Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

Did You Know That Phil Writes for Other Publications Too?

Phil La Duke, Blogger, Author, Speaker, and Provocateur

If you enjoy Phil’s work, or if you are just a meat-headed masochist who is looking for  more about which to get offended , you can find guest blog posts to and, periodic contributions to Entrepreneur magazine, ISHN and Facility Safety Management magazine, and of course his monthly column at

2 Responses

  1. Tim Ludwig says:


    I usually enjoy reading your blogs. You and I think very much alike.

    However, your recent blog has me concerned that you misrepresented BBS. I have two points:

    1) You misrepresent “traditional” BBS. I think if you go to the core of the research and the behavior analysts who started BBS you’ll see that it is not supervisors who should do observations but employees.

    2) I agree that we should look at upstream systems when we find at-risk (unsafe) behaviors. This is what BBS is all about. When observations are done and feedback given, the data is supposed to be trended and the at-risk behaviors identified. How do you propose we do all the analyses in your blog if the at-risk behaviors are not identified honestly? Anyhow, after the behaviors are targeted then the analyses that you speak of are done.

    In NO CASES are we blaming the worker. I’m not sure where you get the notion that BBS is trying to blame the worker… but those programs are not BBS. They are usually incorrect versions of BBS sold by consultants or adopted by folks in industry who don’t know the science and practice of BBS.

    I hope you can clarify these points in future blogs. I’d be glad to discuss with you.


    • Phil La Duke says:

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. If I have misrepresented BBS it is because I have yet to find two BBS traditionalists who agree on the most basic principles of the cult of BBS. Firstly, to your point that supervisors aren’t the ones who should be making the observations, I would say, who then? A co-worker? The quickest way to get a union organized is to pit worker against worker. Organizers like to call that double supervision, and frankly their right. Are their good hearted workers who will provide, let’s face it an uniformed, opinion of the job someone else is doing and let them know if they are doing it safely? sure. Are there a lot more who believe that it’s not their job to babysit a co-worker, or that are reluctant to tell someone that they are doing a job (a job they don’t do, by the way, and haven’t been trained to do, by the way) or just don’t want to be bothered by this fool’s errand? You betcha. The supervisor is there to support the worker, and that includes keeping the workplace safe, not just from unsafe behaviors, but from the myriad other hazards that also need to be addressed.
      BBS in some idyllic, Utopian view of the world, may indeed be about managing upstream behaviors, but I don’t see it. I see a lot of wanna be behavioral psychologist, basing theories on discredited research and making some pretty broad assumptions. There is a lot of quackery in disguised as science in BBS and heaven help anyone who calls the emperor naked.
      You ask, how I propose we do all the analyses if the at-risk behaviors are not identified honestly? Easy, stop looking for behaviors and look for the CAUSES of those behaviors. Let me give you an analogy that might illustrate my point. Let’s say I keep busting the window in your garage because I’m under the mistaken impression that you poisoned my dog. If you only deal with that behavior you will absolutely find a way to stop me from busting your windows, but because you haven’t dealt with the underlying CAUSE of the behavior I will just shift my malicious actions somewhere else, like slashing your tires, or pooping in your foyer. So it is with ALL behaviors. If the unsafe behavior is that I am using the wrong tool (not because I don’t know it’s wrong, or that I have been poorly trained, or the do-gooder “safety-first” co-worker hasn’t observed and coached me) and someone tells me to use the correct one I’m not likely to change. Discipline me for it and I will only change when you’re around. In short, unless you understand why I decide to behave unsafely and impact my flawed decision making process nothing will change, rather, the behavior will simply be driven underground. It’s smoke and mirrors and from my admittedly limited experience deeply flawed and a system that puts workers at risk.
      You mention that “In NO CASES are we blaming the worker. I’m not sure where you get the notion that BBS is trying to blame the worker… but those programs are not BBS.” A BBS fanatic just posted on one of the other threads “If I tell an employee that there is a risk of a machine cutting off their finger- that’s on the employee’s behavior if they don’t deem that a credible risk.” To me, this says it all. BBS will tell them to be careful and then if they get hurt it’s their own damned fault.
      As long as there are thousands of screwy bastardizations of the methodology out there I will continue to rail against them. Yes, they are, as you point out “usually incorrect versions of BBS sold by consultants or adopted by folks in industry who don’t know the science and practice of BBS” but that is the majority of the people peddling this malarkey. With all due respect, calling BBS a science is like calling a bar tender a mixologist; at some point it’s just slinging poison.
      By the way, I’ve spent the last 10 months reading academic and technical journals on how the brain works from a neurological standpoint and it has been fascinating and enlightening, much of the “science” and “research” on which the BBS fanatics hang their hats has been out and out disproved. And no, I won’t cite them (this is not for your benefit, Tim but for the rabid dopes waiting to pounce) if people want to learn about how we think in truly scientific terms they can read the textbooks I’ve suffered through.
      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. Especially since you don’t agree with me. It’s nice that we can remain civil despite deep disagreements on this particular subject. I’d love to discuss the topic further with anyone interested in doing so. I am speaking next month at the Michigan Safety Conference, the following month at ENFORM Banff in Alberta, Canada, covering the ASSE show as a safety journalist, and speaking at the National Safety Council. Hope to see you there.

      Again, my heart-felt thanks for your comments and support



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