Book Signing In A Detroit Institution

This is not this week’s post.

I just wanted to let people know that I will be co-hosting a book signing of I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business! at the historic new location of Henry The Hatters’  the oldest Hat Store in the US, on October the 14th, 2018 from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Those of you who have read my Entrepreneur contributions might recall the travails of Henry the Hatter from my article He Owns the Oldest Hat Store In America and Knows How Tough Entrepreneurship Really Is Paul Wasserman’s Henry the Hatter has thrived for generations in Detroit. He knows everything there is to know about ups and downs. or Detroit: The 21st Century Boomtown The Motor City has epitomized both America’s past industrial dominance and the despair of economic decline. It now is the epitome of urban resurgence.

At any rate, Paul and Joe are opening up special on a Sunday for me to sign copies of   I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business! or select body parts.  I will have a limited number of books on hand for sale, but they go pretty quick so Amazon or Barnes and Noble is still your best bet.  Don’t care about my stupid book? Come and check out the new store (the last was a piece of history, the new store is a work of art, and maybe buy a hat (or four). Anyway, that’s where I’ll be and hopefully, you will be too.

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Is Safety A Right Or A Responsibility

By Phil La Duke

Yesterday I reposted a blog article of the same name that I wrote and published in 2011 on my own company’s website.  I re-read it and was amazed at how much my outlook had shifted on this matter.  I’m sure it’s the current climate of entitlement  and people ascerting rights that they don’t have, but here it is for good or for ill…I don’t bad mouth BBS so I don’t expect more than a half-dozen readers  to actually see this post.

Is safety a right? Do I by nature of my own basic humanity possess an individual right to an injury-free workplace, or do I have a responsibility to work safely and avoid injuring myself and others? This seemingly simple question is at the cornerstone of every safety process, debate, and theory. Let’s explore these concepts independently at first. For something to be a right, we must have some guarantee or assurance by a body of some standing that whatever point of contention is in fact bestowed upon us when we meet a given criterion. Some of these rights are bestowed upon us directly and unquestionable—for example the right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination. Other rights are subject to interpretation, as in the overblown debate over whether an over-paid athlete has the right to kneel during the national anthem before sporting events, which can be viewed as a subset of said athlete’s right to free speech.

Safety Cannot Be a Right

Safety cannot be a right, because nothing is ever completely safe since true safety is the absence of any probability of coming to physical, emotional, mental, metaphysical, or any other sort of harm you can imagine. This seems odd because if human beings have any rights at all it would seem that they should possess the right to make a living without dying, suffering a debilitating injury, or crippling chronic conditions because of the work they do. We have the right, in the form of protection under the law, to freedom from injuries that are caused deliberately by our employers, or through negligence, or depraved indifference, so in some sense, we have the right to expect our employers to exercise reasonable and practicable care to prevent us from being killed or injured. For simplicity’s sake, we will refer to these rights as the right to Safety.

Today, experts estimate that there are 27 million slaves. Experts differ on the definition of exactly what constitutes a slave and with variations in definitions comes larger estimates of the size, but in general, we can agree that there are a LOT of people who are enslaved. Interestingly, this number (and definition) of slaves does not include the working poor who feel that they have no options. Liberty is seen in most developed countries, as a universal right and yet for too many people liberty is taken from them by force, swindled from them by conmen, or simply ignored for those people too poor or who don’t know that what is being done to them is illegal.

The U.S. Chamber of commerce and other business lobbyists have actively engaged in a campaign to significantly curtail the rights of individuals in the U.S. to sue companies for products that are unsafe. But this is just the final battleground worldwide. Laws globally have made it harder for individuals to hold companies responsible for the safety of their products. And it’s not just product safety. Workers’ compensation laws disallow workers from suing their employers for a workplace injury (such cases are governed by worker’s compensation payouts instead of individual lawsuits.) Similar efforts worldwide reflect a growing legal opinion that the primary cause of worker injuries is stupid, clumsy, or reckless workers. As for criminal penalties for injuring another, such consequences are largely nonexistent unless a company actually kills an individual, does so quickly, and does show while showing criminal recklessness and depraved indifference. If you are a company and you kill a worker by slowing poisoning him or her over say 30 years your board or exec team will not see a day of prison time (remember Union Carbide and India?) So while it sure makes sense that safety would be a right the legal opinion seems to view safety as something for sale—break a rule pay a fine, maim a worker and risk a lawsuit with restricted remedies. As long as you are prepared to write a check you can pretty much injury workers with impunity. If safety ever was a right it has long since ceased being one.

Safety Isn’t A Responsibility
If Safety isn’t a right is Safety at very least a responsibility? If safety is a responsibility, who is responsible? Everyone? Workers? Corporations? Is it a moral responsibility or legal one? Is safety a personal responsibility or a collective one? More and more companies are looking to hold workers responsible for the safety of the workplace. In some business environs, safety is a condition of employment. In others, elaborate and expensive behavior modification programs are implemented to manipulate the worker’s behaviors so that they work more safely. Given that injuries are accidental (not assaults) it’s hard to hold an individual responsible for an unforeseen outcome of an unintended action. So who is responsible? An organization bears the responsibility for keeping the workplace safe by implementing 5S workplace organizations, applying safety controls, training workers, designing robust processes, and ensuring that equipment is in good working order. In my mind, the front-line supervisor is and always will be ultimately responsible for the safety of the crew that he or she oversees. This responsibility is beyond debate. Only the front-line supervisor has both the power and the authority to ensure safe work practices of all the workers in his or her area. I can be killed as easily by the human errors, uninformed risk-taking, poor choices, or wanton recklessness of a coworker as easily as my own, and it is the front-line supervisor’s responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Clearly, workers bear some responsibility for their own safety, for example, they must follow the work instructions procedures that should be designed to perform the task most efficiently and efficiently includes in the safest possible manner. Workers need to manage their personal lives and avoid performance inhibitors. Avoiding performance inhibitors—like hangovers, lack of sleep, unmanaged stress, and fatigue—also tends to build resilience (a word so inappropriately bandied about I hesitate to even use it). Building resistance involves maintaining the fitness of body, mind, or soul. It does matter who you are staying physically fit helps you to boost your immune system and to bounce back more quickly from illnesses. Exercising your mind helps you to build what Chris Groscurt (in the fantastic recently released book, Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution) calls, “Presence of thinking” according to Groscurt “presence of thinking leads to greater self-awareness. We need presence of thinking to get out of the default (autopilot) mode of thinking.” This mental discipline allows us to bounce back from mental trauma and tragedy more quickly. Finally, we need to exercise our spiritual health—whoever or whatever you worship (hell you can worship me as God-Emperor and most of you cheap bastards still won’t buy my book) or if you worship nothing at all you have to take care of your spiritual or if you prefer, your emotional health. Groscurth dubbed this the “Presence of Feeling”, as he explains it, “Presence of feeling supports self-management and enables presence of action. This type of ‘practical wisdom’ (phronesis) or in-the-moment decision making…”

So while no single individual is responsible for the collective safety, everyone is responsible for some part of safety and should at a minimum hold themselves accountable for their contribution or lack thereof to safety.
Both and Neither
And so it goes that safety is both a right and a responsibility, and neither a right nor a responsibility. Safety is probability, and probability is generally a balancing act. By making safety an abstract (right, responsibility) we obviate the need to think of our safety as a continuous condition, and remain situationally aware or constantly shifting probability that we will not be harmed by the hazards with which we interact. We can either reduce the number of hazards with which we interact, reduce the time with which we interact, or reduce the severity of the consequences when, despite our best efforts, we are injured anyway

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

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

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

Is Safety A Right Or A Responsibility?

Digging into the archives of my original blog.

The Safety Net

Is Safety a Right Or a Responsibility? Is safety a right? Do I as an individual have the right to an injury free workplace, or do I have a responsibility to work safely and avoid injuring myself and others? This seemingly simple question is at the cornerstone of every safety process, debate and theory. Let’s explore these concepts independently at first. Safety is a right .If human beings have any rights at all it would seem that the right to make a living without dying, suffering debilitating injury, or crippling chronic conditions because of the work they do. Today, experts estimate that there are 27 million slaves. Experts differ on the definition of exactly what constitutes a slave and with variations in definitions comes larger estimates of the size, but in general we can agree that there are a LOT of people who are enslaved. Interestingly, this number (and definition)…

View original post 576 more words

Ask Me Anything Has Been Extended

howtopublish

by Phil La Duke

Ask Me Anything is a forum where people can ask experts anything about (ideally about a specified topic). I hosted one on How to Publish Your Non-Fiction Book and it was so popular that they have decided to extend the question period until Friday at noon. So for those who have asked me in snotty emails, “what makes you an expert?” or “what makes you think you’re so smart?” or “why are you such a jerk to safety professionals?” or well…you get the picture.  Here’s your chance.

Ask Me Anything About Getting a Nonfiction Book Published

Answering the Arguments In Favor of BBS

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Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

By Phil La Duke
No matter how sick you are of reading my tirades against Behavior-Based Safety I can safely assure you that I am far more sick of writing them. Yet here I am again hammering out another post on the virus that is BBS.

I know that many of the people who read these articles are purveyors of this nonsense and nothing I say will ever penetrate the bloated businesses made fat by spewing this swill to safety people who don’t know any better. Wait…that sounds patronizing and I don’t mean it to be. Typically, BBS is foisted on companies because either someone in the C-suite heard that BBS is the way to go (without having a whisper of an idea as to what BBS really is or isn’t) or a global conglomerate  has dictated that thou shall have a BBS system in place or thou shall not get our business. In either case, both start with a decision that is wrong-headed and uninformed. So let me just answer some of the arguments put forth in the discussion threads relative to my anti-BBS posts.

BBS IS A TOOL

Yes, BBS is, in fact, a tool. I will grant you that, but so what? The question is not whether or not BBS is a tool but whether or not it is a) an effective tool and b) whether it’s the right tool for the job. A jackhammer is a tool, but that doesn’t make it right for driving screws to build a deck on your patio. BBS is too often seen as a ubiquitous tool that can be used in darn near any situation—the Swiss Army Knife of safety solutions. Yes, it is a tool; a tool that has been demonstrated to create friction among employees, a tool that encourages people to under-report injuries, and a tool that injured workers insulted and blamed. This, therefore, is a tool we can do without.

BBS MUST BE APPROPRIATELY APPLIED—THE EXAMPLES YOU GIVE ARE CLEARLY NOT CORRECTLY APPLIED BBS.

Texas City. The Deepwater Horizon. The Gulf of Mexico Spill. What do these all have in common? Large, mature, and sophisticated companies had BBS systems in place that not only failed but failed on an epic scale. I don’t believe for a second that these companies are to blame (at least not completely, or even primarily) to blame. They had invested significant time, energy, resources in a safety system that failed, and when it failed people died. Top executives had just left one of these sites after visiting it to commend it on its safety record. These weren’t stupid or incompetent people working for villainous corporations that were indifferent to human suffering, rather they were people who had been convinced, probably someone who was made rich selling this snake oil, that BBS was the single best way to keep people from getting injured, and they were wrong.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that It wasn’t the failure of BBS, rather it was the failure of the people and company to correctly and appropriately apply BBS at their sites. Should you entrust the lives and limbs of your workers to a system so fragile that a slight misapplication can cause a major breakdown and kill a dozen or so workers, cost the company tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, and forever stain the company’s reputation? BBS flies in the face of the Hierarchy of Controls and focuses on the lowest, least effective controls (administrative and PPE). This leads us to the next argument:

BBS WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE A COMPLETE SYSTEM, RATHER AN ELEMENT OF A LARGER MORE COMPLEX SAFETY SYSTEM.

Okay, there is a LOT wrong with this contention. First of all, some of the big purveyors of BBS systems charge upwards of a million dollars per site for a three-year engagement, others charge companies to certify their safety personnel in their methodology and then insist that only there training materials and posters be used by the customer, creating a parasitic relationship between vendor and customer. Still others take on only those projects of which their success is virtually guaranteed. So effectively if this argument is to be believed a company has to spend millions to get a half or one third, or LESS of a solution. If I shell out a million bucks I better get a complete system that not only lowers my operating risk but also helps me better manage my overall performance. This argument is like going to a restaurant and ordering a sandwich, being charged $30 and given two slices of bread. When you protest the waiter explains that the bread is only a small part of the sandwich and if you want cold cuts, condiments, or cheese you have to pay extra. Oh, and by the way, you have to pay that $30 every time you have lunch. Who in his or her right mind would buy that sandwich?

Beyond cost, no one who has ever thrown this argument at me has ever been able to answer my question, “okay, if it is only PART of the solution what is the rest?” apparently since they don’t sell it, it’s not their problem. I have a real issue with this since it seems to me to be a deliberate back door in the system designed solely for the purpose of blaming the customer for the failure of a portion of a solution that was sold as a complete solution.

YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND BBS

Maybe I don’t get it. I certainly don’t understand so many of the half-baked explanations given to me by the purveyors of bullshit. Maybe it’s because I am haunted by the image of the blood-splattered BBS signage where a worker was squashed like a grape between the sign and an out-of-process steel rail that crushed him to death where he stood. Was BBS the reason he was killed? Probably not, but it damned sure didn’t save his life either. If you look up BBS on Wikipedia (I admit not the best source for credible information) it reads like propaganda, not an encyclopedia article. It reads, (the typos are theirs not mine:

“Behavior-based safety (BBS) is the “application of science of behavior change to real world safety problems”.[1] or “A process that creates a safety partnership between management and employees that continually focuses people’s attentions and actions on theirs, and others, daily safety behavior.”[2] BBS “focuses on what people do, analyzes why they do it, and then applies a research-supported intervention strategy to improve what people do”.[3] At its very core BBS is based on a larger scientific field called organizational behavior management.[citation needed]

In a safety management system based upon the hierarchy of hazard control, BBS may be applied to internalise hazard avoidance strategies or administrative controls (including use of personal protective equipment), but should not be used in preference to the implementation of reasonably practicable safety measures further up the hierarchy.

To be successful a BBS program must include all employees, from the CEO to the front line workers including hourly, salary, union employees, contractors and sub-contractors. To achieve changes in behavior, a change in policy, procedures and/or systems most assuredly will also need some change. Those changes cannot be done without buy-in and support from all involved in making those decisions.

BBS is not based on assumptions, personal feeling, and/or common knowledge. To be successful, the BBS program used must be based on scientific knowledge.”

Let’s take this a chunk at a time:

“application of science of behavior change to real world safety problems”.or “A process that creates a safety partnership between management and employees that continually focuses people’s attentions and actions on theirs, and others, daily safety behavior.”

The first sentence is non-speak. How is BBS the application of THE science of behavior change to real-world safety problems? What is being applied? which behavioral science (psychology? sociology? anthropology? neurology?) is being applied? and the second sentence is equally ambiguous:

“A process that creates a safety partnership between management and employees that continually focuses people’s attentions and actions on theirs, and others, daily safety behavior.”

What form does this safety partnership take? How does it continually focus people’s attention and action on…daily safety behavior? What the hell is safety behavior? If you wrote a standard work instruction that was this ambiguous and someone died you would end up in prison making behavioral observations that can’t be unobserved or described except to a psychiatrist using dolls.

“In a safety management system based upon the hierarchy of hazard control, BBS may be applied to internalise (sic) hazard avoidance strategies or administrative controls (including use of personal protective equipment), but should not be used in preference to the implementation of reasonably practicable safety measures further up the hierarchy.”

So, in other words, don’t use it the way 90% of companies currently do.

“To be successful a BBS program must include all employees, from the CEO to the front line workers including hourly, salary, union employees, contractors and sub-contractors. To achieve changes in behavior, a change in policy, procedures and/or systems most assuredly will also need some change. Those changes cannot be done without buy-in and support from all involved in making those decisions.”

So to be successful, this system that is as delicate as Waterford crystal must have EVERY employee, contractor, and sub-contractor completely committed to it. If you buy this pile of crap may you should be committed.

“BBS is not based on assumptions, personal feeling, and/or common knowledge. To be successful, the BBS program used must be based on scientific knowledge.”

And yet behavioral observations are based almost exclusively on assumptions, personal feelings, and/or common knowledge (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean); these aren’t behavioral scientists making these observations. So to sum up, maybe I don’t get it, but then from the look of it neither do the proponents of BBS.

BBS CAN, OVER THE COURSE OF SEVERAL YEARS, TEACH WORKERS TO BE COMFORTABLE CONFRONTING THEIR PEERS ABOUT UNSAFE BEHAVIORS

Several years? You want me to spend SEVERAL YEARS and spend how much money and resources so one worker can say, “Hey Sam, that piece of equipment you’re working on is still energized! Shouldn’t you lock that out?” REALLY? If that is the best argument for BBS all I can say is that may be my best argument against it.

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 & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you  are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

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

 

If Everyone You Work With Is An Incompetent Maybe You’re the Incompetent

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

By Phil La Duke

Have you ever encountered someone doing his or her job half-assed and thought, “how did someone this stupid get any job, never mind THIS job?” Incompetence seems to be everywhere and crosses every industry and too often it does more than inconvenience us, it can get us injured or killed. Competency, in my opinion, is perhaps the single most important element of worker safety.  Workers who have to figure out the job as they do it, or are shown how to do the job once or twice by a “veteran” (who may have been on the job less than a month) are far more likely to throw a spanner in the works than someone who has been properly trained in how to do the job correctly.

There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions on incompetence and most of them are spewing hogwash.  When I headed up the global training operations for a tier-one manufacturing company I would continually be asked to provide training to people who didn’t need it. One director and an odiferous man who looked like Jabba The Hutt had just given up on physical fitness, would drone on and on demanding to know, “where’s my training? My people need training!” as half-chewed M&Ms spilled from his gaping maw. “I would always respond by asking specifically what skills were they lacking and in what kinds of training they needed.” “Everything” he would whine, I expect more because he had horked down the last of the M&Ms for the admin’s desk than out of genuine concern over competency.  He was right to some degree, he had inherited a department of people who were completely unqualified. Not a single person in his department had a relevant degree and the overall performance of the group was abysmal. But training? You can give me the smartest dog in the world but I can’t train it to fly. He really needed to weed out the incompetent and hire professionals with the appropriate credentials. These were not stupid people. They were people who were inappropriately selected and inadequately prepared for their jobs and training, at least not alone, was not enough to turn this around.

He hired a team of managers and I helped them determine who could be salvaged and who could be moved to another department more suited to their skill sets, and finally, the smallest set who lacked the physical, mental, and emotional capacity for the job (and also had no desire to do it).

I got so many similar requests that I finally drew up a flowchart that asked questions to see if the person needed training or a size 10 boot in their asses.  The first question was “Is this a ‘can’t’ behavior or a ‘won’t’ behavior. If someone knows how to do their job and refuses to do it, no amount of training will change that.  I used to work for an ex-military officer whom we would affectionately refer to as “The Devil”. This guy would routinely tell us to do things that were stupid, unethical, or potentially criminal.  I would try to explain the repercussions of his instructions and he would go into full-blown colonial mode screaming at me to just shut up and do it. Which I did (except the unethical or illegal). The sky would fall in on him, just as I warned and he would accuse me of “malicious obedience”.  I was engaging in an undesired behavior because doing what was right was just too much hassle.

But back to my flowchart.  I had one Director insist that his sales staff use ACT! Software and demanded I get them trained.  So I asked him “is this a “won’t” or a “can’t” behavior?” to which he responded it was a “can’t behavior.” My following question was do they have the tools to do the job, in other words, is ACT! Loaded on their computers? He looked at me impatiently and told me in a tone reserved for the very young or mentally infirm, that they didn’t have computers. I refused to put his people though ACT! Training because it would likely be MONTHS before they got computers and more MONTHS before they were trained in their use. (One ace sales professional picked up the mouse as if it were a wired remote—he wasn’t a dumb guy, in fact, he was one of the best salesmen in the company, he just had spent 20+ years doing it without a computer.  He lacked the prerequisite skills to truly function and training him in ACT! Would have been useless since even after training in all the prerequisites it would likely be MONTHS before he got ACT! On the computer. His request was asinine and I told him. He ran like an 8-year-old playground snitch to the CEO and I was summoned to his office. The director repeated his complaint and I explained to the CEO why I didn’t provide the training. He looked at the director and asked him point blank, “are you some kind of a dimwit?”

These days, more often than not, I  encounter the opposite problem, people who don’t want to spend the time, energy, and money to do high-quality training.

Training doesn’t equal competency

Even if training equaled competency most training (let’s face it the majority of training is, or at least have embedded in it, safety training) the most of the training out there is crap.  On one end of the spectrum, training is too much theory and not enough practice in the actual working conditions or a close simulation, and at the other end, the training is simply a speech about safety before the troops are sent to die on the beaches at Normandy.

NOTE: some people bristle at the term “training” I’ve heard people say derisively that “you TRAIN dogs, you educate people” to which I say you might not mind your 13-year old getting sex education at school but probably don’t want to get sex training”.  Trainers, like Safety Practitioners, are amidst a professional identity crisis. They don’t even know what they want to all their function—learning architects, talent development, masters of funk and groove, instruction designers; it’s exhausting. But I digress, I wrote What’s Wrong With Safety Training and How to Fix It in 2006 and (shameless plug) included it in my book I Know My Shoes are Untied. Mind Your Own Business! I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business! so I won’t get into it here.  The article is a useful post for anyone putting together a training course, but even an effectively developed course deftly delivered is of little value without a formal support structure where the learner can apply those skills under the supervision of an expert. We’ve done this since the middle ages with skills trades apprenticeship programs and it has produced many highly skilled tradesmen. So why then don’t we do it for everyone? It’s expensive and time-consuming, but far less so than a fatality or an irreversible injury, and the pay off is that it produces highly competent people, and the higher the level of competency the more likely the worker is to be engaged (I admit it takes more  this to engage workers but competency and the confidence it brings is essential.)

Where Are All the Good Workers?

Nearly every day I am contacted by one of two groups of people: job seekers or employers who grouse about “finding good people”.  You would think the two groups would find themselves but apparently, they can’t and for good reason. Many of the things I have seen in discussion threads have led me to believe that a good many job seekers just flat out don’t know what they’re doing in terms of finding a job, and employees are looking for unicorns—those job candidates who require combinations of qualifications so incredibly rare that they might as well be actual unicorns.

Before anyone brings up the millennials with a supposed sense of entitlement, I would argue that they are doing exactly what employers are doing, and for the record, it’s not just millennials who are doing this—there are plenty of displaced older workers who are worse than any millennial could ever be. Workers need to stop looking for “a job” and start looking for jobs for which they possess the requisite skills and knowledge and employers need to accept that no one comes in fully competent—the best employers understand this and set realistic qualification requirements for employment coupled with a comprehensive competency assurance program.

If businesses are to succeed they need to adapt fast but so many businesses move like an ocean liner on a sandbar.  And the business reality is this: as more and more of the so-called “Baby Boomers” shuffle this mortal coil, and with fewer and fewer younger workers to replace them, something’s gotta give.  The problem is companies’ inability to change will start to cripple them, and too often literally cripple their workers.

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 & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you  are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

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

If We Don’t Ensure Contractor Competency We’re Just Rolling the Dice With Safety

Dice

by Phil La Duke

Whenever I try to talk to a construction worker about safety—usually after they have done something amazingly unsafe—I get the same response “I know all that; we had to take that OSHA course.” I know the OSHA course (and many of the courses required by other governments around the world—one has to when one is a global consultant) very well, and under no circumstances would I attempt to operate heavy equipment, work in a confined space, or any of the sundry jobs in construction, at least not without substantial additional training.

Years ago I was head of training for a billion dollar construction management firm and while we did a great deal of training for our direct employees we did nothing for our contractors.  At that time law prohibited it, because it was considered a co-employment violation. Companies were hiring employees in the guise of contractors to avoid paying payroll taxes, providing benefits, and even paying a higher wage.  The government stepped in and created a test as to whether someone was a contractor or an employee. I myself (not by that company but when I worked for a shady slimeball I affectionately refer to as “The Devil”) was forced under duress to say that I was a contractor, not an employee (I could sign a paper that says I am ambassador to Monaco but that doesn’t make it true) eventually, however the IRS caught up with us and the entire workforce was converted to employees which started a mass exodus which ultimately unravelled the firm.  I won’t get into co-employment test except to say that whether or not you trained the individual was a determinate as to whether or not you were an employee. That particular point has been changed several decades ago and now when it comes to safety in the US (and many other countries) both the Employer of Record and the Host Company have a joint duty to protect workers. So if your contractor dies you are liable for it. No “ifs” “ands” or “buts”. This is a major problem for anyone who uses contractors or temporary workers. The Host Company (the company that hires the contracting firm) and the Employer of Record (the company who hired the actual worker) are often at cross purposes when it comes to safety training. Having worked at a Host Company I understand the mindset that when you hire a contractor you expect him or her to come to the job ready and able to perform the work and do so safely.  Having been an Employer of Record who provided contractors to companies I understand that there are hard limits to what I can teach the worker about the safety issues they might encounter.

So in a perfect world, the contracting firm should train its staff (or better yet train and verify the competency of its staff) in the core duties of a trade and the Host Companies need to train

Contractors in the specific hazards that they are likely to encounter on their worksites.  Unfortunately, we are still stuck in a vicious cycle where contracting companies assume that their workers are qualified and competent with no real evidence besides a card issued by a third party. There is a saying that when you ASSUME you make an Ass out of U and Me, but unfortunately when we ASSUME that someone is qualified and competent people die if we are wrong.  Training doesn’t necessarily mean competency, years of experience doesn’t equal competency, and even a Union card doesn’t prove competency.

So what happens if we don’t verify the competency of contractors.  Maybe nothing and maybe something horrific. Incompetent employees often convince themselves that they are competent because they themselves have not been hurt on the job.

So what’s the answer? 1) verify that they completed the training 2) follow up by demonstrating how you want the job done on your site, 3) provide coaching and course correct when necessary, and finally 4) enforce the safety rules.

Too often none of these are done and in many cases, supervisors at the Host Company look the other way either because they want the work to get done, or more frequently because they believe that if they intercede they will somehow become liable if the person ends up injuring either themselves or another.  Still, other supervisors believe that they are not allowed to direct a contractor to work more safely. Not only should they be allowed, they should be required to do so, and if your lawyer tells you differently, maybe it’s time for a new lawyer who keeps up with the law.

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 & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you  are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

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