, and others where 55 minutes into the presentation I was astonished at how quickly the time had passed. Which presentation do you think I rated higher? I can tell you that I retained more information in the ones that flew by than the ones that dragged and the difference was usually humor (sometimes unintended).
    Think about Remembering Charlie. For the record, in my opinion, Charlie Morecraft is a) a hell of a nice guy, b) tells a compelling story, and c) has helped a lot of people. For those of you unfamiliar with Remembering Charlie, it’s a speech/video made by Charlie Morecraft that recounts in excruciating detail the story of Charlie, eager to join his family on a long weekend, took one too many shortcuts and broke one too many rules. I know the story better than most because I edited some 2 hours of footage into a 15-minute video for a company who paid him to speak and to create a videotape of his story. Even Charlie himself agreed that the tape captured the essence and key points of his presentation, and it’s powerful stuff. It’s not uncommon for people in the audience to wipe tears from their eyes.We used the tape during many awareness sessions and after one such session, I was approached by an audience member who asked me, with surprising derision in his voice, “what am I supposed to learn from that? This idiot violates all kinds of rules and gets burnt up! And now he goes around making millions of dollars talking about his (screw) up—as you might imagine he didn’t use the word “screw”—I follow the rules and don’t take shortcuts; that isn’t going to happen to me.” I assured him that Charlie wasn’t making “millions” of dollars, and he wasn’t an idiot. I told him the point of the video was that Charlie, by his own admission, made some poor choices (many of those choices he had made many times in the past and suffered no consequences) and that Charlie has since devoted much of his life to trying to get others to understand that it only takes a couple of poor choices to have permanent life-altering consequences. But the guy wasn’t having any of it. I realized later that Charlie’s message was just too intense for him to handle. The man in the audience couldn’t bear to imagine himself in that situation and therefore he involuntarily shut off the reality of the message.

    Now for the life of me, I can’t see how Charlie could have introduced humor into his story; it’s truly horrific, but the point remains that if the message is too horrible to imagine it will not be received, and where possible and appropriate the use of humor adds much to a session.

With Humor Comes Danger
As Charlie’s story illustrates, humor isn’t always appropriate (and no matter what The Reader’s Digest would have you believe it is seldom the best medicine). Humor that mocks a tragedy, or that is sexist, racist, or whatever other “ist” you want to put in here, shouldn’t be used, and one should always target themselves rather than someone in the audience because when you have the microphone and the podium you have the power and it’s not right to make fun of people in the audience and rightfully turns the others at the session against you.

So you can do what you want, but I will continue to use my humor in my sessions to drive key points, energize the room, and make things a little bit more fun. If you can’t handle that, stay the hell out of my sessions, and remember no matter how much contempt in which you hold me, how much you detest me (and presumably the horse I rode into town on), and how much bile and bitterness you feel for me, I feel all that and more for you.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my up-coming book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & 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 less reprints and more new material).

The Value Of Nothing


By Phil La Duke

Thanks to all of you who congratulated me for my work anniversary, six whole years at the same company. Hardly impressive, and while my company does its best to show its appreciation to the many talented people working all over the globe even the best of us can feel unappreciated and well…unvalued.  This is not to say that I don’t contribute value to the company, it’s just that—well let’s just say that there are some who don’t like what I write any more than most of you do and wish I would just shut up.  When a media group adds me to a list of their Global Thought Leaders the company isn’t exactly popping champagne corks. 

After working in safety—both on the inside of a company and providing outside services—for 20 years this month I have reached the disheartening conclusion that people place no value for things that they get for free.  My blog posts, which I have posted for free weekly for over 12 years get all sorts of traffic from all over the world. I refuse to do product reviews, accept money (as much as $100 per mention) for product placement, I do this on my own time and I do not accept advertisement (although WordPress will stick one in once in a while—my favorite  was a major BBS supplier whose add was placed (without my knowledge or consent) next to a blog I wrote that lambasted BBS. My free magazine articles (I don’t take money for the articles I write) are extremely popular. And I have spoken all over the world at a public venue one of which had the gall to expect me to pay admission to my own speech!

My book sales are pretty piss poor but that’s the case for all nonfiction books (a lifetime sales of 3,000 books is considered a best seller).  My second book was released January 1st and is all new material exploring workplace safety from single gun shooters, but I will be lucky to give them away.  My publisher keeps giving me pep talks but I’m beginning to feel more an more like just another sucker on the vine. Now granted, I found a publisher, hired a PR Manager, wrote 3 books and published 2 of them all in less than 6 months. I seriously doubt I will release the third one.

Just one of my posts drew over 13,000 views, but of that less than half actually read the article.  Apparently, people just want to be shocked and outraged. Nobody wants to learn, much less be forced to think about things or to have to consider another person’s opinion. We all want our delicate egos bruised, or are egos stroked, or to be made victims because the big bad blogger called us a bad name, or insulted our mentor, or used a vulgarity, or butchered grammar.

Too many of us would rather be victims than protect victims.  

If we focus on eliminating injuries, if we try against impossible odds to eliminate any chance of harm, what then becomes of us.

So for all of you out there looking to take offense, here it comes. I don’t think you give steaming pile of steaming pile of cat diarrhea about safety. I think you like playing the martyr and like to complain to your peers about how little support you get. You like to complain that Operations doesn’t support you, while conveniently forgetting that most of what they learned about safety they learned from you.

That’s all I can stomach of safety this week.  People place no value on the things they get for free and place the highest price for what they get swindled.  I should have been a liar and a thief, there’s more money and integrity in it than working in safety and the hours are better.



Is Safety Compliance Training A Complete Waste Of Time?


U.S. Industry spends a fortune needlessly delivering safety training that fails to engage the learners, provides only the most cursory awareness of the topic, and imparts little in the way of skills. There are exceptions, of course.  A handful of large companies and many international Unions have made a concerted and largely effective effort to meet the requirements imposed by OSHA while ensuring that the training meets very specific needs of the workers. Unfortunately, most employers lack sufficient resources and will to provide professionally designed and developed training that also meets OSHA regulations.  Instead of spending precious resources developing training that is customized to their needs while meeting Federal requirements, these smaller (or less interested) organizations waste their training budgets buying training that is costly, time consuming and boring; the learners don’t like it and employers resent having to provide it.  The situation is a lose-lose proposition except that this kind of training satisfies OSHA regulations that mandate that it be provided.  Many companies find themselves expending precious resources providing safety training for the sole purpose of complying with government regulations that require training.  Most of this training fails to provide the skills it intends to impart, exacts a considerable opportunity cost, and does little to protect workers. By making small changes to how safety training is designed and delivered, however, organizations can comply with Federal safety regulations and significantly increase the instructional integrity and effectiveness of the safety training courses it provides to workers.

And what’s more all parties seem to like things precisely as they are.  There is little in the national debate in the way of a call to change the system. Most people seem to be content with a system that promulgates the existing checklist mentality instead of a system where employers are required to do only that training which directly links to a safer work environment where the risk to workers is significantly reduced. While scarce little resource exists, veteran safety professionals can attest to the woefully inadequate safety training that exists in many organizations throughout the United States.

A Brief History of OSHA Requirements for Safety Training

While the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 itself does not directly specify that employers provide health and safety training it does so indirectly since section 5(a)(2) requires that employers “ . . . shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.”  Over the years OSHA has prescribed more than one hundred specific training requirements and while it has developed training guidelines for employers, the development of safety training has largely been relegated to subject matter experts and entrepreneurs (chiefly those with a safety expertise instead of a training background).  Companies are reluctant to develop training that might go beyond mere compliance for fear that if in trusting the task to an instructional designer the resultant courses could cause an organization to expend resources developing a course that, while instructionally sound, might not meet the criteria required by OSHA.  Simply stated, many employers make the pragmatic decision to use a course that meets the letter of the OSHA standard over a superior course that meets the specific skills requirements.


If safety training is poorly designed and developed the blame lies not with OSHA. According to OSHA, its training guidelines were designed to assist employers in seven areas: determining whether worksite issues can be resolved by training; determining what training, if any, is needed; identifying goals and objectives for the training; designing learning activities; conducting training; determining the effectiveness of the training; and revising the training program based on feedback from employees, supervisors, and others. In short, OSHA’s guidelines aren’t significantly different from the ADDIE model.  Developed in 1975 the ADDIE model was commissioned by the U.S. Army who contracted the Center for Educational Technology at Florida State University (FSU) in response to a growing disparity between the complexity and sophistication of defense equipment and the diminished educational background of newly recruited service personnel.

The solution proposed by FSU was to create a ‘systems approach’ to training. The five-phase process prescribes a strict, step-by-step approach wherein training is developed by completing an Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  The primary purposes of the Analysis stage aligns closely to OSHA’s first stated purpose of determining whether worksite issues can be resolved by training and if so, what training, if any, is needed. Similarly, the second phase of ADDIE, Design, maps to OSHA’s  goal of helping employers in identifying goals and objectives for the training and designing learning activities. And while ADDIE’s Development phase doesn’t have a counterpart in the OSHA guidelines it his highly unlikely that this incongruence could account for the weakness in today’s safety training.

While the guidelines were intended to “encourage cooperative, voluntary safety and health activities among OSHA, the business community, and workers” the end result was a glut of companies that do a poor job of safety training, the participants rarely retain or apply the things they learn, and except for complying with government regulations little is accomplished. Safety training is required to protect workers so why should organizations have to fight with people to get them to complete the training?

How Do We Know the Training Is Ineffective?

Most of the data that supports the contention that much of the OSHA compliance safety training is ineffective is anecdotal; gathered from my personal experience (over 25 years of providing safety training in a diverse range of manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, construction, and aerospace environments) and from the conclusions of many other professionals with a hands-on awareness of safety training as delivered in industry today.  Anyone who doubts the assertion that safety training is ineffective need only review the course evaluations.  Some of common reasons given for resisting safety training include: the training is boring, the topics presented are just “common-sense” or don’t pertain to learners, and learner only attends the training because he or she was forced to attend – not because they are expected to learn anything useful.

Chief Complaints Of Safety Training

      OSHA required training is unpopular on all fronts.  Organizations view OSHA training as needlessly costly, over-protective, expensive, and unnecessary.  Training professionals view safety training as untouchable—developing custom training may result in training that is high quality but does not meet the OSHA standards.  Employees view the commercially purchased one-size-fits-all safety training as a boring, irrelevant waste of time. The chief problem associated with poor safety training is that a relatively small group of providers have created courses that appeal to the widest customer set.  So while it is true that there is some training tailored to fit a specific audience most is general training aimed at the lowest common denominator.

Safety Training Is Boring

A chief complaint regarding safety training is that it is boring. A large amount of safety training fails to keep the learners engaged in the topics presented. And to make matters worse, a generation of safety trainers has grown up believing that the topics in OSHA-required training are intrinsically boring.  OSHA bears indirect responsibility for the bromidic tone prevalent in safety training.   Employers have been taught by OSHA that they must provide training, but employers never got the message that the training had to be meaningful.  Organizations feel coerced by OSHA into delivering mediocre training with little to no relevance to the specific safety issues that are most likely to injure workers. The belief that training designed to protect an individual from life ending or debilitating injury is somehow boring by default is incredible, and yet millions of workers assume that safety training will automatically put them to sleep.

There are three issues associated with boring safety training: course design, facilitation, and evaluation. Courses are poorly designed because the primary intent of the course is typically nothing more than to meet the OSHA requirements.  Facilitation is often sub par because it is entrusted to subject matter experts instead of professional trainers. If the training is evaluated, this evaluation of the training is typically useless: if OSHA evaluates it at all, it limits its evaluation to a determination as to whether or not the training met the OSHA requirements and not whether or not the training was effective.

Designing Better Safety Training Courses

The best way to make safety more interesting is to develop a good course design, and a good course design beings with good course objectives.  In this regard, OSHA has made it easy for course designers.  In non-safety training it is rare that a course designer is given clear and specific outcomes required, but OSHA clearly defines the criteria for the training to meet the standard.  Unfortunately, OSHA falls short of developing the objectives for the required courses, and instead allows employers significant latitude with their treatment of the required course content. The result tends to be training that is very rudimentary and that focuses on awareness-level learning instead of skills application.

A primary contributor to the issue of over educating at the awareness level is that much of the safety training is developed by Subject Matter Experts in Safety (SMEs) who have little experience in developing training. SMEs often have difficulty separating the “need to know” from the “nice to know” and many SMEs are convinced that a skill can only be acquired once an individual fully grasps the scientific principles behind the skills and has a complete understanding of the topic presented.  These courses bog down in technical minutia that does nothing to increase the proficiency with which the participants will apply the skills being taught. Some may argue that there is no harm in providing extra information, but this is a specious argument.  Sometimes courses contain so much minutia and trivia that the focus on the skills required are lost.

It is unfortunate that OSHA inspectors do not evaluate course objectives. Certainly good course objectives can be a checklist of the topics that the course must cover but they can also identify the criteria for success. The best objectives describe measurable and observable behaviors that could easily be audited by OSHA.  Regrettably, while it is fairly easy for OSHA inspectors to measure what someone can and cannot do, it is nearly impossible to tell what someone knows unless there’s an accompanying observable behavior.

In broad strokes, courses that impart knowledge are “education” and those that teach a skill are “training”; this is a important distinction. Every good instructional objective will have three elements:

1. Identification of the skill expressed using action verbs

2. Criteria for success

3. Measurement parameters

The identification of a skill using action verbs may seem fairly obvious, but when one attempts write an objective that clearly identifies the skills one wants to impart, it can be extremely difficult and frustrating especially for subject matter experts, who while very skilled in safety may lack the most cursory instructional design skills.

Action verbs denote a person doing something, which is important when one is attempting to provide skills training relative to safety because when an organization trains a worker, it generally expects them to DO something. When one writes an objective it is crucial that one uses an action verb to describe what the participants will be able to do.

Establishing a criteria for success also SEEMS easy, but can be even more difficult than describing the skill, but once one has determined the actions the workers will be able to perform one needs to identify how good is “good enough”. This is where OSHA could be a key partner with industry but to date has done little to guide the developers of safety training.  Take Material Safety Data Sheet training, for example.  OSHA could easily identify specific criteria for success that would guide both course developers and government inspectors alike. Knowledge of a hazard without applicable skills for safely interacting with the hazard is useless.  As OSHA develops criteria for the successful achievement of safety training objectives it should resist the temptation of being overly stringent in its expectations. Perfectionists will demand 100% accuracy and that is laudable, but it also sets up an unrealistic expectation and the likelihood that an organization will end up retraining a considerable portion of the population who will never pass with 100% accuracy.   A far more reasonable approach is to allow for provisional completions, i.e. the learner is credited with completing the course provided he or she is able to perform a task with 100% accuracy, OR is able to perform it with 75% task followed by one-on-one coaching.

Facilitation of Safety Training

A lack of professional course design is certainly a problem, but non-engaging content is only part of the problem. In the earnest desire to comply, far too many safety courses focus only on the content and ignore delivery.  Subject Matter Experts turned safety instructors drone on and on, oblivious to a room full of participants who have completely checked-out mentally. A good safety course should keep the learners engaged by employing some simple instructional methods.  OSHA can support this by issuing criteria for certifying instructors.

An unskilled instructor typically struggles to hold the participants’ attention.  Estimates of the attention span of an average adult American range between 10 and 15 minutes.   That may seem hard to believe until one considers the way the brain works.  The human brain takes in information for about 30 seconds and then spends about a minute and a half processing the information. This cycle continues until the brain feels the stress of concentration and moves on to a new subject. These times are purely to demonstrate the dynamic, and reader should recognize that the veracity of the exact timing is purely illustrative and should not considered scientific fact. Irrespective of the exact timing of this processing, if an instructor presents too much information at an individual too quickly, the brain simply can’t keep up and shuts down.  Conversely, if the brain receives information too slowly, the mind tends to wander and seek out other input to process; a phenomenon is commonly called daydreaming.

There are ways with which an instructor can hold people’s attention longer.  First, the instructor should vary the delivery methods.  Many safety instructors have one delivery method: lecture.  Lecture is very useful and widely used in traditional education and it certainly has a place in safety training, but it shouldn’t be the only method an instructor uses. Lectures are popular among safety instructors because people tend to model the methods most familiar to them, and since most safety instructors sat through numerous lectures in college, they gravitate to this delivery method. There is an opportunity here for OSHA to develop guidelines for developing courses that will meet its standards and for shifting its policy away from a more broad-based and flexible approach to its training to a more clear and prescriptive approach.

A ten minute lecture that introduces defines and explains a topic is an excellent way to provide the participants with a lot of information quickly, but then a good instructor should use another delivery method to illustrate the point.   Many instructors like to use question-and-answer (Socratic method) or a group discussion to illustrate the skills they are trying to teach, but others might also consider a case study, a video, or a simulation exercise to illustrate a key point.

Case studies and simulation exercises are best used during the demonstration and practice steps of the instructional process.  A case study is typically an in-depth examination of one specific situation that is representative of the circumstances under which the learners will apply the skill.  A good case study should have a dilemma that the learner is asked to solve.  When one writes a case study, one must ensure one provides enough information so the learners can draw correct conclusions but not so much information that the learners will find the solution to the problem obvious.

Writing a good case study is similar to writing anything worth reading—it must keep the reader interested and engaged—except that case studies differ from written descriptions in that case studies are designed to teach a lesson of some sort.  But a well-written case study is only part of what makes the tool valuable.  In the case of OSHA required safety training, a case study could get at the heart of why the particular training is required to begin with. Facilitating a case study is at least as important as how well the case study is written.  While case studies can be used as part of individual or group work, a highly effective technique involves dividing the class into small groups and having the participants engage in discussion.  When facilitating a case study, the facilitator should have the participants in each group read the case and discuss the questions that are either included in the handouts or posted in the room. (Posting the questions obviates the need to have the facilitator keep repeating the questions to throughout the exercise.) Once each group has discussed the questions and arrived at a consensus the facilitator should ask a group spokesperson to share the group’s responses with the entire class. The discussion of the case study in the entire group will allow the facilitator to gage the learners understanding of the points most germane to the case study.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Safety Training

When it comes to evaluation there is no substitute for a good experiential exercise (or simulation).  An experiential exercise/simulation is a controlled environment where the learner can perform the skills without exposing themselves to real-life dangers associated with performing the skills under actual working conditions; this is key in safety training.  An excellent example of the effectiveness of simulations is the training conducted in a nuclear power.  One can imagine how important safety is when working around potentially radioactive materials, and can probably understand how much safety training the average nuclear facility requires its workers to compete.  A course on the proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) associated with entering a radioactive area would pose a particular problem.  Obviously the instructor can’t take the learners into an actual radioactive area for training because the consequences for incorrect performance would be dire.  The situation is complicated because typically such training is conducted with over 25 participants, and there are seldom more than only two or three sets of PPE available for training. (These suits are expensive and typically only issued to people who will work in an environment requiring them even though training is required for everyone.) Despite these challenges the instructor can train workers in the procedure for putting on the gear and taking it off by using a simple simulation.  The instructor need only designate an area of an adjacent room (using masking tape to mark the boundaries of the area) as “radioactive”, the facilitator then instructs the group to (in pairs) demonstrate the proper procedure for putting on our imaginary gear, and then removing the gear.  The procedure for doing so is painfully specific, with each piece of gear requiring that it donned in a specific order.  If a participant erred while removing the gear the facilitator observes, “congratulations, you are radioactive” and ask offending participant to go to the end of the line.  This, and similar situations can be fun, but more importantly, the learners retain important skills that may one day save their lives.  This fictitious exercise can be more than just engaging; it can be meaningful and effective.

Safety Training Is Indiscriminate 

Far too often a population is provided safety training that it doesn’t need or is provided a level of training that is deeper in scope than would ever be required to protect the worker—even in the most extreme cases. Workers, who might only require a warning, are instead required to complete training that provides higher level skills that they will never use. And because a key requirement of adult learning is relevance, this safety training “over kill” produces a sense of triviality among the learners. Since there is such poor delineation in the OSHA requirements between the needs of a few key positions and the general populace training tends to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, i.e. organizations provide training to too broad an audience rather risk violation of a requirement.

Determining the Appropriate Audience for Training

A key to providing safety training at the right level of detail lies in the use the words “do” and “know”. The difference between “doing” and “knowing” is substantial, profound and lies at the heart of the difficulties associated with poor safety training. In 1956 a committee of educators led by Benjamin Bloom classified the levels of learning arranged in hierarchical order. This work, which came to be known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, identifies the level of skills mastery with which a learner should acquire to achieve the course goals. Bloom, and subsequent researchers identified three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.  Skills associated with the cognitive domain focus on knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking. Safety training tends to focus on training on the lowest levels of the cognitive domain, but such focus is inappropriate for protecting workers.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom et al identified six levels in the taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  Unfortunately, most safety training stops at the first two levels, and in some cases focus only on the knowledge. Ostensibly, this focus seems to make sense, after all, we can’t expect workers to follow safety rules if they don’t know the rules exist or don’t understand how the rules apply to them.  But there is a chasm between knowing and understanding the rules and following these rules.

Most safety training falls short of addressing skills at the application level and this is a serious shortfall.  Safety training needs to impart skills that can be transferred across varied and diverse.  The workplace is dynamic and hazards can crop up unexpectedly and unpredictably and good safety training should prepare workers to deal with new hazards.

OSHA-required training seldom addresses skills at the analysis level and in so doing, ignores some of the most crucial skills for protecting workers.  Analysis-level training helps the learner to divide content into its basic elements and to organize ideas.  At this level, the prime objective of training is to give the learners skills necessary to problem solve. Because the learner is able to extrapolate new skills from the application of existing skills the learner is better prepared for assessing risk, troubleshooting, diagnosing process flaws and, in general, thinking proactively about ways to make the workplace safer.  The lack of requirements for analysis-level safety training underpins the criticisms leveled at OSHA-required training.  Such criticisms are unfair and misguided; it is not incumbent on OSHA to compel employers to do what companies should intuitively understand as being in their own interests.

The next level of training on Bloom’s taxonomy is Synthesis.  Synthesis-level training builds skills relative to combing varied sources to create a true innovation. While analysis builds skills that help workers to discover hazards and have a deeper understanding of the causes of worker injuries, synthesis-level training help workers to craft new and innovative solutions that can make the entire workplace safer.  Synthesis-level training will tend to blur the lines between traditional safety training and job-specific training. Because this training is more deeply imbedded into the curriculum than the training at lower levels, it is unreasonable to expect OSHA to require training this extensive, but clearly, imbedding synthesis-level skills into all its training.

The highest level of training in Bloom’s Taxonomy is Evaluation.  Safety training designed to impart evaluation-level skills is intended to help worker to make sound judgments relative to the efficacy and value of ideas or materials. Evaluation-level training is paramount to transforming a corporate culture from one where safety is seen as an obligation to one where safety is seen as process improvement.

A Lack Of Relevancy

Adults need to be able to directly relate a topic in a training course to a real-life need. Respected researcher and author on the topic of andragogy, Malcolm Knowles offered some fundamental differences between how adults and how children learn.  According to Knowles, a key means for motivating adults to learn is to demonstrate the relevancy of the topics to a skill that the adult learner perceives as useful.  Safety training often lacks this essential element, and topics seen as irrelevant are not likely to be retained.  While the OSHA requirements encourage employers to provide training that addresses the specific needs it doesn’t mandate that the training be relevant to the job requirements.

Even training that is relevant in the broadest sense—e.g. training in the safe response to a natural disaster—may not seem as important as other training owing to the remote chance that such skills will ever be required. There are two dynamics at play in this scenario: all safety hazards do not carry the same perceived weight, and the commitment to the training by the learner directly correlates to the perceived relevance to the learner’s need.

The argument that safety training does not apply to the hazards generally faced by the adult learners is a fairly specious one.  The problem is typically not in the applicability of content but in the course or course facilitation, but in a flaw in the design where the course fails to connect the topic to a meaningful What’s In It For Me: (WIIFM).  Unless the course facilitator can make a compelling argument for the usefulness of the course content the adult learner is likely to mentally check out and retain little to no course content.

Compliance At The Expense Of Safety Skills

A lot of safety training is seen as a necessary evil by the organization and major inconvenience by the individual.  It is impossible to provide training to people that honestly and ardently believe that they aren’t attending the training, they are being subjected to it. Yet organizations have to do safety training to comply with the law. There isn’t a choice; organizations have to present safety training and people have to attend it.  While compliance is certainly an important part of why organizations do training, it MUST be secondary to protecting workers. There can never be a trade off between imparting skills necessary for workers to be safe and complying with regulations.  An organization should never tell an adult that the reason they are in safety training is because the law says they have to be—that may well be an accurate statement, but it sets a tone where the participants are being treated as convicts or children. The current OSHA structure for the oversight of safety training perpetuates and reinforces “compliance over quality” thinking. Consider, Hazard Communication training;  Haz Com used to be, for many, the symbol of pointless compliance training.  Workers believe that organizations conducted the training annually, not because it was necessary or valuable, but exclusively because the law required it and if the organization failed to comply it risked a big fine. How likely is it that adults will be receptive when they feel that they were dragged into the class against their will?  But if a facilitator were to focus on the skills the organization wanted the participants to learn, instead of the compliance box it was going to check the organization could make some significant and important improvements to the course.

Link Safety Training to the Intent of the Regulation not to Compliance

As organizations seek to improve their safety training, it should begin by asking why OSHA required the course. The identification of what OSHA expects people will do differently after having attended the training will help organizations to retool the course to meet the goal of warning people about dangers in the workplace while informing them of their rights under the law instead of merely checking the compliance box.  This is more than an issue of deepening the learner’s appreciation of the relevancy of a safety course; the failure of the organization to provide safety training that is relevant and that identifies the WIIFM encourages organizations to falsify training records.  Far too many organizations circulate a document and have workers sign a bogus sign-in sheet instead of providing an actual training course.

Policy Implications

OSHA has done an outstanding job in creating a climate where employers understand that they must comply or they will be fined or will face other legal consequences.  While considerable effort is spent ensuring that companies present the required training, little is done in the way of evaluating the quality or effectiveness of this training.

Shift the Focus Away from Compliance

While it is unrealistic to expect that OSHA will begin to evaluate the quality of individual training courses, it can shift away from the binary “complete or incomplete” view of worker safety in favor of an audit system that identifies the vital behaviors and critical indicators that demonstrate a movement toward a culture of safety. The quality of safety training would rapidly increase if OSHA would increase exponentially if it would shift the focus of its compliance audits away from attendance and documentation of training course and toward the analysis of the quality the training delivered. Such an audit process is not impossible, in fact, it is not even unprecedented; currently there is no expectation for OSHA auditors to qualify the efficacy of the training offered or presented, but auditing of this nature is neither unprecedented nor unduly difficult.  The German quality management system, Verband der Automobilindustrie (VDA), has specific requirements that include ways for evaluating the effectiveness of training.

Stewarding OSHA Resources

The policy implications of OSHA audits that measure the efficacy of corporate learning will be significant.  OSHA lacks the resources to field auditors who will routinely judge the quality of safety training.  To obviate this dilemma, OSHA need only shift the burden of proof of quality of safety training from the government to employers.  The International Standards Organization (ISO) and similar organizations have required companies to earn and maintain third party certification for years.  In these scenarios, companies require their suppliers to maintain the certification as a condition of doing business with the companies. The supplier company is required to comply with strict criteria to earn and maintain the certification.  To earn the certification the supplier must first conduct several self-audits followed by a number of third-party audits.  Once the supplier is certified, it must renew its certification at regular intervals.  OSHA would be well served with this model.  In this model, OSHA would need only to require companies of a certain profile to earn and maintain an independent certification.

Better Align OSHA Requirements with Modern Educational Technology

While OSHA encourages employers to evaluate courses and improve them based on input from the learner OSHA stops short of requiring that courses be good, effective, or relevant to the work performed. This not to say that there is no effective safety training but even organizations with the best safety training often are forced to choose between safety training that makes sense and safety training that complies with OSHA requirements.  Consider the requirements associated with eLearning.  Only a handful of eLearning providers are OSHA accepted (OSHA does not endorse these courses and forbids the providers from using words like “approved” or its synonyms) without a proctor.  Imagine the onus this places on Oil & Gas Exploration, construction, or other operations.  This leaves these organizations little in way of options—either they can purchase one of these vendors or they can pay a person to watch another complete an eLearning module, which all eliminates any benefit derived from delivering the training via a distance learning modality.  An audit process that focuses on performance indicators will make it easier and less resource-intensive while encouraging organizations to use safety indicators to drive strategic efficiency goals.  In addition to requiring fewer resources to assess the efficacy of an organization’s safety efforts, this approach lessens the adversarial relationship between OSHA and industry.

Identify Performance Indicators for the Effectiveness Safety Training

OSHA regulations should be modified to include that organizations provide evidence of the identification of performance indicators for safety.  OSHA should be careful not to overstep its boundaries by specifying the precise performance indicators, because differences in industry could make very specific prescriptions inappropriate, but it should provide examples. For example, a prime indicator as to the effectiveness of safety training is whether the course developer followed a basic course design. This indicator can be used to infer better facilitation; Simple Train-the-Trainer workshops based on a simplified (from ADDIE) course development model greatly improve the quality of facilitation by subject matter experts who were pressed into doing training.  OSHA would be well served to evaluate the course design process by comparing it to the following model:

  1. Introduce the topic. Adults need to understand why they should learn the skill, and believe that learning the skill has something meaningful and valuable in it for them.
  2. Define the skill. An effective course design will specifically define the skill and identify the scope i.e. identify exactly what the skill is, and—where appropriate—is not.
  3. Explain the skill. Once a course designer has defined the skill, it requires that the facilitator explain the context in which the person will use the skill, and provide the participants with criteria so they can judge whether or not they are correctly applying the skill.  Far too often skills are defined in such vague terms that the participants what they are expected to learn.
  4. Illustrate the skill.  Using examples, visual aids, or other means, the course should illustrate what the skill looks like when being properly applied.
  5. Demonstrate the skill. Demonstrating a skill is crucial, both in building a skill and maintaining course credibility. Demonstrating a skill allows the participant to see how the skill is correctly performed and can ask questions to clarify things that they may not understand.  
  6. Allow people to practice the skill.  Once people have seen the skill they are ready to try it themselves.  While they practice the skill the instructor should be providing guidance and coaching so that people are able to refine the newly acquired skill in the safety of a supervised situation.
  7. Evaluate the skill.  If the designer wrote a good objective, evaluating the participant’s progress should be very easy; all the auditor need do is to compare the participant’s demonstration of the skill with the criteria for success.

By assessing the evidence presented by an organization that clearly proves that it has followed these seven steps for each of required topics the auditor should be able to be confident that the organization has built the skills that are required under OSHA mandates.

Include Standards for On-the-Job-Training (OJT)

OSHA should broaden its scope beyond traditional safety courses and include standards for On-the-Job-Training (OJT) and other core skills training. This can only be practical if OSHA also implements the third-party audit approach recommended above. The most important Safety training is quality training in the skills required for the worker to do his or her job.  Most workplace injuries are not currently caused because of a lack of safety training rather, a substantial number of injuries are caused by a lack of competency in the worker’s core skills caused a lack of effective training. The use of key indicators associated with quality course development and evaluation of training can greatly improve the quality of the basic job skills training and OJT.

End “One-Size-Fits-All” Safety Training Regulations

Another critical shift that OSHA should make is to move away from the “one-size-fits-all” approach to safety training requirements.  While OSHA does make allowances for very small organizations, it should consider creating more industry specific safety training.

Again, OSHA should shift the onus of the responsibility for defining industry-specific requirements to third-party industry organizations.  Industry organizations are more likely to understand the specific dangers of their industries and can make recommendations to OSHA.  The Unions that represent the workers of these industries should be engaged as key stakeholders before any recommendations are crafted.  The addition of Unions will create added checks and balances to ensure that an industry does not craft recommendations that are too lenient or favorable to an industry while putting workers at risk.

Create Safety Incentives and Rewards

Because the third-party audit process would substantially reduce the demands on OSHA’s  already limited and increasingly taxed resources, OSHA would be better able to offer more rewards for training innovations.  By offering incentives for businesses to proactively attack safety issues, OSHA puts itself in the enviable role of a resource to business instead of a policing agency.


That most OSHA Safety Training is a waste of time for many organizations is perhaps the worst kept secret in U.S. industry. But effective safety training plays a pivotal role in improving the safety of the workplace and protecting workers.   An effective safety process is built on a foundation of well designed and delivered safety training.  A safer workplace is more than about protecting workers,  creating a workplace that does not injure workers improves productivity, makes organizations more competitive and reduces waste.  It is time for OSHA to a partner with U.S. businesses to enhance and protect our strategic manufacturing base.  The first step to forging this partnership is to dramatically improve the skill-set of the American worker, and to do this OSHA must approach how it audits safety much more differently than it does today.

#compliance, #osha, #safety, #training

80% of Safety Practitioners Are Idiots


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 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 & 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.

Is Zero Harm a SMART Goal?


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 & 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.

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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.

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