Phil La Duke: Self-Proclaimed Crybaby

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by Phil La Duke

I have received a lot of crap from bloated, overly educated, mouth-breathing windbags who mock me for  describing myself in my LinkedIn profile as a safety expert and thought leader.  Now normally I would verbally blow this empty high-viz vest out of the water, but instead I decided to go easy on the smug pile of steaming pig excrement. But it got me wondering, what does it take to BE considered an expert or thought-leader in safety.

But let me be clear, this is not about having my feelings hurt, that is an impossible feat for  a person I’ve never met, nor for one do not I respect. Nor is this a response to being offending by a drooling buffoon, I am only offended by the fact that these internet trolls walk freely among us breathing the same air as we do, when in simpler times the would have been stripped naked, beaten, driven from the village and branded an outcast and outlaw—someone that no law would protect and there for easy prey for any who would victimize them.

But one thing has me got me thinking: what is the nature of an expert? I have met PhDs and Harvard MBAs without the sense to come out of the rain who seemingly earned their credentials when daddy donated enough to the University to buy the Dean a private jet, and yet I have met people with no credentials at all who are smart, eloquent, and wise (an astonishingly rare combination).  Make no mistake, time does not necessarily confer wisdom. In many cases it just makes you older and more physically, mentally, and morally decrepit.

For the record, I am not a self-proclaimed expert or thought leader.  Those appellations were conferred on my by magazine editors and professional organizations.  Am I an expert? I don’t know, but others seem to think so.  I have (as of this writing) 241 published works eligible for citation in academic and professional journals. In the creation of those articles (published worldwide) I have to do copious research and provide, in some cases, three credible sources where I got the information.  What that means is unlike self published works like my blog, these works have been vetted by folks who are in a position to know whether or not I am full of crap. They have fact-checkers on staff who pour over my work looking for and correcting any inaccuracies. These works have been edited and re-edited (I rarely even get to name them) until the point where these publications are convinced that my work has merit and credibility.  So in there minds, these editors feel comfortable in calling me an expert in the topic covered.  241 articles represent over 250,000 words in print.  But does the fact that others have called me an expert make me one, people have hurled all manner of insult at my and called me all manner of loathsome things, but it their saying these things can be dismissed so too can being called an expert.

Does all this mean I’m an expert? I don’t know as I would necessarily say so, because I can think of a couple of south of the intellectual borderline authors who have published 10 or more books and while it kills me to say it, just because I disagree with the self-serving snake-oil dreck they churn out, doesn’t make them any less expert.  Edison and Tesla hated each other over AC versus DC power, but does that make either of them any less an expert in electricity?

I’ve also spoken at scores of local and international training conferences both publicly and privately to people eager to hear my opinion and they have called me an expert, but again, I am not a “self-proclaimed” anything. My work has been referenced in at least two text books on worker safety, and I was quoted as an expert in Dr. Paul Marciano’s best selling book By Paul Marciano Super Teams: Using the Principles of RESPECT to Unleash Explosive Business Performance and around 10 Doctoral dissertations (not counting the one who plagiarized word-for-word one of my blog articles resulting in him getting thrown out of his PhD program for plagiarism (don’t weep for him, one less PhD in the world is not a tragedy.) My work has appeared on the European Society for Process Safety’s list of recommended reading, and I just discovered I was cited in a U.S. Department of Labor Department of Labor Scholars Program Working Paper Series, a series of serious research papers “prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Federal Government or the Department of Labor”, but does that make me an expert? I was one of the first people accepted as an expert by the website “Expert File” and am listed on some database for researchers who can access my qualified works to use as source material.

I was an editorial advisor to two safety magazines and a contributing editor to two others, but again does that make me an expert?

I am absolutely not an expert because of my blog.  My blogs are, for the most parts, the barely coherent rantings of a man who is sick of people congratulating themselves on a job well done when in many cases their sole reason for believing this is that they killed less people than the competition, or because their injury rates go down—the equivalent of extolling the effectiveness of a rain dance by whether or not it rains sometime afterwards.  My blogs generate a lot of emotion and make a lot of people think.  Some actually hate me for saying the things that I do.  Most take the non-committal “I enjoy reading your work, but I don’t always agree with it” route, and I don’t mind that.  Publicly stating your agreement with me could lead to career consequences.  For the record I neither want nor expect universal agreement with my work, I just want to make people think, and more specifically question WHY we do the things we do.  I hear continuous grousing about how little respect and resources are given to safety practitioners and yet I continue to see them waste resources on ineffectual fads and do things that draw derision from the company.  When it comes to resources you have to play the cards you’re dealt and when it comes to respect, well that’s something you gotta earn and it’s not something you earn by whining.  So maybe I’m a thought leader and maybe i’m not, but with somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 (I honestly can’t get an accurate count because I continually guest blog).

None of this seems to matter to the indolent boobs too lazy to accomplish anything so they mock me because I use terms to describe myself in ways other already have. This is coming off a lot more defensive that I wanted it to be.  I don’t really care if people think I’m an expert or a thought leader or a mackerel for that matter. My “expertise” and influence isn’t all that respected by my employer, which is fair.  In the consulting business you are only as respected as the value you bring to the organization in terms of dollars and cents.  That’s not a knock on my employer, that’s just the nature of the beast.  And to, date all of my speaking and writing and blogging hasn’t resulted in any money—at least not the kind of money that I am expected to generate.

So why do I do it? Because being the egotist that I am I believe that I fill an important role in safety.  I do most (if not all) of my writing on my own time (on top of a 40-60 hour work week) for a good many people who read it for the sole purpose of being offended, looking down their pedantic noses at my spelling errors and grammatical liberties so they can offer condescending comments to others of similar ilk and disposition. I’m not looking for Safety Man of the Year award like some blue ribbon pig at the county fair, but is it too much to ask that I not be attacked by some jerk I’ve never met.  I’m at the conferences, say it to my face, I DARE you.

I do admit to no small disappointment at the cowardice of those who do find value in my work but who say nothing when it is attacked. It’s been a long time since someone told one of these naysayers to shut up or just to ask what THEY have done to contribute to the advancement of safety thought leadership? Most have done nothing but produce carbon dioxide and occasionally methane and are worth more to society in parts as organ donors (if anyone’s body wouldn’t immediately discard their toxic organs.)

So what am I? I am the perpetual malcontent that says here and now, what you’re doing isn’t good enough.  If you want credit for trying, all I can do is quote my departed father (who died from a workplace illness) “we can get a monkey in here to try hard, you don’t get any points for failing, results are all that matter.” When I would say, “i’m doing my best” he would respond, “well your best isn’t for (expletive)”.  On the other hand, I can quote a colleague of mine who has told me more than once, “nobody cares what you have to say”.

In the end some people can only feel expert by tearing down someone else; hell maybe that’s me—I honestly can’t tell anymore.

No matter what a man achieves it will never be enough and nobody likes being told that what they are doing isn’t anything shy of magnificent. I won’t be knighted, I won’t be made a saint, hell I won’t even be liked, but I won’t shut up.

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Never Let Facts Screw Up A Good Opinion

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By Phil La Duke

I broke up with Facebook recently; it wasn’t because of any grand drama, rather I got sick of the never ending arguments where emotional outbursts passed as appropriate responses to logical arguments. It got me thinking of the old Joel Barker paradigm.  The scientific definition of the word “paradigm” is basically archaic; it exists only in the vocabularies of self-important know-it-alls like me and a handful of truly enlightened souls who understand and fear the danger of its savage power. In science a paradigm is a belief held so fiercely that one will dismiss all evidence to the contrary.

Every urban legend sounds reasonable at first blush, and that’s why people believe it, as the more the story agrees with people’s world view them more tightly they cling to it, and the tighter they cling to it the more likely they will develop a paradigm that will cause them to miss the truth. Never is this more true than in worker safety, where we many still believe in the questionable research of an insurance actuary from the 1920’s who believed in eugenics so fiercely that he listed “worker ethnicity” as the root cause of injuries, took no notes, didn’t interview a single front-line worker, relied solely on anecdotal data from supervisors. People believe it because they want to believe it, giving little thought to whether or not it’s true.  This particular brand of zealotry has become so inculcated into the collective subconscious of the safety field (if not society as a whole) that we practically boil tar and gather feathers at the merest suggestion that threatens our love of this pagan god.

It’s easy to see why we believe this steaming pile of dung so fervidly we’ve spouted it so long and with such authority to reverse ourselves know would be beyond embarrassment. For the snake oil salesmen who have built fortunes shoveling this intellectual manure it means the jig is up and they will have to go back to selling discount furniture to people to poor and desperate to admit that they are being ripped off. For others it is equally a career ender, but it really needs to stop.  This is the organizational equivalent of treating syphilis with heavy metals 100 years after the discovery that penicillin is far more effective at treating it and can even cure it.

We’ve gotten sloppy as a field and the consequences could be dire. We proudly boast that incidents are down world-wide (conveniently ignoring that many risky jobs have been outsourced to small firms that are exempt from many regulatory requirements because to hold them accountable  would impose an unfair onus on small businesses, unlike the presumably completely just onus placed on small families who lose a bread winner.) but in too many cases we are claiming a victory in a battle we weren’t really fighting—that is REPORTED injuries are down, but who sure are we that injuries themselves are down.

It’s easy to look at our own experience and extrapolate it as universal. This is especially true of the dullards and dimwits who send me hate mail and post snide comments insisting that because the safety BINGO works at their company it is proof that it works everywhere.  It’s easier to fall in love with snake oil or plain good luck that makes you look like a star in your boss’s eyes than it is to fall in love with the much younger beautiful woman who tells you that you’re the best looking man she’s ever seen.

The point is, and I have, I admit, belabored it to the point of flogging it, we can’t let what we believe so incredibly deeply, interfere with our ability to see the beyond evidence to the contrary. We can’t let that which we have been taught prevent us from seeing the truth in emerging thought.  I’m not advocate we chase each new fad like a kitten chasing butterflies, but we can’t remain staid in our thinking, not when lives are on the line.

Every day a new challenge presents itself in worker safety from nanotechnology that is shaped so closely to silica and asbestos molecules that they present the very real threat that they will cause the same kinds of safety issues to ill effects of chemicals that are currently thought to be benign, and yet so little of the emerging safety thought leadership is based on credible research using scientific methods. We need to test our theories with the same rigor that engineers and medical researchers test their theories, and we have to stop doing a half-ass job doing incident investigation that end with facile conclusions simply because the fit with our low expectations of the intellectual capabilities of workers.

In too many cases, people in the safety field present opinion as fact and accept facts as true simply because they fit with our world-view instead and forsake and even deride any other facts that don’t support our beliefs.

We have moved from the Information Age into the Misinformation Age where healing crystals are given the same credulity as antibiotics. Robots and automation have become pagan gods incapable of mistakes while we view the worker as flawed by choice.  Mistakes are no longer tolerated; people are treated as anything less than perfection is there fault.

I have seen safety investigations that have concluded by the most specious arguments all injuries can ultimately be traced back to unsafe behaviors. Those who make this argument further state that all injuries are predictable and preventable. The argument has been made ad nauseum; and qualified and re-qualified so that the answer given fits within the asker’s paradigm.  IF people performed with perfect reliability (i.e. exactly the same way every time) and IF the people always performed without distraction and in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures, and IF the process is sufficiently robust enough to stay within very tight control limits, and IF the machines are sufficiently maintained to prevent wear and the associated degradation of performance and IF…well the list goes on and I think I have made my point. Then we can achieve zero incidents and zero harm and sustain this utopian workplace forever, but if any one of those statements is untrue then the outcomes are unpredictable and while zero harm may result, in these cases, it is the product of luck, or magic, or some other unseen and unknowable force, and meanwhile risk lurks like a panther waiting to pounce on its prey.

This Is Not A Blog About Gun Violence

weapon-violence-children-child-52984.jpegBy Phil La Duke

This won’t be a blog about gun violence or school shootings. While these things are horrific and the subject of heated blame throwing and debate, this is a worker safety blog and while I sometimes go off on tangents this is one time that I will avoid it.  That having been said, there is a huge parallel between the gun violence/school shootings and worker safety: both don’t have easy answers.

People love easy answers whether it be about gun violence, world peace, or yes, worker safety.  Bring up the topic at your corner bar, pub, watering hole, or dive and you will invariably have someone slur out over yellowed teeth, “it’s real easy: alls ya gotta do is…”  But it’s not real easy.  When it comes to worker safety I’ve heard so many “ya just gottas…” that I am beginning to wonder why people pay me to consult at all and why people are injured and killed at work.  

For example: “It’s real easy: you just gotta get people to follow the rules and do what they’re told.  Except, one, since when has getting people to do what they are told easy?  If everyone followed the rules and did what they were told, we would have no crime, no “lifestyle” illnesses, and traffic would run pretty smoothly so and there would be so few accidents that a minor fender bender would be international news.  People aren’t going to do exactly as they are supposed to—they don’t follow directions, they get distracted, they get sick—but that doesn’t give a company license to kill them.  Two, frankly if your process is so fragile that one person working out of process is going to get them killed then it’s time to rethink your process.

I’ve also heard “It’s real easy…all you gotta do is have workers observe one another and coach them when they do something unsafe.”  I have never been a worker who had another worker watch me and “coach” me on my unsafe behavior. That’s for the best, as when I worked the assembly line I was never in the mood for a do-gooder to come up and “help” me.  Especially after I had twisted my ankle the umpteenth time in the hole left by the missing wood block that I had been asking my supervisor to get maintenance to fix for over a year.  No money in the budget they had to keep that line moving and if it killed me, well I guess that’s just the cost of doing business.  If I had someone observe me I would have likely told the person where he or she could stick that coaching.  I would irately have asked what made them think that THEY knew my job better than I did, given that they are seeing it for the first time and I do it over 1700 times a shift (literally).  I would then have called my Union rep and wrote (and likely lost) a grievance against double supervision (our contract said that we had one, and only one, boss and that was the only person that I had to take orders from.)  

My peers would have likely responded differently.  The outlaw biker who worked down the line from me would have probably caught the observer is a stairwell and when he was done with the person the only unsafe behavior they would ever turn in again would be walking in a stairwell.  The 50-something woman who worked up the line from me would have smiled as said thank you and then gone back to the way she was doing things before the observation. Most of the others would have played a little game where they would write up some innocuous bit of nonsense in exchange for the tacit agreement that when they got observed they would also be observed doing something unsafe that a) wasn’t real and b) something nobody really cared about.  The safety people would count their cards and throw pizza parties and celebrate a change that wasn’t real and that nobody cared about.

I know a guy who does ergonomics, and he has the answer as well “all you gotta do is do an ergonomic evaluation on all the jobs and engineer the hazards out.” I guess that might work, but I am yet to find the organization with the money, time, and will to do this.  Actually that’s not accurate, I know of several companies who routinely do ergonomic evaluations on a grand scale and yet they still have injuries and fatalities.

Still others will howl that you have to fix leadership, and they’re right in many cases.  But which leaders? At what level? And how do you fix them? What does a good safety leader look like? How do you know they’re fixed?

A growing number of people are screaming “it’s real easy all you gotta do is fix the culture”. But I know this: when it comes to change, culture will change the people before people will change the culture.  I’ve made my living in organizational development before becoming an organizational development consultant focused specifically on worker safety. My best clients are those who tried doing it themselves and failed.  That isn’t a plug or a commercial, it’s a fact.  Unless you have tried and failed (the more miserably the better) the less likely that you will pay me what I am worth (if you want cheap I can recommend a snake oil salesman or two.)

Why is safety so hard? Because we have convinced workers that we don’t really want safety, we want the perception of safety.  We want people to tell us that there are zero injuries and zero harm.  Sure we say we want an injury-free environment and we may in the short term achieve it.  In the long run, however, what we end up with is the blood in the pocket syndrome.  People conceal their injuries because we have convinced them that injuries are bad, and by getting injured they have sinned against God and man. People don’t want to screw up the Safety BINGO or lose a bonus, or cancel the pizza party, but most of all they don’t want to disappoint us.

We have created this mess by pretending that safety is something that it really isn’t—the absolute absence of all risk. A state of safety, a complete state of safety where there is absolutely zero-percent chance that a worker will be harm doesn’t exist, can never exist.  The best we can strive for is to make things safer, and that’s easy, all’s you gotta do is get 100% worker engagement at all levels where safety is no longer a goal, it’s a value. Oh, and good luck with that.

p.s. John F. Kennedy once said, “we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. Anything worth doing is hard and as long as I remain in this profession you can count on the fact that I will continue working hard to make things safer, because it’s worth it.

 

Medical Disability Exacts a Societal Cost

sign-slippery-wet-cautionby Phil La Duke

I’ve been remiss in writing a blog. There are big reasons and little reasons; good and bad.  The biggest reason was I have been recovering from emergency surgery to remove an abscess, that owing to malpractice by the first hospital (which almost killed me three times, according to my doctor) turned ugly and what would have been a simple outpatient procedure turned into a major ordeal.  It seems I am deathly allergic to the most effective antibiotic for this type of infection so it was touch and go and I had less a chance of survival than usual.  I was told I would be in incredible pain and whacked out of my head on narcotic pain pills, but since I felt no pain whatsoever I didn’t take the drugs.  Bleeding has left me very weak and I am easily exhausted, but all signs point to a speedy (2-10 week recovery).  Initially the doctor restricted my activity—no work and no driving for two weeks—but the surgery went well enough that I was able convince my doctor that missing work wasn’t necessary.

While my surgery was in no way work related, it did get me thinking about what it is like to be injured on the job.  Soon after my surgery we got hit with 6-9 inches of snow, followed by several other storms.  My neighbors sprang into action and cleared my drive way and sidewalks. I have great neighbors, but it made me wonder about injured workers who don’t have particularly good neighbors.  Little things like taking out the trash, shoveling snow, or even making lunch can be exhausting or even impossible.  I want my life back.  I want to be able to work, play, and enjoy life.

Sure there are malingerers who want nothing more to collect disability.  They must be wealthy; disability in many cases pays nothing and in others around 65% of a worker’s wage.  There’s sort of a universal animosity toward people who are on the public doll because of a questionable disability. I know of a man who is “disabled” with a bad back yet sits for hours on his computer making Facebook posts and I have to ask could he not be doing some job (even part time) that requires one to sit at a computer? I know of three others who are collecting disability for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and yet I know three more with PTSD just as severe who hold steady jobs and work for a living.  But this animosity is misplaced.  I don’t know the particulars of the disabilities of any of these people.  I do know of many people who have had injuries, work-related and nonwork-related, who can no longer work their chosen profession and are forced into a line of work that often pays less than what they studied for, trained for, and have experience in.

Being told by a doctor or even by your own body that you just can’t do the things you used to do is debilitating in its own way.  I was out of commission for a weekend during which my romantic engagement waited on me hand and foot. She is also a stress cleaner so while I lay on the couch exhausted from having walked across the room, she scrubbed and vacuumed, and the house never looked so good.  I didn’t have the energy to tell her not to, and she wouldn’t have listened anyway so I guess it worked out.

I have known many people who have been disabled and in most cases their disabilities aren’t obvious—and it isn’t a subject that they like to talk about.  I would think that employers could protect themselves from fraud and still show a little more compassion. (Please note, I am not talking about MY employer as at least for the time being I am neither on medical leave nor is my condition work related). My late father-in-law was injured when a supervisor (who was not supposed to be working, was in a restricted area, and not supposed to be working above people) dropped an angle iron that struck my father-in-law (after falling 2 stories) in the neck and shattered two vertebrae.  He had several serious operation and was told he could never lift more than 50lbs again (prompting him to ask the doctor how he was supposed to use the toilet to urinate, apparently even through the pain he never lost his sense of humor.)  He recovered although he was in considerable pain for the rest of his life and became addicted to opioids. He never SEEMED disabled and there was always some private detective snooping around watching to see if he was lifting more than 50lbs.  Is this a good use of company funds?

While we’re at it, let’s talk about how workplace injuries led us to the opioid epidemic? There are other causes to be sure, but it’s also fair to say workplace injuries played a role.  Worker injuries are more than a case management/worker’s compensation issue, it is a societal issue and one that we blithely ignore.

So while I have been injured at work, I never was the victim of a lost workday incident, but given my recent medical issues I have grown some empathy for the disabled.  We have to stop thinking about the medically disabled as scammers and con artists looking to juke the system and see the majority for what they are victims whose life’s were changed in an instant and who are now incapable of doing things they used to take for granted.

 

I’m Not an “Influencer”

by Phil La Duke

I read an article in Entrepreneur yesterday about the battle between an Irish restaurateur/hotel owner and a British blogger.  The blogger it seems had solicited a free weekend stay at the establishment to which the restaurateur in exchange for positive comments about his establishment on her blog.  Not only did he refuse but he did so in grand fashion. At first he told the blogger in no uncertain terms that that was not the way he conducted business, but when blogger took to the blogosphere to exact her revenge the restaurateur retaliated to such a hilarious extent that the blogger started to get threats and harassment from the public who found her attempts to extort free stuff in exchange for a good review repugnant.  I should point out that this blogger had no connection with Entrepreneur, which has very strict policies on accepting remuneration for mentioning a company, person, or product, but while he hasn’t come right out and said it, I’m pretty sure my editor would box my ears before barring me from submitting to the magazine for life and telling everyone in the publishing community that I was a literati extortionist.  The story was interesting because a new breed is emerging the influencer.  If you are  famous in your field you might just be an influencer—a highly sought and even courted trend setter.

I have a strict moral code against reviewing products, paid promotions, or even accepting advertisements; it just feels…wrong. Even so, I get a lot of offers of money for EVERY mention of a company, person, or product; these offers are made to me by the dumbest of marketers because for the most part nobody reads my stuff and those who do have generally already made up their minds as to how they feel about it based on their feelings toward me. I am not an influencer, or maybe I am an anti-influencer which in its own weird way is an influencer…were down the rabbit hole here people.

So what does this have to do with Safety?  Plenty.  We are coming up on conference season and literally tens of thousands of would be influencers are putting together abstracts to speak at this conference or that all with the singular purpose in mind: to influence you.  Full disclosure: I have already been accepted at the Michigan Safety Conference (in both the Agriculture and the General Industry tracts) and at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ National Conference.  What will I be selling? Nothing really.  Writing and speaking are important to me and while my outspoken borderline boorishness is seen by some as a breath of fresh air for everyone who feels that way there are twenty who would like to see me flayed alive because I made a disparaging remark about a pyramid.  The process for being a speaker at these events is arduous and the selection committee range from altruistic professionals who care deeply about their craft to thick-headed mouthbreathers with old scores to settle who will never allow me to darken their podiums again. C’est la vie.

Bloggers, magazine contributors, professional speakers…they all want to sell something, even if it’s how smart, urban, and witty they are, and the hardscrabble trick of it is to find out what it is and whether or not it’s worth buying BEFORE you accidentally buy it only to realize it’s the worst thing you’ve ever purchased and donate to charity. For the record I am selling myself… I am building a brand so that I can run for office someday.  Probably dog catcher (if it was good enough for the BTK Killer it’s good enough for me.)

Another point I should make is that the conferences that I mentioned above specifically forbid anything that even looks like it might be promotional in nature and if you violate that sacred rule you will never speak at another one of their conferences again.  It’s a good rule.  There are still conferences out there where the speeches are basically infomercials for someone’s latest book or video which is in itself just a retread of their last four books. It’s tough to condemn the conference organizers for giving these people a venue to speak, some bring in a thousand visitors (many of whom gripe to me that it was just another informercial.) PT Barnum had a net worth of $8.5 million when he died (221,989,041.82 in today’s dollars) so even if something SEEMs wrong-headed and stupid, you won’t go broke overestimating stupidity.

Which is not to say that people who attend conferences, read promotional white papers, or self serving articles are stupid, (but I’m not saying they’re smart either) but we have to be careful of what we as consumers consume.) And most of all remember there is no “fake news” just lies and the truth and the people who can tell the two apart.

 

Come to Work High, But Come to Work

IMG_0167by Phil La Duke

Many of you reading this are probably under the influence, and that’s okay. Most of you who are reading this while under the influence are using a legal yet potentially lethal substance that was either prescribed for you by a physician or that you purchased over-the-counter at your local pharmacy.  If any of you are using illegal or recreational drugs while reading this…well all I can say is that you’re doing them wrong.

Now think for a moment about the side effects of a decongestant or cough syrup. Read the warning on the box “may cause drowsiness. Do not operate heavy equipment”. We routinely ignore these warnings and encourage workers to do these exact same things.  If a worker calls in sick because his or her medicine might his or her ability to safely drive to work and to safely do his or her job, the most likely response is either to tell the worker to get his or her ass to work or to discipline them according to the attendance policy.

Attendance policies are a tricky business. I once worked at a global manufacturer that had no attendance policy for salaried workers.  The philosophy was if you are sick stay home. (There was another policy for hourly workers that I always found hypocritical.) Of course your boss could always ask for a doctor’s excuse but that was seldom an issue.  Company-wide salaried employees took .5 sick days a year. What’s more, when investigated, 95% of all absences came from one department and the head of the department was worst offender.  After years of belly aching about no attendance policy the executives acquiesced and people were given 5 sick/personal days a year.  (When supervisors would whine to me about no policy, I would tell them “there’s no policy against me crapping in your waste basket but if I did it, you’d find a way to make me stop.”  I always thought they were using a lack of a rule for not doing their jobs.)  Once the new policy was implemented the average sick days taken by salaried employees ballooned to over 4 days!  Before, people had been treated like adults, but once the policy took place people felt they felt entitled to taking these days off.

In many workplaces coming to work sick and/or doped up on medications is passively encouraged. For many workers the choice is to come to work sick or stoned to the gills on medication or lose their jobs.  Sick workers are far more likely to commit human errors, doped up workers are far more likely to commit human errors. And yet we persist. We encourage unsafe workplaces with our “come to work or else attitude.”  Some of you are thinking, “so someone comes to work on NyQuil? So what?” okay, what about the person who comes to work high on medical marijuana? (the height of hypocrisy—I recently watched as a group of badly aging Baby Boomers passing their “medicine” around while they huddled around the dumpster behind Veteran’s lodge; apparently all five suffered from a debilitating fear of spiders. So we tell our workers come to work high.  Weather so bad it’s not safe to drive? Too bad get your ass to work.  High on heroin? Too bad get your ass to work.  And all the while we festoon the walls with safety slogans reminding us not to die, to be safe because there are people who love us (not the people who put up those posters mind you, but people).

The problem gets worse when we consider the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Many heroin addicts started out on prescription opioids to which they were prescribed after a workplace injury or a surgery required from a workplace injury that happened years prior.  Worried doctors abruptly stopped prescribing the medication for fear they would lose their licenses leaving the patient turned addict to buy those meds on the street for as much as $100 a pill. Heroin on the other hand works just as well or better and costs far less (heroin.net says that the average cost of a dose of heroin is $15-$20 in Ohio, but you have to go to Ohio to get it so you have to figure in the cost of travel if you are paying over $20 bucks). Heroin is so much cheaper than black market OxyContin that even a heavy heroin (say a $250 a day habit) user could finance his or her habit for the price of a single pill.  If employers who hurt workers didn’t create this epidemic they sure as heck contributed to it.  (Note: I lost my ex-father-in-law to a heroin overdose.  Not only was he completely disabled and racked with constant pain from a neck injury that shattered two of his vertebrae, he also won the mesothemia lottery and would have died of that in a matter of months anyway.)

So we talk out of both sides of our mouths: work safely but don’t miss work no matter what. Brave inclement weather, come to work stoned on prescription or over the counter drugs, but come to work.  Oh but don’t come to work drunk or on opioids cause we’ll fire you for that.

DOES THIS MAKE SENSE TO ANYONE?

The Politics of Stupid

by Phil La Duke

Good morning, afternoon, or evening.  It’s difficult to process the fact that people from all over the world read my blog.  For me it feels more like writing to an audience of one, and I guess when I think about it many of you have told me that you feel like I am talking directly to you when you read my work.  Over the past 12 years I have been hammering out blogs that have provoked, enraged, and hopefully entertained you, that’s approximately  624,000 words.  People seemed to like my work and I was invited to speak at international venues and to write for dozens of magazines. I was for a time the belle of the proverbial ball. But recently things have shifted.  A colleague was asked for his advice on a speaker for the leaders at one of his clients, and they recoiled in revulsion at the merest suggestion when he proffered my name up.  What if I said something…controversial? What if I said (as I have to other groups) that what they were doing was wrong?

The National Safety Council has effectively blackballed me ostensibly because of audience feedback that said I while I was an excellent speaker my topics weren’t all that great.  Keep in mind I would send as many as 40 abstracts from topics ranging from the safe and mundane to the truly outrageous and provocative and THEY selected the topic.  I think it has more to do with criticisms I have made privately and publically about keynote speakers who are more infomercial than technical and that speakers standing at the podium schilling their latest books.  Their staunchest competitor, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) doesn’t seem to have any particular beef against me, but year after year my abstracts get rejected. NOTE: I received word at 10:52 a.m. that I will be speaking at the 2018 ASSE Show in San Antonio. They notified me last November but like a fool I put down the wrong email.  Last year I spoke at a conference in Ireland and promised to share the video they were going to make, but it will be year in March and I’m no longer holding my breath.

Even publishers have cooled to my work.  I used to write three articles a week for Entrepreneur, a monthly column for Fabricating and Metalworking, and contribute to ISHN, and a list I’m too lazy to make of other high quality, high circulation magazines.  Now I am lucky to be asked to stop writing letters to the editor.

It would seem that once again people want to hear that things are great in safety and they aren’t. I would love to cater to your desire to be validated as the special creations of God, but I can’t.  I can’t play the politics of the stupid.  I keep trying to argue logic with people who will only make emotional statements and it’s exhausting.

None of you may have noticed, but I haven’t posted for over a month.  I am not in a depressive funk or in an existential crisis over whether I’m still relevant.  But what I have come to realize is that while my message has been the same for over a decade the safety industry doesn’t want to turn over the rocks that I do.  They don’t want controversy they want complacency.  They want me to tell them that things are going swell. Well they aren’t.  In the U.S. highway fatalities have been essentially trending flat for 20 years even though roads and cars are far safer than they were even five years ago. But nobody cares if a worker commuting to or from work dies because it’s not the company’s problem.  The coworkers still have to deal with the loss of a friend or colleague, the family is still impacted, and was it not for the commute to work the person would still be alive. Let me be clear: I am not saying that companies should start tackling the problem of safety fatalities, but let me ask you this: when was the last time your company shut down a shop site because the road conditions were unsafe for workers to drive on? Sometime last never, I’m betting.

We play all kinds of games with or safety metrics from the overly zealous case manager who fights like a badger to keep a legitimate work injury from being a Workers’ Compensation case or an OSHA recordable to the bureaucracy that recently removed two worker fatalities from its numbers because it “didn’t have jurisdiction over the industry that killed them”.

So I’m back (my month off was spent on a piece on culture—the blame d’jour for ineffective safety professionals to shield themselves.  Sometimes the culture does suck and sometimes it really IS the problem, but it can’t be the reason by default. “Gee I don’t know Al,  we tried a children’s poster contest, and given them pizza and that didn’t work, the culture must be broke, because it’s clearly not the fault of anything WE did.”) Long story less long I kept retooling it until I just got frustrated and quit it (for now)  And that for me is in itself a problem.  It’s not that the industry needs another big idea, we just need to start putting competent people in the right roles.  And before you get your boxers in a wad, I’m not just talking about safety practitioners, but middle managers, site leaders, and executives.  Hurting people at work because you did something you shouldn’t have or didn’t do something you should have is wrong and you are culpable for that, maybe not to me, or the family, or the law, and maybe not even to some higher power, but to someone or something.

I’ve never been good with the politics of stupid, and I have never been able to celebrate the fact that injuries are down.  Take a hard look at that data. Are injuries down or are reported injuries down?  Are you making the workplace safer or just getting better at swindling workers out of their disability checks? My theory is that injuries are falling while fatalities stay fairly static is that it’s tough to case manage your way out of a death on the shop floor but there are dozens of skeazy tricks one can pull to avoid injury claims.  Take China for example where many companies immediately fire injured workers (before a report is filed) presto perfect safety records. Or Mexico where a team scoops the gorey remains of a worker off the floor and slurps him into an ambulance where he officially dies, so it doesn’t count as a workplace fatality. Recordable or nonrecordable ALL INJURIES MATTER.

So I will remain controversial and before you say, “I could never take anyone serious with that shoddy grammar, or his disrespectful tone” ask yourself, is it that what’s really bothering you or the fact that I am saying it, it applies directly to you, and I am exposing it for the whole world to see.