Are you superstitious? I don’t consider myself superstitious but I am fascinated by the phenomena, particularly why people are superstitious. If you think of it, a lot of superstitions are based on safety tips. Why is it unlucky to walk under a ladder? Because a ladder generally could be a sign that someone is working above you and even if you don’t SEE a person working the danger of a dropped tool or a falling human still might exist, so yeah, I guess I can see why walking under a ladder is—at least potentially—bad luck.
Similarly, the superstition that putting shoes on the table was a harbinger of death reputedly rose from the practice of delivering a worker who was fatally injured on the job’s work boots (by far the most expensive possession of most workers centuries ago) to the widow. When the bearer of bad news would enter the house he would place the boots on the table and tell the widow the terrible outcome. So in a very real way, boots (which overtime became shoes) on the table did indeed foretell at least the news of the death of a loved one.
The list could go on and on; stepping on cracked pavement could be a trip hazard or a sign that a bridge or roof was about to collapse under the weight of the person who steps on a crack. I know that people around the world have different taboos and superstitions, but that’s not really what I am looking to explore. What I am more interested in is why the context was lost.
My guess is that like many of us still do today, the warning was given about what not to do (or what to do) without telling people why it was important not to do that.
Any parent will tell you how irritating a child’s “why? stage” can be and will quickly add that the child will outgrow it. But I don’t think we ever outgrow the “why? Stage” nor should we. As some of you may know, my degree is in Adult Education (I thought it would be dirty—it wasn’t). There are two basic tenets from Adult Learning theory (Andragogy, for the pendandics and nerds among you) that always stuck with me: 1) Adults need to respect the authority of the person giving them advice (“why should I listen to this clown?”) and 2) “What’s In It For Me?”
We tend to ignore these questions when we are teaching safety, or if we don’t ignore them outright we answer these questions in the most facile way. Why should I listen to you? Because I’m the safety guy! I don’t know about you, but I’ve met these asshats and I couldn’t care less that they were anointed the “safety guy”. But if someone were to get up in front of the class and say, “Good Morning, I’m Josh Randal, and I am the safety manager for this facility. I have worked in this industry for 18 years and have done most of the jobs out there. For the last eight years I have been working in safety in one capacity or another. “ I am likely to at least give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I am likely to be predisposed that this guy just might have something to say that is worth listening to. Similarly, if the guy then says, “my job is to keep you alive” and follow up with gorey war stories, I guarantee I am going to tune out. Why? Because I have met enough self-important safety blowhards who treat workers as if they were too stupid to save their own lives. But, on the other hand, if the instructor continued with, “what we are going to cover in today’s session are some less obvious hazards, and our top ten injury causes. My goal isn’t to read you a bunch of rules, rather I hope that I can give you good information that will help you to make informed decisions about the choices you make regarding risk and safety. We can’t cover everything that could harm you, but if we can at least help you to make better decisions based on good information, I will have done my job. None of us here wants to get hurt and the process isn’t designed to hurt anyone, so we have to work as a team to ensure we operate under the lowest possible risk.”
So why should I listen to this guy? Because he has worked at the grass roots level of this operation AND he probably knows a thing or two about real-world safety and not just academic safety. What’s in It For Me? Good information that will help me make informed choices—not just rules that may or may not have anything to do with protecting me, I’m a grown-assed man and I do have a modicum of common sense. I’m like most people. I will follow the rule provided that the rule makes sense and that the rule is in my best interest.
Safety superstitions grow out of two basic origins: 1) a safety guy makes a rule without really understanding why—like the imbecilic rule that one has to hold on to the hand rail while walking up and down the steps. Like all superstitions this SOUNDS reasonable. Except the purpose of a guard rail isn’t to keep people from falling down the steps, it’s to give people something that they can grab to break their fall. But some safety guy was taught at age 5 to hang on to the handrail by his mother and kept that safety gem in his head from that point forward. I’ve worked in healthcare, and people are told NOT to touch the hand rail unless they have lost their balance, and then to sanitize their hands immediately afterwards. In hospitals the risk of spreading deadly diseases is far greater than falling down the stairs. I followed the rule religiously because it was clearly explained to me by a clinician and it made sense. Furthermore, there are some nasty diseases going around hospitals and I didn’t want to catch one.
On the other had, I worked for a time where a dimwitted safety Nazi stood at the bottom of a massive staircase at shift change and would cast a steely gaze at the people on the staircase. Nothing delighted her more than writing up (and often firing) someone for not keeping his or her hands on the stairway. She saw her job—like so many safety people do—as dispensing justice, when truth be told she was just dispensing stupidity and creating superstitions.
Just one final thought on safety superstitions: the best way to change a reasonable safety tip into a superstition is to not draw out the consequences of a bad decision. Why is a bad idea to work at heights without some sort of fall protection? Because as you work you tend to become less and less situationally aware (as you become more and more focused on getting the job done) and so you are gradually increasing the probability of falling, and if you fall without protection the likelihood of your death rises. So protect yourself or don’t protect yourself, but don’t say you weren’t warned of the risks you are taking.
About My New Book
In a couple of weeks my latest book, Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands will be available for purchase. Why should you buy it? Well for starters I have been providing blog posts, articles, advice, and speeches on safety for free since 2006. That’s my choice, but it consumes time and resources I could be using to have a lot more fun. But beyond that, some of you seem to think I am a millionaire because I have three books published; I am not. I am the quintessential fool and his money, which doesn’t help. All of my book revenue funds more books, Even though I am published by an actual publisher, I pay the initial start up costs to get the book from my computer to (hopefully your hands). These costs are not insubstantial—$100 an hour for an editor (which I finally broke down and paid for this book) even more an hour for a graphic artist to clean up the images and put the book into its final size, fees for getting the book an ISBN number, and the physical printing of the book (all told around $4,000) For this initial payment I get a substantially higher % of the royalties, but since I use that to pay my PR Manager $250 an hour to promote the book it’s fair to say that writing books is not a money machine. Oh and advertising, $50 bucks a month for Vertical Response to send out email blasts that less than 10% of you even open, $100 bucks a month for Shutterstock—absolutely overpriced in my opinion, and sundry books sent to book club organizers, libraries, and thieves who promise to either give their leadership of their book club with promises of hundreds of purchases likely to follow, or to people like the leadership of ASSP who read both my books which I sent to them free of charge and hated the tone and lack of scholarly form so much that they didn’t even bother to return the books. Oh and postage is an absolute bitch. So buy my books or don’t buy my books, but don’t think I’m getting rich off them. They are selling well, but I need to sell a lot more to stay ahead of the money pit.
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?
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.