If You Didn’t Come Here To Be Liked You Came To The Right Place


By Phil La Duke

NOTE: If you are reading this, thank you. The fact that you took the time to read this and maybe even reflected on these points before making a comment either here or on LinkedIn means a lot to me. Maybe there’s hope for us all after all. Sorry for that interruption so without further delay…

We have a lot of disagreements in the world of safety, but the one I find most interesting is whether or not the organization likes the safety professional. For my part, I would like to think the population should like the safety professional. What’s not to like, this is a person whose job it is to ensure to the extent possible that the place where we work won’t kill us. To others, being hated by the population is a badge of honor; some so much so that they mistake hatred for respect.

Some time ago I sat through a course on hazard recognition, and while the content was very good the instructor well…at one point he turned to the plant safety professionals and said with a simpleton’s grin, “you will be the most hated men in the plant”. More recently, a safety veteran told me that he tried not to get too friendly with the workers because it could compromise his effectiveness when he had to “get on them about wearing PPE or some other rule infraction”.

It gets to a “chicken or the egg” situation, do people dislike the safety professional because he or she does his job well, or is the safety professional able to do his or her job more effectively because he or she is disliked.

There are two ways to look at the job of safety professional: as a key resource for making the organization more effective, or as the hammer that enforces the rules.

At the heart of the argument is this: are safety practitioners little more than safety cops—jack-booted thugs doing the bidding of Human Resources? Or is there job to focus not on rules and enforcement but on making the company better, not just at safety but overall.

I don’t think a person can be effective in the safety role without being three things: liked, capable, and fair. If I am hated for these things, and I’ve worked for a couple of places over the years who thought I was too friendly (no I wasn’t dragged into HR, get your mind out of the gutter) but I have always put myself in the worker’s shoes and when some puffed up, self-important safety goof drunk on his supposed power told me to do something I would ask myself two questions: 1) can this ass-clown fire me? And 2) does this drooling idiot have my best interest in mind or is he just trying to show me he’s the boss? Well guess what, you can’t MAKE me do anything. I’m an adult and I will decide what I do and live with the consequences. Write me up? I’ve been written up before—it doesn’t mean squat. Fire me? Well then you just went from a guy with some meager financial control over me to a man I intensely dislike and who fired me. Just a guy. A guy I might meet at a gas station, or a supermarket, or a bar. Just a guy who took pride in the fact that people hate him, and now he’s face to face with a guy who hates him. Or maybe he won’t be face to face, maybe he’ll be jaywalking and someone he was once so proud to be hated by will be driving down the road. Just a guy. Or maybe I’ll just hate you, do EXACTLY what you say in my finest passive aggressiveness and patiently undermine everything you try to do until they fire you and can go find a job and make a whole new workplace hate you. Either way what have you accomplished besides being thought of as various body parts to which people don’t like being compared? Nothing. You have done nothing but puff up your ego. You can tell yourself you saved lives but we both know you added more risk than you subtracted.

Personally, the best safety professionals I’ve ever met, (and for the record I have met many exceptional, dedicated, fun, and all around great human beings who work in safety, but just like the chocolate covered roach in the box of Raisonettes all it takes is one to make you view the entire population with a hint of suspicion and distaste) tend to be liked and respected by the population; they’re not seen as tyrants or cops, but as pretty cool people who are watching your back and making sure (as best they can) that you work you do doesn’t kill you or make you sick; they’re the guys[1] who are there for you. If I like the safety guy and he or she knows me I am more likely to listen to what they are asking me (not telling me) to do. They will tell me why I need to do it, what the potential risks are for not doing it, and often ask me to help them out by complying. If I have a friendly relationship with the safety guy I am likely to comply just because I know that at least in his or her mind they only want what’s best for me. And if by chance there comes a day when he is just a guy I meet in a bar, well chances are pretty good I’m going to be glad to seem him and buy that man a beer; because he’s just a guy who spent so much time looking out for me and I appreciate it and I like him.

Now, which guy do YOU want to be?



[1] The word “guy” is a gender neutral term; look it up.

#attitude, #behavior-based-safety, #culture-change, #phil-la-duke, #safety, #worker-safety

Recent Articles in Print

By Phil La Duke

Given that I likely won’t be doing much speaking this year (not really—these things have a way of popping without a lot of notice— I have devoted myself to doing more work for publication. Recently the toad of an editor I used to have left Entrepreneur and she was replaced by a great lead editor who quickly chewed through the back log and I saw three articles hit print in less than two weeks.  They aren’t about safety, they are about succeeding in life and in business, two skills I personally happen to think are pretty important to safety professionals.  I hope you enjoy them and spread the word (I won’t be posting this in groups in LinkedIn—It posts to my status automatically—but if you think them worthwhile please feel free to do so, but Entrepreneur asks that you include ” This column was originally published on Entrepreneur.com on DATE HERE” with the original link.

The Only 2 Answers You Need to Figure Your Next Move  (Originally published on Entrepreneur.com on April 15, 2016) This article is based on some really solid advice I received from one of my mentors who is both wise and business savvy. This advice worked so well for me that I decided others might benefit as well.

5 Business Lessons I Learned From Surfing (Originally published on Entrepreneur.com on April 11, 2016) Is an article I have wanted to write for almost 15 years but honestly didn’t think anyone would publish it.  I am the world’s worst surfer, but being out on the waves in sun and solitude really clears your head and gives you time to think.  Thank you to Entrepreneur for finally giving this a home by printing it.

6 Questions Customers Ask Themselves Before Making a Major Purchase  (Originally published on Entrepreneur.com on March 14, 2016) Grew out of the fact that I have sat in both chairs—both the seller and the buyer and I am continually amazed at how out of touch sellers can be (they act like preadolescent boys trying to screw up the courage to ask out a girl) since nobody I work with seems to care or see the value in my experience I thought I would share it with you.

Confined Space Challenges (Originally published on 15th Feb 2016 in Health and Safety International ) Is a mammoth 2,500 behemoth of an article dealing with confined space issues (obviously this one IS about safety) and has less of my snarky charm than you might have become accustomed, but it is a comprehensive look at the dangers of confined space. H&SI is based in the UK and this magazine was designed to target a European audience but much of the content is universal.


Who Knows What Ineptitude Lies in the Hearts of Workers? Doing Shadow Training Right

Boxing Kangaroo2

By Phil La Duke

“That bear kicked my ass, but that was nothing compared from the beating I took from the kangaroo” —Randy Perry

I had about six topics that I wanted to bring up this week, but in last week’s post I threatened to take on shadow training, so for good or for ill here I sit whacked out of my head on caffeine (interesting side note, I just read that more people are addicted to caffeine than any other drink, of course my source for this is the internet so who the hell[1] knows if it’s true or not. I would have picked refined sugar or narcissism as the source of most addictions but what do I know?

The problem with a lot of shadow training is that it would be more effectively taught by an actual shadow. Companies expect that workers will learn the subtle intricacies of a job simply by watching someone who would rather be doing the job to which he or she has been recently reassigned as if the new employee is a duckling imprinting to the veteran employee. When I worked in a crumbling auto assembly plant (assembly plants were known in some auto plant circles as “slave plants”)  I received shadow training.  My supervisor, Leonard asked me if I had ever worked with air tools, when I said “no” he then asked if I had ever worked with power tools and I said, “yes, but not extensively”. “Good” he said, “if it’s a recliner this sheet (a ratty dot matrix print out) will have a T right here and you put on this part and drive one of these bolts here and here, and one of these bolts here.  If it’s not you put on one of these parts on and drive two of these bolts here and here.  Do the same thing on the other side. Got it?” he asked. “Not really,” I told him. Don’t worry if you get into trouble Randy will help you out.  Randy was a burly veteran who stood nearly a foot taller and outweighed me by a good 150lbs.  Randy was fueled by a dangerous energy of a type you only truly see in the kind of self-destructive adrenaline junkies, tempered by a drug cocktail consisting of copious amounts of alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and whatever his dealer had on hand.  Randy took an instant liking to me, which was good.  Despite his size and sometimes murderous drunken temper, Randy was good natured and when I would get into trouble he would bail me out. (As a complete aside, Randy loved to fight although owing to his tendency to get into fights only after he was so chemically altered that his blood could have required a safety datasheet he usually lost.  He once unsuccessfully boxed a kangaroo, wrestled a bear, and was eliminated from the first North American tough man contest by the man who would ultimately win it.  He would gleefully recount story after story of being beaten senseless in bar brawls.) So it ultimately it fell to Randy to teach me how to safely do my job, not exactly the ideal candidate it’s fair to say.

Shadow training doesn’t necessarily have to be crap. In fact, getting trained by actually doing the job under the tutelage of watchful veteran is arguably the best way to gain new skills, but the training has to be well designed, competently delivered, periodically reinforced, and professionally evaluated. To do that we need to:

  1. Clearly define and document the process. Okay defining a process sounds like a no brainer, but in far too many cases many of the tasks are left to “common sense”, not because people should be expected to know how to do a task, but because breaking down a task into steps can be challenging. A colleague and I are working on a “hazard book” for a client. One would think that two safety professionals could explain why certain conditions constitute a hazard, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty it gets tough. It becomes a bit like explaining something to a three year old who keeps asking why, after a while you get stumped and all you can say is “because”. But you can’t leave out steps because either you think people will “get it” or because you’re having trouble explaining the minutia.
    Defining a process is relatively easy in industry, but give it a try when you are dealing with tasks associated with jobs like accounting, sales, or customer service and you will be surprised at how quickly your skills seem to degrade.


  1. Validate the process. The shelf-life of a process is very short. There’s the way it is done on paper and the way it’s really done. This can be dangerous or even deadly. If there is a legitimate reason for changing how a task is really done than change the process and if not, coach the worker on why the process must be performed as documented.
  2. Develop a task list with a sign-off for both trainer AND learner.   A task list is different than Operator Work Instructions or Standard Work Instructions. A good task list will include safety information and contingency actions if things straw away from process. Perhaps more important is the learner sign-off. It’s one thing to have a veteran sign-off that the learner can do the job safely, and quite another for the learner to assert that he or she feels fully capable of doing the tasks safely while unsupervised.
  3. Augment the training with job aids. Each task should have a corresponding job aid that provides step-by-step instructions on how to safely complete a task. The veteran can then use the job aid to guide the training and to assess the learner’s competency. The learner for his or her part can refer back to the job aid to ensure he or she has not forgotten a key step or task.
  4. Reinforce the Training. Too often shadow training is treated as one and done, even in cases where the new worker spends a week or two with the veteran. A smart organization will conduct the same shadow training once or twice a week after the initial training for the first 90 days just to ensure that the new worker hasn’t drifted from the standard. Additionally, the newly trained worker will likely begin to have questions about the process and have the confidence to ask them.
  5. Evaluate the Training. Evaluating the training seems like a pointless step, but it’s actually one of the most important parts of the training process. By evaluating the training you will gain insight into the accuracy of your task lists and job aids, have a better understanding if the training actually succeeds in building skills, and if this training improves the safety of doing this job.

I understand that this is an awful lot of work and trying to do this for every job (particularly non-standard work) will be time consuming and labor intensive, so you will have to do it like you’re eating an elephant, one-bite at a time. I’ve found that it seems to be less work if you redo the shadow training as you introduce new jobs or hire new people, but that might just be me.

Of course there’s nothing forcing you to do shadow training correctly, many of you will still insist that the best way to ensure safety is to have someone watch someone work and point out there shortcomings; my way is better, but keep doing what makes you feel important, smart, or whatever it is that drives people to stick with doing stupid things.

[1] I recently got called unprofessional for using slang and curse words like “hell” in my posts, as if somehow that undermined the message and that anything I said from that point on could not be taken seriously.  If you are one of those people, let me just invite you to go to hell and rot there.

#boxking-kangaroo, #competency, #effectiveness-of-training, #phil-la-duke, #safety, #shadow-training, #worker-safety

It all comes down to competency.


By Phil La Duke

In any opinion piece, it’s only fair that the author begin by disclosing his or her bias. It’s something I seldom do but I should.  I didn’t start out in safety, I earned my degree in adult education (I was under the mistaken impression that the term “adult” meant X-rated—hey I was 18) and organizational development. So it is through this lens that I see the world of safety. I think we should all be leery of any article that claims that safety all comes down to one thing, but, that having been said, I am beginning to think that selecting the right people, appropriately training people not only in safety but in the core skills they will be using day in and day out.  Unless you have people who know how to do the job you can’t expect them to do it safely. I should say, that in the many years I worked in training I would get frustrated because executives and managers would come to me demanding me to produce magical training that would get people to do their jobs.  I would explain that I could help them if the workers weren’t doing their jobs because they didn’t know how; I dealt in “can’t” behaviors, not “won’t” behaviors.  Hell I didn’t even deal in all the possible “can’t behaviors”. I once had a dullard of a director of sales tell me he wanted me to put all his staff through ACT! (a computer software that I believe has gone if not the way of the dinosaur, the way of the bison).  I asked him a couple of irritating questions: 1) why do they need it? Because I want all sales activities managed through ACT! 2) Why aren’t they doing it now? Well they don’t even have computers let alone the software.  He was, and probably remains a clueless dumbass, and I have dealt with many equally soft headed mouth breathers who believe that training, ANY training, will solve any issue. I’ve also dealt with my fair share of let’s use training instead of discipline. These cowards want training to get people to do things like follow the rules, do their job properly, and or somehow get the people to knuckle under because they’ve attended training.  I was the oddest training guy out there, here all the other people couldn’t wait to do training I was hung up on whether or not people really NEED training and will the training do what the sponsor wants and expects it to do. In short, I wasn’t prepared to do training simply for training’s sake.

And yet I sit before you today preaching that training is the key (or at least a very important part of) a successful safety management program.

I came to this conclusion not because I started out working for 10 years designing, developing, delivering, and evaluating the effectiveness of training; rather it came out of a convergence of events: 1) a colleague asked for help putting together a list of recommended readers for developing non-safety consultants familiar enough with key topics (leadership, training, communication, planning, etc.) 2) I read Julie Dirksen’s Design For How People Learn and 3) I agreed to take the OSHA 30-hour course to evaluate it for widespread use at a client.

While it makes sense that a person cannot possibly be expected to do his or her job safely if he or she has not been properly trained in the job. There are a lot of good reasons for companies doing a less than stellar job of training workers:

  1. A lot of training is just garbage; it teaches pointless trivia, is boring as watching paint dry, and is knowledge-based not skills based. Let’s take that OSHA 30-hour class I am laboring through (what a great way to spend a Saturday). I don’t know who over at OSHA (which is more protective of the content of its training than medieval father was of his daughter’s virginity) but I’m just curious here. What the hell were you thinking when you put together the OSHA 30-hour on-line course? As much as it much stroke your ego to force me to listen to the history of OSHA do I really need it? I mean if you have to grab me by the nape of the neck and force feed me the mission of OSHA can we at LEAST the facts straight—for example saying that it grew out of Triangle Shirtwaist fire is like saying food regulations grew out of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Sure people were outraged, but nobody went to jail, and according to the course it was another 20 years before Roosevelt authorized the government to “advise industry about safety matters” and it was another 60 odd years before Nixon signed OSHA into law. Dirksen has a simple test for whether or not something should be in a training class: a) ask what do they actually need to DO with this? And if the answer is “they just need to be aware of it” then ask yourself “Yeah, but what are they actually going to DO with this again (p.21) b) Ask yourself if the person would be able to do something if they wanted to badly enough. If the answer is yes, it’s not a knowledge or a skills gap (again page 21). c) is there anything, anything at all, that we could do besides training, that would make it more likely that people would do the right thing? (p.21 if you want more reference read the book, it should be required for everyone in safety.) d) and I’m paraphrasing things here, but what bad things would happen if the person didn’t learn this particular point. If the answer is nothing than you are teaching your ego and not skills.
  2. Training developers are afraid of safety. When I was developing safety training I went out and bought a series of pretty crappy safety training kits. You know the style—pop in a video, administer a quiz and viola, your people have met the OSHA regulatory standard for training in a given subject. It doesn’t matter that they are no more skilled then they were before the class but the company is protected. Internal training departments don’t want anything to do with safety because they figure (as I did) that it’s better to have crappy training that meets the regs and gives you someone to sue if it isn’t right than it is to make a mistake and either no longer meet the OSHA reg or worse yet get something wrong and lead to the injury of a worker. All and all it’s better to put up with bad safety training than risk it.
  3. Safety training is, as I said, boring. So boring in fact that it bears repeating. Julie Dirksen has all sorts of cool information on why boring training is something that we seldom retain—for the how and whys order the book you cheap bastards you get my book reports for free at least help her make a living. And no, I have never met the woman, but I hope someday I get the opportunity, she taught this smug old dog some tricks.
  4. But if we don’t fix our safety (and more important largely nonexistent core skills training) we are doomed to a workplace fraught with ignorant people trying to figure out how to do the job correctly. It’s like having the Three Stooges fix your plumbing. Next week… I’ll tell you how to do shadow training effectively.
  5. I posted a link to IMPROV training’s latest course that turns the idea that safety training HAS to be boring on its ear. IMPROV training: Making Safer Choices Excerpt I’ve seen the entire collection of micro lessons (2-3 minute lessons that teach a single point used singularly as safety messaging or combined into a class) and I’m impressed. I voted for it in the ISHN reader’s poll and I hope you will consider doing so as well http://awards.ishn.com/readers the material is good, it’s an amusing if not funny look at some serious topics and since the company is just starting out, it could use your support if not your business.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #culture-change, #design-for-how-people-learn, #improv-training, #julie-dirksen, #osha-30-hour-construction, #pam-anderson, #phil-la-duke, #safety, #worker-safety

Safe As We Want To Be


By Phil La Duke

Some weeks ago I was in Huntington Beach California, a four-hour plane ride from my home of Detroit.  I was in Los Angeles for business and took some time to relax.  Whenever I get the chance to do so, I surf.  I am, I admit, the world’s worst surfer but as it is an individual (as opposed to a team) endeavor I reason that my poor surfing skills are no one’s problem but my own. As it happened, the beach had been closed the previous weekend as a result of one surfer’s encounter with a particularly aggressive Great White shark.  The surfer wasn’t harmed (nor was the shark for that matter) but as a matter of precaution the beach was closed.

The days that I were there the beach was crowded, it being a hot and sunny day, but there were no surfers and scant few swimmers.  Those who did choose to go into the water chose to stay in water that was knee-deep at best.  I paddled out.

For some, surfing in shark-infested waters may seem foolhardy, even reckless.  But for me the fact that I so seldom get an opportunity to surf far out weighed the incredibly remote chance that I would encounter a shark let alone be attacked by one.

Was my behavior at risk? To be sure, it was.  But was it reckless? Or even unsafe? Well…I don’t believe so.  Recently I read a book about workplace safety.  Like most of the self-published dreck that is churned out in the name of safety it was obvious the author had never worked in an industrial setting.  The author (and I am deliberately withholding the title and author, not because I fear reprisals like lawsuits or customers deserting me, but because I honestly think much of the book is dangerously stupid advice that would do more harm than good and I don’t want to promote it) cites “thrill seeking” as a principle contributor to unsafe workplaces.  Of course the author has no research to back up his position and most of the book is seemingly based on one man’s opinion (and if that is what the author intended he should have written a serious of blog articles instead of a book, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Identifying thrill seeking as a causative factor in worker injuries is, in my opinion, simply another way of blaming the injured party for getting hurt.  As Dr. Robert Long says, “Risk makes sense” (numerous times in his book of the same name, which I do recommend, not because I agree with it (I do, but that is beside the point) but because it cites reams of research that supports his positions.)

While it makes a great story, surfing with the sharks, wasn’t thrill seeking.  If I believed that I was in serious jeopardy of a shark attack I wouldn’t have paddled out.  In fact, the local authorities publicly stated that they didn’t believe there was an elevated risk, but warned that surfers and swimmers should be more watchful for sharks and if one should make an appearance cut it a wide berth.  So I reasoned (correctly it would seem) that I was not in any more danger than I normally would be (primarily from sports injuries or drowning).  My behavior wasn’t “thrill seeking” in that I derived no extra adrenaline-induced pleasure from my surfing (in fact the waves were soft and crappy, but everything is better wetter as they say.

Are there crazed adrenaline junkies who are recklessly pursuing a rush by being reckless? Sure, but what percentage of your workforce is comprised of these people?

We as safety professionals have to stop treating 100% of the population like they are thrill seeking halfwits when less than 1% actually are.  We need to weed those people out of our workplaces (I honestly don’t believe you can coach someone out of daredevil behavior) but we also have to recognize the limits of what we as safety professionals can safely require. Take Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for example.  I know of one safety professional who wanted to require electricians to wear head-to-toe fire resistant clothing while changing light bulbs!  Before you defend this requirement let’s think about this.  While it is certainly possible that one could be burned changing a light bulb, how likely is it that someone changing a light bulb is going to be burned by an arc flash? Given that in my 30+ years working in industrial settings I have never once heard of a case of this happening I am going to say the possibility, while real, is extremely remote.  Add to that the fact that the duration of exposure (how long is a maintenance worker exposed to the possibility of an arch flash from a light fixture (that is supposed to be powered off during the changing)? Some would argue that the length of exposure is considerable, but I think these people are plain dead-ass wrong.  If we were to pie chart all of the activities spent by a maintenance worker the amount of time he or she spends changing light bulbs (in an industrial setting) would probably be so small that it would be unrecognizable on the chart.  Of course, in those cases where there IS an arc flash the severity can be cataclysmic, but there are better ways to mitigate those risks than to require full fire resistant clothing for all maintenance workers. Hell if it is THAT big an issue the organization could simply require it be worn when changing light bulbs.

Too often we exaggerate the risk of a hazard and categorize what is merely possible as probable because it is easier to enforce than if we make an honest assessment.  Some safety professionals, in the name of “zero-injuries” will heap regulation after regulation on a job until the organization rebels and simply refuses to comply.  When it comes to making the workplace safer, the more complex and/or burdensome the solution the far less likely the compliance.  We have to understand that there are limits to the amount of protection we can provide to people and if when exceed the perceived reasonable limits we not only fail to protect in that instance but we lose credibility and jeopardize compliance with safety protocols that are essential for basic safety.

When safety professionals’ risk tolerance is out of alignment with societal norms the safety professional is doomed to a life of frustration.

Lone-Gunman Based Safety

Multiple causes

By Phil La Duke

Ever since Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald while being transferred from a Dallas police station to county jail debate has raged as to whether or not Oswald acted alone or if he was part of a larger conspiracy. There’s not much satisfaction in the “Lone Gunman” theory; it lacks the panache and high drama of a conspiracy, but beyond that, the Lone Gunman theory seems too simple, too convenient, and too pat. I got thinking about the Lone Gunman theory as it pertains to safety and think the comparison is apt.

I came to realize that most safety professionals see injuries as the result of “Lone Gunman” thinking after listening to yet another argument about the nature of injures. “Injuries are caused by behaviors” “no they’re caused by process flaws” “no they’re caused by…” it sure sounds to me like the people who argue whether or not Oswald acted alone. Sound crazy? Think about it: if you believe that the majority of injuries are caused by a single thing you are essentially dismissing the possibility that worker injuries are caused by a complex situations with multiple and often inter-related cause and effects.

The lone gunman theories are attractive; they boil our problem down to a single factor that we can rigorously attack and solve it. This kind of thinking is satisfying because it means that all we need do is to solve one problem and we don’t have to be distracted by all the other things that may or may not be causing injuries.

Now some reading this will immediately hide behind the fact that they never said that ALL injuries are caused by (fill in the blank) but that MOST injuries are caused by (fill in the blank). That’s a convenient (albeit cowardly) way to stack the deck in your favor but it’s a specious and facile argument, even if we can say with credibility that 99% of injuries are caused by a single cause we have always have that 1% that aren’t and that allows us to dismiss it as an outlier.. Dismissing causes that don’t neatly fit into your view of the world as statistical aberrations or outliers is just another form of calling a fatality an unforeseeable act of God.

No One is So Dangerous as the Man with the Whole World Figured Out

When we start to see any topic with a fanatic’s singularity we become dangerous. If we believe that most injuries are caused by a single cause—whether it be leadership, or culture, or process failures, or human error, or risk taking, or pixies, faeries, and trolls—we create a world where anyone who disagrees must be heretics and heretics must die or at very least publicly mocked behind the walls of anonymity of a LinkedIn discussion thread.

Call Us Legion, For We Are Many

I am distrustful of the “one-size-fits-all” approaches to injury reduction, which let’s face it, isn’t the same as safety and yet many of the programs, snake-oils, and magic bullets our there promise safety and only sometimes deliver injury reduction. It’s dangerous to think in terms of a lone-gunman cause for injuries (even when allowing for the possibility that there could be other lone gunman working simultaneously. The opposite of lone gun thinking is conspiracy theory, which okay, I admit, makes me sound like even more of a whack-job than usual. But for our purposes think of injury causes as being somewhat, or at least potentially, benign by themselves. We interact with hazards every day and in the fast majority of those interactions we don’t get harmed. But the more hazards that are present the greater the probability of injury and the presence of some catalyst causes us to be injured. Think of the straw that broke the camel’s back: up until that last minute the camel was uninjured, but given enough objects loaded onto the camel’s back eventually the camel will exceed its capacity to hold the weight.

There are many things, often working in tandem, that cause injuries and we have to stop arguing over whether the straw broke the camel’s back or whether the man who overloaded the camel was to blame, or whether the camel made poor choices, or whether both camel and man had been poorly trained, or whether we could provide an incentive for the camel’s back not to break and realize that there is seldom only one thing going on, and in most cases hazards work together to achieve a lethal synergy that can maim, cripple, and kill.

We Need To Look for Questions Not Answers

I taught problem solving for many years. One technique we used was called Situation Analysis. This technique is used to solve problems with more than one cause, has inter-related causes and effects, and grew over time. The technique was useful for solving broad problems (like…I don’t know…injuries). What I found interesting is that this technique taught people that if you only focus on one of the causes and ignore the others you won’t really SOLVE the problems you would merely make the symptoms go away until the other causes would cross a threshold causing the problem to return even worse than it had been before. I think of the conundrum of fatalities. Injury rates seem to be going down (although many believe that this is largely the result of under-reporting or more rigorous case management) while fatalities are staying flat or in some cases rising. This is the exact pattern one would expect from methodologies that attack one cause while ignoring others─ the problem seemed to be going away until it roared back worse than ever. It has left safety professionals scratching their heads, but if we attack the lack of safety as a complex problem that has multiple causes that are interrelated we might just be able to manage things better and save some lives.

I’m Not Alone

I know I may sound like a broken record, but when you sell hammers all the world looks like a nail, and while I have heard many say “well BBS is just a tool in my toolbox” (and I use BBS as an example because I hear this more then let’s say “human performance” or “leadership improvement”) I get skeptical. I want to ask what other tools do you use? When do you use them? When is it inappropriate to use them? But I don’t; frankly I’m tired of arguing with fanatics. One bright spot is that I am meeting more and more people who are beginning to think like me. Rockwell, for example, talks about the 3Cs of safety. The 3 C’s are Capital, Compliance, and Culture. Now I’m not here to promote Rockwell but I like where their heads are at on this. I’m over simplifying their spiel here but effectively what they are saying is that you have to consider all three of these things when attacking safety issues. Capital-you have to make capital expenditures to fund projects to improve your equipment. I would expand that to include your facilities as well, but I think their point is well taken. Compliance-let’s not forget that we have to follow the law and that basic compliance is the gateway to more advanced safety solutions. And Culture-hiring qualified organizational development professionals to make substantive changes in how your organization views and values safety is important. To hear Rockwell tell it, you can’t expect great results without looking at all three; I think they are right.

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Where’s the Value In “Safety Day”?

safety day graphic

By Phil LaDuke

Next week I will be conducting the activities surrounding “safety day”. As leader and as a safety practitioner I was the logical selection. The notion of me getting up in front of a group of associates and trumpeting on about safety one day a year may seem laughable to some of my more loyal readers and downright hypocritical to my devoted detractors.

Years ago, as a relatively young man, I made myself a promise: I would never teach or promote something that I myself didn’t believe in or support. That has made it tough in some cases, as I have had a lot of bosses and customers—internal and external—who wanted me to present what at first blush seemed to be propaganda. It sucks having principles. I was true to those principles and pushed back and challenged the presentation sponsors until I was convinced of the value of the topic.

But “safety day”? I mean…come on, right? Doesn’t taking a day to focus on safety mean by implication that there are 364 days where we can take foolish chances, ignore performance inhibitors (thus making more mistakes) and engage in outright recklessness like some sort of misguided version of The Purge?

I’ve done a lot of soul searching and reflecting on the value of having a “safety day” and it may surprise you to learn that I happen to support safety days, health & safety fairs, and similar efforts provided they are done properly. I happen to think these events serve a number of wonderful purposes and can provide real value by:

  • Taking Stock of Safety. Whenever we pursue a goal we need to stop and take a look around every once in a while to ensure that we are making appropriate progress a safety day isn’t about doing something differently (i.e. working safely for a day) but about gauging the effectiveness of what we are doing better. Think of a well-executed safety day as a way of checking your organization’s pulse in terms of safety.
  • Clarifying your safety messaging. We often cling to safety messages that are either inane, soft-headed, or out dated. Having a safety day is a good way to review the messages are delivered and received. You can open a frank dialog about what messages the organization is hearing and compare that to what you had hoped to communicate. On safety day, people tend to feel more comfortable being candid about the real message being sent (“you tell us you want us to stop work when it’s not safe but then you gig us for lost production.”) Instead of arguing about the veracity of people’s opinions, you should listen to what they are saying. Don’t dismiss it as so much hogwash or griping or whining and recognize that when it comes to messaging perception IS reality irrespective of your view of the world.
  • Celebrating your success. Safety is an ugly business with the best news usually being pretty lousy “hey everybody, we didn’t kill anyone last year! Or our injuries are down, huzzah! Huzzah!” Even so, there is usually plenty to celebrate. By focusing not on injury reductions but on positive, proactive behaviors you can generally find something worth celebrating without being trite or contrived. Even if things are looking pretty dismal you can always celebrate your efforts to improve.
  • Recalibrating your tactics. Everyone plays a role in safety, but unfortunately there is no cast in stone recipe for making the workplace safer. Safety day can be a great time to take a look at your tactics and asking all who participate what is working, what is not working, and why? From hear you can recalibrate your safety tactics and, because most of the organization has participated in deciding what should be done, you will have greater buy-in then if the safety committee had made these decisions in a perceived vacuum.
  • Demonstrating commitment. I am giving up a BIG opportunity to make a series of sales calls so that I can lead safety day at my office. Why? Certainly sales are important, and sales I make have a specific and meaningful impact on my success, but I am choosing (as a partner, no one is forcing me to do this) to lead safety day instead. It’s that important to me. Demonstrating commitment is more than waiving your hands around the room and saying “see how much we value safety? We brought in lunch! We are paying you to be here. It’s about making tough choices and putting aside what might be great sales opportunity or an important client meeting to participate in a day focused on the organization’s safety performance and the importance of committing to people and their safety.
  • Modelling behavior. The world loves a hypocrite, and for whatever reason, people tend to take a hard look at safety practitioners for any sign of hypocrisy. I’ve always thought it was because if you could point out that the safety guy is inconsistent or doesn’t walk the talk it absolves you from ever listening to him or her. If safety truly is important than we have to live it, and living it means planning, supporting, and leading safety. Modelling behavior is so important because it tends to be what people end up doing when they are stressed, working unsupervised, or having to make the tough decisions. If people don’t clearly understand and believe that you value safety—above and beyond the other distractions in your life—then they will only value safety when it suits them; when it’s convenient for them.

So while it may surprise, even shock, some of you come Thursday, I won’t be working on client accounts, writing proposals, or flying off to exotic locales to pitch my wares. Instead I will be meeting with a group of people who I like and respect and having a frank conversation about leading safety.

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