It’s Time for Safety to Grow Up

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By Phil La Duke

There’s an issue that’s been bugging me for a while, and it bubbled up again this week. My uncle, who was my dad’s older brother and last surviving sibling died. Since he was 94 and was my dad’s older brother there is every reason to believe that had it not been from unscrupulous asbestos manufacturers who hid the dangers of their product, my father might have lived another 20 years. As I sat in the church during the funeral and saw all the grandkids and great-grandkids and even a great-great grandkid I thought of all of the great grandkids my dad would never know.

Safety practitioners have been trumpeting their successes in lowering workplace injuries and yet they remained stymied by the fact that for the past eight years or so (and I am approximating; it’s 90° out and mysteriously my office is the only room in the house seemingly impervious to my air conditioning so if you want the actual statistics to niggle overlook it up yourself.) worker injury rates continue to decline. It’s a stone “who done it?” in safety circles, but need it be?

I had been struggling with how to tackle this issue and so I put this question to my romantic vis-a-vis, a very bright woman who makes hot air balloons for a living who has no background in worker safety”: “If I told you that worldwide injury rates were trending down year after year at a steady rate, but that workplace fatalities remained trending effectively flat over that same period, what would you conclude?” She thought for a minute before, responding. “So let me just paraphrase what you told me so that I make sure I have this straight…you’re handing out fewer band-aids but more wreaths?” I told her that this was precisely the case, to which she, without missing beat, said, “I would say that most likely injuries are being under-reported; I mean you can’t NOT report a fatality, right?” I explained to her that in Mexico a worker isn’t considered a workplace fatality if he or she dies in an ambulance or some other vehicle used to convey the doomed party to the hospital, and that in China injured workers are routinely fired so—and I don’t know this for sure—if you fired an injured worker who subsequently died his or her death wouldn’t count.

Now granted I am biased, I happen to think that my romantic entanglement is more intuitive and smarter than average, but there is no reason that someone completely removed from the field of safety (except for the osmosis of being around someone so obsessed with safety that he has been driven to the verge of madness, (like Odysseus bound to the mast of his ship so he could hear the siren’s song) and most particularly fatalities, should so quickly conclude that the numbers are hinky, while grizzled veterans of the trade still ponder this mystery like it was an unfinished Agatha Christie novel.)
There is no way to know for sure whether or not the books are cooked (and I am not, at least not yet, accusing anyone of any nefarious act) but it stands to reason that if we were truly successful in making the workplace safer we would see a decrease in recordable workplace injuries that corresponds to a similar decrease in worker fatalities. But we’re not seeing that. What we are seeing is an opportunity to run to our bosses and tell them what a great job we’re doing in safety. “Okay boss, ignore the fatalities for a second and look at what a great job we’re doing in lowering injuries! How about that raise?” It reminds me of the cover of the 50th issue of National Lampoon magazine where a crowd of stricken people are gathered around Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed, and a reporter is sitting with Mary Todd Lincoln and the caption reads, “apart from all this Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the show?”
That’s what we seem to be doing, focusing on the play (Our American Cousin for you trivia buffs) and ignoring the assassination.
This all can be reduced to a discussion about risk. The risk of injury exists and we are so focused on the bottom of the hierarchy of controls because it’s easy that we are ignoring the top of the hierarchy because it’s hard and a lot of engineers are far more interested in designing equipment that meets the customer’s specs than in making something that is safe. I’m not blaming engineers, oh who am I kidding screw the engineers, they don’t read this and I’ve eaten enough shit from pompous engineers over the years to say that I am yet to meet one that put the safety of his or her design over the sheer technological brilliance endemic to their creation; engineers designing for engineers.

I am indeed biased (what with having lost two grandfathers, a brother-in-law, and a father to workplace controls that failed to prevent them from being killed) but I come by it honestly. We need to do a better job not just in how we protect workers but in how we MEASURE how we protect workers. The way we approach safety feels too much like we’re feeling around in the dark for a light switch instead of a scientific method for identifying our risks, lowering them, and mitigating the results of the injuries that result from those risks. And there are plenty of ways of doing this, but we have to admit that what we’re doing now isn’t working; it isn’t adequate. The safety function is in essentially the same place that the quality function was in the 1970’s and yet even though a better way has been demonstrated to us we still persist in focusing on the behavioral aspects of safety instead of the many process and system issues. Instead of attacking safety the way it should be—calculating the Cost of Safety in much the way Quality calculates the Cost of Quality, for example—we treat it emotionally, getting all gooey and wiping a tear from our eye as we say “we don’t need to know the cost of injuries, it’s just the right thing to do”. Protecting workers is the right thing to do, but so is protecting the environment, ensuring sustainable practices, producing goods and services, protecting stockholder interests by controlling our costs and increasing efficiency, and being a good corporate citizen. Yet we don’t feel like cold, callous creeps because we measure these costs, now do we? We have to mature as a function and manage safety like a business because killing workers is bad for business.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my up-coming book which can be preordered here  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..





Acknowledging the Contributions to my Book

By Phil La Duke

The acknowledgement section of my book is typical Phil snarkiness and sarcasm, so I wanted to take just a moment to thank all of you who suggested blog posts that are among your favorites and magazine articles.  I also would like to thank the magazine publishers who graciously agreed to allow me to reprint those articles in the book.  And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the people who wrote blurbs for the back cover. There are too many people who encourage me to write this book to thank here, but you know who you are so consider yourself thanked.

If you visit the blog’s home page you will notice a button that you can click to preorder the book, but don’t feel as though you have to—you have done plenty already and I thank you.


A Bit About My Book

I don’t have a photo of my upcoming book I approved it conceptually after designing a rough look and feel and then letting creative graphic artists do there job, so that’s why they’re no picture accompanying  this post.  I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the book so I thought I would address them now.

Why a book?  That’s a great question, about 15 years I had so many people telling me that I should write a book that I decided to write a book proposal and see what kind of response I would get.  I never even finished the proposal.  I did finish a rough draft and ran it by some published author friends of mine and they gave me notes on what I had to include; it seemed like way too much work so I scrapped the idea. (I never really wanted to do a book anyway, but when so many people tell you to do something you really need to listen.)  Fast forward 15 years and one of my author friends (who now has two best selling books and is working on his third) asked me whatever happened to my book, I made some lame excuse and he said he would talk to his publisher, who later told me that he insisted that she read at least three of my blog articles.  She did and called me soon afterwards.

What’s it about? It’s about a boy how finds a magical television set…NO! It’s about safety what the hell did you think it was going to be about?  Initially the book was going to just be 20 or 30 of my blog posts.  But after polling my subscribers and getting a great response I realized I needed to reach out to my old magazine publishers and get permission to use some of those articles, then I thought, “why not include some obscure, hard-to-find guest blogs, and magazine articles from around the world.” Even then I wasn’t satisfied, I figured, who wants to read that when you can get it all on line, so for every  third existing piece I tried to write a new piece. I say “tried” because after my editing process I don’t know the ratio of new material to republished but I am happy with it.

What’s it called? The first step in the process, believe it or not, was to get a title and a cover. I initially called it  I Know My Shoes Are Untied, Mind Your Own Damned Business: An Iconoclast’s View Of Safety but was persuaded to drop the word “Damned” because many store won’t carry it with a course word in the title

Is it Self-Published? No, and with all due respect to all the people who self publish, most self-published books I have read are crap.  They ramble, they repeat themselves, they…well just plain suck.  I read a self-published book on nudging in safety and in the hole book the author only made two good points and the rest was poorly written dreck.  Most authors need a professional editor, a professional publisher, and a professional agent.  I got all of them.

So if it’s professionally edited how much of your voice will be lost? None.  My publisher made it clear that only I was to touch the book.  She said that she feared that a professional editor would compromise my unique voice and writing style.  I worked hard to remove all the incomplete sentences and punctuation errors that so many people hate, and they will clean up the typos when they typeset it but the rest of it is all me.  I should note that I didn’t change a thing in the reprints of my published materials, they have already been published and edited so changing them now violates my agreement with them.

How does it cost? Well my preliminary draft came in at about 500 pages and would have cost $22.95, I decided to cut it down to around 200 pages and forgot the hardcover to bring the price down to $14.95 (plus shipping), and while that number is close, we won’t know for sure (give or take 50 cents) until the ink dries. Anyway, you can always expense it or insist that one of your vendors buy it for you.  That’s what I would do, come to think of it I might do that anyway.

Where can I get a copy? A copy, don’t you mean copies for all my friends?  Just kidding.  Pre-orders will be available July 8th and I will have links from this page and others, but pre-orders will only accept PayPal, which I don’t like, but it has something to do with the printer we’re using.  Soon after that it will be available from Amazon and Barns & Nobel, and wherever new books are sold.

Can I get an autographed copy? Yes, I DO get asked this a lot.  I’ll be glad to autograph as many copies as you want, and there are several ways to do that:

  1. Come to a book signing, but since I don’t know when or where (outside of Detroit) these events will take place that may take a while.
  2. Indicate that you would like me to autograph it during the pre-order period.
  3. Buy the book and bring it with you to one of the professional speeches I make at conferences.  I don’t plan to have any books with me at the conferences for two reasons: 1) because I don’t want to lug a bunch of heavy books around with me, and 2) Conferences frown on people marketing materials at professional conferences.
  4. Stalk me and risk having your autograph written in blood.

Will you be touring to promote the book? Well I still have a full time job so any lengthy tour is not likely, but I will be promoting the book through speaking engagements.

Does this mean you will be quitting ERM? No. I intend to work at ERM for as long as they will have me.  It’s a fantastic company that allows me to refuse work that the customer doesn’t really need, it affords me to work with top safety, environmental, and sustainability experts from all over the world, I get to work on really cool projects, and mostly because it has remained hands off when it comes to my writing.

If you have any other questions please feel free to post them under the comments section.

Your Words Matter


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By Phil La Duke

My blog was already written, locked down and in the vault.  My time is at a premium, with a full-time job, two magazine deadlines looming, and a book in post production, so I’m not to inclined to start over fresh with a new topic, and yet here I am at 5:30 a.m. hammering out a new blog. (I can always post the next week.)

Why? Well of course a reader wrote to me and struck a raw nerve.  I got up as I usually do at 5:00 a.m. and tended to my two rowdy labrador mutts and read my email. In it was a note from a reader.  These always stop me in my track. It is seldom that I get an email that is little more than an angergram attacking me for something I said, questioning whether I’ve ever even worked in safety (I have, in some real death traps, for the record), or the odd death threat.  So I read with trepidation the note. The reader, and as is my policy I do not reveal the names of people who write me privately, said that he was troubled because someone told him that he basically, sometimes in discussions people talk about needing to “babysit” other workers so people don’t make mistakes. The author works in aviation and recently someone said he was like a “teacher for kids.”  He went on to say that not only was referring to “fully grown adults as children is not only disrespectful, it is also a symptom of flawed safety thinking because it’s implying people are stupid and is counterproductive”

He told me that he had searched my blog and couldn’t find anything on the subject.   I was stunned, in fact, I specifically remembered writing about this topic, but while I have approximately 853 blog articles, I had a blog before that an ex-employer threatened to fire me unless I took it down.  I did, and in so doing lost 300 or so posts, so maybe it was in one or more of these.

I am extremely grateful to this reader for striking this nerve, it’s an important topic.  I have heard managers and safety practitioners refer to workers as “yard monkeys”, “factory rats” “Union drones” and every manner of pejorative you can think of, all of these meant to demean the workers as people too stupid to do what’s in their best interest.  I worked in a factory on the shop floor, assembling seats for 4 years, and I’ll stack my intelligence up against most of the people talking trash. My father and brother-in-law both worked in factories and both were tradesmen who did jobs that required an education that are harder to get through than your average college curriculum, my older brother went to Michigan Tech on football scholarship until he was injured and had to quit.  He took a job at a steel mill and in his spare time he became one of the most respected paleontologists despite not having a degree, he has written journal articles and has a theory named after him. He is routinely visited by professors from across the country to confer with him and ask his opinion of his findings. Recently he discovered a mastodon footprint on one of his digs, something, I doubt the average line manager or safety practitioner would recognize let alone meticulously preserve. My other brother-in-law holds several patents. Finally, one of my best friends when I worked the line, read both Detroit Newspapers every day, and a different major city newspaper each day.  He would dutifully hand over the newspaper after he read it. He held THREE master’s degrees, one in psychology, one in anthropology, and one in geology. I once asked him why he didn’t leave this miserable gothic cathedral of drudgery and he laughed, “what and take a $20K pay cut?” All of this is beside the point, however.

People act like children because they are treated like children; it’s that simple.  If you have a problem with people acting childish I am here to tell you the problem is YOU!


In the late sixties, Dr. Eric Berne, wrote The Games People Play: A Complete Guide to Transactional Analysis  and 5 million copies later it is still as useful today as it was then. Berne also wrote I’m Okay You’re Okay which ushered in the age of Pop Psychology and when that went out of vogue so did his The Games People Play.  Transactional analysis  works like this, whenever we encounter another person that is a transaction and we have them all day long, especially in safety or in management. When we are having a transaction, we adopt one of three roles (as do the other person). If we adopt the role as a parent or child there is likely to be a conflict, and our best bet is to always stay in the adult role.

The Parent role treats others like children, they bark orders that they expect to be followed, they mete out reward and punishment, they feel entitled to do this because without their intervention the childish imbeciles that are “their people” would goof off, hurt themselves, or otherwise behave badly.

The Child role makes excuses for bad behavior, and will often either act either passively or actively aggressive towards others, particularly those who are interacting with a child.  You might here “he’s not my boss” or “she can’t make me” kinds of statements made by people in the child role.

But here’s the thing.  When someone comes at you like a parent, you tend to instinctively react in child mode or in the parent mode which causes conflicts.

Parent:Parent Conflict

Parent: Parent conflict looks like this:  A supervisor (or safety practitioner) says, “put your safety glasses on” or the more gentle “where’s your safety glasses? This press the buttons on the other person and they will respond with something like “Screw you, I’m on my break and I don’t need safety glasses” or “You’re not my boss so go hassle someone else.” The supervisor/safety guy is then instinctively prodded to assert dominance and will amp up the tone and forcefulness of the the command and the worker will respond in kind until either one side backs down or there is a full-fledged conflict, with write ups and grievances and ugliness.

Slide2Parent:Child Conflict

Parent:Child Conflict (or vice versa) begins when a supervisor/safety guy talks to the worker as if they were a child.  “Charlie, we don’t walk in the aisle, we walk in the pedestrian walkways, this is to keep you safe.” Now Charlie knows damned well that he has to walk in the pedestrian area, and if he is in the child mode (and people who are looking to avoid conflict often adopt this position) he will respond by making excuses, or by saying “I forgot” for which he may get a good scolding.  In other cases, Charlie may have a toddler meltdown fit screaming that he was walking on the walkway and you are always picking on him. Once again, the child presses the parent button which increases parental behaviors and the parent presses the child button which results in an increase in childish behavior.

Child:Child Conflict

This often happens between coworkers who have been treated like children by the organization so often that this becomes their go to state.  Child:Child conflict is typified by one person deliberately messing with the other, with the other person retaliation, ad nauseum. IF, and this is deliberately a might be if the behavior is addressed, there will be a lot of he started it and truly toddler like behavior.

We create these conflicts and we can control them. How? My friend, Dr. Paul Marciano, wrote Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: How to Build a Culture of Employee Engagement With the Principles of RESPECT and Super Teams: Using the Principles of RESPECT to Unleash Explosive Business Performance both are great books that apply many of Berne’s principle.  Dr. Marciano earned his doctorate from Yale, and was on the faculty of Princeton, so when someone once again tries to shout me down in a public conference that “the data doesn’t support that” keep in mind that in my view getting a Doctorate at Yale and being on the faculty of Princeton trumps a degree from God knows where (it doesn’t seem to be listed in any of his bios…hmmm.) and being on the faculty of Virginia Tech, but I guess that’s just me engaging in elitist BS,  but I digress.

Slide3Adult:Adult Transaction

Berne’s ideal state was a transaction where both people act like adults, and believe it or not this works like a charm.  When you adopt the role of the adult you see and treat the other person with respect and as an equal. But the best thing is when people are trying to Parent you, or Child you, they try desperately to draw you in by pushing your buttons, while at the same time you are pushing their adult buttons. Easier said than done? Not really, but it does take a lot of practice.

Staying in the adult begins by seeing the other person as an adult and your equal, and by respecting them.  My brother recently had an exchange with his boss where he told his boss that he did not feel respected by his boss.  The boss huffed and said, “respect has to be earned” to which my brother, quickly responded, “No, respect is a given. When I meet someone for the first time I respect them and it’s theirs to lose.” I like that, and I will use it for the rest of my days, both in practice and in rhetoric.  So if a person deserves your respect you treat and talk to them like you would like to be treated and spoken to. When an adult speaks to someone in the parent mode, one doesn’t challenge them or use aggressive language. They remain assertive and state their case rationally and firmly. Let’s take our examples from above, instead of put your safety glasses on” or the more gentle “where’s your safety glasses? An adult might say, “hi Gary, what’s going on with your safety glasses?” not as an accusation, but as a genuine inquiry, Gary will instinctively go to his comfort mode, but no matter how he responds, you have to stay in the Adult mode which will cause him to escalate, but you have to stay cool and assertive. “Okay, Gary, but we all need to wear safety glasses.  Do you need a new pair? I can grab you some” Gary may still try to escalate, but by using a neutral, non-threatening but also not defensive tone eventually he will come around. And the NEXT time you have a transaction with him it will be easier and easier until eventually Gary’s go-to move will be to the Adult mode.

You can apply the same type of approach to Child:Child conflicts.  The key is always stay in the adult, see and treat others as equals and treat them with respect.  For example, you might say, “okay guys why don’t we sit down and talk this through. We’re all adults and I’m confident that between the three of us we can settle our differences.  By inserting yourself into the conflict as an equal, and remaining in the adult, you can relate to them as equals and avoid coming off as parental. Listen to both sides, but don’t allow name calling, and be careful to avoid becoming parental.  “Okay, knock off the name calling” is parental whereas “why don’t we all try to remain calm and focus on the issues instead of making it personal?” is a more neutral way to diffuse.

The greatest thing I have found about using transactional analysis (and I do a LOT) is that every time you use it both you and the person with whom you are interacting get better at it.  It makes your life easier, better, and you aren’t an ass who sees himself/herself as superior to people who just happen to have made a different career choice than you.

8 Tips For Staying Alive At Work

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By Phil La Duke

You’ve heard it before, “everyone plays a role in safety” and it’s true. What we don’t say enough is here are some things, easy things, that you can do to protect yourself. Just for today, I am going to focus on what you as an individual can do to increase your chance of coming home from work alive. Of course, it’s important to watch out for other people’s safety, but you’ve probably heard that more times than “bless you” after a sneeze. So, having a wide breadth of experience in incident investigation and worked in a variety of dangerous environments, here are my tips (in no particular order) for staying alive at work:

  1. Be Situationally Aware. Situationally Aware is just a fancy way of saying pay attention to who and what is around you. In any workplace, there is a lot going on and it’s easy to get distracted. Watch where you’re walking and read and observe warnings. Understand that industrial vehicles may not be able to see you and even if you have the right of way you will still be dead if one hits you. Situational Awareness is tricky—you have to focus on your immediate surroundings and the potential dangers they present, but you also have to refrain from becoming so focused that you lose sight of the fact that you are in a dynamic environment and must be prepared to react to a hazard that suddenly and unexpectedly appears. One of the key elements of Situational Awareness is to know EXACTLY where you are—often critical time is lost in an emergency because the individual trying to summon help doesn’t know his or her exact location causing first responders to widen the search area.
  2. Keep Yourself Fit For Work. You don’t have to do calisthenics or aerobics to stay in shape to do your job (although it can’t hurt). Each shift that you report to work you should be well (as in not sick), clear-headed (no hangovers, not under the influence of any drug—prescription, recreational, or over-the-counter (yes, including alcohol) that has a tendency to impair you physically or mentally), and undistracted (stressing about things at home? Many companies have Employee Assistance Programs to help you manage stress irrespective as to whether or not it is job-related.
  3. Get Enough Sleep. You may feel like the energizer bunny and that you can just keep going and going but you can’t. Lack of sleep leads to fatigue, heightened risk-taking, and impaired judgment, in fact, studies have shown that fatigued individuals’ judgment is as impaired as those who are legally drunk.
    Look For the Unusual. Most injuries occur when something unexpected and unusual happened. Look around the workplace. Are there materials, activities, or people in the work area that isn’t usually there? Then ask yourself, “what do I need to do to protect myself if something goes wrong—improperly stacked stock falls, a welder causes a fire, or…well you get the point.
    Know the Appropriate Response to An Emergency BEFORE You Need It. Periodically walk the emergency evacuation routes and ensure that the exits aren’t blocked, exit doors aren’t locked, or that the route leads you to a dead end. If you know what to do in an emergency before you need to, you will be less inclined to panic and more likely to survive everything from a mass shooter to a fire. Give some real thought to what you will do if something happens and be prepared to act on a moment’s notice.
  4. Follow Proper Procedures. Everything from walking in from the parking lot to operating the microwave in the break room has a proper procedure. There may be many ways to safely do your job, but there is only one that has been designed, tested, and approved to do it. So stay in pedestrian walkways, observe stop signs, wear the required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and don’t take shortcuts—if you think of a better way to do your job, notify the appropriate people and if it truly is an innovation than it can be the new and improved standard, but until it is, do your job the way you are supposed to.
  5. Know When to NOT Follow the Rules. Blindly obedience to the rules is never a good policy. Rules are in place to help you make safer choices, but in some cases, your circumstances may dictate that the safest course of action be to act outside the standard operating procedure. Before you violate a rule, be sure that you have the decision rights to do so, in other words, make sure that you have been advised by a safety professional when it is okay to violate a given rule and when it is not.
  6. Listen to Your Inner Voice. When that little voice inside your head tells you that what you are about to do is stupid, dangerous, or reckless listen to it (unless it tells you to kill someone) and take a moment to consider safer options. If you can’t think of any safer options then enlist the help of others, but careful, stupidity often loves company.
  7. Listen to Your Body. Straining to complete a task is a good indicator that what you are doing is unsafe. As the old joke goes: “A man walks into a doctor’s office and says it hurts when I do this as he makes an awkward move with his arm. The doctor says, ‘then stop doing that’”; bad joke, good advise.
  8. Think Before You Act. Slow down and carefully think through the task before you attempt it. Ask yourself three questions:
    1. Am I competent enough to do this (have I been trained? Do I understand what could go wrong that could hurt me or others?)
    2. Am I physically able to do this without assistance? We all get older and some of us don’t have the strength or stamina to do the things we once did with ease, and
    3. Am I authorized to do this? Just because you know how to change a power outlet doesn’t make you an electrician, and just because you can hammer a nail doesn’t mean you are qualified to be a carpenter. Ask yourself do you have the qualifications (certification, training, the authority conferred by the organization, and meet all the requirements identified by the organization) to complete a task. If the answer to one of these questions is “no” then move along.
      Certainly, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Static rules and procedures in a dynamic workplace cannot protect us. You have to use your head and exercise good judgment to stay alive in the workplace.

Advocate For the People

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By Phil La Duke

Let us never lose sight that we are not advocates for safety, nor the company, nor the stats, rather we are now and forever advocates for the people.

Something you must know about my blog posts is that I NEVER disclose confidential information or experiences with current (meaning my current employer) clients, and in cases where I discuss previous client relationships I disguise key elements so that the privacy of the company or individual is compromised. I tell you this because recently people have asked me “is this about _____?” several times.  In each case, it is not even a company I have worked with at any time. So with that in mind…

Years ago, when I was a new employee I was traveling on business and in the course of my business travel, I was injured not once but twice in my hotel room owing to the darkness and poor furniture placement.  When I returned I dutifully reported the injuries as we were instructed to do. A short time later I was interrogated by our safety guy and lectured on ways to be more careful. I finished by saying my injury wasn’t work-related because the law considers a hotel a temporary domicile and therefore not my workplace.  It was clear to me in that instant that my safety guy cared not one whit about my safety, he cared about whether or not my injury would adversely affect the company’s safety record. I immediately lost respect for him and never reported another injury again. Knock wood, but I have never been seriously injured at work, but I resented the hypocrisy of telling me to report everything, going so far as to lecture me at how to be safer at home, while dismissing actual injuries as inconsequential.

All injuries are consequential to the injured party, and those who don’t believe it needs to get out of the business.  I believe now, that the role of the safety professional, must by necessity, be to help individuals to make informed decisions about their safety.  I am not a cop, a mother, or even a concerned friend. I’m a paid advisor (whether I work as an internal safety guy or an external consultant) to help you, my constituents, make smarter choices. Just as a lawyer (and I realized at age 32 that the fact that I had a divorce attorney, an attorney simply for lawsuits, a tax attorney, and a criminal attorney that something had gone horribly wrong with my life) can give you advice it’s up to you to follow it. I’m here to tell you (and perhaps living proof) that the worst advice you can ever get is usually free.

When people ask me if I want some free advice I ask THEM if they want a long sweaty awkward hug from a fat man. Both are equally repulsive to me.

So let us never forget that we are paid for our advice. A good criminal lawyer keeps his or her clients out of jail so they can commit more crimes, but a good safety practitioner hopes people will heed his or her advice so they will be able to offer more life-saving advice. Sure your lawyer will tell you they want you to stay out of trouble but as Larry Flynt reportedly said (arguing why his lawyer would never quit) “I’m rich, I’m the most fun, and I’m always in trouble).

So while we may not be lawyers we still are advocates. Let us never lose sight that we are not advocates for safety, nor the company, nor the stats, rather we are now and forever advocates for the people.

When we are advocates for safety we have a tendency to see people as the primary obstacle to safety. “If only people would do as they were told, stop making stupid choices, and cease being complacent, lazy oafs we’d have a perfect safety record.” Safety must be for the people not despite the people and as long as we worship the Safety like a pagan god the workers will always resent us and oppose us.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that as safety practitioners we are advocates for the company, but here again, we short shrift the people.  A safe workplace is a successful workplace, and when we advocate for the company we are actually working against safety. Case management may be a necessary evil, but it’s still evil.  I’ve seen too many great people with legitimate injuries get chewed up and spit out by this inhuman process. To be sure there ARE people who want to cheat the system, but these miscreants are in the minority.  Why then do so many case managers treat EVERYONE like a liar and a cheat?

Similarly, many safety practitioners who see themselves as advocates of the company consciously or unconsciously create programs that actively and passively encourage workers NOT to report injuries.  Unreported injuries seem like a good thing for the company and a lot of leaders don’t differentiate between zero injuries and zero reported injuries.  It looks good on paper and everyone gets a pat on the back, even the people who risk being cheated out of their legal rights because they went home with blood in their pockets so they didn’t screw up the safety BINGO.

It’s only when we see ourselves as we should, as absolute champions of the people’s right to a safe workplace that we can ever truly be successful.  Anything less than that is sheer sloth and cowardice.

Does Your Company Value Your Safety?

coins-currency-investment-insurance-128867.jpegBy Phil La Duke

At first glance most of you silently answered, “of course they do” but is your personal safety truly a value of the company?  In many cases while you may think so it just isn’t the case. When I say values, I am talking about the most deeply seated beliefs held by the company, the non-negotiables by which all the decisions are made at the firm.  

Think of someone you greatly respect and admire, someone you know well.  What are his or her values? Is this person honest? Loyal? Brave? Kind? Just what is it about them that makes you admire them?  When you answer these questions like as not, you will have a good understanding of their values. And how did you get to know these values? Was it because this person SAID these things where his or her values or was it more likely the way he or she behaved, the way they treated others?

Jesus said, and Abraham Lincoln quoted him, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.  In a real way this means that you can’t consistently live your life acting outside your values without it leading to failure and catastrophe.  A dear friend of mine quit his job one day because, as he told me, “I don’t like what I am becoming; what this job is turning me into.” He was talking about being forced DAILY to compromise his values in order to do and keep his job. So take a hard look at your company’s website and then look at how people make decisions and behave?

Have you ever seen anyone caught violating a safety policy and have the supervisor overlook it? Do your senior leaders talk a good game when it comes to safety but when doing the job safely means jeopardizing a production timeline they consistently risk it and push production? Do middle managers get judged on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to everything BUT safety?

I’ve talked about people who mistake supporting safety philosophically but ignoring it operationally before.  These aren’t bad people, in fact, their hear is in the right place it’s just that their head isn’t. I support world peace, but I am nothing about it.  You’re not likely to see me get the Nobel Prize (Hell, you won’t even see me get a nod for speaking up about the need for safety improvements) because world peace isn’t really my value.  Do you want to truly know what you value? Take a hard look at how you spend your time and money. Don’t tell me you view your family when you are missing every big moment in your kid’s life—and don’t diminish what might be a big moment in your kid’s life a gawdawful holiday pageant may be torturous to sit through with kids shouting (not singing) Christmas carols and what not, but the first thing your little boy or girl will say to you when it’s over is “DID YOU SEE ME?!?!?” It’s not about them thinking they will be Broadway stars, it’s about connecting with you. It’s the affirmation that you value them above your bowling team, above a drink with a college buddy, and above a client dinner.

So think about your company and what it DOES to protect you from harm, what it does to reduce your risk.  While in the U.S. injuries that happen on your commute to work don’t count as workplace injuries, but in many parts of the world they do.  Statistically, at least in most parts of the world you are far more likely to be killed or seriously injured in your commute to work, and yet I still know many companies that limit how much time a person can work from home.  Does this sound like the actions of a company that values the safety of their workers? Or does it sound like the actions of a company that values facetime in the office?

Don’t even get me started on case management.  There are bureaucrats out there whose sole job is to prove that a worker injury claim is not job related.  If I have an old football injury that means my shoulder hurts once in awhile and then get a rack of engine blocks slammed into me aggravating that injury there are many companies that will pay three times more money to prove that my injury was a preexisting condition and therefore not their responsibility.  If my car has a dent in it, and you slam your truck into it and total it, are you absolved of any responsibility because my car had a preexisting condition.

Often employers are more subtle in demonstrating that they don’t value safety. Have you ever seen a supervisor or manager tell someone to “get it done whatever it takes?” I have and what they are not-so-subtly telling you is that we value job completion even if that means it darn near kills you.  Of course after the fact they are all saying “I never told him not to lock out” or “obviously I didn’t mean run a red light and kill that man” but they DID mean exactly that.

Sometimes a lack of value for safety manifests as safety policies and rules that make it practically impossible to do the job without taking risky short cuts.  We are forced to do the job at high risk and for them it’s a no-lose proposition. If we violate the procedure even though we took needless risk they met their goals and are heroes.  If we violate the procedure and hurt ourselves we get written up for the violation. Is this what valuing safety looks like?

Putting “we provide our workers with a safe workplace” or some other vague and fanciful slogan on your company website may look good for the stockholders and customers, but for money, don’t TELL me you value my safety and well being SHOW me you value my safety and well-being and show me every day.