Misleading Indicators

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By Phil La Duke

In the last two months or so I have been engaged by multiple parties to talk about lagging and leading indicators. I don’t know what’s driving this conversation, however, I know there is a lot of confusion around this topic and so here I am most probably adding to the confusion.  Let’s start by level setting by establishing a common lexicon for this context.

Lagging Indicator: A element of quantitative data that provides information on safety performance, or a calculation designed to normalize injury data such that it is not skewed by the size of the population or differences in the hours worked.

Leading Indicator: An element of qualitative data that provides insight into potential failure modes that are likely to cause an incident.

There are, of course, some data elements that fall into that gray area between lagging and leading indicators.  For example, near miss reporting. The number of reported near misses is a lagging indicator, while the number of reported near misses per employee (an indication of worker engagement in safety) is a leading indicator, as it has been shown in numerous research study that there is a positive correlation between worker engagement and improved safety performance.

There are some essential questions regarding safety indicators that you should consider before drawing any specious conclusions:

  1. What is the corresponding leading indicator for the lagging indicator I am considering?

    Every lagging indicator should have a corresponding leading indicator because leading indicators tell us how we are likely to perform (and to a lesser extent how we are performing) while lagging indicators tell us how we have performed in that same area in the past. Without this correlative connection, we are dealing with unrelated or (at best tangentially related) elements; it’s like connecting your lucky rabbit’s foot with weather patterns—any correlation is simply coincidence.)

    So what might be some leading indicators for Total Injuries, Injury Rates, or Day Away or Restricted Time? To answer this you have to consider the activities that directly correlate to injuries.  Certainly, there are other lagging indicators that can help us, for example, the number of Safety Observation Tours, but we could also analyze the quality of the tours, by tracking the time it took to complete a tour, the average number of hazards found on the tour, and the time it took for a hazard to be corrected.  The leading indicators, in this case, are tracking the quality of the tour.
  2. Do I understand the expected total population of what I am tracking?

    One major issue in using Near Miss reporting is that you are dealing with a huge unknown, and that is, how many near misses actually occur and go unreported.  If you have two sites and one of them has 463 reported near misses out of 10,000 total near misses how do you compare that to the site with only 20 reported near misses out of a total population of 35 total near misses? Since we can never truly know the exact total population of the unreported near misses, I personally question the value of using near-miss reporting as an indicator at all. Without an accurate understanding of the full population, we cannot correlate the number of near misses to the risk of injuries, but we CAN make useful inferences regarding worker involvement using a population that we DO know, that is, the total number of employees.  So the value in tracking the number of near-miss reporting is questionable, the number of reported near misses by employees is a very good indicator of worker engagement which strongly correlates to fewer injuries and in some cases a decline in the severity of injuries.

  3. What am I really trying to learn?

    Far too often we collect data and present it without context, interpretation, or even a point.  We splash a chart on the screen and yell “viola!” and leave the audience to cipher out what the disjointed information means.  What exactly does this month’s injury figures compared to last year’s figures tell us and why is that useful? One year does not a trend make. Yet I have sat in meetings where one month’s uptick in injuries is scrutinized and analyzed as if there were some great revelation lurking just below the surface. Sometimes numbers don’t tell us anything. And unless we have a large enough data pool indicators don’t mean much of anything,  

    To paraphrase Stephen Covey, we have to start with the end in mind, what are we trying to learn about our process—forget predicting outcomes there are just too many variables and even if we could measure them all there would still only produce probability and depending on the population size (which, as I’ve said, we probably don’t really know anyway) we could have a very large ± margin of error, and despite our best efforts, as any good gambler can tell you, longshots sometimes pay off.

I’m not bad mouthing lagging and leading indicators, but I am questioning how many people really understand what they are telling us about our safety performance or the level of robustness of our safety processes.

I am proud to announce that Marriah Publications 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 effected. 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 a 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 hard cover or paper back 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 scene 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 & 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 (without sponsors or advertising) for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy a damned book.

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Putting Health In Health and Safety

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

By Phil La Duke

I’m hearing a lot about putting “Health” in Health and Safety, and while many of the efforts are well intended many of those are misguided.  Yes, people need to exercise more. Yes, people need to eat right, and yes people need to make healthy life choices like quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol and stop abusing drugs. All those things are wonderful, but before we tackle these problems maybe we should consider tackling some of the illnesses caused by our processes before we go butting into people’s personal lives, that is, their lives and liberties outside of the workplace.

My dad died of mesiothema. He didn’t die because he was careless, or stupid, or ignore the safety protocols. In fact, he didn’t sue his employer over the vehement protestations of his lawyers. “They didn’t know it was dangerous, the manufacturers lied to them just like they hid the fact that asbestos would kill me from us.” my dad, a fiercely anti litigious man told me.

My uncle, my dad’s older brother died recently, he was 95 and he was a living testament to a life well lived. My brother made a off-hand comment that because my uncle was two years my dad’s senior we had every right to expect that our father could have just as easily lived to this ripe old age, but instead he died 20 years premature because of the malfeasance of the manufacturers of asbestos who didn’t care who they killed in pursuit of the almighty dollar.  These murderers will never be brought to justice; hell even George W. Bush called lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers “frivolous lawsuits”. I pray every day that Bush suffers half as much as my dad did in the last year of his life; if there is justice he will.

In situations like this—where someone you love is taken from you—there is a powerful drive to blame someone.  I have reconciled myself that it wasn’t my dad’s foreman, or plant manager, or safety supervisor to blame for this. In fact, while documents have been produced that proves that the manufacturers knew of the dangers who is to say that my father would have been spared his fate had they immediately warned anyone working with asbestos of its dangers? It may well have already been too late.

So this week I am not going to chew anyone out. I am not going to wag my finger in accusation at anyone, but I would like to talk about our need to do more to apply the same drive and discipline with which we apply to worker safety to preventing work-place illnesses or the by-products of injuries. We know about black lung, and mesiothema, and green lung, and silicosis (which claimed by brother-in-law), but now nano-technology is a growing concern.  The stuff that we are being exposed to today could be killing us, and it may take two decades to even know the extent of the danger.

I was researching the Industrial Hygiene industry last week and found that there is very little information out there in terms of the size of the industry, the forecasts for future market demand, or even many firms with more than a handful of workers.  The industry is by all appearances dominated by mom and pop shops and even the large EH&S consultancies tend to relegate industrial hygiene to a subset of their overall safety services. Trust me when I tell you, where there is demand there are large firms elbowing each other for position to meet those demands.

Fighting industrial diseases has to be taken seriously BEFORE people get sick and die.  Look at the opioid epidemic—while not considered an industrial disease it is certainly often the byproduct of injuries (many people were injured on the job, prescribed narcotics and became addicted, only to be cut off and turn to heroin to feed the addiction.)  That’s how my ex-father-in-law, a boilermaker by trade, found himself addicted to heroin. When he died there was no autopsy. We don’t know whether the mesiothema killed him, or the lung cancer, or the drugs, but we do know that an absolutely preventable cause set things in motion.

Addiction spread through his family like a cancer—my ex-wife succumbed to her heroin addiction and was left to die by a drug dealer and a half-wit who refused to call for help after she overdosed because they would be arrested for possession and she died on the stained carpet of a shabby hovel somewhere in Detroit, leaving two grieving daughters to try to make sense of her shattered life.  What about personal responsibility? I’m not cutting her any slack, she chose to use and was fighting demons known only to her. But were it not for the root cause of her father’s injury, which led to prescription opioid addiction, which led to his heroin addiction, which led to the availability of heroin, which led her down a dark spiral that would ultimately end her life.

What can we do? Well, this is going to sound odd coming from me, but we need to become more aware of the unintended outcomes of our actions.  

Sometimes injuries kill us in an instant before we even have a chance to know it’s coming, and sometimes they kill us slowly, decades after the initial incident.  I have talked about my friend and colleague, Bill Sagy who, some 40 years prior injured his back while working as a steelworker. There wasn’t much medical science could do for him (is injury was to a spinal vertebra)  so Bill was forced to live much of his life with pain and the limitations that went along with it (his back would go out a couple of times a year and he’d need some time off, and prolonged sitting caused him discomfort) but he dealt with it without complaining for decades until his doctor told him about a laparoscopic treatment that would make it possible for him to live pain free.  I was about to hire him to work with me on a big project and called and talked to him about his back. He told me he felt great and that he wished he had had this surgery years ago. The next day he developed a fever, his wife rushed him to the emergency room where he collapsed into unconsciousness and was spirited into Intensive Care. He never regained consciousness and died two days after I talked to him and he told me that he had not felt that good since before his injury. There was no autopsy; the doctors attributed his death to an infection of some sort.

None of these fatalities—not my dad, not my father-in-law, not my brother-in-law, nor my friend and colleague—will ever show up on any workplace fatality statistic but just as sure as I am writing this they all were killed by their jobs and in the case of each of them, collateral damage that cannot ever truly be measured or grasped.

I am proud to announce that Marriah Publications 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 effected. 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 a 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 hard cover or paper back at Amazon (US and Canada) or Barnes & Nobel (as it stands now B&N has accidentally listed the hardcover for less than the price of the paperback with free shipping so I would jump on this before they catch the mistake UPDATE: B&N caught the mistake before anyone bought it so I guess if you snooze you lose. It’s just as well because I would have been losing money hand over fist.)

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 & 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 (without sponsors or advertising) for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.

Breaking News

My second book “Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook on Workplace Violence” is now available for sale on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/1945853158/ref=cm_sw_r_em_apa_i_aBlmCbDDECVE

Safety Is A Lie

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By Phil La Duke

I’ve been reading a book about lying, well several. I had to read a lot of books about lying as research for my new book The Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence (it’s useful to be able to tell when someone is lying during a job interview when you are trying to screen out people at high risk of being involved with a workplace homicide).  One of the books asked the question, “do you like being lied to?” and asserted that most people do not. This book equated honesty with happiness and happiness with resilience.

The question is sublime in its simplicity: “do you like being lied to?” only the water-heads and mouthbreathers like being lied to right?  Wrong. At least when it comes to safety. There are two kinds of lies: the ones other people tell us and the ones we tell ourselves, and safety is not only rife with liars and lies but also with people who are either insane or enjoyed being lied to.

“Safety” in itself is a lie. Show me an absolute risk-free workplace and I will show you a liar, and a safety practitioner who is lying to him or herself.

When I say “lie” I am talking about a deliberate attempt to deceive someone.  I’m not talking about lies you tell when a woman asks if her garment of choice makes her butt look big (spoiler alert the answer is always an emphatic and immediate “NO!”)

In safety, we lie to our leaders by providing a flawed analysis of misleading indicators. Or we lie to an injured worker to dissuade him or her that the injury doesn’t need outside medical treatment and aspirin will work as well as a prescription medication. Or we use “case management” and have our insurance companies lie to lawyers to cheat workers out of their legitimate right to Workers’ Compensation.  But at least in my experience, these lies are rare, maybe even scarce.

The lies we tell ourselves are not so scarce.  We lie to ourselves every day. Nobody is immune to lying to themselves; I admit I’m as guilty as anyone else.  We all like to tell ourselves that we’re smarter, kinder, better, or in better shape than we are. But in safety, we have a special set of lies we tell ourselves.  It’s more than wishful thinking, many of us have lied for so long that now we believe our own hogwash. We tell ourselves that we save lives when the best most of us will ever do is help other people to make informed choices about their safety.  I get more pushback from safety people when I say that they don’t save lives than I do any other statement I ever made. We don’t save people’s lives, at least not with enough frequency to say we do it for a living.  But why is that lie that we tell ourselves that important to us? What makes it SO important for us to believe that we save lives?

The workers know that we aren’t saving their lives, although some may humor us.  Workers will compliment us for caring about their safety, but as Chris Rock says, “you don’t get credit for what you’re SUPPOSED to do!” I care about workers’ safety, but isn’t that something that EVERY person is supposed to do? From the CEO to the vendor who mows the lawn we are all supposed to care about worker safety, and frankly what kind of monster believes that it doesn’t matter how many lives I risk as long as the job gets done?

We also lie to ourselves about things like some of the absolute nonsense that we teach in safety orientations “the rules are in place for YOUR safety?’ Na uh.  The truth is that many of the rules have less to do with protecting workers and more to do with the ease of enforcement. There are jobs where government regulation doesn’t necessitate that everyone that enters the production area wears safety glasses. Point of fact, a good many people that we currently require to wear safety glasses are made to do so for the convenience of enforcement. Imagine how hard it would be to force only some of the people to wear safety glasses some of the time?

We often lie to ourselves about our power in an organization.  Authority is the right, by nature of one’s position, to order someone to do something. Power, on the other hand, is one’s ability to get a person to comply with your request.  In Safety, we have a lot of authority, but too often when someone fails to comply we run like an 8-year old tattle tale to someone who has both the authority and power to get the person to comply (and then we wonder why people don’t respect us.)

But the biggest lie that we tell ourselves is that we are doing our best.  We may be putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, but is that really the best we can do? How many of us give 100% every moment of every day? Scarce few of us.  The Franklin Institutes estimated in a study several decades ago that the average person was productive less than 30% of his or her day (I don’t recall the exact number—it may even have been less than 25%).  Is that really the best we can do? Or when a manager who doesn’t have a clue about how to reduce the risk of injuries, or and overrules our decisions and puts the workers at greater risk (I’m not talking about putting them in direct contact with the angel of death, but taking a shortcut or working out of process) do we just tell ourselves to choose our battles and cross our fingers?

Truth, integrity, and authenticity take courage and that’s in short supply. Not just in safety but in all aspects of our lives.  I’m not suggesting that we start putting our jobs and livelihoods at risk by telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth in everything thing we say or do, but I am saying that we had ought to know the difference between when we are lying and when we are holding our tongue until the time is right to have a meaningful conversation.

My public relations manager and my publisher, both worry that I will lose my voice, that I will start to modify my writing style to pander to my audience.  I don’t worry about that and those of you who know me well know that as well. My goal will always to provoke, to accuse, not to bully you or your colleagues, but to get you to ask yourselves if what you are telling yourselves is the truth or another big fat lie.

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 a couple of weeks, my second book will be out and I will be nagging you to buy that. So you’re already behind the 8-ball.

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.

We Write the Books We Need To Read

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Phil La Duke

There’s an expression among authors, that “we write the books we need to read” and I have been thinking a lot about it.  I ask myself questions like, “do I see in myself that what I loathe in others?” and “am I truly provoking people to get them to think or am I just provoking people for provocation’s sake?” I don’t worry too much about it, I read somewhere recently that as an author “some people will love you and others will hate you; write for the ones who love you.” So I try to be sincere and not to pander to critics who hate me, simply because they choose to hate a complete stranger. The saying, you may notice, doesn’t say “will love your work but love YOU.

Years ago I was at the National Safety Council and as I walked the expo floor one of the exhibitors lept up and yelled, “you’re Phil La Duke! I Hate you!” We talked for a couple of minutes and stayed in touch.  I don’t know if he still hates me, but we’re cordial so it doesn’t really matter. It’s not easy or fun to be hated by strangers, but I honestly have long since given up trying to win over people who hate me, because I recognize that what they really hate is the message.  If they got to know me they might actually like me or at least stop hating me, but worrying about the opinions of strangers is the path toward mediocrity.

People describe me as passionate about worker safety but I am not.  I am passionate about changing things for the better, I’m passionate about making workers’—all workers’—lives better and that is something that I think we all share.  Yes there are people out there who are selling “solutions” who don’t really care if it improves the lives of workers, they sell their PPE, or their safety software, or their safety culture interventions, but if they examine their conscious they will recognize that if their salaries were suddenly cut in half they would take no solace in the fact that they are selling a better product. Then again who’s kidding who? I would quit my job in a second if they cut my salary in half, so this isn’t about calling out someone who also would quit.

People hate change.  They will eventually accept it, but they will never forgive those who bring it, and I bring change.

As you read my work—especially those of you who hate me and it—to ask yourself what is it about the idea that is so threatening? What is it in YOU that makes you hate it? What changes in you does it put under the magnifying glass? If you still can’t see it then you really need to look harder. I’m not exactly preaching heresy when I ask what kind of sociopath introduces (via a poster or coloring contest) the idea to a 6-year old that while they’re at school mommy and daddy may be dying a gruesome death.  That is a heavy trip to lay on a kid, and it’s tantamount to child abuse. I know a lot of you think I’m overreacting and that it’s all in good fun but it’s torturing a child for crying out loud. If you think that is harmless fun you need to change.

I guess it’s the new year approaching that makes us all a little introspective, and I’m certainly not immune to that. I have been writing this blog since 2010 and another that got me in so much trouble with my employer that I had to stop writing it (it ran from 2006–2009) so all and all I’ve been writing for going on 13 years. I have had one goal: change one person.  When we change a single person we change the entire universe. Writing this has changed me. I am more defensive of workers and more sensitive to blaming them for their own injuries. I once thought Heinrich’s Pyramid was a useful tool, and now for the love that is all that is holy I can’t come up with a single reason to parade that tool out to bored workers who already know that if you have enough hazards something somewhere is going to hurt someone.

I used to think that workers bore the brunt of keeping themselves safe, and while I may take the occasional swipe at the safety person, it’s not because I believe it’s their job to keep workers safe, it’s because they claim that they save lives.  Workers can only be so safe behaving safely when you have 499 other workers around you who are poorly trained, distracted, fatigued, impaired, or simply not following the processes.

Front-line supervisors are primarily responsible for keeping workers safe. It is they who see the big picture—of all the parts working as a system.  Middle managers have to stop forcing production over safety and then blaming others for the decisions they made and the blood on their hands. And executives have to stop supporting safety philosophically and start supporting safety operationally.  But for those things to happen YOU have to change. We teach operations about safety. They get all their knowledge about safety from safety people. Many of them have picked up snake oil from previous jobs and will try to get you to use it. We have to challenge them, not like an adversarial jerk but as a key counselor; a source of new knowledge and wisdom.

I do a lot of telling and not a lot of asking, but today I am asking everyone who reads this to make a commitment to change.  I can’t tell you what, but I can tell you how to find out. Think of all the things you are doing in safety and ask yourself “is this working?” and the things that make you squirm, change them.  Also, I want you to pick one person at your company that you will have changed. Changed significantly. And I want you to pick someone that will be hard to change—the more miserable the asshat you change the more that change will manifest in many more positive changes, and pretty soon, without employing some expensive consultant or adopting some half-witted fad you can find that the change spreads like wildfire.

Oh and remember, the person you may change might just be you.

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 a couple of weeks my second book will be out and I will be nagging you to buy that. So you’re already behind the 8-ball.

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.

Heinrich Is The Enemy Of The Worker

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By Phil La Duke

The image above is disturbing, and it is not my intention to in any way diminish the seriousness and horrific nature of the Holocaust.  My use here is to reinforce that the same thinking that made the Holocaust possible was the same thinking that shaped Herbert Heinrich’s view of safety and by extension the foundation of much of  modern safety thought and practice.  We have to ask ourselves is this the kind of thinking that we want to perpetuate in any circumstance, but most particularly worker safety? I for one stand against blaming the worker and hiding behind bogus models based on junk science.  I thought that this was a no-brainer, and yet the Heinrich Pyramid is still part of so many safety orientations. This has to stop.

“It is always interesting to read something that uses Heinrich as a punching bag and then raise their arms in triumph believing their ideas on safety is superior.
To be clear, I do not subscribe to Heinrich’s theory at all. I do side with the assumption that he was well-intentioned (although I truly do not know his intentions). Again, I do not support his theories. However, I am glad that his errors and/or miscalculations helped usher in increased and improved awareness for safety.
I enjoy reading as many ideas on safety improvement as I can. Other ideas help broaden my own perspective, maybe even support what I’m already doing. It helps me learn. Ultimately, I hope, it benefits the workers.
I just wish those ideas could be offered without the overt criticism of Heinrich…or any of the rest of us.”——Michael Kleinpeter (Posted on LinkedIn)

Battle lines are being drawn and it’s time to choose a side. Either you see Heinrich and his accursed pyramid as the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment in Safety or you see him for what he was—an unethical swine-fornicator who saw himself as a member of the master race and then set out to prove his bigotry through dubious if not out-and-out maliciously fictitious research.  

Defending Herbert Heinrich as “well-intentioned”—particularly when one has no idea of the man’s intentions—is the equivalent of defending  Heinrich Himmler as “well-intentioned”. After all, didn’t both Heinrichs believe in the inherent justice of not necessarily of their life’s work? I don’t see well-intentioned men

Didn’t both Heinrichs believe in the inherent inhumanity and predictable fallibility of the “mud people”? Neither gave much credence to dissent for, or scientific disapproval of, their theories. They simply acted on their bigotries with no regard for whom it would harm or the damage it would inflict on society. Heinrich’s pyramid has done as much for safety as the Great Pyramids did for the Egyptian slaves, or the Aztec pyramids did for their POWs.

Both Heinrichs were the enemy of the poor, and under-served workers who they saw as chattel, a resource to be used up and discarded,  and both were  the enemy of the hundreds of thousands of good and dedicated people working in safety. Slapping that accursed pyramid up on the screen is, to me, like slapping a swastika on your PointPoint presentation and then, once confronted by the hate and evil it represents defending it as an Indian good luck symbol.

For too long we have ignored the Eugenics that underlie Heinrich’s racist, and ethnic bigotry, and promote the idea that the real problem in protecting workers is that most of them don’t deserve it and we are better off as a society without them. People like my father who died of mesothelioma (because of corporate greed of suppliers who failed to warn his employer) or my brother-in-law of silicosis.  If you believe that some workers are worth saving and others aren’t, then you are of one mind with the Heinrichs and you need to OWN that.  If you don’t believe that some workers because of their race, creed, color, education level, or the way they part their hair are less entitled to safety or more likely to hurt themselves, then you MUST stop perpetuating Heinrich’s Pyramid 

As for “However, I am glad that his errors and/or miscalculations helped usher in increased and improved awareness for safety.” Really? So the Triangle Shirt Waste Fire that killed 146 garment workers in New York, on  March 25, 1911, that remains the most deadly industrial disaster in New York history and one of the most deadly in U.S. history had nothing to do with raising the awareness of worker safety? (Source) Coincidentally, most of the victims were recent Italian and Jewish immigrants, whose ethnicity Heinrich would later cite as a root cause of many the accidents he investigated.  What PRECISELY can we learn from a man who concluded that a person was injured because of his or her ethnicity? 

Long before Heinrich published his work, the U.S, (and the world) was well on its way to enacting legislation to protect workers—In 1911 the first U.S. worker’s compensation laws were enacted. Also in 1911,  the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (A professional, technical organization, ) was founded and later developed safety codes for boilers and elevators,

Perhaps most significant event to “usher in increased and improved awareness for safety” was the 1912 founding of the National Council for Industrial Safety (you may know it better as the National Safety Council as it changed its name to in 1913.)
In 1913 The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes data that show a rate of 61 industrial deaths per 100,000 workers. 1914 The U.S. Public Health Service establishes the Office of Industrial Hygiene and Sanitation. Its primary function is research in occupational health. After several name changes, it became the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1971. So sufficed to say, there was plenty of awareness for worker safety before Heinrich.  

All of this happened long before Heinrich—too say nothing of social reformers and labor leaders who fought and sometimes DIED in furtherance of the workers’ right to a safer workplace.  To claim Heinrich awakened Americans to the need for greater worker safety is absolutely an insult to the intelligence of anyone working today—whether they are sweeping a floor or a captain of industry—Heinrich was a hack, a fraud, and a liar.  It’s said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” maybe so, but the foundation below that road is laid by people like Heinrich and all those who adamantly refuse to let him and his stupid, worthless pyramid go.

I’m not raising my arms in victory, I’m hanging my head in shame that we stand as peers with people who still perpetuate this swill because it makes them money. I’m shaking my head in disappointment and disgust that there are—I admit a minority (but not enough of one)—of people who not only still believe this crap but pass it on to the next generation of our profession. So to those who would defend this dreck, I say this: stupidity and obstinance kills,  and the more stupid and obstinant one is the more likely one is to speak in the hushed tones and through the lens of hero worship for Heinrich, whether it be Herbert or Himmler it makes little difference.

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

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

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel 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.

Safety Is Hard Enough

woman working girl sitting

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

By Phil La Duke

What you are about to read is likely to upset some of you, even ANGER you.  You see after 12 years of blogging I have learned one immutable truth: The majority of you read my work hoping against hope that I will give you a reason to puff up yourself in righteous indignation and post patronizing posts about what a uncouth and imbecilic jerk I am. If I write something helpful, optimistic, or innoculous only my most loyal readers will even see the post.  But if I write something inflammatory people flock to the site like it is a Black Friday Sale.  This week I finished my second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Preventing Workplace Violence and frankly I had to go to some dark places in my path to write it (on top of the subject itself being pretty grim).  I just needed a break from the slapping safety upside the head and offer some advice on how to do the job without burning out.  A lot of you will hate it.

Safety is a tough job if you’re on the inside you have so many demands placed on you (particularly by people who should be doing it themselves) that your day can become a living nightmare. If you are a consultant you are only as good as your last sale and you often have to talk people with just enough knowledge of safety to be dangerous; full of buzzwords and enamored with the latest fad. You have to get them to want what they need, and that’s seldom easy and sometimes impossible.

But this post isn’t going to be one of those “woe is me, please pity me for my thankless sacrifices” posts; far from it.  After all, we chose this job, and while there might be a handful of people who chose this profession thinking it would be easy, I believe most people entered the profession with open eyes and no delusions that the job would be easy. It’s not like any of us were 13-year old runaways who found ourselves scared, alone, and penniless until a kindly stranger took us home, gave us food and shelter and then one day told us we had to earn our keep by working in safety. And truthfully, this job has its moments, like when a client or boss starts to see that the strategy is paying off and lets you know how much the organization values you.  Of course, those moments are few and far between, but maybe there’s a way to make our lives better, even though our jobs will remain hard:

 

  • Advertise.  Let your constituents know about your contributions.  So many of us grew up being told to be modest and not to toot our own horn.  If not us, who will? Many of our clients (and let’s face it, whether you provide safety from the inside or the outside you have clients) don’t really understand what we do, and that is great if you are an incompetent boob who wants to conceal the lack of progress and the fact that we don’t really do much of anything.
  • Explain WHY what you did matters?  Did you reverse an injury trend that was heading upward to one that is now trending downward? For us, that is pretty self-explanatory but they don’t do what we do and they don’t know what we know.  Instead of prattling on about trend lines and statistical progressions, just tell the people, “at the rate we were going we would have hurt x number of people but instead we were able to reverse that rate and now we are less likely to hurt workers and if we continue improving more and more workers will be less likely to get injured.
  • Be generous with the credit and stingy with the blame. We didn’t really do much, we influenced others to do something.  We may have given excellent advice, but THEY had to follow it. I’m not discounting how difficult it is to persuade an organization to take on more work (work, by the way, that they often think we should be doing) but by recognizing the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices they made it will be easier to persuade them the next time.
  • Take care of yourself.  It’s easy to let the job get to you but don’t let it.  I know a lot of nurses who will sit on a barstool and loudly complain about their patients.  “These lousy sick creeps and their demanding families make me sick.” I gently remind them that the people they serve are, or potentially think they are, facing a terminal illness. They and their families are worried, scared, confused, and want answers.I go on to tell them that no one ever told them nursing would be easy, and if they really despise their patients so much to get out of the business.  I say the same thing to safety practitioners who ceaselessly complain about how their bosses don’t listen to them and no one appreciates what they do. If you collect a paycheck from a toxic environment that endangers workers despite your best efforts and you continue to work there (because quitting would be hard and scary) then you are complicit in the unsafe environment that is your workplace. That all having been said, prevent burnout, by taking care of yourself physically, don’t try to make yourself seem invaluable by working 16 hours a day—that’s not dedication, that’s suicide.

    Eat right.  Take a 20-minute walk twice a day (outside whenever possible, and be optimistic. I know that sounds incredible coming from me, but believe it or not, I am an optimist. I write these poison pen posts precisely because I think the safety profession CAN be better and needs constant chiding (and insults if necessary) to get there. Optimism and happiness are the two greatest determinants to the extent you will be resilient and be able to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks of our jobs.

  • Don’t kid yourself that you’re doing your best. If half the safety practitioners were doing their best half the time we would be living in a Utopian paradise, but they don’t.  I can hire a below average intelligence gibbon to do it’s best. If you really are doing your best and STILL can’t do the job than it is unethical to cash a paycheck.  I’m not saying you should quit the profession, but at very least do some soul-searching and determine where you need skills development and be frank with your boss about your shortcomings (trust me he or she probably already knows) and ask for help in developing your skills.  All quitting buys you is time until the pattern repeats itself.
  • Get to work. Years ago the Franklin-Covey institute did some research and found that people tend to approach work like this: 1) do what’s fun/what you enjoy 2) do what’s fast 3) do what’s easy, and 4) do what’s hard.  If you are like most people in safety today, you feel like there just isn’t time enough in the day to get it all done, and you know what? Most of you are right. But if you tackle the hard work first it’s both more personally satisfying and more noticeable and valued by the organization.  It also lifts an incredible burden from your shoulders which makes all the other tasks easier.

The people who figured this out love their jobs, and even though safety can be a back-breaking soul-sucking job, they know that what they are doing is worthwhile. So for those of you just entering the field know this: the job may never get easier, but if you persevere and stick with it, it will become more rewarding and satisfying than you ever imagined.

We still have a lot of things that need fixing, and I can’t always be the voice crying out in the wilderness, but if enough of us stop congratulating ourselves on a job half (and I am being generous here) done we can fix those problems we can develop safety into a respected and valued profession.

Don’t worry I’ll be back next week with some wild hair up my excretory orifice.

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

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

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel 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.