by Phil La Duke
Author: I Know My Shoes Are Untied! Mind Your Own Business. An Iconoclast’s View of Workers’ Safety.
Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention
Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands
Contributor: 1% Safer,
In the world of Safety, but in other fields I would suppose, we get asked to do a lot that is not even remotely within our wheelhouse of skills. We cheerfully accept whether to curry favor with our superiors, a desire to keep the peace, out of fear that if we admit that we don’t have the requisite skills to do the job we may find ourselves unceremoniously dismissed from our employment.
Think about it, once upon a time there was a Safety function. It wasn’t really a department; its budget was set by legal or Human Resources. It was more of a mascot than any sort of functioning activity. The first people to staff the function were either injured on the job and had limitations so companies figured that it was logical to have the guy who got hurt talk to other people about how not to get hurt. In other cases, the buffoons were given jobs in safety as political spoils—by both the Union and management. I remember one less than bright general manager getting his half-witted brother, a failed hairdresser, a job as the plant safety manager. I wouldn’t have taken this boob’s advice on safety if he told me not to run with scissors; he had the credibility of a magic eight ball without the charisma. I had no idea who my Union Safety Rep was, which speaks volumes.
Over the years the Unions championed safety and instituted training programs in safety regulations and compliance for the Safety Reps, and I’ve met a lot of good ones. But some 40 years after OSHA became law, there still isn’t a universal standard for what specifically qualifies one to be a safety practitioner.
So here is the situation as of today: we have a dismally defined function that is asked to do more with less—fewer resources, fewer skills, less experience, less training, and less knowledge. Somehow the Safety function became the organizational equivalent of a serial killer’s dumping ground. The engineers don’t (or more likely won’t) do Hazard Risk Analysis? No problem wrap it in a blanket and dump it in the shallow grave that is the Safety office. The accountant is whining about injury paperwork or case management? Dump it on safety. Before long safety was doing everything from trending injury costs to planning the company picnic. (You want a truly sick, out-of-control party, let Safety plan it.)
And then one day some genius decided to add “health” to the responsibilities of the already confused and adrift safety workforce. Just as the Wizard granted the brainless Scarecrow a degree, someone decided that worker safety and worker health were the same things, or at very least required the same skill set. And the world of Safety embraced it! More work to complain about! More reasons that we aren’t getting our work done. But the organizational brain trusts didn’t stop there, no, why, the organization reasoned couldn’t Safety be given Environmental Compliance? I mean, they are protecting workers from getting hurt, or sick, why not have them protect the environment, and while we’re at it, let’s lay off some of those lazy Safety staff members because let’s face it, they never look all that busy.
Then security was put under the Safety banner (not everywhere—no sense in giving those power-drunk safety managers any ACTUAL power.) And now employee wellness is rapidly being added to the Safety functions already overburdened sphere of responsibility.
As organizations, we give a function too much to do and blame them for not getting it done. We give them responsibility for something they cannot be expected to know how to do and then we call them incompetent.
This is not an excuse to whine. Too many people working in safety are too afraid or too proud to push back and say, “No, there are people who go to college and get masters degrees in employee wellness” or “I checked my resumé and it turns out I am neither a doctor nor a nurse—I know, I’m as surprised as you are.
Years ago I worked for a coked-out executive who would call me into his office about once a week with some delusional fantasy of a project that he wanted me to do. I would calmly draw a circle on a piece of paper and say, “this is my plate. On it you will find all the things that you and others have asked me to do”. I would draw lines through the circle and tell him what the portion of the plate represented. When I finished and the plate was overflowing I would look at him and ask which of these things he wanted me to remove from my plate so that I could accommodate his request. Invariably he would tell me to continue with my current work and he would find some sucker to execute his hair-brained scheme.
Safety practitioners need to stay in their lanes, that is, tell your boss what, given your skill set and workload you can reasonably be expected to complete. I have become an expert in many things—it comes from hours and hours of researching topics for books and articles—but above all, I am the king shit expert of deflecting work. I’m not lazy, but I have learned that a secret to success is to stay in my lane and to avoid things that I know with absolute surety that I will screw up, become overwhelmed, or take way too long to finish.
Today people working in safety purport to be experts in behavioral psychologists because they read a book by some BBS self-help cultist who couldn’t help himself at a buffet but was somehow able to convince them the mere act of reading the book they were somehow qualified to implement a largely unproven, theoretical, large-scale safety initiative that will look great on paper—lower reported injuries—but won’t lower the number of incidents that are impossible to conceal. The proponents of these incredibly irresponsible programs are puzzled as to why the number of non-life-threatening injuries is going down but the number of life-changing injuries and fatalities is either static or increasing. Their dubious conclusion? There must be different causes for these types of injuries! They will cling to junk science because they understand it and their bosses like it, plus you can have a safety BINGO! Dullards all of them.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, now we add the unqualified trying to change the cultures of organizations, despite not having a clue that there is no such thing as a “safety culture” rather it is a subculture. They speak to each other at conferences about “swiss cheese models” and “predictive analytics” with only the most superficial understanding of the underlying theory and no concept how to begin to even apply these theories in practice.
The safety field has become a function filled with jackasses of all trades and masters of none. We need to create safety specialists and deconstruct the safety generalist. There is no shame in not knowing everything. Far more educated occupations—doctors, lawyers, teachers, garbage collectors, and panhandlers just to mention a few—have long embraced specialization, so it is the height of hubris that safety folks refuse to do so.
Decades ago if you worked with electricity you were an electrician. Today the duties of an electrician have been splintered off into more than two dozen professions that I can think of off the top of my head. Instead of becoming the organizational equivalent of stone soup, Safety should take its cue from electricians. A boiler can only contain so much pressure before it explodes.
I have been writing this blog since 2006 and have been very resistant to accepting advertising revenue for it. Some of you may think that I’m stupid for doing so, but I just don’t think I can remain impartial on the topics I address if I am receiving revenue from advertisers that are selling something with which I am philosophically or fundamentally against.
It gets to be a drag writing post after post week after week especially for no compensation—people tend to see things that they get for free as having no value. So if you enjoy this blog I hope you will consider buying one or more of my books. I don’t make much on these books (the perils of being actually published versus self-published) but I gauge my relevance (rightly or wrongly) based on my book sales. If you have already purchased one or more of my books, thank you. You have my heartfelt gratitude and what you hopefully see as at least a book that was worth the purchase price. But even you can help me if you are so inclined by writing a review of my book (even if you hated it) on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or even in a LinkedIn post and no, I won’t hold it against you if you just continue to read the blog and occasionally find the opportunity to think about what I’ve written,
WARNING: What follows may just teach you something but you won’t get any CEUs for it, you’ll just be better educated and informed but seriously who wants or needs that?
Some time ago, I read an article in the Metro Times (a Detroit Weekly) about a Facebook group essentially dedicated to encouraging attacks on women, Democrats, Muslims, and LGBTQ persons. There were hundreds of specific threats of violence. You don’t have to buy my book, but I wish you would. But if you want to help follow this link. Search LinkedIn to find out where these people work and encourage their employers to fire them. This isn’t a political statement, I would react the same way if people were saying that White Heterosexual Christian Men were the targets. Purveyors of hate need to feel real-world consequences. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good to do nothing.
Violent acts begin with violent thoughts that turn into violent posts on social media. How long are you going to continue to throw your hands up and say, “what can I do?” My second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. answers this question. This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. In light of all the talk and panic around gun violence, and the shamefully bad advice some “experts” are giving I hope some of you will read it and pass it along to your executives and HR leads (go ahead, expense it, they will be glad you did.)
Before you dismiss this as yet another shameless plug for my book I want you to ask yourself these questions:
What if anything is my employer doing to reduce its risk of a workplace attack?
Do the people who are doing the hiring at my workplace know the warning signs of a workplace attack?
What can I do to prevent workplace violence?
If you don’t have the answer to any of these questions, use your Amazon gift card to buy the book. It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble
I should warn you, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights. The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence. But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is peppered with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.) You should buy it.