Why I Tend To See The Worst In Safety

I’m posting a day early. No reason really, except that I had it done and I tend to screw up the timed publication.  This was prompted by an email that called me rude and disrespectful to safety professionals. If I am rude I apologize. If I am disrespectful its because I was taught you earn respect by giving respect.  This blog is not now, nor will it ever be a love letter or a letter of appreciation to safety professionals for all the hard work we do.  Most people work hard.  Most people work harder than us. And a hell of a lot of people count on us to keep them alive. It’s a sacred trust and every time someone is hurt or killed we have let the organization down. So with that let the hate mail begin.

By Phil La Duke

If you’ve read my work, it has been a seemingly nonstop barrage on the state of safety and/or the ineptitude of safety professionals themselves. A reasonable person could ask, what the hell is wrong with me; if I hate safety so much why do I stay in the profession?

A friend of mine was a policeman and worked his way all the way from a rookie to becoming chief of police of a medium sized town that was a stopover for both major human trafficking and crystal meth rings, in other words not exactly Mayberry. I once asked him if he liked being a cop and his response surprised me. “Hell no,” he said “when you’re a cop you always see people at their worst and if you’re not careful you start to see the worst in everyone.” I had never thought of it that way, and think about it whether you are pro policeman or anti policeman you have to admit that when you typically encounter them you’re having a pretty crumby day—you’re reporting a burglary, getting pulled over, or they show up at your door because a neighbor complained about your barking dog. Or worse yet you are getting arrested.

For me, I have spent over 25 years in safety in one capacity or another and I tend to have become somewhat jaded in my opinion of safety as a field and of some of the safety “professionals”. When I worked in the auto plants in 1985, we had a safety guy and a Union Safety rep. The safety guy was the brother-in-law of the plant superintendent and was given the job to keep him off the line; he did nothing.  His previous job was that of a hair dresser and he had no experience or education in safety.  The Union safety rep worked the line and was only relieved for Union meetings. He too had no background or education in safety, and he too did nothing in the furtherance of safety.   But that was 1985, and a lot of progress has been made since then.

I’ve spoken out loudly against some of the top names in Safety, some have accused me of jealousy I can assure you that’s not the case. I’ve met these meat heads (not as some fan coming up after they spoke) but before and after we shared speaking engagements), looked them in there arrogant condescending eyes, spoken to them at length; enough to judge the measure of their character and found them wanting. In most I found people more interested in bilking companies out of their safety dollars than actual thought leaders who wanted to engage in debate. I found them to be skeazy snake-oil salesmen with the black twisted hearts of society’s worst.  They lie, or more accurately perpetuate 100 year old research and they convince safety professionals who had ought to know better. There have been exceptions, Christopher Vallee and Dave Janney from Taproot are great guys with a great system in which they believe and, what’s more important, works very well.  Probably most notable were Chris Goulart whose first words to me were “Phil La Duke? I hate you.” We talked at length and eventually became good friends despite radically different ideas about safety.  We still are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and neither of us were swayed by the other’s position, but I respect Chris and believe that at least he believes in what he is doing and I while I still think there’s a better way, Chris isn’t going to sell you something that will get you killed.  Another excellent exception to the pundit as shitbag rule is Wayne Pardy, with whom I was on the roster of a large Canadian Safety show.  Wayne and I had debated various points of safety online and disagreed often.  Wayne is a warm and friendly guy who believes in what he is doing, and while I disagree with some of his points, listening to him or hiring him, won’t get your people killed.

Keep in mind, I have made around 100 speeches both public and private and have met a lot of “giants” in safety, and most that I have met are snake oil salesmen and they know it. They get rich selling impotent solutions to people who should know better.  These solutions are INSTEAD of solutions that actually work and save lives, so if I seem to hold them and their brainless zombie groupies in the utmost contempt it’s because I do. There quackery gets people killed or causes companies to spend money that could have been better spent elsewhere, but what’s worse they make the entire idea of safety seem like a colossal waste of money. They endanger our lives, our livelihoods, and the credibility of our profession.

It’s not just the pundits who have jaded my view of safety. I have met a TON of half-witted safety guys and dim-witted organizations. Let me be clear here: in the interest of self-preservation I NEVER write about customers of my current employer; it is self-destructive and even were I to disguise the details, people are likely to figure out about whom I am talking.  Besides, it’s just poor form to bad mouth your customers.  They come to you in pain and need with serious problems; to belittle them privately or publically is just plain wrong.

When I am working with a company, they need to be certain that I am not disclosing anything I discover about them.  That having been said, I have been on hundreds (maybe close to a thousand) sales calls where I have met some surprisingly incompetent, lazy, and outright deranged safety professionals.  Nothing I like better than to be invited into talk about safety only to have a safety professional waste my precious time pratting on about how great their safety program is.  It’s like going to a fancy restaurant and when the waiter comes to take your order you saying, “no thanks I just want to sit at this table and tell you what a fantastic meal I just had at another restaurant.”  Yet when I looked at their programs I saw that they were deeply flawed.  They were obsessed with their rates, but ignored risk.  They proudly displayed the children’s safety poster contest (what sort of sociopath introduces the thought that their parents might die to a 5 year old simply because they went to work? This is beyond cruel, and how many people has it saved? None.)

Add to that the vitriol I receive in my in box. I get emails from people threatening to kill me, from safety professionals, (cowards make threats, and people serious about killing someone don’t warn them in writing ahead of time. It doesn’t frighten me; it disgusts me.) Safety people threatening to kill me because they don’t like what I said or how I said it.  Bring it on, I have a shovel and no how to dig a hole and where to buy lime, you come at me I doubt anyone would miss you. So this further shapes my view of safety both as a function and as its people.

There is also one factor as to why I am so hard on safety professionals. If I post a positive, constructive post on how to do something better in the world of safety, it draws 1/20th the readership, and yes I care how many people read my blog. It would seem that in the world of safety people would rather be insulted, shook, and called out then to read some innocuous and helpful tips.

I write this blog because we can do better. A lot of us ARE doing better. For all the hate mail I get I get 20 letters of support. I hope that my blogs make people nervous; I hope it angers them, and I hope it scares them, because when we are feeling THOSE emotions we are most likely, willing, and able to make lasting changes.  To a large extent Safety is the Wild West with people figuring it out on the fly and making it up as the go along.  We need to challenge ourselves and police ourselves.  We need to do better and we can.

The Body Counts Continue

By Phil La Duke

As the safety professionals nestled in the serene bosom of the holidays, the Bureau of Labor Statistics dropped a shattering revelation. The news came like a hammer through a plate glass window; sudden and jarring. Workplace fatalities have risen to their highest rate since 2008. The fact that overall injuries have continued to fall year after year has lulled safety professionals into thinking that the workplace over all has become safer; we sit and congratulate ourselves on a job well done, ignoring the fatal fly in the ointment that the trend in workplace fatalities has stayed flat and now has spiked upward.

In this Twittering Trump, Brexit, post-fact world that fact that people are continuing to die at work doesn’t seem to matter; we congratulate ourselves none-the-less. Our leaders both within Safety and in our core businesses continue to count bandages. Despite injury counts and rates and other lagging indicators we crack on like Nazi bureaucrats bearing witness to the carnage and telling ourselves that we are only following orders and if we didn’t do it they would just find someone else to do; hard at work at the mundane task of having blood on our hands while telling ourselves that we are doing God’s work.

Too harsh? Maybe. But consider this: as those 4,836 workers lie dying in the dirt of a construction site, or a cramped warehouse, or along side a lonely stretch of road, the pundits of our field wrote books, and trumpeted loudly the snake oil d’jour. The safety Neros fiddled as the workers died. Each day someone comes up with another way of treating injuries while ignoring risk. Risk; the probability of injury; concepts to difficult to grasp and even harder to reduce, haunts our trade, and yet these charlatans continue rebranding the same old crap, caring not if people die as long as people buy and buy.

The propaganda arm of the National Safety Council, Health & Safety magazine does a nice job of reporting the grim statistics; the butcher’s bill, and are quick to point out the significant drop in overall injuries, it offers no insight into these deaths. They point out some inane statistics (“Fatal injuries among private oil and gas extraction workers were 38 percent lower in 2015 than 2014. Gee with the oil and gas business still swirling steadily above the proverbial toilet bowl, I wonder why fatalities in this area are over a third lower.)

Data without analysis is simply trivia, and the report offers it up in heaping portion. Take for instance the “650 deaths occurred among workers age 65 and older – the second-highest total among this demographic since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries began in 1992.” The coverage doesn’t include what this might imply. Is this a statistical anomaly or is it cause for genuine concern; we don’t know because no one asked the question.

The fact is no one in safety seems too concerned that fatalities are flat (if you listen to the most optimistic or rising if you listen to the most realistic among us.) We focus on the effectively meaningless drop in overall injuries. Of course we also ignore the fact that at least a portion of this steady improvement in injury reduction is a fallacy. We cannot measure injuries while rewarding their absence. How much of this decrease is recorded injuries are simply the result of under-reporting? We don’t know and what’s more we don’t seem to care. Unreported injuries create a skewed view of our operating risk, which is a precursor to serious injury or death. As we become more complacent about the risk of injury we have a tendency to take greater and greater risks and every time we are unharmed by a shortcut, or we drift from the norm and emerge unscathed we teach ourselves that unnecessary risk taking—even recklessness—is safe. The increase in fatalities is no mystery. The mystery is why no one seems to care enough to do anything about it.

New New Year’s Resolutions for Safety Professionals

By Phil La Duke

Note: I am posting a couple of days early since so many are eager for resolutions.

Four years ago I posted New Year’s resolutions for Safety Professionals and it continues to get a lot of traffic this time of year. I while I still believe the resolutions I wrote back then are important, I think it’s high time I update them. So here are my resolutions for Safety Professionals for 2017:

Resolution #1: Less Focus Teaching And More on Coaching

We tend to train workers and then cut them loose into the workplace. From learning to walk to learning the most complex thing we know, we didn’t learn it by sitting in a classroom listening to an expert prattle on and on. Furthermore, we didn’t learn it in a single event. We as safety professionals have to team with the training professionals to construct adult learning that leverages structured coaching (not shadow training). We need to provide workers with feedback, but not in the cheese-ball safety observation way, but in a way that verifies that the workers’ truly understand how to do the job correctly (which by definition means safely).

Resolution #2: Wage War On Complaceny

In my 2013 post I discussed the dangers of complacency. In my opinion complacency around safety (“we’re safe enough since we didn’t kill anyone recently”) is the number one threat to worker well being in the coming year, but it’s not worker complacency it’s organizational complacency. We’ve been so busy congratulating ourselves on the great job we’re doing that we have become blasé about the dangers of non-standard work or even overt risks in our workplace.

Resolution #3: Less Observation More Conversation

Despite the years of effort and reams and reams of virtual trees killed condemning traditional BBS, pockets still exist. Stop having people watch coworker work and engage workers in meaningful conversations about safety. Find out what keeps them up at night and what they are tired of reporting and being ignored. Treat adults like grown ups and they will surprise you.

Resolution #4: Unify

No one can argue like a safety professional. We need to find a path to unification and concentrate on the things on which we can all agree instead of the things on which we don’t. From the outside looking in, we look like a bunch of childish boobs who can’t even agree on the simplest lexicon; this most stop.

Resolution #5: Do It Because It’s Right

Too often we fall into the trap where we default to the “the law tells we have to” which begs the question, “what if we don’t?” Instead we need to be led by our own (and the company’s) values. Never tell your leaders, “this is the right thing to do” because it implies a moral superiority on your part. Instead, you might try saying, “I will prefer to be guided by our shared values”. It’s tough for a leader to say, “to hell with our values, let’s do the bare minimum.” If you are guided by your values you will never disappoint yourself.

Resolution #6: Do It Right

Do your job. I have always said the key to success is to get half the people in the organization to do their jobs, half the time. But that’s not enough when it comes to safety, we also need to do our job correctly.

Resolution #6: Embrace the “Healthy” Side of Health and Safety

I think that this particular resolution that I wrote in 2012 is still germane to safety so I am carrying it over. There are a lot of safety professionals who have the word Health (or at least the initial H) in their titles. But even though it is ostensibly the responsibility of the Safety professional, scare little is done to improve the physical condition of the workers.  Even if there isn’t budget for improving worker health there is certainly a financial incentive for improving worker health.  Sometimes workers resent campaigns aimed at getting them healthier. Safety professionals should resolve to reduce the stress in the workplace and to make worker’s lives better by keeping them healthier and feeling better.

Resolution #7: Find the Balance

I’ve met too many safety professionals who are so devoted to the safety of others that they lose sight of their own well-being. Next year find the work-life balance that works not only for you, but for those around you. You’re job is important but you can’t do it well unless you learn how to balance all the important things in your life.

Resolution #8: Drive the Lunatics Out of Safety

We have been running from the LinkedIn bullies, safety snake-oil salesmen, and out-and-out ranting lunatics for too long. I can think of at least 10 of the top minds in safety who have been driven from LinkedIn because of honest to God mentally ill people who use Social Networking as there own deranged soap box. We can no longer sit idly by as our profession is highjacked by these social maladroits, pompous windbags, and profiteers. We need to report them to LinkedIn, we need to write to the safety associations and let them know that speakers selling their Big Red Book Of Nonsense aren’t technical sessions they are commercials. Finally we need to make it clear that while thought provocation is appropriate personal insults, death threats, and email comments that look like they have been written by a meth head baboon (which go, in the case of one who I am sure is reading this) directly into the spam folder unread by me. We have to confront these trolls even when the comments aren’t directed at us unfriend them, stop following their Tweets, block them from LinkendIn and rid the profession of them forever, in other words we need to group up.

Peace unto all of you and happy new year.

Who Are You?

Who are you? It’s a seemingly simple question, but one that the safety community struggles with daily.   It’s a problem when we don’t know who we are because if we don’t know who we are then we cannot accurately communicate who we are because when decision makers don’t know who we are, and what our precise role is, they make bad decisions. When leaders make bad decisions about safety it increases risk and it kills people.

The Zealot

The safety zealot is an idealist, and while that term is a compliment in many contexts, in the context of safety it is not. Safety zealots are inflexible, rigid creatures who see anyone that disagrees as evil and dangerous. Safety zealots are often at odds with company leaders because the leaders know view the zealots as harmless fools at best and lunatics at best. The zealot wants it all and will stop at nothing to get it. Zealots are dangerous because they are unreasonable—they are uncompromising and anything less than perfect is a failure. They tend to see others as uncaring or at least not caring enough.

The Crusader

The safety crusader believes that the safety of workers is his or her job 24-7 and that this responsibility extends beyond the workforce and intrudes into the personal lives of the workers, safety at home, safety in the hobbies and pass times of the workers. The crusader sees him/herself as the one true champion of the worker and believes that making the work force safe is the role of every safety practitioner. Crusaders believes the only reason to make the work place safer is because it is the “right thing to do”, and to talk about safety in terms of cost savings is crass and cold-hearted.

The Philosopher

The safety philosopher likes to argue about things that at a practical level really don’t make much of a difference in actual improvement in safety. Safety philosophers will argue vehemently one inconsequential point against another. Safety philosophers tend to spend hours online shouting down anyone who disagrees with their chosen beliefs set.

The Pragmatist

The pragmatist knows that safety isn’t cut and dry and that if safety is the absence of injuries you can never really measure it. The pragmatist may face battle after battle with leaders who have been swayed by one of the other kinds of safety practitioners. The safety pragmatist understands that zero injuries may be possible, but achieving it and sustaining it usually isn’t practical. The pragmatist understands that his or her job is to reduce risk, and protect both worker and the company. We need more safety pragmatists.

The Accountant

Safety accountants are enamored by numbers. They make pretty charts of body counts and love to show off how much things have improved (or are improving) without really calculating all the costs. The accountants are good at manipulating numbers to make it seem like they are doing a better job than they are.

The Safety Cop

Safety cops believe that if everyone would just follow the safety rules that everything would be wonderful. Safety cops live in a world of rules, infractions, and ruthless disciplinary action for noncompliance. These safety practitioners are often frustrated because operations don’t through the book at people who don’t follow the rules. Safety cops also tend to see the injured workers as careless or reckless dopes without the sense God gave geese. They see workers as the enemy or as children that have to be watched and disciplined constantly.

The Safety Storm Trooper

The Safety Storm Trooper sees him/herself as the thin red line between the lying workers who fake injuries so they can lie around and fraudulently collect disability. When a worker is injured on a Monday, the Safety Storm Trooper defaults to the belief that the injury actually happened while the worker was roofing his brother-in-laws house. Safety Storm Trooper works tirelessly to prevent workers from collecting money from the company.

So Which One Are You?

If you are being really honest you probably are seeing yourself in one or more of these roles. I think we all find ourselves playing one or more of these roles once in a while, the danger becomes when we start playing one role to the exclusion of all others.

If you are interested in reading more of my work check out my articles in Entrepreneur magazine  https://www.entrepreneur.com/author/phil-la-duke  You can help me out a lot by sharing these articles from within the article.

 

As (Not) Seen In Entrepreneur Magazine

By Phil La Duke

There will be a safety blog post this week, I promise.  Busy weekend as you can imagine. But perhaps you can get your Phil fix and help me out in the process.  While my articles in Entrepreneur get critical praise, the measure of whether or not my articles are successful is largely based on how many “shares” it gets and in my case very view people share my articles from within the article. So in this season of giving why not give one of these 60 some odd articles and SHARE from within the article.  This is after all the season of sharing.

https://www.entrepreneur.com/author/phil-la-duke

Destroying the Cult of Safety

By Phil La Duke

Many people have challenged my position that we need to treat safety as a business element, something that has a cost associated with it and that cost has to be managed. My critics say I am too cold blooded, that there is so much more to safety than saving money: it’s the right thing to do.  First of all, when you tell an executive that we have to do this or that because, “It’s the right thing to do” you do two things.  First you insult the executive by implying that he or she doesn’t know right from wrong, and second you are asking the executive to take your word for it instead of putting together a business case.

I have never once met an executive who said, “You know, I would LOVE to hurt more workers, maybe even kill some, but we just don’t have the money for that.” Executives KNOW safety is the right thing to do, and unless your company is run by Satan, they probably are prepared to make the workplace as safe as is practicable. I take some guff for advocating making the workplace only as safe as is practicable.  Shouldn’t we make every effort to eliminate all injuries? No.  To do so would be ruinously costly to the company the only way to sustained zero-injuries is through the elimination of all hazards such that we have eliminated all risk and reduced the possibility of injury to zero.  You can achieve sustained zero injuries by bankrupting the company and putting it out of business.  The unemployed seldom get hurt on the job. But the allure of zero has achieved cult like status among safety nitwits and it is spreading like a cancer to the executive suite.  It needs to be eradicated.

I have endured, both in writing and in person, the sanctimonious lectures of the soft-headed bleeding hearts who insist that zero-injuries is the way, and the truth, and the light. I’m not buying it.  Money is the way to get leadership’s attention, but the problem is, most people don’t know how to calculate the cost and use the formula’s provided by OSHA or the National Safety Council.  Unfortunately for those who use those multipliers many executives will look at those costs and say, those aren’t OUR numbers, and well…they’re right.

It doesn’t take long to calculate the cost of injuries and it’s not hard if you know where to look. I guess I should make the point that there are three kinds of costs: direct, indirect, and associated costs.  I can argue which costs are in which category all day and frankly that’s the kind of purely academic argument that makes some National Conferences so pointless.  Sufficed to say I could argue these points all day…but I’m not gonna.

So where do we begin? We have to deal primarily with direct costs and only those indirect costs that can be accurately quantified. This isn’t as difficult as it might seem although some people in your organization may guard their secret information like some Tolkien villain.  We generally know how long it took to respond to an injury—I have gone so far as to require the incident investigation to identify the time of the injury and the time that work resumed. If we know how much time we spent and we know the wages of the people involved we have a firm cost for an individual injury.  It won’t take long to convince leadership that the money they are spending on worker injuries far exceeds insurance co-pays or Workers’ Compensation costs.

Here is an example of a VERY simplified version of a tool I use to determine the cost of injuries.

injury-calculatorAs you can see wages are far more than just those wasted paying an injured worker to be treated.  In many organizations an uninjured worker must escort the injured worker to the hospital or clinic and wait there for the injured person to be treated.  Of course in addition to wages there are costs associated with treating the worker which can also be substantial, and finally there are operational losses—like the case of a person who cut his hand while working at a grain silo and the entire several tons of grain was tainted and could no longer be sold. Or it might be the material used to make car seats that must be scrapped because it is now blood stained.

As I said, it’s easy to see how one can get legitimately calculate an alarmingly high number for each injury. One piece of advice, however, don’t push it too far.  While every penny counts if you push the envelop of quantifiable costs you can lose all credibility.  Your calculations need to be like Ivory Soap—99.44% pure. Just like the grain with a couple of drops of blood in it just a little bullshit taints the entire figure. What’s more is it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have to exaggerate the costs.  The money will speak for itself, and oh yeah, it really IS the right thing to do.

5 Reasons We Should Be Taking Culture Fit Seriously

This isn’t a piece that I wrote, but it compliments the sentiments I wrote in http://usasba.org/changing-your-companys-culture-in-3-easy-steps/

Talent Thread

culture imageAt 24 Seven we ensure our clients and candidates will have lasting partnerships. We’ve outlined the five key characteristics to look for in a company. Finding the right culture fit takes time, but it’s the greatest investment you’ll make.

  1. Low Turnover:

When it comes to your interview, don’t be afraid to ask how long the previous person worked in that role. Ideally, you want to learn and grow in a position for at least two years. Joining a company with happy co-workers who are passionate about what they do will make you want to work harder.

  1. Great Training:

It’s also important to ask what kind of training programs the company offers. Learning a new skill not only raises your worth in the eyes of corporate America, but can give you a personal boost of self-confidence. If your company doesn’t offer the training that you are interested in don’t be discouraged, a…

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