“Zero Injuries” Is Nothing To Celebrate

blood candy

By Phil La Duke

I was checking out the discussion groups on LinkedIn this week when I happened across a very popular, and frankly very scary, thread. It involved a safety professional providing candy bars to the workers as a reward for a year with zero injuries.

I was alarmed at how many softheaded mouth-breathers chimed in about what a great idea it was, and what an accomplishment a whole year without zero injuries is. Before I continue this rant, I should be clear: I am not against safety incentives, but I AM against giving incentives because something didn’t happen. Rewarding your employees for zero injuries is like rewarding them when it doesn’t rain. Why not? The safety boobs ask, a day without rain is a GOOD thing, and if we want people to continue to do good things we need to reward them for it.

I think the rain analogy works pretty well—of course the workers don’t have any control over whether or not it rains, and they do have some limited—but certainly not absolute—control over whether or not injuries occur—because if we don’t understand exactly what conditions we created to achieve zero injuries it just leads to a blanket “well the recipe worked”; well maybe it did and maybe it didn’t.

The Dalmatian Effect

With all apologies to Dalmatian lovers out there, this particular breed is (at least according to my vet) notoriously difficult to train, tends toward violent outbursts, and can turn on the owner. This is not to say this is a condemnation of all Dalmatians, of course. In fact there is a darned good reason that Dalmatians have this reputation, you see, a disproportionate number of Dalmatians are deaf; it’s a congenital defect in the breed. People unfamiliar with Dalmatians get a cute little Dalmatian puppy and try to train it. They yell “no!” as it piddles on the carpet, they beat it with a rolled up magazine when it chews the credenza. The poor dog doesn’t have a clue why it’s being punished so it can’t be trained effectively. Likewise it doesn’t hear the “good dog” praising for getting things right so punishment and reward seem to be completely random and that makes the afflicted Dalmatians surly brutes waiting for some pay back. Not think about rewarding workers for zero injuries; is it so different from how we treat the deaf Dalmatian?

For many workers, rewards for zero injuries are considered patronizing and insulting. I once asked a tradesman if the company provided incentives for zero injuries and his answer was quite telling, “yeah these idiots buy us pizza at the end of the month if we don’t kill anybody as if we would deliberately get hurt if it wasn’t for their crappy pizza”. He went on to say that he and most (his words not mine) of his coworkers felt like management treated them like children and were insulted by it. “I work safely because it’s just the smart thing to do; they can shove their pizza.”

If You Reward Things You Don’t Understand You Can’t Reliably Repeat them

I used to teach problem solving techniques and one of the first steps in problem solving is to ascertain the structure of the problem: Broad, Specific, Start Up, or Positive. It was tough for people to understand the concept of a positive problem, so I would explain it this way: suppose you find an extra $50 on your next paycheck. Wouldn’t you want to know what caused you to have the additional money? (the answer was invariable a resounding yes!) So now you have a problem, right? You have a positive condition but you don’t know what caused it so you can’t replicate it.

So there you have it. Zero injuries is a positive problem that must be solved so that it can be replicated reliably and economically. Let’s face it everyone has zero injuries until someone gets hurt.

Simple (and Simple-Minded) Solutions To Complex Problems

Let’s say that instead giving adults candy bars for zero injuries we attempted to answer the question “why did we have zero injuries this year?” We might begin by brainstorming reasons that typically result in a reduction in reported injuries. Our list might look something like this:

  • Better housekeeping
  • Quicker response to physical hazards
  • Better training resulting in better decision making
  • Under reporting
  • Luck
  • Outsourcing the most dangerous work to suppliers
  • Better containment of physical hazards
  • Increased awareness of the risks associated with a given task
  • More skilled supervision (as measured by the completion rate of training
  • Higher quality training (as determined by sound course evaluation)
  • Improved case management
  • Increased scrutiny and data analysis of the risks associated with injuries
  • Reduced production
  • Higher machine reliability
  • A light winter that resulted in less slips and falls on wet or icy surfaces
  • Increased number of safety suggestions
  • Fraudulent record keeping
  • A climate of fear for reporting injuries
  • Disciplinary for being injured

These are just things off the top of my head that could cause a reduction in injuries and/or achievement of the goal of zero injuries. Which of these do you really want to reward? Aren’t there some of these that you DON’T want to reward? Aren’t some of these conditions unworthy of a candy bar? But when you give a blanket reward without understand what did and what did not contribute to an outcome you are endorsing every one of these things that are true.

Zeroes Aren’t Necessarily Heroes

What was most troubling wasn’t that a safety practitioner gave out an incentive for zero injuries, after all that IS what we want isn’t it? What was troubling was that the thread had several hundred comments praising the safety guy in question for giving out candy bars for zero injuries. I’ve asked the question before, but am compelled to ask it again, HOW STUPID ARE WE? One of my contacts challenged my assertion that maybe, just maybe, the zero injury accomplishment was because of under reporting by saying that he doubted that people would under report just for a candy bar. Okay maybe he’s right, but then rewarding them with a candy bar for zero injuries is even more pointless.

We have to stop acting like injuries are always a conscious choice to take an unnecessary risk and start acting more scientific. We have to understand the nature of the injuries that happen at OUR sites in OUR industries and stop listening to the snake oil salesmen. Only when we understand the things that people can actively DO to reduce the risk of injury can we responsibly reward them for doing so. But most of you reading this won’t do that. Why? Several reasons: 1) it’s hard 2) we like to give out trinkets and swag and 3) we don’t know how to establish and interpret good leading indicators. In the end we just take credit that is ours to take and ignore risks until someone dies.

Training Tips For the Cheap, Lazy, and Entitled



by Phil La Duke

I was torn as I sat down to write this week’s post between following up with last week’s condemnation of the abysmal state of safety training and a rant about the ingratitude of the bitch and whine safety generation. I have chosen to write a follow up to last week’s post, but before I do I want to take on some of the ass-hats who emailed me or posted negative comments because I just complained about the problem but offered no suggestions as to how to improve things.

For starters, I am under no obligation to provide free consulting to a bunch of mouth breathers who acknowledge that they don’t have the requisite skills, ambition, or opportunity to DO quality training yet they continue to do so. I thank all that is holy that these people aren’t heart surgeons. I hear daily about the millennial attitude of entitlement; how participation medals and praise for mediocrity has fostered a sense that the world owes them. Before anyone jumps on this particular band wagon let me point out that the barrage of criticism came not from millennials new to the trade, rather people who had been in the profession long enough to know better. Personally I see this not as the millennial effect but something older and more loathsome—the Napster Effect. The Napster Effect works like this: why buy something when you can steal it, and if someone gives you something for free you have a God given right to complain and criticize it; well you don’t. If you don’t find value in my blog don’t read it. You have no obligation to save people from my hearsay or to shout me down—not because you disagree or that what I am saying isn’t factually correct but because I haven’t given you enough free information.

I continue writing this for the handful of people who have written to me and have told me that they found something I wrote meaningful, helpful, or inspirational. I don’t write this to be famous (trust me if I wanted to be famous it sure as Hell wouldn’t want to be famous for safety), or for money (nobody pays me for this), or for marketing (the only time I reference what I do in safety is to provide a context for what I am saying). In short if you want more than you get for free pay me or shut up.

Whew. Glad to get that off my chest. Okay here are some basic things that you can do to improve your training without spending a ton of money and without a whole lot of work ranked in order of impact (let’s call it tips for the cheap and lazy).

  1. Understand what people have to DO. Training is about providing people skills or improving their proficiency applying those skills. You have to ask yourself what skills do people need to successfully do the job. Most of the crap spewed in the name of training is actually education (teaching people ABOUT something). I was once told that the best way to understand the difference between education and training, is that you may not mind if your 12-year old daughter receives sex education but you probably don’t want her getting sex training.
  2. Recognize that much of the education you received was crap. Typically untrained trainers, or those who learned on the job emulate their teachers. What’s wrong with that? Plenty. There are two types of learning Pedagogy and Andragogy. Pedagogy is the practice of teaching children and unfortunately most college professors still employ those practices because they aren’t trained in Andragogy (the practice of teaching adults). Research has shown that children and adults learn very differently. Children are like sponges soaking up pretty much whatever they are told (which is why every college grad with absolutely no work experience KNOWS EVERYTHING), while adults come to the learning event with a lifetime of experience. Adults like to share their experiences, but more than that, it’s important for adult learners to tell their stories so that they can process the information and so that they can see how it fits into their worldview.
  3. Ask yourself what bad thing will happen if you DON’T provide the skill. Julie Dirksen, in her terrific book, Design For How People Learn, makes this point. We have a tendency to teach people how to operate a lathe by beginning with the discovery of lumber. We love to show off how much we know, it’s borne out of the insecurity of teaching adults; we feel a need to establish our complete and other command of a subject so that the adult learner will respect us and accept what we are telling them.
  4. Show; don’t tell. There is a book out there, Telling’s Not Training. The title says it all. Demonstrating the skills you are trying to impart and then allowing the learner to practice those skills is hands down the best way to provide training. Unfortunately, WE want to do the talking. Stop thinking of yourself as a teacher and start thinking of yourself as a coach and sensei. If you have to watch The Karate Kid over and over again until you get the message then do so, but whatever it takes learn to create situations where the learner experiences the lesson instead has it force fed the lesson. Adult learning should be guided discovery—there is nothing so powerful or enjoyable than the “aha” moment where you finally get it because you experienced it. This kind of learning is more meaningful, visceral, and lasting; it isn’t something someone said in a boring classroom, it’s something you experienced and discovered for yourself.
  5. Move to micro-lessons. Every so often the training profession trots out an old concept in a new package, and that’s how single-point lessons came to be called “micro-lessons”. The underlying theme between the two is that teaching someone a single point, one skill is more effective than trying to cram everything you think the learners need into a 1–4 hour block of time. Some of you are about to cry foul—how can you release someone to a job without giving him or her the full compliment of safety training. To that I would say, “follow the law, but where you have the discretion to spread training over time, do so”.
  6. Cut the time you currently spend training in half (or more). Take a look at your course and ask yourself what can I cut out of this in the interest of time. Before you shout “impossible” think of the times where you started your four-hour training 45 minutes late and still finished on time. What did you cut out? Did the world end? Did the moon fall out of the sky? Or how about the times you taught a class over and over again and the eight hour class eventually becomes a six-hour class because you recognize that the things that you thought were essential weren’t even necessary?

Is Your Crappy Training Killing People?


By Phil La Duke

As many of you read this, someone somewhere in the world is preparing to deliver a safety training. Maybe it’s the Monday morning new hire safety orientation, or maybe it’s something more specific on hazard communication or some other aspect of safety. What all these courses have in common is they do little more than to feed the instructor’s ego and deluded sense of self-importance.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of you reading this are familiar with the saying “death by PowerPoint” but for those of you who may not be, “death by PowerPoint” refers to the practice of sitting bored senseless while someone does a four to eight hour soliloquy about the minute (and let’s face it useless) details of a topic you neither need nor care to know. At first your just bored, and then bored and angry, and so on until you are completely checked out.

Having sat through eight hours of the crapiest safety training yesterday—training I neither needed nor derived from which I derived any meaningful benefit—I have come to the realization that when it comes to safety training “death by PowerPoint” is more than a mere figure of speech, it could be prophetic.

My first published article on worker safety was “What’s Wrong With Safety Training and How to Fix It”. That was 10 years ago and if anything the situation has gotten worse.

If training isn’t effective it heightens the risk that a worker will be injured or killed and yet scarce little is done to improve safety. A lot can be done to improve safety training starting with:

  • Needs Assessment. In some cases OSHA dictates that specific training be delivered to workers, but it very often doesn’t identify the objectives the training must have, rather it errs on the side of duration. This leaves the trainer a lot of latitude, but it doesn’t absolve the company from providing EVERYONE x hours of training on a given topic. So what ends up happening is that the trainers treat everyone the same—I have had to take courses of which I have literally written and facilitated a dozen times or more, why? Because that’s the rule. The government agencies of the world haven’t matured much beyond “training” as an abstract and don’t give a hoot whether or not the audience is more skilled in a topic than the instructor, so we are stuck with conducting the training, but we aren’t stuck with HOW we present the training, or even at what level we present it. ,
    If we were to do an accurate needs assessment and we found that most of the audience already know a fair amount about a topic we could, for example, develop a course that used case studies and small groups so that the veteran-experts could teach the novices. Granted that means less ego stroking for the instructor, but a cautionary tale from a veteran means infinitely more than a lecture from an overly earnest safety professional who has never set foot in the field.
  • Contextual Learning. Most of us don’t work in the classroom, and most of the learners don’t work in the classroom. Add to that, the fact that the further training moves away from the environment in which the skills are actually used the less effective the training is and we have an epidemic of dangerously bad safety training. When you select the location of training, ask yourself this: “would I feel safe as a passenger on a plane if the full extent of the training the pilot received was delivered in an equivalent method and location?” If you answer is anything but a resounding “NO” than you are probably snacking on lead paint chips right now. The reality is that people learn by doing, and by doing in as close an approximation to the actual circumstances in which they will use the required skills.
  • Testing and Evaluation. Okay, nobody likes tests, and most of the tests I have read really and deeply suck. I don’t remember where I read it, but in general, the odds of answering a true or false question isn’t 50:50 rather it is 63:37 so in other words just by guessing one has a 63% chance of guessing a true or false question correctly. The odds get even better when the person writing the test isn’t particularly adept at writing test questions and use absolutes (must, always, never, etc.) into the question. Since all I need to do to prove a question containing absolutes as false is to come up with one case where the statement could be true the odds are pretty high that question that contains absolutes is false, it’s pretty easy to guess correctly. So why are true or false questions so prevalent? They are easy to write.
    Of course there are the multiple choice questions that are so easy to rule out the wrong answers that one can guess the correct answer through process of elimination. What’s worse are the questions so poorly written (both c and a but not d and sometimes b or “all of the above” or “none of the above”) that the question is more a test of reading comprehension than it is of any skills supposedly imparted by the training.
    But safety people don’t like tests, particularly well written tests. It’s about checking the box. We should be evaluating people in their work areas by having them demonstrate the skills required.

The problem is we don’t really care about the quality of the training we do, or perhaps it’s better stated that we don’t really care if the training we do makes a difference or not as long as we can prove we did it.

It’s too bad because if safety teamed with the training function we might just have a big safety breakthrough, but it’s unlikely. Companies spend millions on snake oil designed to “change the culture” but bulk at the $10,000 between creating an effective elearning and one that is well…pardon the expression eCrap.

Too Sexy For Safety?


By Phil La Duke

I’ve referenced before the innovative work being done by IMPROV SAFETY (an outgrowth of the driving school that has been successful for many years.)  The idea (supported by much research, by the way) is that things that make people laugh tend to stick with them longer than things that bore them. “We Entertain to Retain” is a popular way in which the concept is explained.

I’m prejudiced in favor of the company because I became friends with founder Gary Alexander who reached out to me on LinkedIn and wanted my advice about the feasibility of making funny safety videos that carried an important message. Gary and his team are a smart bunch and didn’t need a lot of advice from me (it was more of a confirmation that what they thought was a good idea was indeed a good idea.) What started out as being funny safety videos evolved into a series of micro lessons (one objective taught in less than 4 minutes) that could be used in safety messaging, in toolbox talks, as icebreakers in meetings, assets in instructor-led training, or even as part of a eLearning.

The first offering is titled “Making Safer Choices”—not exactly controversial, but when IMPROV SAFETY tried to buy an ad in one of the leading safety magazines he was told that the ad (pictured above) did not fit the editorial guidelines—effectively it was TOO racy.  The video series stars Pamela Anderson (who was selected chiefly because she was the original Tool Girl on the Tim Allen series Tool Time whose running joke was Tim getting hurt because he didn’t follow safety protocols.

The basic premise is that Pamela Anderson and the narrator set up content around decision making. Characters Victor (a worker that makes safer choices) and Derk (notorious in his own right, Kato Kaelin) who always seems to chose poorly act out a funny skit illustrating the point. And the scene is debriefed by Pamela Anderson and the narrator.  Each segment ends with some version of  the tag-line “Don’t Be A Derk”. Seems harmless enough, but perhaps some believe 50ish Pamela Anderson is still too sexy for safety.

I know Pamela Anderson was in Baywatch, but I have never watched an episode (who needs to see David Hasselhoff topless?) and posed for Playboy, but apart from her quasi-notoriety is there any reason that a photo of her fully clothed should be rejected as too provocative? As a professional provocateur myself I take no small umbrage at the fact that one’s past poor choices could tarnish one forever, but if your reasoning for thinking that Pamela Anderson is inappropriate is because of her past, let me ask you this: Who better to narrate a video on making better choices than someone who has made some bad ones?  But beyond that, what right does a magazine editor have to reject an ad as too provocative without being able to point specifically to what could be done to the add to make it more appropriate, apart from removing Pamela Anderson? Would the editor react the same way if instead of Pam Anderson the ad featured Bill Cosby?

I ran into Gary at the Michigan Safety Conference—the energy around his booth was electric. I very talented magician David Bondafini  entertained crowds with magic tricks that always seemed to have a safety message artfully entwined with the trick itself. Behind him was a large copy of the ad above, nobody seemed to have too much of a problem with it.

The conference had other booths displaying massagers that featured topless women (from behind) using self massagers.  I wondered if there adds would be rejected, were they to be submitted to a safety magazine.  Pick up a copy of GQ or Men’s Health or Cosmopolitan or Boys Life and you will find more provocative ads than this one.  Is the safety media so soft headed that they fear anything beyond ads for traffic cones and machine guarding will over stimulate safety professionals?  Let’s face it the LAST thing we need are over stimulated safety professionals. In an industry that is already nauseatingly over parental do we really need to censor this type of advertising? Isn’t this just a bit over the top? So much for advertising my blog with tastefully shot black & white photos of me nude.

I made my speech and afterwards a gentleman came up and said, “how do you make safety more exciting, you know make it sexy?” How indeed.

Interestingly enough, not all safety media outlets are quite as prudish, ISHN recently ran an article Pamela Anderson At Your Next Training Event (sans photo). It’s good to know one of my favorite safety magazines isn’t so hung up on Pamela Anderson’s past to know the value she can add to a boring safety event.

I Watched A Man Die Today

Grim reaper

By Phil La Duke

I watched a man die today. I was going to write this week’s post on ways to energize the workers around safety, but then I watched a man die today. I also considered writing about an ad that was turned down by H+S Magazine because it was too sexy (a safety ad that was too sexy?) but then I watched a man die today. I also considered writing some combination of the two topics, but then, as I said, I watched a man die today.

I didn’t see the accident that killed him, and truth be told I probably didn’t actually witness the 24-year old motorcyclist’s last moments. But I watched as police stood around helplessly walking in numb circles, two of them holding a large blanket in a vain attempt to block the gory view of the body from the slowly growing throng of gawkers.

I was gathering my phone, keys, and wallet and headed to get a haircut when I got a text from my stylist. There was something going on in front of the shop and traffic was a mess. So I left early to avoid being late because of the traffic. About 10 minutes later I noticed the police had stopped traffic directly in front of the salon so I took the back alleys behind the shops and wound my way to the shops parking lot. The entrance to the street was blocked with crime scene tape. I got out of my car and saw him. Sprawled on the street in a massive puddle of blood. Details are sketchy as they always are in this kind of a scene whether it be in the workplace or on the highway.   Some said the motorcyclist was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic when he struck a car that was pulling out of a private drive. Others said that the elderly driver pulled out without looking and struck the motorcyclist. Either way, two lives (and many more) were forever changed. The elderly driver will likely never drive again—in any of the scenarios I heard he will be judged at fault for failing to yield the right of way; he may even face vehicular homicide charges—but even if he is allowed to do so, he will live for the rest of his life with the knowledge that he took the life of a 24 year old.

“I was drinking in Havana, I took a little risk. Send lawyers, guns, and money; dad get me out of this.”—Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Warren Zevon.

It Only Took A Moment

The lives of two people on autopilot intersect only for a split second leaving one dying on the pavement and the other badly shaken and perhaps having a heart attack is speeding in an ambulance to the nearest hospital. Was this preventable? Was this predictable? What platitudes will ooze out of the mouths of safety practitioners in response to this? What lessons are there to be learned from this?

“Maybe you got a kid maybe you got a pretty wife, the only thing that I got’s been botherin’ me my whole life”—State Trooper, Bruce Springsteen

As I got my hair cut I my friend and stylist and I talked about the decedent; a person we didn’t know. 24 years old. Was he married? Did he have kids? What would this do to his parents? And we talked about the horror of killing him accidentally, and how we would feel if we were in his situation.

“Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave, no one was saved.”—Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles

By the time I left the salon the body had been removed, and a fireman began spraying a fire hose unceremoniously washing the copious amount of blood into a storm drain. The water quickly turned from clean white to a mottled dark red; not the crimson color you see in movies. I watched sadly for a long time, quietly mourning a person I never knew or would know.

I know that there is a lesson in all this about risk tolerance, and the fragility of life and the uncertainty of life for all of us. I wanted desperately for some good to come out of all this, something that I could share with each of you, but I just can’t summon the energy. In the days and weeks to come I will learn through news reports about the lives effected by this tragedy and maybe then I will have something meaningful to say about how all of this relates to workplace safety. But until then only one thing counts: I watched a man die today.

How I Killed The Safety Trade Show


By Phil La Duke

NOTE: Don’t be alarmed, I know this week’s post is early, but I have a busy weekend ahead of me and I didn’t want to have to worry about slopping something together just to meet arbitrary deadline.  I hope you enjoy it and tell me what you think.

It’s been awhile since I shook the trees and rattle the teeth of my faithful readers, so I guess I’m due. Yesterday I made my 10th consecutive presentation at a Safety Conference.  I had a great audience the message was well received.  This is the only public presentation I will be making this year, which is a bit disappointing because I have been averaging four a year kicking it off with the Michigan Safety Conference in April and generally finishing it off with an appearance at the National Safety Council.  This year I had all of my 26 abstracts shot down by the NSC.  They took their time giving me any explanation—and maybe I’m being arrogant for expecting one, but after being accepted for nine consecutive years[1] and ranked either “good” or “excellent” on my speeches (although I admit the topics—chosen by the conference organizers—weren’t always that popular I figured at least SOME reason was in order.  I was told that while my individual session evaluations were very good, when compared to the other speakers I wasn’t AS “very good” as the others in five out of the eight speeches I gave.  In what soft-headed world does this pass as constructive advice? This from the group that parades Scott Gellar and Charlie Moorecraft every year to present what is in my arrogance believe is the same message in different words.

As many of you know I have been wondering if I’m still relevant; if after 106 published articles, scores of speeches, and ten years of blogging anyone can read my work and not think that I am just rehashing things I’ve already ranted about. I’m ashamed to say this but I have been a coward and a fraud. I have never asked if magazine articles (especially specific magazines called out by name) or trade shows provide any worth; why? Because I knew if I pissed them off they wouldn’t have me as a speaker or publish my materials.  It was wrong, and borderline unethical and I feel that I owe each of you a heart-felt apology. So many of you have applauded me for being outspoken and honest when in truth I held back because I was selfish; I put my own needs in front of the needs of my readers.

So let me make up for some lost time here. First of all, the National Safety Council should have stopped having me as a speaker a long time ago.  Even though my talks were always fresh topics after a while who wants to go to a conference where the speaker’s line up looks like Mt Rushmore, the same old grey faces with nothing much new to contribute.  I have to hand it to ASSE, they give you a ridiculously short time to turn around an abstract, limit speakers to one abstract apiece, and send you a form letter that is basically a politely worded message that says, “a lot of people submitted better abstracts than yours; do better if you want to speak here.” Harsh, but in a way, comforting.  You don’t go around wondering why they didn’t accept it you know it’s because they thought it sucked and you probably would suck as a speaker. Frankly they should send the rejection letters (and they have enough class to send it via the mail) postage due.  I was mad at the ASSE for a while because several division leaders asked me to submit an abstract on something I had written.  So against my better judgment, I submitted abstracts that I didn’t think were my strongest efforts, but hey, they ASKED for them so I was guaranteed a slot, right? Wrong.  They sent me the same, “we appreciate you did your best, but your best sucked” form letter. I was furious, but now I feel like, “good for them”.  It least they had the guts to say, “we don’t care what two division chairs think, we decide what constitutes a good conference and you aint it.” Of course I was so over confident that I turned down two other speaking engagements because I was so certain ASSE was a lock, so I think you can forgive me for being a bit miffed.

While conferences are judicious in selecting speakers, they are less so with their exhibitors; you see the same venders shilling the same products year after year. How many glove manufacturers do you need? The recession hit conferences pretty hard and the exhibitors were hardest hit. At the Michigan Safety Conference, there were no fewer than five exhibitors selling “electric massage devices” I bought one last year at the NSC (don’t even stop at these booths because the pressure they put on you to buy the product is intense (one rep was so pushy he almost talked me into murdering his wife); it makes a used car dealer from 1972 look subtle) to evaluate it; it worked pretty well until the connections got a little worn and now I use it to build my resistance  to being tortured by a Central American despot; this thing, if not carefully and properly applied  HURTS.  I felt like RP McMurphy after his electroshock therapy.  One company with an exhibit is one thing but five or more is just obnoxious.  Speaking of obnoxious, how many booths do we need of people promoting degrees, each show seems to have more and more Universities offering, what I gotta believe, most people at the show already have.  It’s like going into a shoe store and selling…well shoes; most of these booths are unmanned which makes me wonder what exactly the point is.  Why shell out money for a boot and then put out pamphlets in case someone happens by.  These are universities for crying out loud, doesn’t it occur to them that they have a bunch of students who they could force to work there for free?

There tends to be less exhibitors giving away less cool stuff (I was never a trick-or-treater, but I was always interested in what companies gave away.) 8 years ago I would have vendors offering me free fire resistant coveralls, Px safety glasses, gloves, and even name brand safety boots just to evaluate because I deal with so many different companies, now I’m lucky if I’m offered a free pen that won’t write long enough to sign my name, I’m suddenly Phil~p La~~k~.

The exhibitors look like the walking dead. The recession has made it so that many exhibitors only send one or maybe two people, who after a half a day are exhausted and bored and are sitting there talking to each other, or are on the phone, or are eating their lunches.  Seriously, who is going to approach these people?  Two thirds of the exhibitors at the average show make less eye contact than Rain Man, and are less likely to say hello.

As entertaining as this rank has been (or hasn’t been) my point is this? Are trade shows still relevant? What would make YOU interested in visiting the exhibit halls? What topics do you want to know more about and who do you want to hear speak on them? I can’t quite shake the feeling that these shows are dying (by the way the Michigan Safety Conference was still going better than ever and they did a first rate job as always) and I’m a big part of why they are dying. Yes Scott Gellar, in my opinion, hasn’t had a fresh idea in 15 years, and yes Charlie Moorecraft is a hell of a nice guy, but he too has really been riding the same gravy train for 15 years. But aren’t I as guilty of doing the same? Yes I talk about a wide range of topics, but half the people come just to see if I’m going to say something shocking our outrageous, and I always do.

I think to save the safety trade shows we have to reach beyond safety for speakers. Get Dr. Paul Marciano to talk about engagement, or Charles Duhigg to talk about habit, or a neurosurgeon to talk about how people learn.

[1] Note in 2010 my employer, knowing he was going to lay me off in 2 weeks refused to allow me to make the speech so I was accepted but was unable to make the speech.

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