Why Do Anything About Injuries When You Can Pretend to Take Action Instead?

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by  Phil La Duke

Safety is not a humanitarian effort. We all know the story of the days of yore when the loss of life—from building the pyramids to building the Brooklyn Bridge—was just the cost of doing business. Nobody liked it, but it wasn’t like IMPORTANT people died.  After all the workers weren’t considered much more than bright livestock. In fact, when a horse pulling a wagon died in the workplace it was much more of a set back than when a worker died. Irish, Poles, Blacks, and German immigrants were plentiful and a good horse was hard to find, whereas the filthy poor were a dime a dozen.

We’re more sophisticated in our bigotry toward the great unwashed now.  The careless, obstinate, ignorant workers are too stupid to save their own lives, and yet if one of them gets killed MY bonus gets affected.  Or the executive who rolls the dice with human life when asking, “how much will we get fined if we don’t comply and get caught?” Or let’s just get “safe enough”.  I hear these and worse from people who run companies and worse people assigned to the safety department.

I’m tired, people, I’m tired. Maybe I’m all punched out and just staggering around the ring praying for the bell or that knock out punch that takes me out of the match forever. Or maybe I’m just like a terrier with a rat, refusing to drop it long after its dead. Maybe.

I’ve been thinking a lot of how we as a profession got here. How did safety go from protecting the company and its workers to blaming the workers and doing everything we can to ensure that the books are properly cooked? If I’m jaded I come by it honestly.  People keep describing me as angry, but now all I can feel is disgust and guilt by association.

In his seminal work, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair provides a contemporary account of the life of a worker in a meat-packing plant circa 1900. It told the story of a man who wanted nothing more than his share of the American Dream and was thwarted at every turn. At it’s hear was the message that everyone deserves to work, earn a fair wage, and go home unharmed.  Sinclair hoped that the popularity of his book might spark social reforms. Instead, it ushered in regulations for food safety. Sadly, Sinclair summed up his disappointment saying, “I aimed for America’s heart and hit it in the stomach.”

Life for workers was slow to improve, on one hand, you had Unions fighting to organize to secure and preserve workers’ rights, not the least of which was the right to return home uninjured, and on the other hand, you had business leaders with all the compassion of a Nazi Deathcamp guard hiring strikebreakers—Henry Ford hired the University of Michigan football team to bust erstwhile UAW heads, while other companies hired organized crime specialists to brutalize Union workers.

And three decades after Sinclair wrote The Jungle, Herbert Heinrich wrote his rich book of fiction Industrial Accident Industrial Accident Prevention, A Scientific Approach a book that most snake oil salesmen who peddle the Behavior Based Swindle have never read that has become the Holy Bible that has created the cult of Behavior-Based Safety.  

Defending Heinrich and his infernal tribute to stupidity, the Heinrich Pyramid, is tough. Unless you can justify:

The Behavior-Based Swindle grew out of dubious “research” of one Herbert William Heinrich a statistician who claimed to have conducted research in the 1920s that would predict the numbers of likely fatalities based on the number of less serious injuries. He further postulated that 80% of all injuries were caused by worker carelessness or recklessness.  Few questioned this work despite some things that we would never pass scientific muster today, including:

  • Heinrich’s research was based on asking supervisors of the injured workers, sometimes a two decades after the incident, what caused the injuries.  I could ask supervisors of factory workers today to tell me the causes of worker injuries that happened yesterday and get a similar response—without the slightest shred of proof or scientific investigation; just like Heinrich.
  • Heinrich’s work was never peer-reviewed, in fact, there is a growing body of evidence that he took no notes at all and never even visited a single workplace in furtherance of his research. Some have gone so far as to suggest that he made up his research, which is fair—there is as much evidence that Big Foot is responsible for crop circles after getting a particularly rough rectal probe from alien visitors as there is that Heinrich did anything more than write his opinions.
  • Heinrich was a strong supporter of Eugenics, the widely discredited idea that some races were superior and more evolved than others. Today there are a lot of people who support the idea that some races are intrinsically superior to all others. To support Heinrich is to support these groups.
  • Heinrich’s statistical relationship of 300 injuries to 1 fatality seems to have no mathematical or statistical validity. For one we have NO IDEA how large the population of the bottom of the triangle is so any statistic inference is impossible. Add to that the fact that machinery and equipment that workers used in the 1900s and teens are far less safe than it is today, and you have all the makings of an urban legend—something people believe with no basis in fact, but that sounds really reasonable. Heinrich’s Pyramid has a lot in common with

So why do people persist in promulgated this Behavior Based Swindle? Because there’s big money in stupidity, and as long as people—particularly business executives—believe this horse manure,  sharp snake oil salesmen will continue to shill it.

Behavior-Based Safety (BBS note that BS is in its name for all that is holy) is not without its charms: it’s easier to blame the worker than it is to take accountability for fixing the system errors that created the environment where workers made poor choices because they were lead to believe something was safe when it wasn’t,

You also have a chorus of imbeciles claiming that they have achieved zero-injuries using sustainable solution. Add to that regulatory and now global corporations who insist on using REPORTED injuries and in some cases a BBS system as a criterion for doing business and…well gosh darn it why WOULDN’T we implement BBS?

Except it doesn’t work except for assigning blame and driving risk underground. And when we continue perpetuating it we kill people.  Years ago, saw a case where a worker was crushed to death—his body popped like an overripe tomato splattering gore over a sign provided as part of one of the leading BBS proponents, and yet the leadership of his facility continued to use BBS.

Last week I posted a link to 80% of Safety Practitioners are Idiots on LinkedIn with the sole text of “read the post before telling me I’m wrong.” 11,067 people viewed that post but  8.069%. Only 893 people were interested enough to click a link to find out what justification I had in calling 80% of our profession idiots; based on the number maybe my estimate was off by a bit.  

I have found that oft as not, people don’t really want to think about safety in hard, meaningful terms, it’s so much more reassuring to think about safety in philanthropic terms. “We’re doing what’s right” rather than “we’re doing what’s smart”. Mostly what I learned from the incredibly low percentage of people who read my one sentence post was that people today don’t really want to learn—at least not from me—rather they want to be insulted and stop around in righteous indignation.

Meanwhile, people are working themselves to death.

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.

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80% of Safety Practitioners Are Idiots

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Photo by Rodolpho Zanardo from Pexels

by Phil La Duke

Startling title; nasty, mean, condescending and just plain unfair.  It’s not right, it’s not fair,  it’s not just.  So how does it feel? Because as long as we perpetuate the 80% of all injuries are caused by employee behaviors we say that every day to hard-working men and women who want nothing more than do their jobs each day and escape unscathed. But then we would have to do real work, real thinking using real science to solve our problems and for too many of us, it just isn’t worth it.

In an interview with The Art of the CEO, that will be broadcast on December 4th, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. (tune in on any broadcast station that carries the show, or at  http://theartoftheceo.com. One of the questions asked was “…tell us how to get these guys to tie off—clip on—and save their own darn lives.”  Then I read a post by Carsten Busch, safety thinker extraordinaire, that quoted an early dissident to the “80% of injuries are caused by recklessness or carelessness,” and it pissed me off.  

I realize some of the more delicate among you will use this colloquialism to tune out. Good. I learned a long time ago that someone stupid enough to believe this would use any excuse to mentally discredit me and return to their lucrative business built on lies.  If not my use of course language, it’s my typos, or because I called someone a name—it amounts to nothing more than having a closed mind, a lucrative income based on the junk science, and unwillingness to so much as even consider a more viable approach.

By a more viable approach, I am not speaking of my approach (although it is) rather ANY of the umpteen methods that are based on scientific research that was conducted on human error, flawed decision making, or the latest in brain research.

But I beginning to realize that I may have been wrong all along, maybe the stupidity created by the vivid imagination of Henry Heimlich, and perpetuated by the National Safety Council for 100 years, is right, after all, maybe 80% of all incidents are caused by the behavior of safety practitioners and CEOs.  The behaviors of stubbornness, resistance to change, willingness to take shortcuts, out-and-out laziness, and the eagerness to accept the dumbest dreck ever uttered or written WERE INDEED causing most injuries.

What if the actions and inactions of senior leaders in Operations in unknowing cahoots with safety simpletons were causing 80% of the incidents.  What if companies did little more than pencil whip training, do no evaluation as to the effectiveness of the training, did no reinforcement of the training on the job, and didn’t even CONSIDER evaluating worker competency as part of the performance evaluation process, might that cause injuries? Or what if the companies evaluated the training based on how many people were injured after taking the training, might THAT causes injuries?

Or how about Operations that refuse to free up machinery for preventive maintenance, might THAT cause injuries? What about Operations managers who work outside of the process; providing workers with inadequate tools, or running production despite not having enough parts? Do you think that THAT might cause injuries?

Consider the companies that work their employees to the point where they can barely stand upright because they are so fatigued, might that not be a cause of injuries?

How about organizations that see hazards but do nothing to fix them or slap a containment Band-aid on it that fails to adequately protect workers, might this not be the kind of behavior that gets workers hurt and even killed?

What about the front-line leader who (with the full complicity of his or her leadership) decides to risk it and continue production when a sane person would freak out at the recklessness of the decision? Might that be a behavior that causes injuries? And let’s not forget about the safety practitioner who looks the other way or even cooks the books through Case Management?

Of course, we can’t forget the safety practitioners who aren’t qualified to do their jobs and yet gleefully continue to cash paychecks; might that not cause injuries? Why aren’t we blaming engineers, safety practitioners and Operations leaders who work at the lowest tier of the Hierarchy of Controls and slap a “Warning: Do Not Die” on a hazard instead of eliminating it?

How does it feel to get blamed for something you didn’t do or can’t control? Not great, right? So when for the love of all that’s holy are we going to stop smugly blaming workers for their injuries and start digging beyond, the careless, reckless idiot worker screwed up and got hurt or killed someone. We should be in the business of correcting system errors that cause injuries, improving worker competency, and yes, accountability, but for that to happen we first need to get out of the shame and blame business.

Not only do we have to stop buying into the Behavior-Based Swindle, but we have to stop promulgating it by insisting that our vendors have a BBS system in place.  We have to rely on science and sweat, not Bigotry-Based Safety (let’s not forget that the nationality and ethnicity of the worker were seen as potential root causes of Heinrich’s theory, and eugenics was a science embraced by the Nazis).

Why is it so difficult to believe that machines break down and hurt people, that people make flawed decisions—not because they are careless or reckless but—because they have imperfect information? Why do we struggle at the idea that doing a repetitive job over and over again can lead to human error which, in turn, can hurt us? What makes us react incredulously at the idea that human beings are innately imperfect and that human error is not something we can ever eliminate (even robots make mistakes).

Maybe things are like so many people persist in believing: stupid, careless, lazy people are the cause of most injuries. Maybe the National Safety Council is right in perpetuating the belief that 80% of injuries are caused by carelessness and recklessness. Maybe all those who cling to this belief like a mother lemur clutching its offspring. Maybe these things are all true, but if they are, maybe we are blaming the wrong people.

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.

Is Zero Harm a SMART Goal?

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By Phil La Duke

Ask any member of the cult of safety what the Goal is and through glassy eyes and a smile that can only be produced by Stockholm Syndrome and you will hear in a zombie-like voice, “Zero Harm, the only acceptable goal can be Zero Harm”. Good goal, no question. Well not really a good goal if you follow the time cherished rule of making SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.  Is Zero Harm specific, it seems like it at first blush but we need to define harm. Is it harm to workers? What about harm to equipment? How about harm to the bottom line? How about harm to the company’s reputation? How about harm to the environment? How about hurting my feelings? Okay, okay, I’ve made my point, but realistically, since we are talking about harm in the context of the Safety Goal, I will cut the zealots some slack and say it’s probably specific enough for workers to get the drift of what we want to accomplish.

Is zero harm measurable? This one is a bit sticky.  Safety as a profession, function, and pagan religion has defined itself by trying to measure the absence of something, in this case, harm. This is akin to trying to measure the speed of dark (try it). This is a maddening quagmire mess: when we measure injuries (or harm) we typically end up measuring the absence of reported or detected injury.  If there is a hole in the bottom of your boat, it doesn’t matter if you see it or not it’s going to sink. When we set goals our hope at least, is that everyone will work together to achieve that goal, of course. Add to that, that pesky lack of specificity mentioned above and you have a real problem measuring this goal. It’s like the old philosophical question if a man cuts down a tree in the forest and it falls on him killing him does it make a sound?  

Our lack of ability to get a tight measurement on an esoteric concept is why we have indicators which about half the people reading this don’t have a clue what the indicators are telling them (you know who you are).

We can certainly attain zero harm, hell I’ve gone about 6 hours without being injured. So clearly zero harm is attainable, I know even though the specific part of the goal is weak, and the measurable is nebulous, I am unequivocally positive that zero harm can be attained. I cut open some boxes and even DROVE in icy conditions and you know what? Zero Harm, nothing, nil, zip, nada.  But alas, I work from home so there will be no pizza party for the likes of me. Just as well, pizza is a food that will kill Phil so the reward for my not harming me would harm me. Ponder that..yeah, that’s what it feels like to have your mind blown. I have always thought Zero Ham would make a beautiful goal it’s specific (it’s either ham or it ain’t) measurable (97% rat droppings free and it’s ham my friend) attainable? I haven’t eaten any ham today, have you? Relative? Who can’t relate to a ham-free meal? I’m not asking you to swear off pork (although that wouldn’t kill you) Timely: Okay maybe I need to think this through. Is it over between ham and me? Will I never eat it again? Some scenarios are too horrible to visualize and you know the most ironic thing about this is? I don’t even really like ham. So it goes…but what we can all agree on, is that if someone challenges the reasonableness of our goal of zero ham we can reasonably and believably claim it was a typo.

As indicated, Zero Harm is attainable, but is it sustainable? and if so for how long? This is where I have gotten into too many arguments with too many mouth breathers (the kind of person who used to remind the teacher to assign homework just before the bell rings) about how they KNOW Zero Harm is possible because they achieved it. As my daughter tells people whose claim that something is true she doubts because they argue that they’ve seen pictures of it. “I have a picture of my dad walking across Abbey Road with the Beatles but that doesn’t prove it happened. These glassy-eyed worshipers of the One True Goal brag about how many hours (because it’s 24 times more impressive than days) without a reportable, detectable, observed injury. If the goal is to attain zero injuries then every minute that somebody doesn’t get harmed is cause for celebration. HUZZAH!! GO US!!!! That’s why those signs with the number of days or hours without a recordable, detectable, harmful incidents are so important and inspirational. Doggone It I some days that sign is the only thing keeping me from driving the fork truck (you can’t use the most common name for such a vehicle because it’s a trademark and I don’t need big Powered Industrial Vehicles on my ass) off the loading dock is knowing that if I get harmed then we have to start all over with more than 1 hour without a…So if the goal is truly Zero Harm shouldn’t it have a context? And if the goal is forever…well that’s a heck of a long time to go without harm.

When I was taught to set goals I wasn’t taught the SMART acronym (too cute for my taste) instead I was taught a different acronym that I don’t remember but I do remember that measurable and attainable tangible were in there; maybe the acronym was MEAT.  Measurable because the goal should leave you better off than when you started, and attainable, which in this context meant that it was within my power to achieve the goal, and that’s something I think a lot of people fail to recognize in safety is that we can’t control the incredibly intricate, complicated, and maddeningly unpredictable system that is worker safety.  

Trying to impose order on to chaos is the height of madness.

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).

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.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Complicity in Failure

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By Phil La Duke

“Who takes all the glory and none of the shame” Elvis Costello, Tramp The Dirt Down

On May 5, 2012, I wrote two blog posts that I intended to be companion pieces, the first  was meant to send the message to safety practitioners that if we claim credit for saving lives we MUST admit culpability for worker fatalities the second,  was a response from “the safety guy” Response to the Open Letter From the 4695 Fatalities  which I published eight days later.  In this piece, I wanted to answer the rancor of the first piece.  To lift some of the burden so easily and squarely placed on the people who work in safety. Together I hoped the two pieces to be a powerful dialog that would remind both sides of the argument that while everyone plays a part in safety, not everyone plays an equal role, and not everyone has the same amount of power in making changes that make the workplace safety.  The outpouring of vitriol and hatred I received from the first piece almost forced me to abandon the already written piece.  It felt like I was pandering to the pitchfork-touting, mouth-breathing, sub simian asshats who read my work solely to take offense.  Frankly, I wanted to write a poison pen response to these Shakespearian ladies who doth protest too much. I had never realized that I not only touched a nerve but pulled one out and gnawed on it like a rat; I wanted to tell them how their sanctimonious “we are doing sacred work here” bullshit sickened me. Despite this, I published the response and have never been able to shake the fact that the bastards thought they won’t that the internet trolls and bully-boys forced me to retreat.  There used to be a poorly drawn cartoon going around in the days before email, entitled the last great act of defiance. It was a crude drawing of a mouse arm raised with its middle finger raised in triumph seconds before a bird of prey swooped in to usher him to a certain and gruesome fate.  I’ve always identified with that poster and publishing the second have has always felt like surrender.  Well, it didn’t feel like that when I wrote it, but when the yowling banshees of guilty consciouses started their whinny chorus I just could STAND myself for letting them off the hook.  I included the first in my first book, (I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business!) but omitted the answer.  In fact, as I write this now I realize that at least to some extent, the title of the book itself was forged from bile I still feel for copping out.  As Emiliano Zapata said,It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.  I wanted to revisit that original letter and say that in today’s global climate of hate and intolerance where worker protections are being dismantled and people starved of facts or evidence are calling for rollbacks on environmental and safety regulations are screaming that we are too obsessed with safety, that safety regulations have gone too far, that everyone who supports and encourages these people—be they in the highest government offices around the world or at the stool at the end of the corner bar are complicit with the horrors they inflict.  There are no sidelines in safety, you are either for a safe workplace or you are indifferent to it, but make no mistake you are in the fight.

We can squabble over the best way to protect workers and I will fan the flames of those battles every week right here, in my blog, in my articles, and in my books. I will call out charlatans when I see them, but we all have to fight the public perception that safety is for candy-asses.  I’ve lost too many people close to me to concede defeat. I may be that mouse with the raptor about to disembowel me but I will remain staunchly defiant with my middle finger raised proudly, in my last great act of defiance.

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).

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.

Don’t Call Me “Robot”

Robot.jpgBy Phil La Duke

Sorry for the delay in this post.  I was working feverishly to get my second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention, which went to my publisher last night. Expect coercive pressure to come.  But as I was writing about a cold-blooded killer going through the workplace I got to thinking about all the many approaches to safety and all the models (both well-meaning and half-witted) and I saw in all (or most) of this thinking a fatal flaw: they all tend to see “safety” as a static state. “If people would just do…we could have safety”.

Unfortunately, life gets in the way.  In the US workplace safety accounts for the slimmest of fractions of preventable death—before you cluck that tongue, consider…hold on now stop shaking your head in vehement denial and just consider heart disease, cancer, automobile accidents, any one of which kills more people each year than workplace fatalities. Even the most reckless doctor would never—even after proclaiming you to be in perfect health—tell you that you will never die of heart disease. Why? Because we live in a complicated system and what is true today may not (in fact, I will go so far as to say WILL not) be the same tomorrow. I’ve known too many people who have, after getting a clean bill of health, treat themselves to 6 months of unhealthy living.

So my question is this: Why do so many of us persist in our quest for that mythical lost city safety? Where machinery never wears out, and processes are perfectly designed, and all the people mindlessly follow every safety procedure and protocol like drones.  

Not many people know this, but even robots (which is a pejorative term it means “slave”, you insensitive louts! I know you are thinking that “robots don’t have feelings” and your right, for NOW, but when they do develop sentience and want to be called “enhanced humans” you still will call them robots behind their back. This is what will lead to the machine uprising! Just kidding folks I don’t care what you call robots and as for the machine uprising I will worry about that when Siri (who buy the way I insist call me Mr. La Duke, because it’s an appliance not a friend) can get my doctor on the phone when I say, “Call Dr. Ford” instead of saying, “I’m sorry Mr. La Duke, but I can’t find a ‘Ivan Robertonski in your contacts.” I have left many people wondering because I have left them screaming voicemails of “cancel, cancel, cancel! You (expletive) piece of (expletive).” I’ve done it so often that I think I may have inadvertently shut down sleeper cells.) make mistakes? It’s true.  But hell I’ve wandered off the rails again.

Safety is never a permanent state and all these lagging and leading indicators are so often misinterpreted, or not analyzed at all remind me of the organizational equivalent of a snipe hunt. I would like to see us slow down in safety. Speed kills, or at least that’s what anti-drug public service announcements told me in the 1960’s. Seriously though, let’s just take a moment to clean out our attics when it comes to safety. So many of us hoard ideas and heap another piece intellectual excrement on the growing pile of thought dung. So many of us do the right things wrong and the wrong things because we’re afraid to tell our CEO who heard about a dumb idea on a plane from some drunk sitting next to him who read a book about it, that the idea is stupid!

If all we do is fill requests without truly informing the organization what it will REALLY cost (not just to hire the consultant, but how much labor, and materials, and administrivia will result) and the opportunity costs then we are nothing more than overpaid errand boys.

We need to get back to basics. Let’s face it we know what is hurting our people (and eventually our robots…no! I will stay focused.) We generally know how it’s happening. We know which jobs are more dangerous. And if we don’t know these things we need to get off our asses and get out to where the work is done.  When someone does something stupid we need to ask them to help us understand WHY they thought that was the best option? We need to understand the people and they need to understand us. So no more jargon, no more half-witted safety BINGOs, no more sociopathic children’s coloring contest. (Nobody ever died on the job because they hated their kid). We need to just STOP and ask ourselves how everything we do lowers the risk of employee injuries, and if our answer is “I dunno” then we need to stop doing it.

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).

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

What’s Left To Say When Nobody’s Listening?

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

By Phil La Duke

Last week I wrote a post about my disdain for “predictive analytics” and a reader disagreed with it and told me I should read Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die  By Eric Siegel, So I did. The book isn’t about safety per se, but a fair amount of companies are dumping millions into the attempt to predict how people will act in the context of safety.  Don’t get me wrong, Predictive analytics, that is, the clues that tell us how a person is likely to behave in a given situation, has been around for a good long time. Market research is a great example, millions are spent on analyzing buying trends to determine whether people prefer Fruit Loops over Cheerios, or whether showing idiots amazed at the obvious will sell cars.  But can this theory be applied to worker safety, and if it can be so what?

There is a couple of real big problems with predictions and human behavior is that people don’t usually act the way they do because of a predictable and rational reason. They tend to act this way because they are emotional.  Brain researchers have determined that we make our decisions based, not on logic and careful analysis, but on emotion.  I know that some of you are resisting this idea, and frankly so did I at first.  But, the researchers also found is that people tend to make their decisions in the part of the brain that controls emotions, and then justify what they already want to do by seeking out only that information that supports it.

So if you read a book to which you have formed an emotional attachment that book becomes sacrosanct and nothing I can say, write, or do will convince you otherwise.  So if someone says we can change the world using predictive analytics, I say “prove it” oh, but I won’t be spending millions letting you prove it.

Irrespective of the book and books like it, I still say bunk, and here’s why:

  1. Prediction is easier the closer it is to the predicted outcome.  For example, if you see a person fall off a 30 story building you can probably predict his demise with amazing accuracy, but if you  see a man sitting in a diner drinking coffee your prediction that he will die at 12:34 p.m. a month later.  Now the advocates of predictive analytics would argue that given enough information,  how often does he approach the edge of the building, how frequently is he on top of that building, how much expertise does he have, how much stress is he under, how much training has he had, how frustrated is he on the job, how much time has it been since his last bowel movement etc. they would be able to predict  that he would fall and when it would happen, hell they could send flowers to the widow before he hit the ground! What a time saver!

There are companies who successfully use predictive analytics to determine which of their employees are most likely to leave the company. Okay, great. These companies then intervene and prevent the people from leaving, “at a great rate of success”.  But how do they KNOW this is working? I guess one could say that the proof is in the pudding but I am dubious.  First, I’d like to know how many would have left if they hadn’t intervened.  I have worked at jobs I absolutely hated, but found it difficult to actively look for another job because recruiters tend to be lazy gits who only want to interview during the work week, which would cause me to take a day off and likely tip off my current employer. So while one could predict that I would be looking for another job, or would accept an offer, one could NOT predict my emotional state and therefore my ultimate decision.  A 90% success rate is better than a 10% success rate to be sure, but in that 90% success rate is there the element of luck at play? I enjoy shooting craps.  I know that certain bets are just foolhardy, but I make them anyway.  Casinos, know that free drinks, bright lights, sleep deprivation,  and other factors make it more likely that people will bet more foolishly and they put all those factors into play.  They also know that if I am having a good time—win or lose—I will stay at the table longer and statistics predict that I will ultimately start losing.  But there are many times that I will walk away from a table with a big score.  I can assure you it wasn’t because I am a highly skilled gambler, but because I got lucky and won enough to satisfy me. Casinos might be able to predict that I will lose and how much time it will take me to lose, but there is chance that I will win, and their predictions will be wrong.

2. Why do we accept predictive analytics but reject forecasts? Many of us disregard the weather forecasts despite the fact that meteorologists using powerful computers have analyzed thousands of bits of data to create a fairly reliable same- or next-day forecast but when the weather forecast is five days out, it is darn near impossible to predict. We accept that long-range forecasts are little more than guesses, yet we have not compunction against dismissing these forecasts as not-so-educated guests.

3.The problem with prognostication. Whether we call it trend analysis, forecasts, or predictive analysis or whatever, is they base the prediction on a snapshot or a trend and ignore the fact that all the moving parts are going to keep moving and shifting and the more we try to master our ability to predict the future the bigger fools we become.

 

Predictive Indicators Are Hogwash

lightning during nighttime

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

By Phil La Duke

I didn’t get my blog written until late last night, because a) I wasn’t feeling well, b)had started a topic that was way too long to post, and c) I was very busy, But something gnawing at me for awhile: this whole emerging infatuation with the idea of “predictive indicators” as it pertains to safety.  Let me begin by saying there are a lot more companies relying solely on lagging indicators than using a holistic approach that compares leading and lagging indicators to accurately gauge the companies’ current performance (never mind trends and likely future performance). Even within organizations with the organizations who meticulously gather lagging indicators too many do nothing to interpret the data and turn it into something that is meaningful, useful, and actionable to and for Operations.

Let me dispel the myth of safety “predictive indicators”. The term “predictive indicators” was borrowed from the world of finance and was originally applied to the ability of stock analysts to use an algorithm to predict market fluctuations, as anyone who has stock (or a retirement fund that has stocks) these predictive indicators aren’t very accurate and some believe are no better than throwing a dart at a board.  So while stock analysts still look at these predictive indicators, few of them are staking their entire fortunes on them and fewer still are betting the lives of others on them. In any case, in most cases that I have seen, when safety pundits are using term Predictive Indicators, they are either misusing the term to describe a leading indicator, or have developed a model that is impressive in its complexity but as reliable as a degenerate gambler’s system for picking the winning horse.

So what is a predictive indicator anyway? Probably the most familiar forecast using predictive indicators are weather forecasts.  It’s an apt analogy to both the stock market and performance of Safety within an organization. I tried to research exactly how reliable weather forecasts were and it was like trying to get a politician to go on the record.  As one article, put it “We know that weather forecasts are inherently uncertain. (We’re predicting the future, after all!)” What I learned is that the closer you are to the event the more accurate the prediction will be, but as you move out 5 days there is an exponential drop off in accuracy and when you get to a 14-day forecast you basically have a SWAG (silly, wild-assed, guess).  So while this lack of accuracy might prompt you to grab an umbrella on your way out the door, it’s hardly the same when it comes to dealing with financial decisions and the life and death of workers.

We need to nip this in the bud because there are non-safety executives now co opting this term and wondering why we in safety can’t use the information at hand to scry the future, and once we know what’s going to happen, can come to the rescue just in time.

I know I am once again rattling the cages of academics and con men who have spent years developing an algorithm or pretty, complex, and useless model which they want to sell to you for an incredibly low price.  The problem is we can’t predict the future outcomes of a complex system and the stock market, the weather, and safety and even a guess can be dangerous. Again, think of the weather forecast. If the forecast calls for a 70% chance of rain, that means that there is a 30% it won’t rain, and even if it DOES rain, it doesn’t mean that it will rain where you are, so most people figure, “it’s probably gonna rain” and dress appropriately.  Except me, I don’t believe in umbrellas—you still get wet and you have the inconvenience of having one hand encumbered—and forget rain hats and raincoats (what am I a cod fisherman?)

Playing the odds

I can’t tell you how many people, when I warn them of a hazard, look at me with a “gimme a break” look on their face and ask “yeah, but what are the odds that’s gonna happen?” I’m honest with them, I will tell them that the odds are low but the stakes are high.  It’s like a reverse lottery ticket. I know plenty of people who will not swim in the ocean for fear of sharks, despite the astronomical odds against being attacked. They aren’t playing the odds because the potential outcome is death and the reward (swimming) isn’t sufficient for them to chance it.  Why then do people in the workplace engage in high-risk, high-consequence activities? What’s the reward for failing to control the energy while performing tasks that require it? You save a couple of minutes? What is the probability that something could go wrong? (I’m not going to waste the time and effort to calculate the odds, but suffice to say, the odds are considerably higher of dying in a LOTO accident than it is being attacked by a shark, and swimming in the ocean is a far better reward than finishing a job 5 minutes quicker.

Duration of Exposure

While it may be impossible to predict with any sort of frequence how and when someone will get hurt we can look at leading indicators that correlate to injuries. The duration of exposure is a decent indicator of the risk associated with a given activity.  All other things being equal, a worker who spends 5 minutes in a confined space is at significantly lower risk of being harmed than a worker who spends 12 hours in a confined space. It stands to reason that, minus any other risk factors, the worker who is in a confined space is 144 times more likely to be harmed than the worker who is in a confined space than the worker who spends 5 minutes in a confined space (5 minutes x 12 =1 hour, and 1 hour x 12=144 five minute increments).  But even this is of limited value, because there is no guarantee that either worker will not be harmed in the first 5 minutes, which is why I qualified it by saying, “minus any other risk factors”. This should not be seen as an encouragement of rushing to get a job done, rather it should serve as a warning to the people who take risks because they are “only going to be in there for a minute.” Statistically, people tend to underestimate how long a task will take to complete and that means that people consistently underestimate the duration of their exposure and subsequently the risk of being killed or injured.

So let’s erase “predictive indicators” from our lexicon and focus instead on doing a better job of using appropriate lagging and leading indicators to calculate or risks.

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. Note: If you are outside North America, you will want to order for the Amazon site in your country.  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.